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The miles and smiles we logged

I was kidding when I suggested an outsize souvenir of our trip. my wife was not.

I have an eight-foot-long log in my living room. It's from Lake Cushman State Park in Washington. My living room is in Massachusetts.

The Pacific Northwest produces driftwood in only slightly smaller quantities than it does decaf cappuccinos. So we were on vacation, wading in crystal-clear water and admiring the sheer quantity of floating lumber. I turned to my wife and said, in an unguarded moment, "This would look great in our living room." I was referring to a particularly large and handsome piece. I was kidding.

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I should have stopped to consider before saying anything. I should have considered, for example, the gigantic Turkish teapot on our armoire back home - the one my wife lugged across Asia Minor for three weeks, strapped to her back, before we met.

Pointing out eight feet of bleached cedar (seriously; I've measured it) to someone with a history of collecting outsize souvenirs was ... what? To her, it wasn't a dare, it wasn't even a challenge. To her, it was just another item of vacation memorabilia.

We were 3,000 miles from home. We were packing a giant log into a compact rental car. I realized then that we should have asked Avis to upgrade us from the six-foot to the eight-foot-log model, because one-quarter of my wife's souvenir was hanging out the driver's-side window.

It was difficult for the park ranger up the road not to notice. He informed us sternly that removing anything from a national forest was against the law. Fortunately, we had done our souvenir hunting in the state park down the road, where it is more lawful to take home large unattached pieces of tree.

So the three of us were (mostly) in the car and on our way. But we were not headed back to Boston. We had a small detour to make: a week-long cruise in Alaska. If "Twiggy" was coming east, it would have to go north first.

Here's what was going through my mind: It's a one-hour car ride to Seattle, where we'd spend the night in a motel. Next morning, we'd drop off the rental at the airport and check our "luggage" for the flight to Sitka. A van would pick us up at Sitka and take us to the ship. More luggage handling. Seven days on the Inland Passage. A van back to Seattle. Another check-in. Another airport, and then ... a cab ride home.

I was convinced that, despite this being my wife's mission, I would be doing most of the lugging. (I was wrong.) But my biggest concern wasn't the inconvenience to me. What about all the people who would have to help us? The clerks, the drivers, the luggage guys. How could we be anonymous carrying cumbersome tree parts?

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Any one of those hurdles should have been enough to consign the endeavor to wishful thinking. Together, they were an obstacle as tall as Mt. Ranier.

My wife, however, is generally unburdened by such thoughts. She saw the beautiful shape of wood (Did I mention that she's an artist?), how the fond memory would rekindle every time we looked at it, and the story we could tell about our travails - I mean, travels.

Next thing I know, we're at the ticket counter with the piece that put the "odd" in "odd-sized luggage."

I expected the airline clerks to protest. Instead, they seemed amused. Perhaps they'd seen stranger items -a presidential ear from Mt. Rushmore, maybe? They simply asked us routine questions: "Has this stick been out of your possession at any time? Has anyone asked you to carry any kindling on board for them?"

They slapped on a routing sticker and name tag and sent it down the conveyor belt. The name tag was important: Many enormous logs look similar at the baggage claim.

My wife's family, joining us on the cruise, were also amused. But they didn't seem that surprised. Having known my wife far longer than I, perhaps they were used to this. They did offer to carve their names into Twiggy, to commemorate the occasion. My wife declined.

Twiggy found a comfortable spot on the floor of our cabin. People who know to look for it can catch glimpses of it in our vacation photos. The crew seemed to enjoy it. The maids cleaned around the limb without comment or complaint. The van ride back to the airport and the final check-in were practically routine.

But now we were landing in Boston. We'd entertained most of the people with whom Twiggy had come in contact, but I was still nervous. The last and biggest obstacle lay ahead: the cab ride home - and the cabbie.

We got in line at the cab stand, by now oblivious to people's stares. How was this going to work? That clear-plastic shield between taxicab driver and passenger seats would make it impossible to angle Twiggy through the driver's-side window. And that thing is definitely not going to fit in the trunk.

As we neared the front of the line, my "How could you put me through this?" self-pity nearly bubbled over. And then - wouldn't you know? - here comes a station-wagon cab. The gentleman in front of us was happy to relinquish his spot in line for the sake of our tall, skinny traveling companion. The cabbie loaded it in the back without a word.

In the end, it seems the only one ruffled by the entire process was me.

Twiggy is now nestled next to our mantle. I'm happy my wife prevailed. We have a unique memory of our trip. So does everyone who helped us. And I learned that people are much more accommodating than you think, especially when they're smiling.

But no way are we going to the Petrified Forest next year.