Traveling at home


My life has been full of journeys. As a child I lived in Latvia, Norway, Russia, Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Portugal, and even occasionally in the U.S. Later in life, my wanderlust led me to Iceland, Mexico, Columbia, Argentina, Yugoslavia, Poland, Bulgaria, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and even the frozen tundra of Yakutsk. As my life unfolded, so did my suitcase, and I had wonderful opportunities to both live and work in the USSR (later Russia) and Ukraine. All these excursions led to an appreciation of different cultures, a mastery of foreign languages, and a love of exotic foods. 

When my Vineyard friend Mary V. invited me to join her on an excursion to the Antarctic,

I, of course, accepted with alacrity. It was an extraordinary trip. We glided past towering glaciers and dramatic ice banks on a French ship, all the while feasting on gourmet food, especially croissants. Every day, clad in arctic gear, we huddled together on Zodiaks, which took us to frozen islands. There we climbed and slid about on icy paths, and visited the penguins, which provided endless amusement, most likely for both species. No stranger to the attraction of polar opposites, we soon signed up for the Norwegian mail boat trip to the Arctic Circle. There we sat up at night gazing at the stunning Norwegian coast. Further up north, we reveled in seeing reindeer and visited indigenous Finno-Ugric Sami families. After that, where to next? Mary V. and I were discussing an exploratory visit to Greenland when the pandemic struck. 

I came to the Vineyard in mid-March, and have been here ever since. So what does a housebound traveler do during COVID exile? First of all, read. Instead of seeing for ourselves, we take trips through books. I especially enjoy exploring other countries through mysteries. Venice with Donna Leon; Berlin through David Downing; Paris and the Balkans with Alan Furst; Yorkshire, England, with gimlet-eyed Peter Robinson. Some people nurture new skills such as baking bread, while others plunge into physical activity such as walking and pickleball. The latter seems to be a current Vineyard craze. Tomorrow I plan to buy my first racket and ball.

People are also assembling jigsaw puzzles. Creating a clear image out of hundreds of separate pieces brings order to chaos, helpful in these difficult times. 

An artist friend has encouraged me to start writing poetry, which I am doing and loving. Exploring my creativity, thoughts, and musings, is proving to be enlightening. It requires focusing on my inner life and traveling by staying still. It offers so many possibilities, which are seemingly limitless. I am free to create, enjoy, and wander. Where to next? It depends on where my imagination takes me. 

Walking has always been a special pleasure. Recently I joined some friends to explore Philbin Beach in Aquinnah, a first for me. “Doesn’t this remind you of the Antarctic?” Mary V. asked, pointing to the black sand at the bottom of the brown, crumbling cliff. I was surprised, but then realized it did. I was traveling again — just closer to home.

Grace Kennan Warnecke is the former chairman of the board of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, and author of the memoir “Daughter of the Cold War.” She is a seasonal resident of Vineyard Haven.