Wise Woman Travel

Exploring the world from a female perspective

The trees are about to show us how lovely it can be to let things go. (Anonymous)

We couldn’t have known last June when we booked a fall escape to Jasper the sad event that would occur just a couple of weeks before our departure.

My husband’s best friend for more than 40 years, and mine for 27, suddenly passed away. Roman was 56. There was no chance to say goodbye, no opportunity to tell him how much his friendship had meant to us.

With COVID restrictions in place, we knew Roman’s family would not be allowed to have a social function after his prayer service so we got together a small group of friends for a weiner roast and toast to him. The next day, we were among the fewer than 30 people who attended the service, gazing up at a screen shot of Roman that depicted his face just before, as his brother said in his eulogy, “he unleashed his trademark laugh, which he shared easily and generously.”

As we headed for the mountains a few days later, it somehow made me feel a bit better to remember that Jasper was one of Roman’s favorite places too. On the drive, we sometimes talked about him, sometimes about other things. Sometimes, we rode in silence. A more-like-summer fall day, the sun lit up the poplar and aspens, their gold mingling among the dark green spruce, sweeping up the mountains in tweedy carpets.

We arrived in Jasper too early to check into our cabin, so we headed to Maligne Canyon, where hiking trails lead to a series of bridges that cross the 50 feet deep chasm, the water boiling down in spectacular waterfalls. Stand close enough and you can feel the spray on your face.

The quiet forest paths, springy with Christmas-smelling pine and spruce needles, provided a serene contrast to the thrill of the water carved gorges. There weren’t many people around, so we all had the space and quiet we needed to explore. Couples paused to take selfie photos. Children ran ahead of their parents, excited to arrive at the next viewpoint. Off to one side of the path, three Japanese women stood close together, one of them quietly crying. Her friends handed her tissues. She raised her sunglasses and wiped her eyes.

Quite a bit further down the path, the Maligne River calms down as it leaves the canyon behind, dancing over rocks, a ribbon of pale aqua looping through the forest. We took separate paths to find our favorite vantage points for photos, Lorne on the bridge, me wandering on either side of the river.

Shortly before dinner time, we arrived at Tekarra Lodge, a collection of cabins just outside of Jasper. I went for a walk to check out the property, listening to our neighbors making the most of this possibly last warm weekend. Women wandered by enjoying girlfriend weekends. Kids shrieked from the playground. A young couple introduced me to their Sheltie puppy, who woofed at me once, then hid behind a clump of grass. Back at the cabin, I joined Lorne on our sweet little verandah for a charcuterie plate and a bottle of red.

The next day was jacket weather, overcast skies and showers elbowing yesterday’s warmth out of the way. We had hoped to enjoy the iconic turquoise of Maligne Lake in the afternoon, but without the blue above, its water was grey, and a steady drizzle made it unpleasant for walking. Luckily, the trees on either side of the road on our return to the cabin were unaffected by the weather, their golden even more radiant against the leaden skies.

That night, we celebrated my birthday at Tekarra’s onsite restaurant with pre-dinner cocktails, beef short ribs, truffle mashed potatoes, and chocolate cake. It was much chillier than the previous evening, so Lorne lit the fireplace and we sat in silence, mesmerized by the dancing flames

The next morning, I went for a walk before we hit the road for home. The Adirondack chairs overlooking the river were empty, most people loading up their vehicles for the trip home. A gust of wind brought a sudden release of leaves onto the path ahead of me.

Letting go of our grief at losing our dear friend Roman will be a longer, more complex process. Sometimes, Lorne and I will be together on the journey. Other times, we’ll go our own ways. Sometimes, we might need to leave the path for a quiet cry. But this weekend away somehow bolstered our spirits, gently reminding us that gold and grey naturally co-exist on many pathways.

Before August 2021, the most time I’d ever spent in Revelstoke was a very hot and boring summer afternoon in the 1960s when our old Pontiac Stratochief  broke down on a family vacation.

While my dad stayed with the car at the repair shop, my mom trotted my sister and me around the town’s few shops, pausing at a hardware store to buy a camping kettle. Other than that one time, Revelstoke for me was a place to buy gas, find a somewhat clean washroom, and continue south to the Okanagon or west to Vancouver.

My, how times have changed this little community.

Revelstoke has made itself over into a tourist destination. It punches way above its size in its selection of things to do, places to eat, and accommodation choices. If you live in Alberta or BC and want a short getaway in this still COVID-tinged summer, I’d highly recommend a visit. Here are a few things to keep you entertained while you’re there.

View of Revelstoke from the Meadows in the Sky Parkway

1. Drive up the Meadows in Sky Parkway

A twisting 26 kilometer stretch of highway takes you through lush, shady forests of cedar, hemlock, spruce, and fir to a wildflower meadow at the summit of Mount Revelstoke. Along the way, you can stop at viewpoints and explore trails.

Advice if you go: Be prepared to pay the standard Parks Canada fee, since the parkway is located in Mt. Revelstoke National Park. Also, even if it’s warm in Revelstoke, it’s a lot cooler at the summit so take along a jacket and long pants to wear for the 20 minute walk from the parking lot up to the meadow. As of this writing, the summit shuttle bus was not running, so if you’re not dressed for the weather (like us) or you’ve got mobility issues, you’ll miss out on the summit views.

Revelstoke Railway Museum engine

2. Visit the Revelstoke Railway Museum

For the train nerd, the railway history buff, or anyone fascinated by the power and romance of bygone rail travel, this museum offers a couple of great hours of browsing. There are indoor and outdoor exhibits, a display by the local miniature train club, and a chance to drive a train using a computer simulator. Whoo whoo!

Advice if you go: Have a few twonies in your pocket to operate the simulator (we didn’t and missed our chance at the controls).

3. Browse the shops and eat at the restaurants in the historic downtown.

If you’re looking for clothing, footwear, a vintage movie theater, or just a place to sit with a coffee and watch the world go by, you’ll find a grouping of cute shops along Mackenzie Avenue and its adjacent streets. Our favorite restaurants were The Taco Club and The Craft Bierhaus on Second Street.

Advice if you go: The Craft Bierhaus serves fantastic local ales and the best brisket. The Taco Club is not just your average taco place; its flavors are unique. Popular with locals and tourists, especially on Taco Tuesdays. It only takes walk-up reservations, so if you want to sit outside, prepare to wait for a table for up to an hour. Closed Wednesdays.

Big Eddy Glassworks

4. Watch some glassblowing at Big Eddy Glassworks .

A quick trip over the Columbia River will take you to Big Eddy Glassworks. You can watch the process of a glass item being blown and fired and otherwise transformed into a piece you might like to buy in their shop.

Advice if you go: Check out their workshop schedule for some hands on experience.

Big Eddy Glassworks Merchandise
The heritage gardens at the Revelstoke Museum and Archives

5. Browse the Revelstoke Museum and Archives and Heritage Gardens

This sweet little museum will help you understand more about Revelstoke’s history. Nicely curated exhibits on two floors cover the town’s story from its Indigenous roots to the present day. Exit through the gift shop.

Advice if you go: The gift shop and the heritage gardens are free to visit without museum admission.

I like trains

I like fast trains

I like trains

That call out through the rain. (Fred Eaglesmith – Don’t know this song? Listen to it here.)

I’m not sure why, but in recent years, I’ve become fascinated by trains.

Not in a trainspotting, Sheldon Cooper kind of way. My interest is rooted partially in the romance of long ago train travel, and partially in my awe of the people who operate these mammoth powerhouses in the present day. I wave to train engineers whenever I see them leaning out of their cabs, and a train chord echoing late at night in the Canadian Rockies always gives me the shivers.

So, I jumped at the chance to visit the Revelstoke Train Museum when we spent a few days in this still-a- railroad-town in the British Columbia interior. Freight trains, their cars sporting the tags of graffiti artists from who knows where, rumble by meters from the museum,

which helps visitors to understand the role the Canadian Pacific Railway played in opening up this area of the country.

I was already familiar with the general story of railway construction in BC – the complexities of blasting through granite to lay track and build tunnels, the dangers faced by the railway workers, the harsh racism dished out to Japanese and Chinese employees. But this museum introduced me to a few new details. The iconic photo of Donald Smith driving the last spike at Cragellachie, 50 km west of Revelstoke, was matched by another photo called The Other Last Spike. In this one, the actual miners, rather than bearded, top-hatted dignitaries, pose for their own commemoration of the railway’s completion. 

I also didn’t know that Revelstoke used to be called Farwell, after the town’s founder. He knew that the CPR was coming to town and applied for a land grant so that he could sell the land for the train station to the CPR. The big corporation wasn’t about to be shoved around by an enterprising independent businessman and located the station just outside of Farwell’s grasp, naming the community where it stood Revelstoke after a wealthy British nobleman. Farwell, the man and the town, never prospered as a result.

The museum also introduced some new- to- me early 20th century railway history. I never knew that Canada had its own “silk road” in the form of trains that carried only silk from Vancouver to New York. The cargo was so valuable that the only passengers on board were armed guards, and so perishable that silk trains took priority over every other type of train on the rails, stopping only for Formula 1 style pit stops  to take on fuel and other necessities before racing east again.

And who knew that the CPR was in the propaganda business? I wonder how many women had their husbands or fiances convince them of the idyllic farm wife life that awaited them as a result of posters like these.

I got my fill of the romantic past of rail travel in the Museum’s outdoor Rolling Stock exhibit, a collection of rail cars from early in the CPR’s history. The vintage signs, faded paint, and rusty couplings were an art form all their own, silent ghosts of a simpler time in rail travel.

I wonder what Charles Holten would say if he knew that the home he built in Revelstoke, British Columbia, in 1897 was now being enjoyed by guests from all over the world.

He’d probably be thrilled. He’d used part of his mining fortune to build the home for his bride, Lyda Edwards. The pair became one of the Revelstoke region’s early 20th century “it” couples, hosting concerts, dinners, and many other social events in their home.

The house stayed in the Holten family until the 1970s. After a series of other owners, an Edmonton couple bought it in the 1990s and restored much of its original 19th century charm. It opened its doors as a bed and breakfast in 1999 and tourists have been enjoying it ever since.

We stayed in the Royal Suite, one of three rooms on the second floor, accessed by a winding staircase, lit by twinkle lights.

Easy to imagine Lyda Edwards in her ball gown, descending this 19th century staircase
The Royal Suite, Holten Heritage House

Downstairs, the library is open to all guests for reading, snoozing, or playing board games.

The library, Holten Heritage House

A full breakfast is served at a time of your choice every morning in the dining room, or on warm summer mornings, on the verandah.

French toast drizzled with melted brie and cinnamon apple slices

But the real charm of a heritage bed and breakfast emanates from its host, and Holten House has one of the best I’ve met – the friendly and accommodating Andres, a 14 year resident of Revelstoke, transplanted from Toronto. A world traveler, skier, instructor of ski instructors, he made our stay special with great conversation, restaurant recommendations, even the loan of his Parks Canada pass when we took a drive up Mt. Revelstoke.

Andres, the manager of Holten Heritage House

The Holten Heritage House will definitely add a touch of luxury to your stay in Revelstoke.

I am craving a walk on a tropical beach.

The sun warming my back, the surf drawing white-edged curtains of foam over my bare feet before gently receding. Wisps of clouds in a water color blue sky. No work to do, no decisions to make, no wondering what might happen tomorrow.

If you’ve been dreaming of tropical beach walks too, we’re on the same wavelength as a lot of people. In Canada, tropical destinations top the list of vacation types people are planning when the world opens up again. And no wonder. Research says that beaches have a calming effect on our brains. After the year we’ve lived through, we could all use a little more of that.

My own beach dreams have reached back to last February when I was discovering Exuma, a sweet little necklace of Bahamian islands where you’re never more than few kilometres from the ocean.

The water surrounding Exuma is so clear and spectacularly aquamarine that astronauts have reported seeing it from space. The sand is icing sugar fine and white. Best of all, you won’t need to pick your way between coconut oil-slathered tourists lying on beach blankets. Exuma is still relatively under-explored so there’s a good chance you’ll have whatever beach you visit mostly or all to yourself.

If you visit Exuma, you’ll find your own favorite beaches. In the meantime, here are a few of mine:

Stairwell to Tropic of Cancer Beach

1. Tropic of Cancer Beach, Little Exuma

We visited here on our island tour with Kendal “Dr. K” Nixon. As we descended the wooden stairwell, it was fun to think of standing on the latitude line whose location I recall memorizing for an elementary school geography test. A couple of people were wandering the beach, but as was common anywhere in Exuma, it was mostly deserted.

Tropic of Cancer Beach, Little Exuma

2. Stocking Island

After a 5-minute trip by water taxi from our hotel, the Augusta Bay on Great Exuma, we crossed the rise in the middle of Stocking Island to find the most stunning deserted beach. Enough said. Enjoy the video.

If you’d like to enjoy a conch salad and a little swing out over the water with your beach time, you can head over to the Chat and Chill, Stocking Island’s only restaurant, where you’ll find both:

One conch salad, coming up!

3) A sandbar near Staniel Cay

Partway through our full day water excursion with Aquaquest Escapes, the captain let us off for a little wander on a sandbar near Staniel Cay, favorite of the yachting crowd who like to call Exuma home for at least part of the year. For half an hour, we pretended to be one of them.

4. Augusta Bay Hotel Beach

I started to think of this as my home beach, because for seven days, I opened our hotel curtains to it every morning, and fell asleep feet from it every night. I usually walked it twice a day, looking for sea shells and wondering if I should quit my job in Canada and open a business to rival the one I saw advertising on a quiet section of the beach.

Ok, ok. Exuma doesn’t have a zoo in the literal sense.

But since zoo is rooted in the Greek word for animal and, before that, a living being, the water and cays surrounding Exuma qualify as zoo-like places where you can see some pretty interesting species of both the animal and human variety.

There are lots of companies willing to take you on a tour.We signed up for a full day package with Aquaquest Escapes, the boat captained and crewed by Bahamians, all of them very safety conscious but also lots of fun. They knew the waters and cays well, and had all kinds of stories to share.

Iguana Island (aka Allan’s Cay)

Truthfully, I’m not that keen on interacting with reptiles: like Emily Dickinson said of her feelings about snakes, “Never met this fellow/
Attended or alone/Without a tighter breathing/Or zero at the bone.” Reptile eyes and claws give me the same response. So when we beached on Allan’s Cay, and a whole horde of iguanas came scuttling down to meet us in anticipation of a free breakfast, I wasn’t among the first to disembark from the boat. But since traveling is supposed to challenge your limits, I tried to conquer my discomfort, not altogether successfully. I decided to let the pros do the interaction for me, and enjoy a more distant iguana experience.

Iguana Island, Bahamas
Keep your distance, you guys
Iguana Island, Bahamas
I’ll just stay back here and take a picture!

Starfish Reserve

As we motored along between cays, our captain cut the engines and one of the crew dove into the shallow waters of an unofficial starfish reserve. He returned with a huge burgundy specimen. I’d never actually held a live starfish before, so feeling its prickly exterior was an interesting experience. Not to worry, animal activists – the crew returned him to his home in just a few minutes.

Starfish Reserve, Exuma Cays

Sea Turtle Spontaneity

Turns out not all reptiles give me a zero at the bone response. When an energetic sea turtle suddenly flippered up next to the boat, I felt quite warm and gooshy. He stayed with us just long enough to get a snack and then disappeared again.

And if anyone cares, when I buy a swimup bar in the Bahamas, I can’t think of a better name for it than the Starfish and Turtle.

Sea turtle, Exuma Cays

Pig Island (aka Big Bay Cay)

One of the Exuma cays’ biggest tourist attractions involves swimming with the pigs of Pig Island. How did the pigs get there? Apparently, years ago, the residents of nearby Staniel Cay needed a spot to store their pigs, which were rapidly starting to stink up their home island. The residents went over to feed them and bring back the occasional one for a feast. Eventually, some of the pigs began to anticipate the feast (the one they were getting, not providing), and began to swim out to meet the boats. The swimming pigs didn’t become an attraction until social media and selfie sticks became part of the tourist experience.

Now, every sea tour promises the opportunity to “swim with the pigs,” one we declined because, er, the pigs were doing in the water what pigs do after you feed them. Not only that, they can get rather aggressive if you make them beg for their food so your spouse can take a picture, as one of our fellow travelers found out to his terrified surprise.

Pig Island, Exuma Cays

Johnny, David, Faith and Tim

If the Exumas are a favorite hangout for the four-legged and the five-armed, they’ve also attracted their fair share of the famous and fabulously wealthy two-leggeds. Johnny Depp bought Little Hall’s Pond Cay after spotting it while filming The Pirates of the Caribbean. Tim McGraw and wife Faith Hill purchased and entirely outfitted an island, including having all its infrastructure built and importing palm trees from Jamaica – much to the bemusement of the locals because, well, one thing you can find in abundance on the Exumas are palm trees. The Hill-McGraw island is currently on the market for $35 million US, in case you’re looking for a vacation property. David Copperfield invested in eleven pieces of Exuma paradise – Musha Cay, the island he rents out to exclusive guests, and the ten islands surrounding it for maximum privacy. You and up to 23 of your nearest and dearest can rent Musha Cay for as little as $57K per night.

Pier House on David Copperfield’s Musha Cay

A Few After Words:

1. A group of iguanas is technically called a “mess ” and now I know why.

2. For a more detailed account of the history of Pig Island, have a look at T.R. Todd’s account here, which includes interviews with Staniel Cay residents.

3. Have a look around Musha Cay, Copperfield’s rentable island here.

4. Take a peek inside the Hill- McGraw place here.

4. Aquascape Tours also gives you the chance to swim with nurse sharks and snorkel among tropical fish in the Thunderball Grotto of James Bond movie fame.

There’s nothing like exploring a new destination with a local, especially one who takes an interest in their home’s history.

When we visited Exuma, a picturesque out island in the Bahamas, our local guide was Kendal “Dr. K” Nixon. With a voice like Morgan Freeman and a loose-jointed lope that reminded me of Barack Obama getting off Airforce 1, I liked him immediately. He was born and raised on the island and knew its every nook and cranny, taking us down dusty backroads we never would have found on our own. Not only did he know Exuma’s history, he took an active role in its caretaking, replacing toppled monument stones and checking to ensure that visitors were respecting the historic sites.

Lead on, Dr. K.
Kendal Nixon tends a monument
There now. That looks better.

On the second morning of our Exuma stay, Dr. K picked us up at our hotel in his big air-conditioned van. We were his only customers so we got a 5-hour private tour from one end of Exuma to the other, a distance of about 60 kilometers.

Exuma’s social history began with the Lucayans, the first Indigenous people to make contact with Columbus in 1493. The Spaniards viewed the Lucayans as a source of slave labor, kidnapping and carrying them off to Spain and Spanish colonized islands. By 1520, the Lucayans had been totally eradicated by the Spaniards, leaving Exuma mostly uninhabited for more than 200 years.

The deserted island and its neighboring cays made ideal hiding spots for pirates, looking to escape capture, repair their ships, and enjoy a little rum between raids. William Kidd, the British privateer turned pirate, was known to have frequented Exuma and, rumor has it, may even have left his treasure behind there.

Exuma’s next inhabitants didn’t arrive until about 1783, American Loyalists fleeing the Revolutionary War in the U.S. Denys Rolle, a British aristocrat, brought at least 150 slaves with him to work the land he’d been given by the British government.

When Rolle died, his son John inherited his land and slaves, now numbering close to 400. John never left England to run the plantation, relying instead on a single overseer. When the plantation began to lose money, John Rolle attempted to “rent out” 77 of his slaves to work on nearby Cat Island. One of the slaves, known only as Pompey, led the selected 77 into the bush, where they evaded capture until they ran out of provisions. Later, 44 of them stole one of Rolle’s boats and started off towards Nassau to plead their case to the Governor. Unfortunately, they were caught as they sailed into the harbor, and were flogged for their disobedience.

The bluff overlooking the spot where Pompey may have set sail

When the situation came to the Governor’s attention, he was outraged, and sent Pompey and the other slaves back to Exuma. It would be eight more years before Pompey and Rolle’s other slaves would officially gain their freedom, but Pompey’s rebellion is widely believed to have sparked the end of slaves being forcibly relocated and the eventual emancipation of Bahamian slaves.

After all the land owners and overseers had abandoned the island, Rolles’ slaves assumed ownership of the very land they had been forced to work. Their own names lost when they were enslaved, they also took on Rolle as their surname. Today, there are thousands of Rolles in the Bahamas, any one of whom can rightfully claim a house lot on Exuma.

A pretty nice place to own a lot

Later on our tour, we would meet one of the Rolles, a delightful woman of 80+years whom everyone called Ma. She had married and raised her own children just a few kilometers from where she had been born and grew up, a true Exuman in every respect. She now owns, operates and makes all the goodies at Ma’s Bakery, which regularly sells out of her rum cakes, coconut bread and pineapple upside down cake. We tucked away a couple of still warm loaves to enjoy back at the hotel.

Ma’s Bakery, Little Exuma

For such a little place, Exuma has packed a lot of events into its history, not all of them peaceful ones. Hard to believe now as you look out over its tranquil turquoise waters and serene white sugar beaches.

Hushed cannon, Little Exuma

You swim up to the surface of sleep, only aware at first that you’re not in your bedroom at home.

The gentle whup whup whup of a ceiling fan and a sliver of pale mango light push through the hotel balcony black out curtains. Then you remember. It’s the first morning of your tropical vacation.

Your traveling partner sleeps on. You toss back the bedsheet and peek through the curtains. Waving palm trees. White sand beach. Still blue swimming pool.

You congratulate yourself for remembering to pack the only three items of clothing you’ll need for most of the day in an external pocket of your suitcase: Swimsuit. Coverup. Flipflops.

You close the door to your room behind you as quietly as you can. Morning warmth puts its arms around you. Tropical plants line the path that leads you to a row of empty beach chairs and a little rock retaining wall between the pool deck and the beach. You sit on its rough ledge while you take your first look around.

Augusta Bay dock

Off to the right is the hotel’s dock and outdoor kitchen. You remember from the online info that you can catch the shuttle to a neighboring island from there, and that the hotel hosts dockside cookouts on Sundays.

To the left, the dock and outdoor kitchen of a neighboring hotel. Beyond it, a few sailboats riding at anchor. On a short land peninsula, you notice a little white delivery van pause at an electric gate before gaining entry and disappearing into a grove of trees. Who lives out there you wonder.

Great Exuma beach

And then there’s the beach, accessible down a few steps from where you’re sitting. You’ll save a stroll for later in the day.

By now, the hotel breakfast room is open. You haven’t quite finished drinking in your surroundings but a cup of coffee might be nice.

Mug in hand, you settle in to one of the poolside loungers, content in the delicious realization that you’ve got six more mornings to spend exactly like this one.

When I was a kid, I used to wish I could see into the future. “I think it would be cool to know what’s going to happen before it does,” I’d say to my mom.

She would pause, weighing, I suspect, how much of her motherly experience to share. “Well, sometimes I think it’s better for us not to know, just to enjoy what we’ve got in front of us today.”

I’ve thought of her words many times over the past year. When my husband and I took off at the end of January 2020 for a Bahamian vacation, there were three COVID cases in Canada, all in Toronto. Yes, we had to switch flights there but, as far as we were concerned, the virus was never going to get any closer to our lives than that.


I never had the chance to blog about that vacation because the little island of Great Exuma experienced internet issues for the whole week we spent there. I could get connectivity if I sat right by the hotel registration desk, but who wants to do that when there’s a tropical paradise waiting to be explored?

Great Exuma Island, Bahamas

So, in the spirit of the Chinese poet Li Po, who said writing poetry is like being alive twice, I’m going to experience that trip again by blogging about it over the next few weeks. I hope you’ll join me. Maybe my words and photos will help you to recall a tropical vacation of your own. If so, I hope you’ll share your memories and photos in the comment section. If only in our dreams right now, we all need to be whisked away to an elusive beach, the sun warming our faces, an icy rum punch near at hand.

Rum punch

A couple of weeks ago, the news broke in Alberta that nine members of our provincial government contravened the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” advice they’d been giving us for months, and jetted off for Christmas beach vacations with their families. Our Premier, who initially declined to discipline them, only brought in sanctions against them when the public outcry got so loud, so angry, and so politically united that he had no other choice.

That same week, the news footage from Washington burst onto our screens. An embittered man-child President, pumping his black leather- gloved fist in the air, urging his supporters to march on the Capitol to force an overturn of the election results. An unmasked mob wearing racist T-shirts and waving Confederate flags swarming into the Capitol Building, posing for grinning selfies as they sat in the chairs of elected officials and put their feet up on their desks.

At week’s end, I turned away from every news source, turned on a jazz music radio program, and sought refuge in the photographs and memories of my visit a little over a year ago to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park in Atlanta, Georgia.

On an already-warm October morning, I played hookey from the educational conference I was attending and caught the Atlanta Street Car a couple of blocks away from my downtown hotel. It dropped me off in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood, known in the 1920s for its robust collection of Black-owned businesses, churches, schools and homes, and now as the community where Martin Luther King Jr. was born, grew up, and began his career as a preacher and civil rights activist.

Sweet Auburn District, Atlanta

On the advice of my guide book, I made a beeline for the visitor information centre as soon as I arrived, because I wanted to ensure a place for myself on one of the ranger-led tours of King’s family home. Only 15 people were allowed on each tour, and the free tickets disappeared quickly. Because of my solo visitor status, I was able to scoop up a single ticket for a tour an hour later, so I had just enough time to visit Ebenezer Baptist Church while I waited.

Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta

Following in the footsteps of his grandfather and father, Dr. King began to preach at the church in 1960. There were very few people around the morning I visited, so I stood in the cool, dimly lit sanctuary, imagining King sitting at in one of the stately wooden chairs at the front, the white-robed choir behind him, then rising to deliver the sermon. I didn’t have to imagine his voice: a recording had captured its distinctive baritone cadence, as inspiring as when I first heard it as an adolescent.

Martin Luther King delivers a sermon

I emerged from the church, squinting in the bright heat of late morning, and walked down the street to the house where King was born in 1929 and lived until he was 12. The park ranger guided us from room to room, telling stories of King’s growing up years (the Parks Service now offers virtual tours of the house, if you’re interested).

King lived a happy, busy, middle class life with his parents, two siblings and grandparents, taking piano lessons, reading, playing games, and listening to the radio. He also had plenty of opportunities to interact with visiting students, religious personnel, and community members as they rehearsed hymns and discussed issues of concern such as pay equity and voter registration. Every night at dinner, each of the King children was expected to recite a Bible verse, and to relate and offer opinions about a current affairs item. It wasn’t hard to see how young Martin was influenced in his eventual choice of careers and nudged towards his calling as a civil rights leader.

My next stop was Freedom Hall, where memorabilia from King’s life and the civil rights movement is displayed. In an intermingling of light and dark, I walked past King’s Nobel Peace Prize and artifacts from the day of his funeral, sobering reminders of the high price that civil rights leadership can demand.

Martin Luther King’s funeral carriage
Coretta Scott King comforts Bernice King at Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral

Outside of Freedom Hall, I lingered on a bench under a shade grove that surrounded the final resting place of Martin and Coretta King. They are memorialized by an inscribed granite stone and an eternal flame, surrounded by cascading reflecting pools. I sat for a long time, absorbed in the peacefulness of the steadily burning flame, and the splash of water flowing from one pool to the next.

Free at last: the Kings’ final resting place
“We shall not be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

My final stop on the grounds reminded me that although the Kings are gone, their work continues. The Martin Luther King International World Peace Rose Garden is one of five such gardens world-wide dedicated to helping youth appreciate the value of peace. An important part of this initiative is an annual poetry contest in which students from around the world submit pieces about what peace means to them.

An Atlanta kindergartner shows she understands peace
“To live in peace, we must be kind.”

Postscript: As the U.S. heads into another week of potentially unsettling events, I’m taking some comfort in the words of Raphael Warnock, Georgia’s first black senator-elect and coincidentally, the current senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church.

On the night when his election was confirmed, Warnock appeared on screen with a copy of Barack Obama’s The Audacity of Hope. “‘Weeping may endure for a night,’” the presumptive senator-elect said, quoting a popular psalm among Black churchgoers, “’but joy cometh in the morning.’”

Amen, brother.