Who is Chuck and why does he like to travel?

I was born to be a writer and when I wrote my novel Wild Point Island, Chuck, my orange and white recently rescued feral tabby, got it in his head that he wanted to travel to the island and see the place for himself. Well, of course, Wild Point Island, can only be seen by revenants (you'll have to read the book to find out who they are) and Chuck is no revenant so instead, I concocted a plan to take Chuck with me when I travel around the world, which I do frequently. Not an easy task. First, I have to deflate the poor kid of all air, stuff him in my carry-on bag, remember to bring my portable pump, and when I arrive, I pump him back up. Ouch. But he's used to it by now and given the choice to either stay home in his comfy cat bed or get deflated, he pulls out his passport, ready to travel, every time.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Chuck In Search of Karen Blixen's Grave

Karen Blixen's house at Rungstedlund, outside Copenhagen

How far should a fan go to pay tribute to an author she loves?

According to Chuck, my rascal cat, not far at all.

I had a different idea.

Ever since I’d read Karen Blixen’s memoir Out of Africa and then watched the movie starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, which detailed Karen Blixen’s tumultuous love affair with Denys Finch-Hatton while in Kenya and running a coffee plantation, I’d longed to see her two homes—one in Kenya and the other in her native Denmark.  For me, seeing an author’s home is inspiring. I imagine them in that space writing, creating, and hope that some of their unique talent rubs off on me.

Several years ago I was lucky enough to go on safari in Kenya.  I saw where Karen Blixen lived and worked.  Recently, while traveling around the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, I also had the opportunity of visiting Karen Blixen’s ancestral home—where she was born and raised and where she returned, after her coffee plantation in Africa burned to the ground and she lost her investment.

Kate (me) in Copenhagen train station with Chuck in smart bag

Rungstedlung is approximately 25 minutes by train and a bit more by bus out of Copenhagen.  Her home is now the Karen Blixen Museum, and many of the original rooms are delightfully preserved the way they were when she lived there.

Sign announcing you have reached Karen Blixen's house

So it was exciting to take the trip north of Copenhagen and see her house, and even though it was a half dreary—cloudy, partially rainy day, I didn’t mind. We traipsed through her house and inspected her rooms, visited the part which now housed documents that told the story of her life and then stopped off in the gift shop.

Karen Blixen (not in the flesh) on poster board to greet you!

Chuck, safely squirreled away in my smart bag, bore the entire experience with unlikely quiet reserve.  We were about to leave when I realized that we hadn’t seen Karen Blixen’s gravesite.  Follow the path behind the house, we were told. I couldn’t resist, and Chuck, realizing that the path was likely to be somewhat deserted, knew he’d be let out of the smart bag and allowed to roam around.

Back view of house with pathway leading to grave

We started off down the path, crossed along the back of the house, and quickly, very quickly we entered into a kind of forest, beautiful but very quiet and deserted. With no grave in sight. The guide woman at the desk had clearly said to follow the path.  So we continued to walk.  Hanging from trees were smartly carved cheerfully colored birdhouses, which helped to dispel the gloom.  The drizzle, which had started with our walk, now turned into a downpour.  Chuck sloshed along in front of me.  Still no gravesite.

Path with brightly colored birdhouses

I became suspicious. Why would anyone want to be buried so far away from the house? Had we somehow missed the “clearly marked sign”?   

Then it happened. A black bird appeared in front of us. At first I thought it was an omen. But, no, only trouble because Chuck saw the bird and let loose, his belly dragging behind him as he chased after this poor creature, who for some reason, refused to take flight. Surreal almost. Finally, when it seemed that Chuck was just about to pounce, the bird rose into the air. Chuck, clearly out of breath, didn’t seem too concerned that he’d lost his conquest. And, of course, still no gravesite. We’d been walking up an incline for at least ten minutes.

Marina across the street from where Karen Blixen lives

Chuck gave me one of those looks.  He’d had enough.

I am not one to give up, but Chuck was drenched. The path was turning into mud. And the forest was now the forest primeval.

We turned around and returned to the gift shop.

Yes. Karen Blixen was buried at the top of the hill. Under the giant beech tree. There is a marker.  Perhaps, you did not walk far enough.

Suddenly it didn’t matter anymore.  Instead I’d walked the path I imagined she’d walked a hundred times.  And that was enough for me.



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