Land of Stolen Vowels

Do you remember the end of the first season of Mad Men, when Don’s pitching an idea to the bigwigs at Kodak? He’s standing up by their Carousel slide projector, flipping through visions of his memories. “This is not a spaceship, it’s a time machine,” he said. “It goes backwards and forwards, and it takes us to a place where we ache to go again.”

I’ve felt like I was standing up beside a slide projector these past few weeks, clicking through memories. And I couldn’t stop thinking of Don’s words, how photos take us “to a place where we ache to go again.” Albums full of images aren’t just art or trophies; they’re the narrators of our life stories, aren’t they? I came back from Croatia with a fully-loaded digital camera, but that memory card was filled with nostalgia as much as data. I’ve taken my sweet time to recount my single week in the Balkans, but that act has forced me to nurture my sense of adventure. It’s reminded me that there’s something bigger than my current existence in the faceless, traffic-ridden suburbs of Washington: there’s magic and danger and exhilaration out there. You just have to decide to go after it.

(And romance, too; this couple clearly knew what they were doing when they chose the backdrop for their wedding photos.)

So it’s fitting to end all these tales of Croatia in Krka National Park. Krka was the reason I settled on Croatia when so many other travel choices beckoned. As I flipped through the pages of Lonely Planet guidebooks on the bookstore shelves, one photo of Skradinski Buk—a majestic, 17-step waterfall in the park—glimmered on its page as if lit from within. That sealed the deal: Croatia it would be. I started with a vision; months later, I saw my hopes realized, tangibly, in rock face and rushing water. For someone like me, that kind of experience serves as a beacon of light. I’m a 23-year-old kid trying to figure out what I want my life to look like, who has been blessed with the fundamentals—good health and an abundance of good people—and am currently struggling with much of the rest. But in moments of despair or paralysis, we all have memories. And memories can act like flashlights in a blackout.

So, why don’t I let the rest of the pictures speak for themselves? Here, you can see how that last day in Croatia was spent: namely, huddled under an umbrella in the rain-splattered main square of Sibenik (and gazing through the stained glass of its imposing cathedral), then drying out on the way to Krka (where I soaked in the water with my eyes, not my clothes).

After the trip, I received an e-mail from my friend Zach, who hoped “that Krka National Park has recovered from the tragic theft of its vowels by Serbian nationalists.” You be the judge, readers, but from the looks of it? I certainly think it has.

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