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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one

Art, books inspire trips

Last weekend my parents were in town, and so I took them to the Albany Institute of History & Art to see the Currier & Ives and Hudson River School exhibits.

Both exhibits are quite good and well worth seeing. But I think the Hudson River School exhibit is of particular interest to people who live in upstate New York, as it features numerous paintings and prints of the Adirondacks and Catskills and other Northeastern attractions, such as New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

I’ve visited many of the places depicted in the Hudson River School exhibit, and I enjoyed seeing familiar places transformed by an artist’s eye and imagination.

As I wandered through the galleries, I reminisced about hiking in the Catskills and Adirondacks, and marveled at Albany’s heyday as a bustling port city with a vibrant riverfront teeming with boats. I remembered my awestruck first trip to Niagara Falls and was reminded of my newfound appreciation for communities to the south of the Capital Region, such as Hudson and Woodstock. And when I stopped to gaze upon a depiction of the Cohoes Falls, my first thought was that my parents and I should drive out to Cohoes and look at it. After all, my mother is wild about waterfalls.

Why not take a little drive, and see the real thing?

Cohoes isn’t far from Albany, and we were heading north for a dinner party anyway. On our way to Saratoga County, we took a slight detour, parked the car and headed out to the viewing platform. As usual, the falls were impressive: roaring and foaming and smashing upon the rocks below. We watched the falls for a few minutes, and then piled back into the car and continued on our way.

I often look at pictures or read travel stories and feel inspired to visit the places I’ve just seen or read about. I don’t always follow up — at least, not immediately. For instance, I have yet to go to Dry Tortugas National Park, an archipelago about 70 miles west of Key West.

I learned about Dry Tortugas from the 2005 travelogue “Assassination Vacation,” in which the writer Sarah Vowell travels around the U.S. visiting sites related to the assassinations of presidents Abraham Lincoln, William McKinley and James Garfield. Dry Tortugas is home to Fort Jefferson, a massive, unfinished fortress once used as a prison; Dr. Samuel Mudd, the doctor who treated John Wilkes Booth after the Lincoln assassination, was incarcerated there.

Anyway, reading “Assassination Vacation” made me want to go to the Dry Tortugas, take a tour of the fort, and spend the rest of the visit birdwatching and snorkeling. And I lobbied for a Dry Tortugas stop on our family trip to Key West. But the archipelago is remote, our time was limited and my sister gets seasick, and so we decided to stick to the mainland.

I haven’t forgotten about the Dry Tortugas. Someday, I intend to get there.

Works of fiction can also make me feel like traveling.

Reading “Moby Dick” made me feel like visiting the New Bedford Whaling Museum in Massachusetts — a trip I have yet to take. And reading Robert Frost’s poem “Birches,” with its description of birch trees that “bend to left and right/Across the lines of straighter darker trees,” makes me feel like going for a long walk in the woods and looking at birch trees. “War and Peace” made me feel like visiting Russia, which I haven’t done, while “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” made me feel like visiting Savannah, Ga., yet another trip I have yet to take.

More often, books and art make me feel like visiting the homes and haunts of the writers and artists who produced them.

After taking in the Andrew Wyeth exhibit at The Hyde Collection a few years back, I asked my parents to take me to the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine, which owns numerous works by Wyeth, his father N.C. Wyeth and son Jamie Wyeth, and to the nearby Olson House, an old farmhouse featured in some of Andrew Wyeth’s most famous paintings.

On a hiking trip that took us through Bangor, Maine, I requested that we take a quick spin by Stephen King’s house, a 19th century mansion surrounded by a wrought-iron fence decorated with bats and spiders.

Books and art can help us travel to places that aren’t immediately accessible.

And they can help deepen our appreciation of a place.

Shortly before her wedding, my friend Hanna sent me a copy of Mark Twain’s “Life on the Mississippi,” a memoir of his life as a steamboat pilot prior to the Civil War. Hanna was getting married in LaCrosse, Wis., which lies on the Mississippi River, and her prewedding activities included a steamboat trip up the river, and playing poker on the steamboat later that day.

Though a part of me resented Hanna for assigning homework prior to her wedding, reading about Twain’s experiences, and his description of the river, made me more interested in LaCrosse, the Mississippi and the surrounding scenery.

And sometimes that scenery is right in your backyard.

The Hudson River School exhibit at the Albany Institute of History & Art provided me with countless ideas for things to see and do, many of which involved taking walks and hiking.

Good thing it’s spring, and I can explore some of these places.
I’m still eager to visit Dry Tortugas, but there’s plenty to keep me occupied in the meantime.

Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at

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