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Pathfinders in a modern landscape

Author Clarence Day observed: "Curiosity is a valuable trait." More than that, it is a worthy human characteristic that can be pleasantly contagious.

Today, Americans in greater numbers than ever are traveling to satisfy their curiosities, to verify long-held questions.

As with others, Peggy and I appreciate the big scenes that fill the eye. We, too, find a masterpiece of nature a moving experience, but we also like to retrace the paths of history or to sail off to places that once seemed beyond our reach.

For us, to be on our own, leaving a major highway for the slower pace in the backwaters of the mainstream, is especially rewarding. To walk on desert floors in Arizona or Mexico is a simple experience many others pass up at 60 miles per hour. It also invites chance encounters in the flow of new faces and places.

Over the travel years we have deliberately gone to places people tell us not to go because there is "nothing to see." If we had settled for that, we'd never have seen the Australian outback or cruised down the Laguna Madre waterway between Corpus Christi and Brownsville, Texas.

Some of the bits and pieces that form the mosaic pattern of our travels might have been disregarded if experienced by another.

Many of our best cameo recollections have a strange, lasting power and return unannounced:

On a Sunday morning, a Nebraska highway patrolman stopped us for speeding on a stretch of the old Lincoln Highway, an infraction that drew only a warning.

I remarked that I had incorrectly presumed that all highway officers would be in church since sinners arise late on Sunday.

He grinned and said, "Well, I was heading home for lunch, as a matter of fact." Then talk turned to the identities of some of the crops we had been passing for miles.

Ten minutes must have passed during which the genial patrolman explained what was what and where to find them along the highway.

I don't think such Sunday pleasantries could have been exchanged, say, on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Another lasting recollection:

We cruised our boat, Final Edition, one day into Bucks Harbor, Maine, just off Eggemoggin Reach, to chat with grocery owner Ed Noessel, a man of considerable local acclaim.

He sold snowballs in August to tourists!

"I was shovelin' snow one winter mornin' trying to make it to my store from the highway," he said. "It was hard goin' and I was fussin' away to myself there wasn't a darned cent of profit to be made in it.

"Then a light lit up in my head. Why, I could turn the snow into snowballs, freeze them in the meat locker. Then, come summer, sell 'em to the tourists."

Last time I saw Mr. Noessel, he was getting 69 cents apiece for the snowballs. He allowed as how it was a bargain price since he had been advised by a Wall Street friend that "ragin' inflation" was just around the corner.

Another time, heading north in the family Volkswagen on the outskirts of a South Carolina town, Peggy called my attention to a stack of large black pipes being used in a road project.

On one, in large white lettering, was "007 Cheats on His Wife." About a mile farther on, there was another pile of pipes, one bearing the message, "And She Cheats on Him."

Whether they knew it or not, straight ahead a few miles, there were redemption opportunities.

We saw a church just off the highway in a beautiful, tree-shaded setting and slowed the car to observe what turned out to be the Double Head Baptist Church. Not long after that, we noted a directional sign referring to an unseen church "Two Country Blocks Away."

In our travels we've been in maybe 200 motels crisscrossing the United States and other countries.

The matter of smoking in them is an expanding issue. Two years ago, we stopped in Sedona, Ariz., and in order to get a room in the Cimarron Motel, had to sign an agreement we would not smoke in it.

Not a problem for Peggy and me, being non-smokers. Still, it was a bit annoying since our word was not good enough. The agreement stated that any violation on our part could cost us up to $100 for cigarette burns or smoke damage to drapes, etc.

After a period of nearly five months in Australia, we have some capsule comments:

While Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane are much worth visiting, two of the most overlooked areas are Tasmania, an island reminiscent of Maine, and the state of Western Australia on the Indian Ocean side. It is beautiful, rugged coastal country and has challenging outback frontiers.

To really get around Australia, other than by air, takes at least a month's time.

The famous Ayers Rock is big _ good camera and video material _ but we found it hardly worth the time and effort. Sorry.

On the other hand, we thoroughly enjoyed the three-day train ride from Sydney to Perth. Some people claim the long haul across Nullarbor Plains is monotonous, but looking out at night at the dinner-plate-size stars and the Southern Cross through unpolluted atmosphere is unforgettable.

For a couple who came to Florida by boat in 1952 to begin a new lifestyle, Red and Peggy Marston certainly have expanded their objective. By extensively cruising in their Final Edition and by driving their small car tens of thousands of miles, they have been in all but one Canadian province, driven or been in all 50 states and made three lengthy trips to Mexico. By cruise ship they have been to Alaska and made a circumnavigation of South America. Red Marston joined the Times in 1955, retired in 1975 and still writes occasionally for the Sports and Seniority sections.