Jimmy Smith’s ‘Another View’
Photo: Jimmy Smith bicycling the Great Allegheny Passage rail-trail in southwestern Pennsylvania. (Julianne G. Crane)
(Click on images to enlarge) Send your comments by clicking here
‘LIFE CYCLES’ – Friday, April 26, 2013
I’m looking out at a sun-drenched landscape in Eastern Washington, where lawn mowers are just now being pulled from their winter resting places; the trees are just leafing out; and no one is hiding on the shady side of places yet. What a nice time to be coming back to the land Julianne and I call “our country.”
The past week is a blur. We waved goodbye to our trusty 5th wheel and moments later began our sprint north from the lovely foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains where the sunshine had already begun to feel oppressive and the life cycle of grasses and other tender plants was completing.
I have always marveled at the life cycles of plants and how quickly they finish, leaving their seeds behind for some future spring rain to call them back to life. I can’t help but wonder about my own life cycle as I raise my face to the tender sun.
‘CHANGE’ – Tuesday, April 9, 2013
That somewhat familiar ache in the top of my chest is visiting again this early morning well before the first light. I’ve been tugged from sleep to sit and say we are leaving our lovely resting place on the flank of the Sierra Mountains in California.
Change is sweeping across our landscape much quicker than we expected. Just a few days ago we were visiting a friend on his land overlooking other mountains in our homeland of Eastern Washington. His generous offer to host us and our little rambling home on wheels drew us north for a look. Could this be the solution for this longing we have for a sense of home and place? As we climbed to the highest rock outcropping in search of the elusive cell phone signal and attempted to fathom the serpentine dusty approach to a suitable RV site for our trusty little 5th wheel, both Julianne and I knew there could be no fit for us there. The thousand-plus mile drive north bore no fruit.
Moments later, on that wind-swept perch overlooking Lake Roosevelt, we sketched a new plan. What would happen if we wiped the slate clean, to explore a completely different plan and destination?
In my mind I crafted an advertisement for our Citation 5th wheel on Craig’s List in Fresno near where we have been living intermittently this past year. That afternoon our request for a ready and willing buyer was cast out into the ether’s. Several days passed before the one and only response came. Yesterday, after a friendly visit and inspection, it was final, our sweet little home is going away. Soon we will be sailing off into the wild blue yonder.
Quite some years ago, after showing a new acquaintance a piece of abandoned farm land and sketching out my rosy future, he wondered off and described me as a “dreamer.” From what I gathered it wasn’t a term of flattery. Years later as that outlandish dream bore fruit and he became my friend, we laughed over the memory.
So as the very first light begins to creep in and chase away the night here at Park Sierra, I peer out the window with that catch in my throat and begin my goodbyes.
I wonder what waits us beyond the bend in the road?
* Julianne’s note: We’ve been getting a number of inquiries asking if we are getting of the road entirely. The answer is ‘absolutely not.’ We’ll continue to RV frequently using our truck camper to explore the backroads of the Pacific Northwest and western Canada. Then in the winter, we’ll escape for a month or two to warmer climes in the desert Southwest.
‘FIRST SIGNS OF SPRING IN EASTERN WASHINGTON’ – Saturday, March 30, 2013
I started a hike, with a good friend, on the edges of wheat fields being worked into planting condition. We trailed higher and higher along a path, soon stepping around rivulets of water trickling out of banks along our way. Then we were winding through patches of snow in north facing Douglas Fir groves.
All the while I kept scanning for places that get bathed in the early spring sunshine and finally there it was, all alone, a Buttercup. Soon I found more brave blooms hunkered down close to the forest duff.
I knew I was home again. For years I have hiked out onto the margins of snow to find the first Buttercups. Before long the Grass Widows and Shooting Stars will light up these same pathways, then the Balsam Root with its bold displays of color.
Ahhh, I am happy today.
‘SAYING GOODBYE TO PARK OF THE SIERRAS’ – Thursday, March 21, 2013
Goodbyes are hard and they are happening now here in the Park of the Sierras. We are saying our farewells and my enthusiasm for an uncertain future is tempered by the catch in my chest.
Water often seems to figure into my pictures or metaphors describing this journey of life. So once again as we push off from the bank in such a nice quiet eddy and begin to feel the current pick us up and pull us around the bend and away from the familiar. I have to trust this force inviting us deeper into our lives.
I trust this ribbon of asphalt river will swing around back through this valley again and new friends will sing their hellos again.
But now I can hear coming off the canyon walls downstream the excitement of the water and the promise of another fertile piece of ground to nestle into.
It’s interesting, this past week I was working on one of the projects in the park operating a compacting machine. We were packing sand around a new septic tank. I’ve been running this machine from time to time and I have learned to relax and wait with it. We get so attached to the march forward at some respectable rate.
We think when things are going slow and there seems to be a lack of traction we think we need to push. This machine has taught me this: When it has done its job of compaction it will walk itself forward.
How many times do I have to learn this lesson? So as we catch the current and drift deep into the river going north I want to steer away from the rocks and hear my laugh echoing up the canyon walls.
More later from around the bend.
* Send your comments by clicking here.
‘SITTING ON THE COLORADO’ – Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013
Over my right shoulder there is a startling mountain-scape of craggy peaks largely free of vegetation jutting up. On my left, palm trees frame the view of the same stark mountains thrusting into the sky, and a crystalline blue ribbon of Colorado River winds along its base. Deciding between the views could give a guy whiplash.
Sitting here in our little camper this morning, as we begin to wind down our winter tour of the southwest, I’m reminded of several things.
This winter Julianne and I continue to admire our decision to again travel in our 8 ½-foot slide-in truck camper. It has nicely provided us all the shelter and support systems to make life comfortable, and make travel up most roads possible. For some reason I would not have been able to arrive at this conclusion without first aching for, acquiring, and dragging around our 29-foot 5th wheel trailer for a year.
Sometimes it just takes having a personal experience for me to draw my own conclusions. A sure sign of wisdom might be not having to personally make all the twists and turns, and to be able to use other folks’ research, to draw my own conclusions. Nice idea anyway.
I haven’t been writing for some time, but I have been busy gathering memories and friendships along the trail. The portfolio of pictures resting in my mind’s eye is nicely filled. Paths have crossed and been re-crossed, the way they do out here on the road.
There is a mystery out ahead of us as we attempt to plumb our future. Where is our place? Where will be our garden? Is there a puppy out there that wants to call our place home?
I am satisfied to rest in the mystery.
‘TO THE DESERT WE GO’ – Monday, Feb. 4, 2013
I always have subscribed to the notion that smaller is better and much of my life I have explored the realms of simple and small. I’ve never been quite sure if the experiment was altruistically-based or if I just didn’t have the focus or energy to make life “bigger.”
Tonight we are under a vast starlit sky high above such things as smog and lights on the edge of the Mojave Desert in Southern California. We are small, in our little 8-1/2′ truck camper. One short step will take you just about anywhere you need to go in here.
Between the pestilence that was lodged in my chest and some semi-recognized funk that seemed to grip my life force, I’ve struggled to remove myself from the couch these past number of weeks.
Loading up the camper and carefully outfitting it for this trip to the desert was helpful ,but I couldn’t quite feel the joy. Now, out here under the stars far from any routine, the weight has lifted from my chest and the open country beckons. Maybe that is why some of us travel, and travel, and travel.
I do know that I’ve been compelled time and again to set down the known and recognized in favor for some unexplored countryside. I can’t think of a better place than the desert to contemplate what my heart yearns for. And to the desert we go now.
‘GROUNDHOG DAY’ – Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013
February 2nd and no groundhog in our neighborhood to offer up its advice. However, birds are chattering away outside our door, the park is sunlit and seemingly in the throes of an emerging spring. Here at our pleasing latitude and sedate elevation in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, it could be possible.
If I were in a digging frame of mind I would be casting those early season seeds. I still miss that and hold out hope in the future for a garden again.
I mount the keys of my computer this morning with increasing, yet limited vigor. The past couple weeks I’ve been sulking near my bed with some rendering of crud lodged deep in my bronchial passageways. Now as my lungs begin to clear and my mind, while lagging behind a bit, finds some low gear to begin pulling me up from my bed.
Julianne is bent over her computer finishing up some research for an article prior to our cruising out of here toward the desert in a day or two. There are hot springs out there and unvisited quiet roads to explore, and a campfire or two, and who knows what else to discover. Our little traveling camper is all buckled down on the truck ready to go. And truth be told, so am I.
We’ll keep you posted from out there over the ragged edge.
‘AWNING ETIQUETTE’ – Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2013
It seems I continue to take classes in the RV lifestyle section of the School of Hard Knocks.
Most of my classes fall under the sub-category of “If Only.” My latest might be called “Awning Etiquette.” As in NEVER being lulled into thinking that all is well with the awning. Our awning is now piled in its various component parts along side the shed.
Even at that moment things could have turned out differently if I would have had the presence of mind to run for the broom and attempt spilling water from the pool. But no, I sprinted toward the moment of awning doom.
Here is the lesson: “DO NOT ATTEMPT AN AWNING ADJUSTMENT WITH SEVERAL HUNDRED POUNDS OF WATER POISED OVER YOUR HEAD.” I might be the only budding RVer out here not knowing this.
In that moment of lifting the support arm handle, our handsome 18-foot ocean blue awning was in tatters. After much cursing and shameful head hanging, convinced our nice awning was a total loss, I began poking through the debris.
Using YouTube videos, I began acquiring an understanding of the inner workings of the roller assembly and carefully removed the damaged end of the spring assembly and bludgeoned it back into something resembling straight. I blocked up both ends of the long round roller tube (see right) and tentatively began bouncing on the middle to straighten out the noticeable bow caused by the water weight.
It ain’t the space shuttle, right?
As I’ve told my tale of woe to fellow travelers, there were many stories shared with pretty much the same outcome as my own. All were accompanied with knowing smiles and frequent bursts of laughter.
In the grand scheme of the universe, we’re dealing with very little things here on the edge of the RV frontier.
Happy adventures in the New Year.
HELLO FROM THE RAGGED EDGE OF CHRISTMAS — Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012
Between the mega jolt of morning coffee and the maple syrup-fueled plate of French toast, and the lingering after effects of that bit of whiskey partaken on the eve of this day, I’m kind of propped against the wall semi-slumped in my chair assessing my situation.
Looking out from here it’s a bit like peering through one of those kaleidoscopes from my childhood. Lots of hues and contrasting sharp edges. There was always a beautiful riotous order delivered up through that magic device. I know that is true here, looking out across the landscape of my inner and outer worlds. I’ve often said that if only I could see my own life from 35,000 feet, I might marvel at the beauty and order. From inches away, however, it can be a bit confusing even on Christmas
From inside our little nest, all is in perfect harmony. I got presents; Julianne got presents. My presents make my life in the kitchen more productive. Seems a bit sneaky on Julianne’s account. Last year I seem to remember getting a new sink strainer and a cheese grater. I got a fancy portable mixer this year. Surely it must mean I am being favored more each year. Oh, and I received a nice gift card to the same kitchen gadget store. It’s starting to smell of conspiracy around here.
Julianne received a badminton set, nice dartboard, and an electronic Sudoku gadget. Games, one and all. All about fun–as I slave away in the kitchen.
It’s no accident I spend so much time in the kitchen. It might have something to do with me not allowing Julianne in there. It is a bit mind boggling how she can create such chaos just making a cup of coffee. Better to just keep her out of the kitchen.
On a different, sadder note, our dear friend and neighbor Ken Bixler passed away. He was another man of the kitchen, delivering up scrumptious treats to our door even as his health was faltering. There is one less World War II-era Veteran here in our community today. Bless your heart Ken and safe passage. Jean, his lovely wife, sits in their motor coach with its engine silent, wishing her navigator and driver had not been called away.
So there is bitter and there is sweet,
and a natural rhythm and order to things.
If only we can get up high enough
LISTENING FOR THE SOUNDS OF CHRISTMAS — Monday, Dec. 17, 2012
It’s been a while since I last sat to collect and report my thoughts. So much going on with the end of the world coming and all.
I’ve just had to play outside and etch into my memory the sounds of creek and bird, the fresh laughter of children, the feel of shovel in earth. And then these last few days at an elementary school in Connecticut. My head is bowed and often tears push hard against some membrane of stoicism. There have been leaks as the collected grief pushes through and threatens to lay me down for a real cry.
At a workshop some years ago a skilled presenter proposed that we all get our hearts broken one way or another. There was a moment there when I got that, deeply, and felt relief. I was not the only one. We all suffer whether at the hands of parents or bullies down the street, loves lost, illness, disappointments, a mysterious rage pointed in our direction. It’s just a fact of life.
For some crazy reason for years I thought if only I did all the right things, meditated enough, sought to refine myself spiritually enough, there would be an end of suffering. They packaged it as “enlightenment” in my circles.
Finally I gave up on all those seminars and came to understand that there are good days and hard days, and in all the ways that life could play out I have had it pretty darned good. No mortar rounds lobbed in from over the ridge. No ethnic cleansing in my neighborhood.
There was my mother’s latest suicide attempt and other early heartbreak that, by the time President Kennedy was killed when I was in the eight grade, I felt nothing. I had insured myself against pain and disappointment. And tears never visited me.
So these many years later my desire takes me to a place where tears stalk in and sit near me and world events invade my peace and quiet.
Maybe this is what “human” is.
I think I will go outside and listen for the sounds of Christmas.
BACK IN PARK SIERRA ‘POOL VS QUILTING’ — Friday, Nov. 9, 2012
There is a soft drum of rain on the roof and a rhythmic chush, chush, chush from the pressure cooker by way of symphonic presence here in our little nest this morning in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Whether it was the smooth sipping of whiskey last night or the caress of rain, this morning I traded my work boots for soft slippers and a day inside. That is a hard territory for me to negotiate. My friends implore me to write and mostly I just want to go play outside. It seems I was designed for movement. However, on a day like today the slippers feel good and a hearty soup is in the offing.
We are back in Park Sierra near Coarsegold, Calif., with our little band of nomads. I’m once more invited into the various conversations that naturally arise. This, superimposed over the drama of another bruising national election, invites me more deeply into my thoughts about what makes for a sense of home and community.
I am endlessly drawn like a butterfly to a place it has never been or a salmon back to a home mysteriously remembered. I want community. I was designed for it in some ancient part of my lineage and while I have often cried out that there is no one less suited for relationship or community than myself, I want and need it. So here I am, shovel in one hand and a willingness to listen and participate and pray for wisdom in the other.
Just recently I’ve had a great learning. I like the game of pool and in short order, after returning to the park, I found my way to the poolroom and the great group of pool aspirants. One conversation that I found troubling was the possibility that “our” poolroom would be invaded and displaced by a renegade group of “quilters.” I could hear “them,” the quilters, on the other side of the wall in the craft room, laughing and “obviously conspiring” for our space. They seemed nice enough, but “obviously” posed a threat.
The word was out, the poolroom would be off limits to pool shooters each Tuesday. That stirred things up on our side of the wall. Obviously we would not be able to settle for the creep that would eventually overwhelm our sacred space. I found myself drawn into a conversation with a particular point of view, and I was signed up.
Some time later someone old and wise, and a pool shooter as well, quietly spoke. The quilters only wanted the space on Tuesdays and only in the afternoon. He mentioned that the quilts were for a good cause and donated to a place of need. At that moment, I found myself standing with a catch in my throat, embarrassed at my hasty alignment to the resistance.
So I’ve been thinking about this and the phrase: “We are either operating out of Love, or Fear.” So often we can feel afraid that there will not be enough and we move into a place of contraction and that can look ugly.
I’ve been on my own long journey of the notion of “not enough.” In reality, there has always been enough. So I remind myself to breathe and relax, and maybe take up quilting.
PENNSYLVANIA, A PATCHWORK OF MEMORIES — Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012
The country of my childhood falls away mile-by-mile through twists and turns of the little roads as we make our way toward Virginia.
Out behind me stretches a patchwork of memories — some as recent as this morning’s hugs and tears; some carrying the weight of generations of my ancestors. Up one of these creek bottoms a grandfather of my mother returned walking from some Civil War battle with three fingers shot off. That is almost totally unfathomable to me. And all that history is somehow etched into the template of me.
As the light began to fail Julianne and I walked our own rain-dripped path along the Youghiogheny River, holding hands and dreaming our way into some new watershed of promise. Brilliant leaves plucked by the weight of rain were being arrayed at my feet for individual inspection. Sassafras…Red Oak…White Oak…Hickory. My dad stands off out of view, but he is here through his teaching.
‘ANOTHER BEAUTIFUL MORNING IN THE HEARTLAND OF AMERICA’ — Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012
Frost has brushed across the tips of the top-most leaves and the magic of autumn is beginning. I am grateful to be out and experiencing intimately the season’s change as we ply America’s two lane roads.
A bell is chiming again and again somewhere calling the faithful to gather. I will give thanks here lit by sunshine and the glory of the passing season.
As always I find myself peering at a two-dimensional rendering of America, called a map, and attempting to recapture each of our resting places since leaving Spokane in mid-September.
Less than a week ago we were camped under sycamores and black walnuts and other trees of my childhood. They called that place Iowa, but back the way only a couple miles it was Nebraska. The next morning it was Missouri, then Illinois.
And what about the endless views of prairies and mountains? And the laughing children and all the smiling dogs I petted? And what about ???? All swept into the vast place called the past.
This morning, my steaming cup of coffee in a John Deere mug sits at my side and courts memories of friends Sue and Chuck Arbuckle, a couple in central Illinois for whom I am grateful for sights and smells and sounds of their homestead, and the sense of friendship rekindled along life’s highway.
We are having a good ramble through America and in my casual interviewing style I’m thinking that the republic will survive all the bickering of the politicians and there is hope for the future.
Breathe and relax, eyes ready for another view, another new friend for a few moments, more breathtaking scenery as we amble deeper into the brilliant paint pallet of autumn.
Breathe and relax.
‘BEAGLES, RABBIT HUNTING’ — Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012
We are nosed in next to some freeway west of Rapid City, SD, the likes we haven’t seen since leaving Spokane. We’re in a bona fide RV park with full hookups, which means we have all our lights turned on and everything we own is plugged in recharging its batteries.
So we’re parked by the freeway, so what. We both took long languid showers. I cut my hair, which means I have none to speak of for the next little while.
We also have neighbors, something we have not had for a couple of days. I noticed a rig with Pennsylvania plates and then I noticed an older gentleman walking a dog somewhat familiar, a beagle. I put two and two together and began a conversation. Yup, he was from Pennsylvania. That triggered one of those memories. I don’t know if that is necessarily reptilian or primal, but a memory nonetheless.
I was raised in western Pennsylvania where we grew up in the woods, or at least close to them. In that part of Pennsylvania, if you had any character at all, you had a beagle or two. In our case, for most of my growing up years, we had four. That is a lot of hound flesh to take care of and train for the incredible opportunity to pursue and acquire the wily rabbit.
I had not thought of it before this moment, but that might have been the basis of my first spiritual practice, the pursuit of rabbits. Anyway, I seem always to digress. We cared for, raised and trained beagles for those innocent months before the hard winter when we plied the hollows in our country hunting for rabbits.
I mentioned four beagles and I could tell a loving story of how their lives folded into our family and of the many tales of hunting. Maybe sometime I will tell that tale.
But the story I want to tell here comes at the tail end of that time. Of our four original beagles, only Chris remained to chase the rabbits. He was a rascal with many detrimental traits, which in some kennels could have culled him out. There are stories I could unfold here just in his regard, but I’m trying to stay on topic.
You have heard of rustling I’m sure and mostly related to cattle, however, in Pennsylvania it was possible for a prized beagle to get rustled and right before hunting season was the prime time. All the hours of training were done, the dog was in prime shape, and naturally the rustler was without a dog.
So here is the deal. My folks lived at the end of a long dirt road down by the Allegheny River. A mile or so back was a small village with a couple other dirt streets ending at the river.
Just before hunting season one year, Chris came up missing. Very bad deal, especially for the man, my father, who had spent the year, and in this case many years, working with Chris. My mother, being the team member that she was, decided to do some sleuthing and drifted down the dirt roads of the village. Lo and behold she spotted Chris tied up behind a rather mangy homestead. She reported to my dad and rather than gather a lynching party he decided to personally reacquire his prized beagle.
So, early the next morning he drove up to this shabby homestead, stealthily slipped behind it, unfastened Chris, put him in his rig and drove home. Upon arriving at our much more appropriate home for such a fine dog, my dad released Chris into the inner sanctum, the living room.
Both parents were pleased. A season of rabbits was re-secured. As they relaxed and watched their favored dog, he sniffed his way, as beagles do over to the couch, lifted his leg and peed on another favored item. My mom looked at my dad and said: “THAT IS NOT CHRIS.”
My dad quickly loaded this handsome dog, not Chris, into his rig, and quietly returned and clipped him back on his leash at his humble home. That story could have ended in a hanging in some other time and maybe with cattle involved.
Happily Chris soon returned from one of his occasional walkabouts just before the start of the sacred hunting season and the day was saved.
‘CONVERSATIONS ALONG THE ROAD’ — Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012
I’ve just been out walking over and through the country side on the east side of the big mountains, the Rockies. Here I hear the whisper in the prairie grasses and the moan of the wind through the Junipers. It gives me pause to think and reflect on the conversations I’ve been having along the trail, or the road. Everyone is concerned. We all are concerned for the nation. In our last encampment in the Bighorn Mountains we had two great visits with people.
One was steeped in the love of mountains and dogs and the upcoming antelope hunt. Mixed in were thoughts of elections and systems that don’t work well, but mostly there was laughter and hope for the future.
Another conversation had a more urgent overriding theme of apocalypse. (I had to use spell check to acquire the proper spelling of that word.) We also laughed and spoke of our love of dogs, but fear invaded our conversation.
Now out here listening to the whisper of wind and watching the magpies fight over the crust of bread, I put my heart back as ease and practice trusting in the cycles of life beyond the calender week or any fiscal cycle and certainly beyond my own life’s cycle.
What about the people who walked these washes on the flanks of these mountains before the white man came? What about the wave that came and turned them under? What about the waves lapping at the shores of our time?
And then what about this election cycle? I think I’ll go listen to the magpies. And then think of dancing.
‘NEW MEMORIES TUMBLING IN WITH OLD’ — Friday, Sept. 14, 2012
Julianne just asked: “When did we leave Spokane?”
That pretty much describes my state of mind and my attempt to grasp what happens when one leaves port. Dropping into the flow, or entering the stream, is a feeble attempt to report what happens as views and experiences cascade through the windows, the eyes and the nose.
You know the drill. We are out here. And it is good.
Highlights so far include watching a herd, if it is a herd, of longhorn sheep watering across the Clark Fork River from our campsite. A 24-degree night in the high country of the Big Hole in Montana gave me pause and incentive to drain all the water from the camper. We’ve seen no Grizzly Bear, but stately Bison dot the eye-popping landscape of Yellowstone. And it’s only been three nights on the road.
All these new experiences are tumbling in with memories of a 159-mile day bicycling through this very landscape in 1979; and the bicycle ride up from Mexico across this same stretch in 1992.
Ah, the open road. Hope there is some free space in the inky recesses of my cranium for perusal at some future date.
‘TIME SLIPS BY’ — Friday, Sept. 7, 2012
Julianne methodically packs her boxes and you would think I’m working on the space shuttle with all my finessing in the camper, including a new space for my spices.
In the Coast Guard we had these self-righting boats that could get rolled over in high seas and pop back up and keep going. I’m thinking the little camper might be able to take a roll and not have to be put all back together or at least survive some of the back roads stretched out ahead of us.
Anyway we’re down only a few days before setting out on our latest meander and there is growing excitement in me for the adventure.
‘SPEAKING OF COFFEE’ — Monday, August 27, 2012
It has been brought to my attention that my writing appears meager and infrequent of late. My loyal companion, Julianne, sits and taps on her keyboard hour after hour in her diligent search for complete sentences and coherence. I, on the other hand, am like a little kid with an attention span akin to something like a mosquito. Maybe it’s the coffee.
Speaking of coffee, I’m just now making a correlation between the search for meaning and the pursuit of the ultimate cup of coffee. At many points along the way I have been convinced that I had acquired the ultimate device for creating the free flow of synapses. That, of course, is what leads to all forms of production.
For some reason I’m reminded of a story. There was a time when I forsook all forms of stimulants and consciousness-bending products. I meditated diligently and pursued the words and practices of highly evolved spiritual teachers.
One summer, what seems like only a few years back, I was riding my bicycle from Mexico back to Spokane, loosely following the Continental Divide, and while pedaling through Boulder, Colorado, happened to hear a man speak on spiritual evolution.
He was talking to a packed house and for an opener, seeming to look right at me, he said: “In your pursuit of enlightenment, you can sweep up outside the ashram, or you can just eat mushrooms.”
I about fell out of my seat and began questioning my own austere approach to perfection, which leads me back to my caffeine-fueled meander. Coffee and its perfect delivery system, which drives the easy movement of mental processes, are what we are talking about here.
My latest device is called the “AeroPress.” This ingenious gadget creates no mess and delivers a cup of Joe in two shakes of a lamb’s tail, whether hunkering down along the trail or in a well-appointed kitchen. Check it out.
By the way I take no position on the use of coffee or mushrooms. I do make a strong case for heading out on the open road and making more stories and growing new friendships that I will diligently report back along the way.
From the edge of the road.
‘THE SEASON IS TURNING’ — Friday, August 24, 2012
The countdown has started for our upcoming departure. Julianne just decided she wants this largish table lamp somehow crammed into her side of the bed space for nighttime reading when we have shore power. I’m saying, “No, no, no, no.”
What happened to minimalism? I mean what is wrong with a headlamp?
I wouldn’t quite describe it as a chill in the air, but the season is turning here in Eastern Washington and there is a certain scurrying going on in our household. One more time each of our possessions is being held up for inspection and review.
Our tiny cabin on wheels begins to bulge a bit like a squirrel’s cheeks stuffed with winter provisions. I seem to forget that there are stores all across America offering to resupply our needs. How unique it would be to start a trip with little or nothing and gather things along the way. Novel concept. Ain’t happening here.
It is hard to believe that we will soon leave on our fourth extended meander around much of the country. We are reasonably undaunted by fuel prices jumping up and dire predictions from our politicians. As we soon cast off and ply the open road we’ll trade the morning news for conversations around campfires and take our own pulse of America.
As I sit here there is a slight stirring in my chest that has the edges of thrill in it. More to be revealed.
‘THE BLAST OF FIREWORKS’ — Tuesday, July 3, 2012
It is July and while we live in country that spawns wildfires, I’ve been lulled by the consistent dousing of rain this season. So imagine my surprise and disbelief last evening to see fire racing up the hillside immediately adjacent to the property we are caretaking.
Moments before, the blast of fire crackers and screech of tires reminded me of the hard-wired testosterone-laced need for young men to make big noises this time of year.
Moments later, as I sprinted for shovels to slow the bright flames devouring the hillside, memories of past fires stirred in me.
For years in my country life north of here, my gaze swiveled back and forth each time I stepped outside, scanning the ridges beyond my homestead. By July the country dried to a crunch underfoot and the lure of big explosive devices sold on the Indian reservation just beyond my place drew folks like bees to honey.
Somehow my vigilance has become a bit unsteady, but my shovels now stand ready. Last evening as a growing cluster of upset adults gathered angrily around this potentially dangerous small wildfire, commenting on such irresponsible behavior, my mind was ranging back to my own youthful experiences with fireworks.
Clawing my way from a place of powerlessness as a child to a fully formed and somewhat dangerous force had many steps. Somewhere around seven or eight, along with the reckless blast of freedom my bicycle provided, a firecracker fell into my hands. I remember it so well. It was small, called a ladyfinger I believe. I held it, I hid it, I endlessly carried it about, and I planned for its explosive release. I finally conceived a suitable venue for the spectacular event.
For years I had a plastic battleship on display in my room. Finally a purpose. I managed to gouge a hole in the deck and ceremoniously placed the sinister charge into the dark cavity below. As an after thought, I decided to glue it in place.
I might add that there was a collection of friends gathered to marvel at the plan and urge me on. Soon we were on our way to the woods across the road to small stagnant pond where we often perfected other talents I won’t speak of here.
It all felt so dangerous and pregnant with power, the lighting of the fuse, and the running back for cover. The hiss of the burning fuse still lives with me, the silence also. Whether it was all the mauling I gave that firecracker or maybe the wet glue, the ceremony did not conclude with an explosion and large gout of flame.
After a short conference, not to be beaten, we devised other courses of action. Dropping a lit match at the sagging end of the wet firecracker and running back had no desired outcome.
Finally I did what I had to do. I stood holding my trusty battleship in one hand and with my other hand I held a lit match under the explosive device. My eyes were clinched tight and my head turned as far away as my slender neck would permit with hopes of minimizing the blast damage to my face. Then there was the moment I dreamed and planned for, a dazzling explosion with bits of plastic showering about. A cursory exam left me without wounds and all of us giddy with delight.
It’s been years since I experimented with fire crackers but as I fought the licking flames last evening I had a small place of understanding for those young men tossing out their fireworks. I only hope they will return to this charred scene and be a bit sobered by a seemingly innocent joyous gesture.
Photos: (top) Within minutes of three firecrackers being tossed along side the road, flames started racing up the hillside. (Bottom) Four volunteers, including two on shovels and two using only their hands, began scooping dirt onto the flames. After less than 10 minutes the blaze was put down. (Photos by Julianne G. Crane)
‘PONDERINGS ON THE PERFECT NOMADIC SHELTER’ -- Sunday, June 24, 2012
Rain is dripping off the roof here north of Spokane in eastern Washington. It is a sodden world outside and that is why I am inside while my tools languish in the shed. Julianne has finally browbeaten me into sitting for a spell of writing and, given my immediate alternative, I’ll trade a soaking for a turn at the keyboard.
Time has been slipping away here at our summer encampment and while the road has been calling out to us, we have been taking care of one loose end or another for the past couple months.
Like so many of our vagabond brethren, our search for the perfect nomadic shelter might appear somewhat schizophrenic. To date there has been three trucks, three truck-mount campers, and one 5th wheel trailer. What the heck I always say that life is messy and that my life is very messy. I can’t seem to hang out in a theoretical world; I need to try stuff out. So the last few weeks we have been busy outfitting our latest lovely, a gently used older S & S camper.
We both have missed heading down those rutted forest service roads leading to the less visited corners of the country and after dragging our 29-foot 5th wheel across some landscape that left it groaning, we are now a two-RV family.
Such shameless excess. I do take some comfort, however, in knowing our total investment is less than a nice new shiny truck on the showroom floor. And it’s a lot less painful as I drill holes and bolt things here and there onto our new friend. We keep hoping for a clearing weather picture for our first foray into the wilderness. Maybe later this week. I promise to keep you posted.
After being on the maintenance crew this past spring at the SKP Park of the Sierras, I’ve continued my strenuous exercise program here. I’ve had the good fortune to work for a nice couple tending their forty-acre homestead. I call it going to the ‘health club.’ I’ve lost a total of 15 to 20 pounds and am more fit than I’ve been for a long time. After years of ascending waist sizes I actually bought some jeans a step down in size. Kinda scary, but kinda nice too.
So much of my pleasure and sense of purpose are provided by a reasonable day’s labor. I actually did stretch a hammock between two big evergreen trees the other day and tentatively rested there for a few moments before some urgent task plucked me out. Or maybe it was the whine of a mosquito. Either way I trust there will be time to learn the art of relaxing with my feet off the ground somewhere out ahead of me.
‘SOUND OF RAIN AND MEMORIES’ -- Wednesday, April 11, 2012
My father had his list of favorite things and the sound of rain on a tin roof ranked up near the top. So often I am aware now how like my father I have became, in spite of those early declarations that “I will never be like him.”
Yesterday I spent some hours with my work mates laboring at an excavation site. We each taking our turns with pick and shovel and jack hammer. At times I sat on the tractor as others shoveled dirt into the front bucket. I couldn’t help but be impressed in the quiet industry exhibited with no thought of bonus or raise, just the comradely and the pleasure of work.
My dad found great pleasure in physical labor and his insistence on my embracing that same ethic led to my earlier stated declaration and flight across the nation to escape his ministry.
The fruit not falling far from the tree obviously applies to this case. I marvel at the mysterious lineage passed to me from my own ancestry. All that, and then there is the huge implication of events and trends in the world at large. I don’t know whether to laugh about all that or seek help.
For today I think I will just stretch out with a good book and enjoy the rhythm of the rain on the roof.
‘REFLECTIONS ON BEING NEW MEMBERS OF SKP PARK OF THE SIERRAS’ – Tuesday, April 3, 2012
For me having a sense of community has driven many of my choices over the years. It is my belief that our modern American culture has diminished and nearly destroyed a sense of relatedness and replaced it with a host of substitutes, such as television and smartphones.
All my adult life I have always found myself being drawn to people that remember a time when we came together for a common purpose and one’s individual needs were intricately woven with those of your neighbor. I want that world.
I think in our hearts we all do.
Last fall we were just passing through Park Sierra south of Yosemite when the spell of this place was cast over us as with so many others over the years.
Something seemed to be happening here unlike the average community. A casual wave was reinforced time and time again with a genuine hello and welcome. So we did what many others did who came before us; we put our names on the ‘Wait List.’
I have found a home at the pole barn. I’ve witnessed, and continue to witness, good folks coming together for a common purpose, who are willing, after animated discussion, to step out of their own ideas about what is the ‘only’ right and correct way, to pick up the tools and get the job done.
I am made for this cooperative spirit and am so very grateful to be new members of Escapees’ Park of the Sierra.
‘ALL ABOUT FISHING’ – Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012
There is an old faded black and white photograph in a shoebox somewhere of me fishing. I’m busy impaling a worm on my hook. Close inspection reveals my get up of shorts and cowboy boots, a cane pole, no fishing reel. Confidence is evident. I’m probably four or five-years-old.
As I got older, and not much older, I honed my skills in farm ponds, and streams, and the Allegheny River within walking distance of the family’s western Pennsylvania home. I often risked, and sometimes earned, a beating for having my priorities confused. Fishing was what I was about. And I caught fish. They just seemed to like me.
I have many memories of fishing in the same boat or off the same dock as my friends and yanking in fish while they languished. I’ve had so-called friends throw rocks into a stream to get me to quit fishing so we could go home. So what goes wrong with a life this inspired?
Through my 20s I walked in balance, worked hard but fished hard. It was my 30s that got me. Fishing gear was lost in the gloom of a shed as I toiled on at one task or another. I recognized my condition but was unable to tip the balance in favor of fishing, or play of any kind for that matter. I had created a life where my work tasks could never be completed.
Well that was then. Getting from there to here required a fair amount of gnashing of teeth and a redefinition of life’s purpose.
Now in my 60s, the fish are beginning to call to me again, this time on the Coastal Bend of Texas.
It is always good to have a partner, or a mentor, or a co-conspirator when setting out for new territory. That would be Russ in this case. We had been visiting about this holy pursuit–fishing I mean. The more I heard the more I recognized my opportunity to go after these mighty fish in the Gulf of Mexico. That ain’t no farm pond we’re talking about here.
As in the case of all true fishermen, or hunters for that matter, we left the park in the early morning darkness under a canopy of stars and not a breath of wind. Excitement was stirring in me. We crossed the ferry at Port Aransas north of Corpus Christi, and found our put in on channel side of Mustang Island.
Russ was clear about our timing. He described how the outgoing tide would take us, along with all the bait fish from the marshes, out to the waiting big fish at the mouth of Aransas Pass and the Gulf. Still not a breath of air riffled the water, which I couldn’t see anyway due to the fact that it was still called ‘night.’
Well, Russ had a finely appointed sea kayak that he has been fishing with for sometime. Me, I have an inflatable pontoon boat that had never seen water until yesterday.
His kayak sliced through the water like a fish. My little inflatable boat bobbled along in the typical way of a rowboat going backwards on a more sedate passage to the sea. I’m sure he promised to stay right with me, in fact even promising to tie us together if needed. I have a friend who has been a passionate sailboat racer. He once mentioned doing a ‘horizon’ during a race. When I asked what that meant he smiled and said that it meant just sailing away from the competition over the horizon.
Russ did that. When I would wrench my little boat around from time to time so I could see where I was going he was getting smaller and smaller. At this point I had left this quiet little backwater and had entered the main Corpus Christi ‘ship channel.’ Did I mention ships? Not boats, SHIPS. Like those that go around the world. What is wrong with this picture?
The fisherman, long dormant inside me, quivering awake now began to tremble in a less recognizable way. Did I mention the tide? It was happening. Now light enough to see the piers and sea wall I was beginning to make good progress toward the open sea. Have I mentioned that I was in the U.S. Coast Guard? Yep, I was part of a crew that saved the unwary or unlucky seafarer. I think I was starting to have flashbacks.
Not to be completely overwhelmed with my present circumstance I began to fish. There is an expression: “Busier than a one legged man in an ass kicking contest.” That would describe me. I should have just concentrated on staying away from rocks of the jetty and the passing ships and the yawning ocean I was being swept toward.
My new friend had promised that we were timing the tide such that about when we approached the open sea it would switch and nicely carry us back in the direction we came from.
Along with sunrise came the wind. Oh and the occasional rain squall. At some point I totally got that this was not good and mostly abandoned fishing for a self-rescue. Did I mention the ocean swells? Yep, that was beginning to happen.
There were also other things occurring … like porpoise playing beside my little boat, breathing right next to me … and sea turtles placidly swimming by. A couple times I caught beautiful sunlit clouds towering over the water. Then there was that moment when I said to myself: “I got to get out of here.” Row, row and row I did. Inch by inch, yard by yard, I slowly beat the wind and tide and the ships’ swells, back to our put in.
Now, it’s mid-afternoon and my arms and shoulders are aching, my gear is cleaned, and my little pontoon boat is leaning against a Live Oak outside our door, beckoning me.
I wonder if there are any farm ponds close by?
‘DISCOVERING AMERICA, ONE PERSON AT A TIME’ – Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012
Dense fog rests over Canyon Lake here in the Hill Country of Texas.
Somewhere above us the sun is nibbling away and promises to break through in its own good time.
Everywhere in Texas bears evidence of the longtime lack of moisture. Here in the Hill Country we cross bridges with signs promising creeks and rivers that could easily be categorized as gulches. It is very common to see signs that state: “Watch for water on the road.” I think an amendment could read “Pray for water on the road.” But the land rests and waits.
I’ve been reading lately. Maybe that is why I haven’t been writing. Currently I am deep into a new biography of Catherine the Great of Russia. Prior to that I read a novel “Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett. Both of them give stunning accounts of history and endless examples of Man’s inhumanity.
Coupled with reading, I am constantly stepping outside our little traveling bungalow to engage in conversations with other travelers. Julianne made a post today about two lovely people, Bonnie and Dedra Evans, we camped near at Garner State Park, visited with about fishing and RVing, and then went out to dinner with at an all-you-can eat catfish buffet in Leaky, Texas.
Bonnie, a most unlikely name for a man, and Dedra are incredible examples of what has been possible in this experiment called America.
I was born white in Middle America, the perfect color to just step to the front of the line. He was born black in the South. He was not boasting when he stated that his first full-time job was picking cotton at the age of six. He was one of 8 or 9 kids with no permanent father figure while growing up.
Like me, the military saved his life by plucking him out of his world with a limited view. A career as a soldier, fighting in Vietnam for a country that had a limited record of fighting for the rights of a person of his skin color, has left him proud to have served. I say “Thank you Bonnie.”
His very lovely lady, Dedra, has her own stirring tale about growing up in Mobile, Alabama, that we didn’t have much opportunity to hear–maybe because we men were talking too much.
So while the books I read and the news I hear often speak of Man’s inhumanity to man, nearly each time I manage to peer into another person’s eyes, I witness and experience a sweetness that balances out a stilted view I could otherwise begin to acquire.
Maybe that is why I sometimes have to go out and discover America.
Blessed be and pray for rain.
‘I LOVE WATER’ — Friday, Dec. 30, 2011
I’ve always loved water. I love fishing and trailing my hand in water when I’m floating a river. I’ll do a lot just to get near water.
That being said, things are getting a bit out of hand here under our oak-shrouded spot in the Park of the Sierras, which, by the way, is well out of range of the sounds of moving water.
Take the dream I was having deep in the wee hours of this morning–water, a cascade of water.
I flew out of the bed to behold a free flowing watercourse cascading out of our toilet. I gasped and instinctively stepped on the flush pedal. Bad mistake. A gout of tainted fluids erupted from the bowels of our little ship. ‘Bowels’ being an apt description of this unfortunate eruption.
Skipping the grisly details, suffice it to say, much of the time I should have been swooning in sleep, I was mopping and sopping and grousing. Did I mention this was the second such nocturnal leakage?
Then about an hour ago, just after dinner as I was in a rare state of repose, my finely tuned ears caught a somewhat sharp retort. Parked under two massive oak trees, we’ve gotten used to the peppering of acorns on the roof. Didn’t sound quite right. Maybe my bicycle fell over by the rig? I stepped outside and was greeted by my friendly steed properly secured by its kickstand.
Earlier today, hoping to accelerate the drying of this morning’s fouling, I had placed our little electric heater in the underbelly of our ship. Unfortunately it was directing its attention onto a water line that relaxed and slipped it bounds. Gusher.
When a guy has a hard time crying, he doesn’t have any trouble swearing.
In a few days we’re pulling out of here heading for the Mojave Desert. Maybe we’ll finally dry out somewhere.
‘CHRISTMAS MORNING’ – Sunday, Dec. 25, 2011
My heart is full here in the soft sunshine with quiet strains of seasonal music caressing the background. How does one report a heart that rests in a contented home, warm and full of everything required or wanted? And a heart that aches with the knowledge of the senseless violence and suffering reported every day? I just want to cry uncle.
That being said, I want to express my deep gratitude for the lovely friendships and warm hearths opened to Julianne and myself all across this vast land of America. Here in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, we have begun a new chapter where we will rest lightly and seasonally and gather together in new friendships with a colorful band of gypsies.
In a few days we’ll round up and stow our things before heading down the road again looking for other vistas and friends we have yet to meet.
All the best to you as the year winds down and the mysterious future unfolds itself. Let there be peace–at least in our hearts.
(Photo: Jimmy and Julianne at Yosemite National Park at Washburn Point with Half Dome in background. Taken by Thom Hoch.)
‘FOOTBALL AND POOL’ — Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011
I like football. Who would have thought I would come to the game this late in life?
I don’t believe I’ve shared my one and only football experience. Since I never go back, as in turning around or rereading what I’ve written, I’ll risk telling it again.
There I was, a kid of about 11 or 12, in a farm field behind my childhood home in rural Pennsylvania. There was football being done there. Somehow I found myself in the game, and somehow a ball spiraled into my eager and spare frame. Run, I knew how to do that. At some point I slacked off knowing I had attracted the praise I longed for, and a touchdown.
Chucky Fantuzzo, who was hot on my heels finally caught me and beat me up. Probably just a couple pokes in the stomach but enough for me. No more football. Seemed like a stupid game anyway.
I am reminded of this in appreciation as the ballet of brute strength and incredible skill gets underway on the TV in our little casita. I still don’t know how many guys are out there, or what you call them, but I am enjoying myself.
I’ve been having a blast getting to know some of the other practitioners of that art here at the SKP Park of the Sierras.
One new friend, Larry Schnoover, slugged his way across the Pacific in WW ll, fought in Korea, and before he managed to retire from the Marine Corps found himself in the Tet Offensive in Vietnam.
Not a bad shooter of pool either.
‘VACILLATING PLANS, OR NOT’ – Saturday, Nov. 26, 2011
Julianne’s little Christmas tree is twinkling on the table as I look at the landscape outside our window here in the SKP Park of the Sierras. While reports come in from friends of pass closures and snow drifting against their door, brilliant sun-lit leaves are just beginning to drift down to an earth still green with life.
The easy exchange with neighbors continues and the Thanksgiving feast with two hundred-plus folks still rests somewhere on my girth.
The past couple days have witnessed Julianne and I revisiting all our previously carefully-laid plans covering the next stretch of our meander. We find ourselves vacillating on routes and schedules. I have had moments of envy when I listen to people who have very clear and unwavering thoughts and plans. Me, I didn’t get that part in life’s instruction manual.
Rather than bore you with all our mental gymnastics, we’ll just keep you posted as we hopscotch our way around the nation. For now we are either leaving here sometime in the next couple days, or in the next month.
Rumi spoke to this far more eloquently than I when he said: “Do you think I know what I’m doing? That for one breath or half-breath I belong to myself? As much as a pen knows what it’s writing, or the ball can guess where it’s going next.”
‘A CLOSE TRIM AND THOUGHTS AROUND “WHAT IS WORK” ANYWAY?’ – Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011
Every once and a while a guy needs a change without upsetting the whole apple cart. Use to be change required at least a change of address. I’m getting better. Maybe someday it will only require a new shirt, but for now a close trim gave a whole new perspective, at least when I see myself gazing back from the mirror. Kind a like a gazing ball with a bit of fuzz on it.
Speaking of change, as I’ve been toiling away at some task or another here in the Park of the Sierras, I’ve been thinking about the notion of “work” and the various relationships I’ve had with it.
My own journey was fraught with maybe some of the same reactions a patient has when confronted with a terminal diagnosis. As a child work lived in a place well outside of anything one might identify as relationship. I avoided it much like I embraced early childhood vaccinations. I wanted nothing to do with it. I had old-fashioned parents that had what seemed like sinister motives and intentions to inoculate me into the world of honest industry.
After a torturous uninspired apprenticeship, I fled my childhood home for a much more favorable environment called boot camp. There, based on my earlier training, I excelled at everything from running to shooting to scrubbing pots and pans–and actually received praise, a new thing in my life. That truly began my first personal relationship with work: “Work hard, get praise.”
Being early in this journey and committed to conservation of my efforts, I developed an uncanny ability to work when being observed by those that offered the praise. Years passed and mysteriously the relationship took on a different quality.
Of course buying my first home and cutting my own grass, building my own fence, and growing my own garden offered me a different phase of my apprenticeship. Praise was still good but something else was happening. I became a worker.
Somewhere along the line I heard the expression: “I’m a human being, not a human doing.” That invited the question: “Who am I if not my work?”
No real worries around that given that I had made a life for myself where work would never be finished. At some point one of my sisters traveled cross country to visit and observed that I had become just like my father. I was shocked and indignant. And I was in denial. But it begged the question, “Why do I work?”
I guess it feels good. It is its own reward. Years later my land is sold, tractor gone, all but my hand tools disbursed–no roofs to mend or snow to plow or gardens to tend.
My meander brings me here to a community where the rattle of tools invites into the early morning, where good humor and honest labor produce an elixir that provides a sense of belonging.
I don’t know if I’ve finished my apprenticeship yet, but I will continue thinking about it and report back.
‘THE NATTERING MIND’ — Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011
Sunshine is chasing off the early morning chill here at the Escapee RV park in the lap of the Sierra Mountains in Coarsegold, California.
Like a beehive warming up in the morning light, there is a buzzing of life outside our door. Art, with his signature cigar clenched in his teeth, just cruised by on a backhoe. The occasional golf cart whisks by on some mission or another.
I have meandered around the rugged contours of the park enough to begin to have a familiarity with the various “neighborhoods.”
Now, after Julianne and I have decided to make a commitment to this community and put our names on the Wait List, I have moments where I am assailed by doubt. What if this? What if that? Is this too good to be true? How can all these personalities, two decades and more after an initial dream put the first shovels into the ground, maintain a cohesive living vision? Ah the nattering mind.
It is a grueling schedule with my first shovel biting into the ground a bit after 8 a.m. Tools go clattering down somewhere between 9:30 and 10 a.m. Word got out that today the kitchen, along with the customary fresh baked cookies, was turning out biscuits and gravy. Don’t want to be too far back in the line for that and my work partner was sitting in his golf cart beckoning to me at maybe 9:20. It turned out to be gravy swimming with sausage. Yum.
After that repast, I somehow got snagged off the sewer crew and got my first driving lesson on the backhoe and forklift. I may be heading places in this organization. We’ll see.
Photo: Jerry and Jimmy (on saw) and Art on backhoe. (Julianne Crane)
‘SHE PLUM DON’T WORK’ — Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011
The tops of the Ponderosa Pines are catching the early sun rays here in south central Oregon and all is well. The morning porridge is simmering on the stove and steaming cups of coffee are encouraging a little more order to the brain’s firing.
Dear Julianne is bent over some task on her computer. Writing for her comes as regular as a good tooth brushing. Me on the other hand would rather go play outside.
Last night I decided to live it up and turn on the hot water tank. Reading is not all that much easier than writing for me and after struggling through attempts at what the heck the manual said, I’ve concluded that ‘she plumb don’t work.’
It’s a fancy-dancy thing that works either with propane, which does work, or electricity that seems to be obstinate at this point. It would take a small child to crawl to the back side of the unit to access the heating element and given my looks in the recent pictures that Julianne has been taking I’m moving in the wrong direction for that description. Hopefully more will be revealed.
It seems with good fortune and a tail wind we’ll leave this lovely Oregon territory behind us today.
All the best from the near ragged edge.
‘SOFT FOCUS’ — Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2011
Morning sunlight is sparkling the frost crystals on the roof of our little traveling home. The leaves are drifting down off the Willows along the creek bottom. The last of summer has packed up and moved south. Hopefully we can catch up somewhere soon. As I glance around here I’m hopeful that not more than one load to the storage unit remains. And then just some sweeping and moping, last goodbyes, and a glance in the rear view mirror.
There seems to be many twists and turns ahead even before speaking of the highway. I had hoped to be gone from here on this very morning heading south under the first touch of frost. Yet, I’m sitting here in my slippers. Julianne is taking care of some last minute issues that invite us to stay here a bit longer. That has created a ripple out ahead of us that forced a change in plans for our first workcamp position in California.
An invitation to attend a six-month training with the Escapees RV Club came yesterday. We were headed to Nova Scotia for spring and summer. Soft focus here.
‘COOLER EVENINGS, SHORTER DAYS’ — Saturday, Sept. 03, 2011
Was that a down comforter we were burrowed under in the early hours of this morning? And wasn’t the morning sun late getting up and a bit further south than a day or two ago?
For so many years of my life these early days of September invited me into tending things such as getting in wood for winter, cooking down a wheelbarrow load of tomatoes, thinking about getting the plow on the tractor, and watching the edges of the meadow for a deer I might put in the freezer when the weather got a bit more chilly.
Was that some past life? No, just a different chapter.
Today I have dug through all my remaining hand tools considering what I might need for our winter migration south and I’ve carefully selected bicycle repair tools for any broken bikes that may limp my way.
This slight stirring I feel might be the edges of excitement.
‘LATE SUMMER MUSINGS’ — Friday, August 26, 2011
While the weatherman promises highs in the 90s today, I can easily note the sun’s march south day by day.
The ‘beginnings of antsy’ best describes my condition. The road is calling and a hazy vision of our autumn migration south begins to form in our minds.
Eight-and-one-half feet of living space has blossomed into 28 feet or so of 5th wheel trailer. Gas truck gave way to diesel. (‘Remember Jimmy, diesel; don’t put gas in there.’)
How the heck do I back this thing up? I’ll miss those impulsive beats up dirt roads. Was this the right choice? Did we overpay? On and on goes the mind.
First Social Security deposit
A week or so ago a check was deposited in my account fulfilling a promise made when I was a boy. In the seventh grade I formally entered the work force. I acquired a paper route consisting of 42 customers and a meander across farmers’ fields and dirt roads in my rural Pennsylvania community. Six day each week, accompanied by my faithful collie, netted me a bit over $3, less tax.
Always there was a promise that someday the tide would turn and the money would start coming back my way. In spite of all the anxiety and discussion, my first little ship has come in. Yahoo. Let’s go live it up.
Each spring when we have returned to the Pacific Northwest and Spokane, I have felt its grip, or my grip, relaxing and, after our big cleansing garage sale a week ago, I begin to feel that it just might be possible to truly become elegantly homeless and fully explore life on the road.
Now that we have a snug nest that I can stand up in and turn around, and have my own drawer and closet, almost anything seems possible. I’ll keep you posted on that.
I do know that well before even the hint of a snow flurry we will be plying the quiet highways toward more gentle climes.
All the best ‘til we meet again.
’QUIVERING OVER NEW RV’ — Friday, May 6, 2011
Moments ago I finished reading an account of Theodore Roosevelt’s exploration of an uncharted stretch of the Amazon River. Nearly everything that could go wrong did, men died, and the suffering was palpable.
In contract to Roosevelt’s journey down the Amazon–other than a couple visitations of panic at possibly making a foolish choice in selecting our little ship–I’m starting to relax and gather some excitement for adventures waiting us in our near, uncharted future.
In previous posts I spoke of trying to come to grips with what “home” is at this point in our lives. We have roved around Spokane for the past month looking at traditional houses with the thought of “that” being what we would call home. Talk about a panic attack.
Now, we are about to step off the edge of the known and familiar, and sign up for full-time vagabonding. I believe the quivering I feel is excitement.
Julianne, in her organized reporter way, will inform you of just what this ship looks like and all the details. It’s white, I think.
‘HELLO AGAIN’ – Monday, April 18, 2011
April is on the downhill glide and spring is in full force here in the Pacific Northwest.
Each time I look out the window there seems to be change. Moments ago shafts of sunlight were nearly blinding me. Moments before that there was a somewhat earnest snow shower. Now it is hailing. I expect more of the same while I yearn for a truly warm day. Patience my son.
In the past month, since returning to our old homeland, Julianne and I have cast our net far and wide in the interest of creating some notion of home. The exercise has been somewhat like the weather, with moments similar to what is unfolding outside my door.
We persist in asking the question, “What constitutes home?” Such a fertile question. In our months of traveling I continued to mull this, be in conversations about it, and attempt to sleuth the answer.
Some of the time I want to cry “uncle” and cover my head and stay in the bed. At tender times I want to call myself a fool for setting out so late in life to reinvent myself one more time. I fall into doubt that there is any wisdom guiding my steps on this unrecognized road.
And then, a slim shaft of insight lights up the landscape and reminds me that of course I don’t know the way and I choose this route.
For the past three weeks we have been house and land-sitting for a good friend in a place called Cummings Canyon. I have been digging in the dirt, splitting wood and running a tractor. Generally living the way I did for nearly 30 years.
Interspersed with this, we have gone off looking at bits of ticky-tacky known as houses that represent parts of the American dream that have sent me howling back to the woods. We have walked pieces of mountain property and I’ve wondered if I could possibly have it in me to homestead again. I still don’t know the answers but we continue the winnowing process.
Today, if I was to predict our next move, it would be that we will attract and acquire a nice late-model, smallish 5th wheel trailer and have a slim tether to the earth while continuing to explore home and community.
All the best from the margins of the mainstream.
‘SIGHS OF LIGHT’ — Thursday, March 17, 2011
We are part of the colorful parade of visitors drawn here from near and far to witness and experience one of the treasures of this continent.
My time in this canyon seems divided between looking up at this cathedral, and out at endless array of camping gear and faces flowing by.
We go from here early tomorrow morning, continuing our northern migration home to Spokane.
Several days ago we were stopped at an inspection station on some state border. When the gentleman asked where we were coming from, I sat somewhat stunned attempting a reply. Finally, Julianne intervened with our previous night’s camping place to which he seemed satisfied.
As I turn and peer back along our meandering path of the last six months, it is hard to say from where we have come. I am content that we have made many pictures that will live in my mind’s eye. I can say that this land is still filled with warm and kind people. Children still play out of doors and as the snow melts, crops will be planted once again.
Julianne has her maps splayed out on the table and the weather report is on as she plots our route through the final stretches of our adventure. The last gasps of winter still lurk on some of the mountain passes we have yet to cross, but I’m sure the springtime is busy affecting its retreat.
I’m still curious about what we will discover in this precious season.
‘IT’S NOT TEXAS ANYMORE’ – Friday, March 4, 2011
Is it possible just a few short days back we were lulling on the placid Gulf Coast of Texas? Explain that to me.
As I touched mighty Ponderosa Pines and scrambled along rock ledges today in the Gila National Forest cresting at nearly 8,000 feet, I felt something akin to home. Going on a good ramble is really, really good, and there is something about familiar scents and sights that tell me I have preferences.
As we begin to carve our way north and west I still wrestle with this notion of home; but I’m pretty darned sure I’m from the West and from a place with long views and country that sends blood pounding in my ears as I climb across it.
Tonight the light of the stars fills the night in the rarefied air far above the sea.
I am happy.
‘NOTION OF “HOME” — Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011
The wind is moaning through the live oaks this morning and the rain is tap tapping on the roof of our little abode.
Most mornings, as first light begins to pry my sleepy eyelids open, a medley of sounds lull me awake. One by one the throaty engines of fishing boats cough to life and chug their crews beyond the sea wall to a hopeful bounty. Bird calls announce new arrivals or maybe a seasonal shift about to take place. No alarm clock, other than my bladder or thoughts of coffee, draws me from the covers.
As the rest of the country is lashed by yet another arctic blast, I am grateful to be on the edge of that disturbance while continuing my long rest.
One morning soon our engine will fire and Julianne and I will slip beyond this lovely snug harbor and nuzzle our way back home.
So much about this sabbatical, or walkabout, or vision quest, or whatever the heck I can call it, invites me deeply into the question of what the notion of ‘home’ is.
In my past, some hurtling momentum carried me into and through most of the landscape I called my life. I seemed to be as much a witness as a participant in the whole affair. Having the opportunity to get old enough to have my reckless careen slow, gives me the terrifying opportunity to make studied choices.
What awaits us back in our old neighborhood is a storage unit with all the objects that didn’t make it into the giveaway piles. For myself that amounts to one generous pickup load of things I could not set down. Julianne has had her own visit with each of her life’s mementos and did the same.
Will it be a white picket fence or a little 5th wheel trailer where we hang our welcome sign? Where will my tomato plants be?
‘NEXT CHAPTER’ — Monday, Jan. 24, 2011
Time keeps slipping away and it’s amazing that four months on the road have fallen into the rear view mirror. My, my, how can that be?
My thoughts drift to the many winters of my life when I would plowed all the snow I could into piles and convinced myself that my dwindling cache of firewood would carry me into spring.
On a day like today, with January about to take her bow, I might be sitting with a cup of coffee reviewing some of my favorite seed catalogs and dreaming of spring.
However, my tractor is sold, my splitting maul is gone, and the land that I tilled for more than three decades has a new owner.
If I wasn’t so optimistic, I could be depressed.
I’m reminded of the story you probably have heard. It centers around two young boys–one spoiled with every imaginable comfort and one of much more humble circumstance.
For some reason, each was sent to his room. The rich child could be heard crying and lamenting that there wasn’t anything to do.
The poor child, who found his room chest-deep in manure, set about digging. When asked about his situation he replied: “With all the crap, there has to be a pony somewhere.”
Quite a number of times I have started a garden where no garden had been with only a shovel, some seeds and my desire.
So, as the days begin to lengthen into another spring, somewhere out ahead of me is a bit of earth and some packets of seeds offering up a miracle.
I find myself extremely curious how this next chapter will begin and what shape it will take.
‘COASTAL BEND OF TEXAS’ -- Sun., Jan. 9, 2011
Time has just been swooning out here on the continent as Julianne and I make our way into the fourth month of our RV adventure.
Life here, uncluttered by settled routines, has taken on an almost dreamlike quality.
Not to say there hasn’t been some establishment of protocols inside of our little eight-foot domicile. There is still the ritual around coffee. If only my arms were a bit longer I could light the stove from the bed. I’ll have to think about that.
We are settled into our site at the Sandollar RV Park in Fulton, a small fishing town on the sleepy Coastal Bend area of Texas.
I’m talking garden hose, rake, a flat of marigolds and petunias, and several pounds of winter rye grass seed. I could hardly believe it and set my jaw and even put my foot down. Now a few days later, I find myself crouched peering intently looking for first signs of our new lawn.
The last couple of days there also have been a bit of remodeling inside the camper. We now have a nice pine shelf running the length of the dinette area upon which any number of items have found their way. Yesterday I tore out a useless compartment in the bed area that had made it nearly impossible to make the bed.
I have no idea what is in store for me today, but no doubt Julianne will have some project or other in which to enroll me. Is that called a ‘Honey do’? It may be time for me to break out my fishing rod and sneak off. About the time she shows up with a lawn mower I am really going to have to put my foot down.
‘DEAR FRIENDS’ – Sunday, Dec. 26, 2010
Sitting here, the day after Christmas, I feel a pang of homesickness which is curious given that, by choice, we have no home other than this tiny nest on the back of our truck.
Maybe that is why I am compelled to go on walk-about from time to time; to journey off, if only to look back with a clearer view of my life uncluttered by all the day-to-day stuff.
We have been out for more than three months and a few days ago we rounded the corner at the far end of the continent. I suppose it is only natural for that mysterious gravitational force to begin exerting itself and start drawing us back home.
At this point in my life reducing my claims of ownership to a few boxes of possessions, ‘home’ takes on a different quality. Having allowed myself in the past to be dominated by my own picture of home and running from task to task in its maintenance, I pause here and wonder what lies ahead.
I begin to tune myself for some signal that the path lies in a certain direction along some quiet street or up a certain unpaved road. I find I’ve spent my whole homing in on resonating conversations and the mysterious sense of community. For many years I could walk dirt paths past big gardens and communal spaces carrying my dish to potluck dinners. I miss that. I want that again somewhere.
So, I speak that into the supple, supportive universe and rest in the mystery for now.
St. Joseph Peninsula State Park
Our hatches are battened down on this little spit of land jutting into the Gulf of Mexico in Florida’s panhandle region. A fierce wind has overtaken the summer-like weather of two days ago and we are hunkered down warm and snug in our little nest.
My Kindle electronic reader lies broken only three chapters into my first book. After fretting and finally deciding and then finally laying my hands on this piece of magic, the screen cracked straight away. Somewhere out ahead of me a replacement will await.
Until then, Nelson Mandela speaks into my heart the old fashioned way with his printed autobiography “Long Walk To Freedom.”
Peace and friendship.
‘END OF ONE ADVENTURE, ONTO THE NEXT’ – Saturday, Dec. 18, 2010
There is a comforting rhythm of rain on our little tin roof this morning. It marks the end of our time on the shore of Lake Placid in south central Florida.
After setting a new record for myself last night I am ready for the next chapter of Julianne and Jimmy’s “excellent adventure.”
That personal best I speak of had me horizontal at 6:30 last evening. My toes didn’t touch the floor again until 13 hours later. How does one check for bedsores?
It is an amazing experience to witness and participate in a largely volunteer effort to create “home” and all that can mean.
Yesterday, Ariel Madden, (pictured at right) a young, single mother with no construction experience bravely pounded away with her hammer right alongside the rest of us. She was busy completing part of her 400 sweat equity hours required for the opportunity to purchase one of these Habitat houses.
I leave here marveling at the strength and beauty of Habitat for Humanity. I have no doubt we’ll contribute again somewhere down the road.
Tomorrow we will pilot our little ship northward and after a few more days we will round the bend and begin our drift west along the gulf coast toward Texas.
Julianne has a new Christmas camera seating at our mail drop near Ocala and my new Kindle waits for me. What more could a guy want?
Enjoy your holidays, families, friends and homes.
‘HELP’ — Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2010 -
I can barely cross my legs right now and I’d have to work at picking up a $100 bill if I spotted one along side the road. I could do it, but a younger person could definitely get there quicker than me. So much for two days working on the Habitat building site.
Julianne is digging through a half dozen different pain relievers looking for the silver bullet. Serving humanity is all well and good; but hey, I feel like a small car has hit me.
Truly though, other than the fact that I am somewhat thrashed, I am having a blast. Everyone is friendly and appreciative that we have showed up to lend a hand. Julianne will speak in greater depth about the scope of this project, but suffice it to say that a person could get a tremendous amount of hands-on construction experience volunteering with Habitat for Humanity.
Yesterday I spent the day roofing one of the six framed-in houses. This morning I worked with another volunteer, Larry Larsen (above) of Sebring, installing all the windows in different home. In the afternoon, I worked with Frank, (right) one of the house leaders, framing interior walls.
Tomorrow, who knows? No lack of work though and after months of just coasting through the countryside it feels good. I mean I feel bad, but it feels good if you get my drift.
The sun is dropping below the horizon and I don’t think it will be too long before I drop over as well.
‘IN THE LAND OF PLAY’ — Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010
I’m pretty sure I don’t know where we go after we die, but we have been spending time recently where a few fortunate folks go to enjoy life on the east side of the Great Divide.
The Villages in central Florida is a place to live and recreate in a style I have not witnessed until now. I would be curious to know just how many golf carts are deployed in this vast network of trails, golf courses, and fashionable places to shop and eat. I had to see this to believe it existed. This certainly qualifies as one of those places for the bumper sticker: “Retired and spending our kids’ inheritance.” There were many years that I would have judged this level of enjoyment; but today we just tried to ride our bikes and not get run over by happily careening carts.
I finally pulled the trigger on a Kindle that is making its way here as I speak. This decision was labored over for probably a year and I still have some questions about the appropriateness. However, it will be so nice to have such an unfathomable well from which to dip finely crafted words; and in such a slim, elegant package.
All along our trip, I am continually to be touched by how casual ‘Hellos’ turn into deeper conversations. Today in a little bakery, a visit with the couple next to us at one point had tears in all of our eyes as the conversation finally settled into the place where this nice woman shared having recently lost their grandson to suicide. That pained my heart and reminded me to try to not misinterpret or overlook the journeys we each take and how they might play out in our days.
One last thing. I continue to listen to NPR and read Google News. Each day I get up, turn on the news and wonder if the world has changed in some fundamental way. It is so hard to square my day-to-day events with the drama that dominates the news and over arches our lives.
A teacher of mine once said that we were only as sick as our secrets. I realize I might me naïve, but if we could all just say what there is to say, we wouldn’t need Wikileaks.
‘LIFE IN THE CAMPGROUND’ -- Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010
Like clockwork, night after night she shows up and quietly waits at our camper door. She is the sweetest little, white kitty that makes few demands and is grateful for a lap, a scratch and a bowl of something for her belly. She seems to come out of the woods from nowhere, just after the last light has fled the sky.
I understand that back in the Great Depression there was some secret way of marking the end of a lane or a front fence where some work or a plate of food might be acquired. Somehow our little camper has that mark or maybe it is just etched on my heart.
Each night I feel my little kitty’s tummy and have little doubt that she is with child, so to speak. That tears at me some.
On the other side of the campground there has been a family, grandparents with three young children, ranging from maybe 12 down to probably 3.
On our first walk past their trailer there was that thing that happens where eyes meet. This little girl, the smallest one, came right out with it. “We’re getting a new house.” And then in a way that tore at the edges of my eyes she quietly added, “Our daddy doesn’t live with us anymore.”
I don’t know how much more of this kind of camping I can take. A certain amount of time I pray for my heart to open more and then, I tremble and wonder if I’m cut out for that.
Catfish got a little closer to home last evening when our “next door neighbors” came back from their afternoon fishing. For fishermen, they seemed to get up none too early, get a rather casual start, and didn’t even put in a full day–but when they lugged up their cooler with heads and tails draped over the sides, my eyes about popped. We’re talking Catfish. Some were so big you could put your fist inside their mouths. I think I might just throw my fishing rod away.
These neighbors (Charles, Rita and Tracy from Georgia) invited us to dinner and what could we say but “YES.” It turned out to be not just Catfish, but everything Southern … like real cheese grits, hush puppies, fresh coleslaw and home baked cake. That tore at my heart a little bit too, or at least my waistline.
Now that winter has arrived in Eastern Washington, Julianne can’t seem to stay away from looking at the live traffic cameras in Spokane where we call home. We have a good friend that trudged through the below-zero snow to wave at one downtown traffic cam in hopes that she might see him. Now that is a friend. Here, where Georgia meets Florida, the morning fog has about burned off and the sun is heating this place up toward the 80′s. All that in the same great country on one given day, imagine.
I’m fixing to bake some biscuits in my outside Dutch oven. For days the little woman has been crying out for them, so I best get busy.
Happy Thanksgiving all y’alls.
‘GONE FISHIN’– Sunday, Nov. 21, 2010
I’ve been fishing for two days here on the Florida side of Lake Seminole. It is humbling to say the least.
My first couple of visits resulted in nary a bite while I watched various five-gallon buckets get filled with plump catfish. Without seeming to gawk I tried picking up some tips. (Jimmy getting advice from ace fisher Catrina Cox.)
One thing was obvious — I didn’t have enough equipment. Most folks here seem to manage four to six rods each…and, my smelly shrimp and worms didn’t seem to create much interest.
Last evening, after a bike ride into town to acquire a special jig, I finally got to first base. ‘First base’ was catching the baitfish, which must be in there by the thousands. Skip Jack I heard them called.
I was successful at catching a number of them. If I were smart, I would just catch a mess of them and cook them up. When I mentioned this to a fellow fisherman, who happened to be black (in fact they were all black) he erupted with laughter and said if “his people” didn’t eat them he didn’t suppose they were edible.
So I cut up the little fish (sorry poor fellows) and make nice pieces of meat the nice catfish can recognize. Earlier, another friendly man said the catfish here don’t recognize shrimp; and it seemed true given that I didn’t have any bites.
So anyway, last night about the time the sun was setting, I finally managed to get a fish on–a mighty thing by its ability to resist my drawing it to the surface.
Everyone was happy for me and offered to net it. When it finally broke the surface it was about three-feet long and two-inches wide–a big, slimy eel. Nobody wanted it, so I sent it back to Lake Seminole.
Maybe a catfish today.
‘TRUE TRIBE ELDER – FORMER USA PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER’ — Sunday, Nov. 14, 2010
Far back along the road Julianne charted this point of intersection for us to experience moments with a true elder of our tribe.
I found myself wiping my eyes from time to time as this old man wove lessons from biblical times with lessons of today and proposed radical ideas such as thinking for ourselves and holding our government accountable and where possible, choosing the path of peace.
Jimmy Carter seems to have embodied these principals and when most of his contemporaries retired to their porch swings, he roves across the globe and stands and speaks his heart and mind.
I am reminded, and commanded, to do the same. Dang, all I have ever wanted is a simple life. As they say, simple but not easy.
I just stepped out of the back of our camper and the moon is glowing in the night sky.
When I’m out like this moving about, I experience the world much more intimately. Why is it that I fall into routines and become dulled to this exquisite world around me? Maybe if for no other reason it is why from time to time I have been forced to step away from perfectly designed environments and take up the sojourner’s life again.
Tomorrow night we will see the moon from Florida, a few short miles to our south. While no visits are waiting with former presidents, I hope to keep my eyes open and my ears trained for laughter and words of peace.
‘HEY FROM THE SOUTH’ – Saturday, Nov. 13, 2010
I now have some sense of what it must be like to get strapped in a rocket and blasted off into space. There is all that shuttering and fearsome G forces, then the weightlessness and a spectacular view to die for.
Words like ‘snow,’ or even ‘frost,’ are dropping out of any relevant part of our vocabulary as we drift further south. Sunscreen came up in conversation yesterday. I guess it’s time to dig some of that out.
Here in the south, the way people can make a two-letter word into two syllables is so charming.
Our glide down through the eastern mountains of the USA has been like a healing salve for my heart. One after another, friends and family members have greeted us with open arms and made us so welcome.
“My people,” a common expression in the mountain country of Virginia, refers to kin or family or good friends. It is so good for me to get out and about from time to time and realize I have “people” everywhere. One more time I am reminded that there is a strength alive in this vast land of America.
Yesterday we began seeing our first palm trees and Florida is only about 100 miles south of us now. Waiting there is an opportunity to stop moving for a spell and explore some other rhythm.
While we have mostly plied thousands of miles of quiet two-lane roads of this country, we are both ready to explore not moving about for a while. I think our bicycles and fishing rods might find some employment soon and my new Dutch oven aches for some scones and cornbread.
All is well here.
‘HELLO AGAIN FROM THE BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS ‘ — October 31, 2010
We are still out here trundling along the twists and turns of our nation’s byways.
Recently I’ve had two very precise memories stirred up by similar present moments.
A few nights ago we camped in a grove of large trees. There was a bit of a chill in the night air that rustled the leaves above us as we bent toward our little fire. I was instantly transported back almost 50 years to a scout camp out in the late autumn when I was hunkered next to my fire with the crisp wind and the rasping of leaves clinging to the branches overhead.
Yesterday we walked along the edge of a good-sized lake with the wind pushing waves onto the shore. Something about the feel and the sound took me back to 1979 on Eagle Island in Maine.
All this has me one more time in awe of this thing called the mind and the brain. How possibly can all these countless impressions be resting in their places ready to be strummed back into service? Again I am humbled by all this and totally unprepared to attempt a deeper understanding of what it all means.
Visits with my family back in Pennsylvania a few weeks ago left me feeling somewhat unsettled and a bit forlorn. Maybe that is why it has taken me some time to get back to communicating.
There is no doubt about it, we are all bending down with age, and one by one our lights are going to dim and go out. It is one thing to have a general sense of that and another to witness the frailty and know a visit could possibly be the last. Humbling indeed.
Today we climbed up onto the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia at times more than 3,000 feet above the ocean and revealing grand views of mountains beyond mountains.
Earlier, we spent part of the day visiting Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello. It is so easy for me to forget that many brave people have stood in the face of overwhelming adversity committed to good causes. Makes me want to be a better man.
‘SO, IMAGINE THIS’ – October 14, 2010
I was raised on a dirt road in Pennsylvania and at my first opportunity I shot out of there for the Wild West and Oregon.
Some years later I was living on a remote mountain outside John Day, Ore., and had occasion to go into town for some task or another. I happened into a bookstore and was looking over the wares when a woman behind me asked if I was Jimmy Smith. Turning I nearly fell off my feet as an older couple, Harold and Gert Kelly, stood casually grinning at me. As a kid I lived across the road from the Kellies and played with their kids.
They weren’t nearly as surprised as me. They were on the one trip of their lives out West and found themselves in Oregon. They had stopped in Baker, on the other side of the mountains from John Day, and inquired after me. They knew I had owned some kind of a sport shop and stopped and asked if anyone knew Jimmy Smith. Undaunted with the negative response they powered on into the next ranching town and there I was, of course. That was in 1980.
Today we are camping in a little state park in western Pennsylvania and our neighbor campers (Mary Joy and Arden Norman at left) happened over for a brief chat. Julianne mentioned that I had been born and raised in Pennsylvania and Arden asked where. I mentioned my little dirt road community and shared my name. He stared and sputtered and we laughed as he reminded me that he was married to one of Harold and Gert’s girls from across the road. He then reminisced their version of tracking Jimmy Smith down in the wilds of Oregon.
I don’t know what I think about all that; the ‘no such thing as coincidence’ thing, but it does give a guy pause. I do appreciate the moments when I’m not lost in the edges of cynical thinking and can just marvel in the simple magic of life.
Yesterday we rode our bicycles through arches of hardwoods with colored leaves drifting down and covering the dirt pathways. The crunch and smells stirred a confusing swirl of emotions in me. It is hard being a man, at least this man. Sometimes I wish I could just lie down and have a good cry. It is such a mysterious and unsettling feeling. There is so much of my past here, buried and hurried away from so long ago.
And now I am closing the final distance to visit my stepmother who will not recognize me and a sweet sister fighting the battle of her life with cancer. Not all this is easy. Some great sage once said that the way is easy for those that have no preference, or words to that effect.
Breathing in, breathing out.
’LISTENING TO THE LEAVES’ — October 9, 2010
I seem to be on memory lane these days as we ply our way through the Midwest and into the Northeast of this vast canvas of America.
A puff of breeze just sent a couple more acorns down onto the drum top of the camper.
We are tucked into one more beautiful camping spot on a pristine lake as I move deeper into a place of long-stored memories. I was raised on the edge of forests in western Pennsylvania and my dad saw to it that his knowledge of the outdoors was imparted onto me. He endlessly drilled into me each and every variety of growing thing. As a young boy I could identify every tree by its leaves, bark and shape from a distance.
Now, after some 40 years of absence and no father to offer a refresher course, I strain to remember. Is that a Red Oak or a White Oak? Basswood?
Other memories associated with this time of year are much more forthcoming. Many a pile of raked Maple leaves became choice places for practicing running leaps or providing a snug nest to lay with my faithful collie, Muffet. As with so many of the endless cycles of chores in my childhood, there was also the opportunity to find pleasure in the work.
Yet another autumn memory strums up from a book I’m reading.
This is a story about a family living on a remote sheep ranch during the Great Depression in Idaho’s Hells Canyon region of the Snake River. After several years in near isolation, they spent 30 hard-earned dollars on a battery-operated radio. In the evenings they listened to voices far outside their world.
In 1979, after pedaling my bicycle from Oregon to Maine over some of these same roads we are crossing, I found myself alone for the winter on an isolated island 17 miles off the coast of Maine.
My creature comforts were few, but I did have a battery-operated radio. I lived in a tiny one-room cabin, buffeted by the harsh winter winds. I remember night-after-night coming in from the bitter cold, lighting my kerosene lamp and listening to the news of the hostage crisis in Iran.
Was that this lifetime?
The leaves go rustling and the memories stir.
‘A NIGHT’S CHORUS’ — September 30, 2010
So many thoughts, so many memories have been serenading me today.
Just now I was listening to the crickets in the night outside our little shelter and that took me to memories of my father.
So much of him lives in me, even the love of crickets. When he was in his mid-80s we sat one night outside his door and I expressed my pleasure of the chorus being played. He strained but could hear no crickets. I draw this deeply into me.
Just now a boisterous flock of Canadian Geese landed on the slack water of the Missouri to add their lusty voices to the night.
At some point today, as we pedaled our bicycles to nowhere in particular, I became aware that I was happy. Some years ago I had the same flood of feeling while hiking the mountain behind my home. That leads me to speculate that most of my life I have had my head down in some task or other and happiness has not been in the room with me.
While my bones and muscles ache and my eyesight begins to falter, I have huge gratitude for getting older. So many of my tasks have been finished or set down in favor of just poking around doing a bit of nothing and practicing this thing called ‘happy,’ for no good reason in particular.
‘AUTUMN IN NORTHEAST MONTANA’ – September 29, 2010
We are resting under a canopy of old Cottonwood trees along the upper reaches of the Missouri River tonight.
I don’t think our timing could have been more perfect. Autumn has just lightly danced across the land and painted the shrubs and trees magically, while leaving us with brilliant blue skies and star-studded nights. A most auspicious beginning to our trip I’d say.
Julianne is so adept at sleuthing out quiet byways and great places to tuck into for the night; that it leaves me with doing what I love, just leaning back and running the steering wheel and making our simple food. One more time I am stunned by this land we call America and its riot of colors and landscapes.
Today we spent some hours walking the land where the Nez Perce finally lost their bid for freedom at the Bear Paw Battlefield. I am humbled and saddened by Man’s inhumanity to man today, or in some memory.
So it is the task at hand to feel it all, the grand exquisiteness of being so footloose and free and the sadness as well.
Oh well, no one said it would be easy.
‘TURNING A CORNER’ -- September 16, 2010
I’ve learned over time that whether cleaning the house or ending a piece of my life, moments drag and sometimes the chaos seems intolerable.
Julianne and I are only days away from turning a sharp corner and leaving behind some orderly bit of the American dream.
Right now, however, where the heck is my toothbrush? And, just what books am I taking? Will we need chains to get over the Northern Rockies? How is all this stuff going to fit into the storage unit?
Why couldn’t I just have been normal; done normal things; taken little sedate two-week vacations?
‘WINNOWING, REDUCING’ — September 12, 2010
I’m poised on my seat in a corner of Julianne’s home of 12 years. She pauses over bits of treasure; sorts and packs away the things of her life. Bless her heart. I feel like an old hand at this, this winnowing and reducing.
Three years ago I held each and every item of mine and decided what stayed and what left. I was a homesteader for 25 years, with barns and buildings full of my own treasure. I have now handled many of those things a total of five times through five moves and each time set more of my things aside for someone else to love.
While at times a bit painful, I can’t say enough good about this process of winnowing and reducing–although I did just stop by a garage sale hoping to find a folding ladder.
I’m pretty sure there will never be an end of ‘stuff’. At this moment everything I call mine will fit in my pickup truck. I’m happy about that.
‘SPENDING TIME ALONG WILD RIVERS’ – September 8, 2010
Last Saturday evening we pulled into Spokane after a pleasant meander from the Salmon River, crossing mountains and canyons rich in vistas and history. I marvel at the men and women that first threaded their way up creek bottoms and over rocky peaks responding to some primal call.
We camped Friday night in a small glen near Fish Creek in the Lolo National Forest. On Saturday morning, while cranking up the camper jacks, my thoughts turned along with endless revolutions of the hand crank and I speculated about my use of time.
A part of me wanted to have a button to push to retract those feet and get on to something else. However, as I got present to the rhythm of the cranking and the notion of labor saving devices and all the trade-offs, I was satisfied just to be cranking.
I have spent the spring and summer working with three young employees at a lodge on the Little Salmon River. One of the seemingly endless jobs was washing dishes. It took much of my patience, and no small amount of swearing and imploring, to teach the art.
I don’t think they ever did see it as anything to aspire to; but then they are not looking back over 60-some years of filling time. Not that everyone at the end of their days will love dishwashing, or hand cranking up their camper jacks, or any of the endless things we do to fill our lives. I am just so grateful that it really doesn’t matter much to me what I do, I’m committed to seeing it through in a good way.
I now begin a brand new apprenticeship. The words “retirement” and “full-time RVing” literally trigger almost a feeling of terror in my body.
On our first extended RV trip last winter, as I began to meet folks that described themselves as full-timers I often posed the question, “What do you do with your time?” Hopefully it will be as easy to learn as doing the dishes. Do you think anyone can learn it?
‘LEAVING THE LITTLE SALMON RIVER’ — September 1, 2010
The first hints of autumn are visiting here along the Salmon River in central Idaho where Julianne and I have spent the summer.
Earlier today I backed the truck under the camper; now begins the now-annual ritual of tucking bits and pieces of gear away for the voyage to come.
I have been dreaming of, and packing for, adventures periodically over quite a few decades of my life. For many years that had me peering into the recesses of a backpack or bicycle panniers as I calculated the ounces and cubic inches of well considered equipment.
If you would have predicted that one day I would trade my traveling kit for a lumbering extravagance of a camper-clad truck, I might have sneered and darted toward a ditch on my bicycle. If only I had known of the ravages of time.
Now I peer, and we peer, into the soft-lit interior of the camper. There are memories in there along with a few nicks and scratches from the thousands of jostled miles in our wake.
There has been a certain amount of winnowing of last year’s essential gear and new plunder taking its place. I want to be a good American. I want a newer and bigger outfit. I like the idea of slides and awnings and solar panels, but I can’t even decide if I should get a Kindle or not. Seems like a good idea. I mean a real space saver. I’ve been put on notice that I can only carry ten books. We’ll see. I have methods.
Last year I reluctantly agreed to travel without my stove-top popcorn popper. Not this year. That reminds me of a hastily packed for trip when I was just a youngster. I responded to the urge and had thrown my kit together and bound it up in a bit of canvas and strapped it on my motorcycle and was down the road maybe ten minutes after the impulse seized me. No more than a few hundred yards from my door I was hailed by a friend. As I stopped my bike I became aware of a sound. As I looked down my silverware was sliding along the street catching up with me.
I’m probably darned near as impulsive, I just move slower these days, and wrap things a bit tighter. So it’s Sept. 1 today and we’ll probably get on the road well before the end of the month.
Lots of piling, winnowing, conniving, and convincing and a small amount of lumbering to go. I’ll keep you posted on the man’s point of view.
Photos, unless otherwise noted, by Julianne Crane