A Colorful Tale


Cornfields: With Permission from Todd Huffman

I learned at an early age that travel is filled with surprises – some bad, some good.  Growing up in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, just slightly west and across the state line from Lake Woebegone, my childhood was an episode from Prairie Home Companion. No surprises…until I was about four years old…

One of my favorite playthings was a table-top wooden map of the US, with each state cut separately and painted a bright color – the better to distinguish it from its neighbors. I loved putting the map together, hearing the slap of wood against wood as I plunked the states into place in the frame.

I always started with the easiest piece, Florida’s dangling peninsula; it was bright orange – a perfect color choice since oranges came from there. Blue California next to the ocean was second, then butter-bright Texas with its yellow roses. One-by-one I slipped the states next to each other until I had a paint-palette of geography. One day I overheard my mother and a friend discussing the Arizona desert. NOW I understood why the Arizona piece was tan!

South Dakota was deep green, of course – thick grass grew in our yard, leaf canopies shaded our house, and July’s knee-high corn covered the fields outside of town. Yes, the South Dakota puzzle piece was a satisfying, lush, expected green.

Are we there yet?

One summer evening, my parents announced that we were going to Iowa for the first time, and to see my grandparents who lived on a farm. My mother painted glorious pictures – I would be able to ride a horse, pick berries and go wading in the creek. Even so, my evident excitement surprised her. She had to make a calendar count-down to manage my enthusiasm!  Finally the last calendar number was torn away, and we were in the car. Hardly out of the driveway, I started the questions:

  • How long before we got to Iowa?
  • How far away would we be before I could see it?
  • How much further did we have to go?
  • Was it over the next hill?
  • Would I need sunglasses?

My parents were confused; Iowa was not a big deal. Why was I so excited?  And sunglasses?  I watched cornfields go by, regularly punctuated by the dwindling mile markers – Five miles to go, Four, Three – I was bouncing in my seat! Two, One!

“Here it is!” my mother exclaimed, looking at me expectantly … and I burst into tears.

Iowa was NOT pink!

The key to traveling anywhere in the world is simply to love the experience. I got over that Iowa was disappointingly green. I had a wonderful time riding the horses, picking berries and wading in the Chickasaw Creek. Since that fateful trip, I have learned a lot of travel lessons, most of which have been a result of making the wrong assumptions, not following directions, or just being too eager to jump into the middle of things.

Decades later, my first travel lesson has not been forgotten:

When I have unrealistic expectations about a travel adventure, I’m likely to be disappointed … but as soon as I “get over it,”  I have a great time!