A leather-and-wood fly swatter hangs in my screen porch, its cowhide face dotted with circular openings in precise rows and its handle whittled into smooth curves. It seems too beautiful a thing to use — until a black fly buzzes my dinner. This I bought from a shy, bonneted, young Amish woman in an outbuilding of a farm near Lanesboro, Minn. Her accounting was done by the morning light that seeped in through the window.

Each winter, I keep warm under my favorite woolen hat, purchased from a knitters’ co-op in Aberdeen, Scotland, when my travel wardrobe proved no match for the North Sea winds. I recall ducking my head to enter the squat door of the age-old storefront off a gray cobblestone lane.

My souvenirs lean toward the practical, from a ceramic hurricane lamp purchased in Mexico City to a Gooseberry Falls hoodie I picked up during my most recent trip to the North Shore. I like to lay my hands on vacations past, resurrecting memories in the middle of a hurried day. Memories are the point of souvenirs, after all; the word itself means “remembrance” in French.

Utilitarian keepsakes are just one kind. Travelers also find joy in kitsch. (I am not immune. A battery-operated hula dancer resides in my basement.) And there are natural wonders gathered from woods and shorelines and stowed in suitcases.

Sea glass, birds’ feathers, tangles of moss, smooth rocks and other gems of nature lie scattered around my home. I’ve collected these weathered objects from my cherished summer getaway, Madeline Island.

I’ve long planned to make a mobile, stitching together driftwood and dangling my talismans of Madeline from the crisscrossed branches. On a winter’s night, it could sway above my head, like dreams of vacations to come.

In my busy life, the mobile may never get made, but the objects — on shelves, in bowls, on windowsills — work their memory magic even so.


Send your questions or tips to Travel Editor Kerri Westenberg at travel@startribune.com, and follow her on Twitter: @kerriwestenberg.