Jimmy Smith’s ‘Another View’

 JimmySmith_fishingThis page holds the musings and reflections of Jimmy Smith, long-time bicyclist, one-time retreat center owner and now a semi-retired, extended-time RVer and part-time fisherman.

Jimmy and Julianne began their extended RV exploration of the USA in 2009, where they have been primarily searching for sunsets to watch, back-country roads to bicycle, trails to hike, streams to fish and lakes to paddle.

Photo: Jimmy Smith fishing an unnamed stream in an unnamed wilderness area in central Oregon. (Photo by longtime fishing pal and Coast Guard buddy Tom Bombadil)

(Click on images to enlarge) Send your comments by clicking here

OMG … FACEBOOK !!!  – Feb. 15, 2017

In a weak moment a couple days ago–and with nothing but time on my hands and a decent internet connection–I did what I never thought imaginable.  Facebook, or as a friend called it Spacebook, entered my realm.

So often I’ve had friends and acquaintances mention their using that method to post their adventures and I just hung and shook my head.  It hasn’t helped that sweet Julianne vigorously wagged her head in the negative as I expressed some interest.  But leave a boy alone with nothing to do and there is trouble on the horizon.

It’s now come to pass.  I don’t want it to dominate my day, but I do want to use the resource as a useful tool without being swamped with unwanted drivel.

On another note … our winter sojourn shows signs of the beginnings of completion.  About this time each year some mysterious gravitational force starts to influence our thoughts and yearnings.  After knocking around as full-time RVers for going on eight years, a sweet little valley in southern Oregon beckons us where we will continue to rest on rubber tires, but with a sense of community and home.Bike4-2_JulianneGCrane

Julianne with her acute sense of weather events and snow levels is beginning to chart our way from the desert southwest back toward the Pacific Northwest.  There is talk of a pair of kittens to adopt, and hanging baskets of flowers, and plans to build a side-by-side pedal bike that she is enamored with.

While the world, as we know it, roils–the horizon looks all clear from here.

MEMORIES OF A CHILDHOOD FRIEND — Jan. 15, 2017

I remember reading that memories are somewhat like house guests‪–‬some are invited, some not.  Lying in bed, drifting between sleep and wakefulness, I often find myself covering vast territories of memory.

Maybe it is because I have been feeling extremely lucky lately and blessed to be having my life.  Occasionally when I feel this way, memories visit of friends that have not been so lucky.

One such friend was my childhood buddy Johnny Antonace.

Johnny and I grew up on dirt roads in western Pennsylvania and a well-trodden path through a field and woods linked our homes. We were both country boys who loved being outdoors–summer or winter. As with many who grew up in small towns, our lives crisscrossed each others from first grade through high school.

One early memory was when we could not have been more than six or seven and we embarked on a very big adventure.  We had crafted a couple of handsome bows and arrows, and the only thing left for us to do was to go hunting.  Over my new stepmother’s “absolutely not” and my father’s eventual override, Johnny and I headed out into the deep, somewhat unknown, woods near our dirt road.

I only had been on one hike with my dad into that section of the forest to explore the ‘Indian Cave.’ Johnny and I thought that the cave would be the perfect place for rabbits to be waiting for our lethal weapons.  The cave was near a part of the woods known locally as ‘Spooky Hollow’ giving it just enough mystery to easily capture the imagination of a couple young boys with their chests puffed out on a quest.

The cave sat on a bluff overlooking a small brook. We made our way under the eastern forest canopy down the creek. We chose the steep ridge to climb to the cave.

Looking back I realize we climbed the opposing ridge and our path led us away from the cave and on and on, deeper into the forest.  Rather than taking stock of our situation and backtracking, we kept pressing onward with our racing hearts taking us further and further into unknown territory.

It was not too long before we both were crying as we stumbled along toward our ‘certain’ premature deaths. Then, magically, we fell into a clearing with an honest-to-goodness house with a kind, motherly woman who calmed us down, asking where our lived.  I quickly shifted into damage control and said all we needed was a ride back to where our dirt road and the woods met. She packed us into her car and drove us through the woods and dropped us off.

I must have mentioned my name because by the time we made our way back to my house, our rescuer had called and informed my step mom of our frantic cries in the woods.

After my dad returned from work and my mom gave a scathing review of our day, Dad pretty much just shrugged his shoulders and told me to pay closer attention to details the next time I went hiking in the woods.

A few years later when Johnny and I were about 10, I was still the smallest kid in our age group and I was frequently on the receiving end of a lot of unwanted attention from the bigger boys.

That time in my childhood reminds me of the “Lord Of The Flies” where boys left untended descended into anarchy and violence.  Our little rural neighborhood had most of that, with the exception of violence-to-the-point-of-death.

While I received plenty of beatings, both inside and outside my home, I was not a fighter.  Johnny on the other hand never backed away from a fight.  One day in a field close to home, I watched him square off with another boy. Fists were flying.  One thing I noticed was that although Johnny was crying, he kept swinging away.  I do not remember the outcome of that scrape but I remember being duly impressed with Johnny.

Deep into winter a couple years later, Johnny and I went ice-skating on a lake a couple miles from home.  By then he was getting to be quite a bit stouter than me and that may have had something to due with the outcome of this adventure.  He suddenly plunged through the ice up to his armpits.  With amazing vigor he extricated himself from the icy water and we struck out for home.  I can still hear us laughing as his clothes started to crack and freeze as we trudged on.

Eventually high school came along and we drifted into different circles of friends.  He was a strapping lad, all about football and physical sports, while I still weighed about 90 pounds. He was a popular guy and went to the prom with one of the prettiest girls in our class.

Antonace_John_DOB_1949-1968After graduation, I headed to a feeble attempt at higher learning; Johnny headed to the Marine Corps.  It was 1967.

After infantry training in 1968 he came home on leave before shipping out to Vietnam. On his last night home, we rode out on my motorcycle to a spot not too far from where we had our first adventure in the woods a dozen years earlier.

We sat on a hillside, drinking a couple beers as young men do, and with tears in his eyes, he spoke of how he felt he would not be coming home.

As I write this, my throat and chest tighten.  He was right. He did not make it back.  He died, like many other brave young men and women did, too early.  LCpl John Antonace, Jr., USMC, fell in a hostile artillery attack in Quang Tri Province on July 7, 1968, during the Tet Offensive. He was 18 and had only been a Marine for five months.

I miss him still.

I am deeply humbled by my good fortune to have had all the intervening years since our beer together on that hillside–which ironically overlooks the cemetery where he was laid to rest–near Spooky Hollow in western Pennsylvania.

Oh, the house guests of memories.

‘GIVE YOURSELF TO LOVE’ – Dec. 31, 2016

JimmySmith_RainWindow_JulianneGCraneI write this as 2016 races its final hours away.  The earth continues to whir on a stable axis.  I wonder–if it was possible to factor each and every event into some vast mechanism that could calculate and deliver some precise score or grade for this past year–what would it be?

That is like trying to figure out the notion of God. At some point as a younger and earnest man I set on that path for just a moment.  In short order I decided to keep to more simple pursuits and even shied away from the word “God.”

The same goes for this complex arrangement called my life in the present, witnessing snippets of the news cycle.  That could make a simple guy crazy.  It’s not like I don’t want to feel all of it, I’m just not qualified to hold it all.

On good days I live in marvel at my own existence and in some childlike way sense an invisible cloak of support and guidance over me. Having escaped being crushed under my falling truck back along the highway, I was given moments of crisp clarity and a deep reverence for one more day.

I came awake this morning with Kate Wolf singing such a beautiful song into my heart.
“You must give yourself to love, if love is what you’re after.
Open up your heart to the tears and the laughter…”

For some crazy reason I get to concentrate on that.  No bombs falling here, friendly faces all around.  Soft rain falling with the temperature nuzzling 70 degrees here on the coastal bend of Texas. And, love is in abundance in our little camper. I look forward to more of the same in the next sun cycle.

All the best to you and yours from our place, here on the road.

IN GRATITUDE FOR MY GUARDIAN ANGEL, MY LIFE  — Dec. 22, 2016

After a few days of reflection I will now attempt to report on an incident we had along the road in west Texas.

BlowOut-I-10_JulianneGCraneOften there will be a news report about some hapless fellow with a tractor turned over on him or any number of serious accidents that cost life and limb.  Happens all the time. My well of compassion is often tempered with some thought of “how stupid” and easily prevented.

So recently we were being buffeted by strong cross winds as we traveled the vast country when we suffered a catastrophic loss of a rear tire on the truck.  It’s called a blow out.  Being the skilled technician I am we drifted quickly off to the side of a lonely stretch of road.

Julianne is immediately on the phone with AAA.  Me, I’m digging through my well-though-out kit of tools to affect the remedy.  We had a similar experience two years ago in Kentucky and after four hours along the interstate with three different service trucks and further complication due to one of their attempts, it’s a no-brainer for me.  Get ‘er done.

BlowOut-Jimmy_JulianneGCraneI crawled under the truck and positioned my bottle jack under the springs and began lifting the whole rig.  It was a bit complicated given the situation with strong cross winds and big rigs buffeting our outfit. I got the offended wheel off and crawled out.

One instant later the truck fell off the jack.  Moment of horror followed by countless what if’s as I glanced under the truck and saw no possibility for my survival.

Several things happened in the aftermath.  Unbelievable gratitude for my life and all that has been given to me.  Every image and thought seemed more crisp.  The feel of Julianne’s hand in mine more tender.

All this coupled with the chill of a different outcome.  The worst image of all was of sweet Julianne helpless along the road with me incapacitated under the truck. One more case of “pilot error” with my guardian angel close at hand.

Hug the ones you love, be careful of dangerous places, and Happy Holidays from the ragged edge of the road.

IN GRATITUDE FOR THE ACCIDENT OF MY OWN BIRTH — Dec. 14, 2016

LosAlgodones_JimmySmith_JulianneGCraneWith sunlight streaming through the windows of our little home-on-wheels, I pause.   In this miraculous world I occupy I’m able to cover much of the world’s political landscape, its horrendous writhing, the various weather systems helping us design the next leg of our seasonal migration, all at the tips of my fingers through the miracle of Internet.

As I contemplate a recent afternoon trip across an imaginary line into Mexico, I’m stirred by images that bow my head and tempt me into places of sorrow.  As I made my offerings at various points in this border town, I looked into the eyes of children offering bits of chewing gum, and a man with a twisted body with no other opportunity but to hold out his hat in hope … I was, and am, tugged.

That always seems to be the job:  Feel this, allow this, offer this, and somehow, also allow this sunlight stream across my face and my full belly to illuminate the grace of my one beautiful life.

I’m in gratitude for the accident of my own birth.

WHITE KNUCKLE DRIVING IN ‘FABLED CALIFORNIA’ –  Dec. 1, 2016 

+HWY49_summit_JulianneGCrane+While I admit to a fair amount of white knuckle driving the last couple days there was not a twist, or turn, or precipice I would have traded.

As we trundled through ancient Redwoods one day, then pastoral wine-producing country the next, and recently our climb up Hwy. 49 (photo at right) through the Sierra Nevada foothills that sparked such a rich history based on the quest for gold–I pondered my complicated relationship with California.

I still remember standing in my cousin’s farm house in Pennsylvania one Christmas.  We were perched over a big grate that invited warm air up from the coal furnace down below.  The topic of conversation was ‘California.’  I stood in rapt attention to my own fantastic dreams of that far off place.

It was a long way from western Pennsylvania with the frigid winter cloaking the world I knew.  And California represented something akin to another planet that could never be reached.

I was probably 12 or 13 at the time and had a rather limited world view.  Fifty-some years later my romance has been well tarnished with experiences of clogged freeways, fires, mud slides, earthquakes and such.  I’ve often wished I could have visited before the settlers pushed into the country.

That being said the drive of the last few days including the incredible coast drive with the summer travelers long gone, the meander through the wine country, and the climb up toward Yosemite, gave me pause to review my judgement.    And now perched as they say above the fog/smog line and below the snow line, I am very happy.

FINALLY. ON THE ROAD AGAIN — Nov. 27, 2016 

HarrisBeachStPk_JulianneGCrane-2There is the crashing of waves just below us here on the south coast of Oregon and it would take a pretty good Blood Hound to find us now.

We slipped out of our little creek bottom at first light Sunday morning and are on our way.  Let the wild rumpus start.

Julianne just asked me if I was okay with driving if the stormy rains continue along Coast Hwy. 101.  That cracks me up.  Otherwise we might be here until June.  The ‘Risk Manager’ is what she calls herself and I agree.  I, on the other hand, would fling myself into the unknown and unseen–and have done so most of my life.  How could that be?  Dumb luck I guess.

Anyway, we’re trundling along with enough frozen elk and fresh canned tuna to sustain us through many a trial and tribulation.  And, I’ll keep my eyes peeled for a good fishing hole or some fresh road kill along our route.

I promise to keep you posted more frequently now that I don’t have a lot of chores to do and it gets dark early these days.
– Jimmy

A WHIRL OF ACTIVITY IN OUR LITTLE BIT OF PARADISE IN SOUTHERN OREGON  — Nov. 18, 2016

A few days ago I returned from three weeks in the high desert of eastern Oregon where I was part of a successful elk hunt. I shot my first bull after a lifetime of deer hunting.

JimmySmithBullElk2016Now I’ve been busy swabbing out desert dust and restocking our fine truck camper for another three-month snowbird trip into the southern latitudes of this great America.

I haven’t written for quite some time.  People that know me know I prefer to play outside. This past year I have had ample opportunities to dig, and pound, and hack at the verdant vegetation here in our chosen home.

We have been settled at the Escapees Timber Valley RV Park in Sutherlin, Ore., for more than a year.  I often said that I hoped I could live long enough so that one day I would be able to work and contribute without the need of a pay check. I am well underway with that endeavor.

Having chosen this lifestyle with simple needs and a physical body that has yet to fail me, I get to go outside and work, and visit other interesting folks that took up this vagabond lifestyle.

Over the past year many a fine fish swam into our freezer and this recent trip to the high desert provided us exceptional wild meat in the form of nice bull elk.

After more than seven years of meandering around the United States and having a home that can be packed up and pointed down more unexplored roads, we are still very happy with the choice of each other and a bit more landscape to explore.

I will try to do better in sharing my stories and thoughts in the upcoming winter months on the Gulf Coast of Texas and the desert Southwest.

JIMMY ENCOURAGES READER TO ‘SUIT UP’ AGAIN FOR THE ROAD   — Jan. 26, 2016

Editor’s note: Jimmy writes a response to a comment sent in by RVer John Golden regarding Jimmy’s post ‘Early Morning in the Coachella Valley’ (which appears at the bottom of this page and was featured in the RV Travel Newsletter.)

First, John Golden’s comment:

“I saw the piece by Jimmy … and the statement that caught my attention was the revelation Jimmy had to answer in his mind as to what he decided he was doing ‘out there:’

Jimmy wrote: “What didn’t I understand? Why is it that I still am looking for something that I’m not even sure what it is? Wait, I know what it is, it’s just a bit illusory but it’s … MEANING. Each day I continue to look for meaning and purpose, and deep connection with my fellow travelers.”

“Isn’t ‘meaning’ what we are all going through life trying to find? In Jimmy’s case I believe he has already found his meaning and to the very best of his ability he will strive to not let it get away from him. I am on his side and wish him the best of luck and the best of times in his life’s adventure.

“Do I envy him?, who wouldn’t!  I have been a RV’r since 1995 when my wife and I bought our first 22-ft. Itasca Brave. We made the decision to go full-time shortly thereafter trading it in for a 28-ft. Safari Trek and then trading that in for what was to be our dream coach, a 33-ft. Safari Trek Diesel Pusher.

“We left May in 1996 to do the Oregon Trail on our way to the Safari factory in Harrisburg, OR to get some serious warranty work done on that 33-ft.coach which kept us worried we would not be able to search for and find our ‘MEANING.’

“Ultimately we had to do battle with Safari and Chevrolet over a coach that just could not perform as it was advertised. Fortunately for us, we won our battle through the Florida Lemon Law and were able to turn the RV over to Chevrolet in Jacksonville, FL ‘and’ get most of our money back.

“Is this what we wanted? Of course not! What we wanted from the get-go was to be ‘out there,’ just like Jimmy, finding our niche in life separated from the hustle and bustle of a business life that kept us tied down to a job from 6 AM to 7 PM Monday through Friday. Unfortunately, our trying experience turned my wife against the RV lifestyle and I wound up going back to work.

“Now, 20 years later, Jimmy has stirred up in me that desire again to look into what we have given up, and to find out if it isn’t too late to get back out there on the trail and find our ‘MEANING’ again.

“Thank you and Jimmy for the article. Its timing could not have been more to the point and at the right time.”

– John Golden

Hi John:

I just reread your nice response to my little journalistic meander and wanted to thank you for taking the time to share a bit of your own journey.  It seems that life, whether spent laboring at some appointed task, or relaxing along a nice stream side, will dish up the occasional kick to the mid-section.

In the normal course of my erratic synapses that thought brings back a memory.

Back in the early ‘70s, I was having my very first fishing day in the fabled land of Oregon and also having my first experience of fly fishing.  As a youngster, I had decimated the fish population of western Pennsylvania but this fly fishing was something entirely different.

I happened to be on a pristine stretch of the Metolius River in central Oregon and had been thrashing about for several hours hooking willows and bushes, but nothing that resembled a fish.

I had fished through one lovely camping spot along the river when this “old” man approached me from his trailer and began conversing.  Of course “old” is a relative thing, but he expressed the keen desire to take up fishing, having never done it.  I looked at him and had the thought that he should get started pretty darned quick given his place on the arc of life.

As we stood there with my thrashing at the stream, the bank I was standing on collapsed and I fell into the very cold and swift river.  My hip boots immediately began filling with water. As I was being swept down stream, the old man ran along the bank and at one point reached out his hand and said, “Here, give me your rod I’ll cast for you.”

There I was fighting for my life and he wanted my rod.  A moment fraught with danger turned into a fond memory. Of course we both have many such stories.

It is never too late for a life of adventure.  That is one of the reasons we worked all those years.

People often ask me if I’m retired.  I find myself embarrassed as I consider my response.  My answer seems to be something like: “I’ve never really amounted to much and it’s too late now, thank God.”

From the time I was in my 20′s occasionally I would experience an overwhelming urge to adventure.  These impulses have flung me across a fair amount of the landscape.  They didn’t do much for a fully funded stock portfolio,  yet filled my life with joyous memories.

Through my early and middle years I lived with a bit of dread that I was being foolhardy and my father echoed those sentiments.

However, after shoving off yet one more time as I approached the ‘elderly’ age of 60, I became convinced that I would be able to glide to the finish line with most of my teeth and things to chew on.

Exploring life on the road has only further encourage me.  Learning to live with less has been a wonderful counter-balance to the conditioned impulse to have more.

I hope you feel you can suit up for the road, even in a modest way, like we have done.  You don’t have to collapse a life of comfort and ground based in order to poke about along some very nice stream sides.
Keep in touch.

CONTENT WITH OUR SMALL PLACE WITH A VIEW — Dec. 2, 2015

TimberValley-2_JulianneGCrane - Version 2I have been very tardy in taking time to pause and reflect and write.  It’s a condition that goes back to my youth.  I have an early memory of sitting on the edge of my bed attempting to transition from school clothes to play clothes.  Wanting to expedite things I had neglected to remove my shoes before wrestling off my good trousers.  Lodged deeply into a pants’ leg was my shoe firmly wedged as I struggled.  If only I had taken a moment to remove my shoes before I proceeded with the wardrobe switch, all would have been well.  I was just so darn anxious to get outside and play.

That’s kind of the same story at this point in my life with writing.  I’d always rather be outside playing and roving around our neighborhood, petting all the dogs and digging in the dirt. After days of overcast and rain, a bit of sunshine is making its way into our valley this morning and I’d rather be outside exploring.

However, I’ll take a few minutes to reflect on how this is our second December at Timber Valley SKP RV Park in southern Oregon, and Julianne and I are snug and warm in our little nest.

As I look back over the years, yes years, we’ve been together and on the road, I am very satisfied.

Each time I’ve traded the familiar in favor of some stretch of unexplored territory I’ve been rewarded.  It seems to defy logic in a world that favors being settled and predictable; however my transition from being a land owner to resting lightly on a bit of rented space seems complete.

It is quite fascinating living within a community made up largely of folks who are untethered and rove about, and, to be content requires little more than an RV parking place with a view. All is well here in this little valley as we make merry for the Holidays.

RESTING IN A MISTY VALLEY — May 11, 2015

TimberValleyMistMy, my, such scurrying around a guy can do. Three moons have completed their cycles since I last sat to put thoughts to rest here on the keyboard.

The sun has been busy making its way back over the southern horizon, waking up the land and calling me home to the Pacific Northwest from our winter escape to the southwest.

Years ago I started slowly extracting myself from the regimented schedule of the modern man, and found an affinity and natural resonance with the seasonal fluctuations of light and temperature.

As with creatures in the forests, I’ve not been quite asleep, but simply quiet in my movements and musings.

Two days ago Julianne woke to find me reading at 4 a.m. This morning the first Robin’s song plucked my eyelids up and had me outside with my coffee as light crept into our mist-laden little Oregon valley.

My inner journey these past few years has been liberating, and humbling, and of great personal value. It is quite a thing to shed ones skin of identity in favor of ‘not knowing.’

As a young man, reckless momentum summoned me into the unknown on a somewhat regular basis. However, when I responded to the call eight years ago, I left trembling and unsure of myself. There was grieving and second guessing, and a lot of looking over my shoulder.

These past six years, as Julianne and I roved back and forth across the continent, I would find myself peering up many fertile valleys in search of home. Some part of me still wanted to claim land to dig in and erect things on. Each time I announced my intention to settle, however, an uneasiness wafted over me and put me/us back on the road.

Therefore, this last seasonal cycle has been most significant. I find that I no longer need to ‘own’ land … I no longer need to pour footings deep below frost lines in order to secure a place on this earth.

Julianne and I have acquired not one, but two, tiny mobile shelters that can rove across the land and rest lightly wherever we choose.

This morning my heart is at ease and love lives here.

‘A RAINY DAY ON THE GULF COAST OF TEXAS’ — Feb. 3, 2015

JimmySmith_RainWindow_JulianneGCraneRain is making a more insistent rhythm on the roof of our little traveling casa this morning. The spreading arms of Coastal Oaks envelop us and make for such a lovely softening of the straight lines of various other nomadic shapes of shelters tucked in at our RV park in Rockport, Texas.

I love our little home that can rest in the bed of a pickup truck and provide a level of comfort that many people on the planet can only dream of.

There is a nice pot of potato soup simmering on the stove and my lovely companion taps away on her side of the table. What a thing to have so many thoughts and images live inside of this one being.

Yesterday we went to see “American Sniper” at the small local cinema. It turned out that yesterday also was the second anniversary of Chris Kyle’s death, the Navy SEAL killed back home, here in Texas, after surviving his four hellish tours of duty to serve his country.

A casual perusal of the online news gives ample evidence of mayhem and suffering scattered across the globe. I don’t and can’t turn my attention away from that, and yet, as the soft rain falls here I am grateful for this one precious day and the comfort and bounty heaped up at my door.

What’s a fella to do? Breathe and relax. Go outside, say hello to your neighbors, and ask, “How can I help?”

‘MEMORY OF A STORY NIGHT ON A SMALL MAINE ISLAND AND MARION HOWARD’ — December 18, 2014

It’s a fascinating thing, memory. How in the world can it be? A sacred room with shelf upon shelf where snippets of the past are tucked away? Images and floods of feelings wait for some trigger and then they burst forth. I continue to be stunned by crystal clear images of the past.

It’s a week until Christmas and I’m sitting here with my sweetheart. Soft Yule-time music is strumming from the stereo. Little twinkling lights and a tiny Christmas tree provide an extravagant finish on the season.

Years back, 35 years to be exact on December 18, I was approaching a rather different Winter Solstice experience. I was snug in a tiny 10-foot by 10-foot gossamer-thin shelter perched above a storm-tossed North Atlantic Ocean, on Eagle Island, 17 miles off Camden, Maine.

EagleIsland_VladiThree months earlier I had completed a long meander across the continent by bicycle. Now I was busy tasting the fruit of a persistent dream I had always had — What would it be like to live a winter in solitude in a primitive environment? Wow, the power of dreaming.

An island caretaker opportunity fell into my lap like most good things, without much more than uttering the request and showing up.

As winter closed in around me, I had been busy making my homestead comfortable. A thick Spruce forest provided my firewood and I’d fashioned my first log structure into a haphazard sauna. A spring trickled sweet water into a bucket.

When I showed up on this 263-acre island in the fall, I sought permission from Marion Howard, the only year-round resident. She was 85 years old and peered at me as she stood in her doorway and replied, “Yes, you can stay. But,” she added, “you aren’t to try to take care of me.” That was in September. By December we were fast friends.

She lived a simple life, drawing water from a hand-dug well and walking to a primitive outhouse. During one of our visits she casually mentioned that it would be a “hard winter and a lot of old people would die.” She had precise instructions if anything happened to her while I was there. Her words are etched in my memory. “Get me into my chair in the winter kitchen, keep the fire going, drink tea, and watch over me till I’m gone.”

I stopped in just at dark on December 18. Her lamp wasn’t lit and she wasn’t in the house. I found her outside in the snow, halfway between her place and the barn where she kept a few chickens.

It was blowing up a storm that night. She was conscious but couldn’t get herself up. I managed to get her inside and into her overstuffed chair beside her wood stove. After a bit of time she made two comments. The first being: “I’m in a hell of a mess.” The second was: “If I could just get my legs under me, I could beat you at a game of scrabble.”

Those were her last words.
Tears splashed down that stormy night.
Could that have been in this one lifetime?
Merry Christmas dear Marion.

‘FROG’S SONG IS VERY GOOD MEDICINE’ — December 11, 2014

Once again we have shrugged off thoughts of what might pass for a normal life–in a real structure called a house–in favor of the vagabond existence on the road. We are currently sitting in balmy, wet southern Oregon in the cozy RV community of Timber Valley SKP Park.

There is a gentle, soft rain this morning. A little frog must inhabit one of the outside compartments near our bed because it sang its little head off at various times in the night. I think it is very good medicine.

Recently I had noticed, on occasion, Julianne’s eyes taking on a wild darting around look–the result of living too many months in the claustrophobic environment of our 10-foot truck camper. So I did the only thing a good houseboy could do. Yep, I found us a perfectly suitable 2002 30-foot 5th wheel Cougar to stretch out in and call home.

JimmyKitchen_JulianneGCraneNow we can actually take several steps in any direction without bumping into each other. And, imagine a couch, and even an easy chair. Julianne’s hair is starting to lay down again and her sobs have subsided nicely. She has been busy stringing holiday lights and bits of other finery both inside and outside the rig. She just better stay out of my kitchen. That’s never going to change.

Since first going on the road in 2009, we’ve covered long stretches of highway with numerous twists and turns. We counted up the number of rigs we’ve owned and with this latest, it is six. I always say I give my friends whiplash with all our/my casting about.

Tucked in here temporarily, in a quiet valley backed up against the Cascade Mountain Range with wild Salmon returning to spawn in the creek just feet from our door, is satisfying my need for wide open space.

We now have the great fortune to have both our trusty 4WD truck/camper for exploring the little dirt roads in this vast country, and the mother ship where we can actually take a shower and stretch out in with excessive comfort.

In a few short weeks we will put the 5er in storage and sandwich ourselves back into the truck camper and head out for another winter circuit to the Texas Gulf Coast and points in between.

– Happy Holidays

‘WHAT DO THE CRICKETS HAVE TO SAY?’ — September 9, 2014

JimmySmith_Marshmallow_JulianneGCrane-1I was just standing outside the camper.  Darkness was falling like a quiet cascade. The crickets, the harbingers of the old country of my youth and a reminder of the rapidly changing season, were ringing into the quiet.

After more than a thousand miles of mostly back roads since leaving Spokane on this Autumn’s journey,  sweet Julianne and I are into the hardwoods I recognize with almost cellular memory.

Today the first displays of color lit our way along a quiet country lane in the upper Midwest.  Sumac, throwing up a brilliant hue of reds, lined a bit of the byway.  In the low places the  soybeans were churning up a cast of yellow.  Could be the abundance of rain that seems to hit here but misses other parts of the land far off to the west.

Anyway, I decided to replenish our on-board water supply and a day ago I jettisoned all tanks.  I had some crazy notion that we were going to plunge into a deep freeze over night.  Imagine that.  Crickets are now booming in the night.  Outside temperature is 68 degrees.  The fresh water tank is now partially refilled with very nice tasting sweet water from this hardwood-ringed camp site.

Julianne was pining for a bite of something sweet and given the patter of rain now falling on our camper, I offered to toast a marshmallow over our nice inside fire–the cook top.  Out comes my trusty, oh-so-fine extendable roasting stick rescued from a casual look into a campground dumpster along the Metolious River in central Oregon.

Time to roast a marshmallow and listen to what the crickets have to say.

‘HEALING SOUNDS OF NATURE’ — July 8, 2014

I’m sitting listening to the light buzz of nature sounds … oh, it’s the refrigerator.

That too is a pleasant sound.  I know I’ve been absent from these pages for an extended time.  Coming off the road and getting folded into a house and a street and morphing from a snow shoveler to a lawn boy, takes it out of a guy.

It’s hard to believe, as the mercury touches the 90′s that seemingly moments ago I was shoveling snow every few hours to keep the neighborhood open for traffic.  Now with plants laden with plump green tomatoes and soon basil to pick and handfuls of red ripe strawberries outside the door, all speaks to a little different rhythm than one of the open road.  A fair trade for a spell.

Sweet Julianne and I did just return from a pristine week in the woods away from phone, radio, news (which hardly ever seems positive), and other distractions.

LakeLeo_fawn_JulianneGCraneI always say I could explore endlessly this playground outside our door and never be more than 200 miles from Spokane.  This recent trip took us only 97 miles north into the Colville National Forest and gave us access to a beautiful quiet lake within gaze of our little camper (see picture at top of page).

We touched fish, ate luscious wild berries, watched eagles soar and saw spotted fawns leap into the brush. We petted the occasional dog, of course, and one more time convinced ourselves that our world has an ample number of quality, friendly people to chat with over a campfire.

As I write this, Julianne is penciling out more trips to pull me away from the lawn mower.

Sitting here I’m reminded that many thoughts go stirring in the months I’ve been on sabbatical from writing.  I promise I’ll do better.

‘FIRST TENDER SPRING MOMENTS’  — March 29, 2014

JimmySmithGarden_JulianneGCraneOn this last couple days of March, with timid rays of sunshine, I’ve planted a first scatter of seeds.

A couple weeks ago I pulled into a local feed and farm supply store and stood bleary-eyed peering at a vast array of packets of promise in the form of garden seeds. Strummed into the mix were memories of gardens with boxes and bags of seeds, and hundred-foot rows with room on the ends to turn the tiller and tractor.

My green house, in those years, on the last day of March would be filled with flats of early starts taunting the frosty mornings with supple beginnings of wheelbarrow loads of plump tomatoes. My pantry was still well-stocked with the colorful jars of the previous year’s efforts. Wide beds of garlic already thrust up out of the chilled soil.

photo 3All these flashes were being awakened in my memory as I stood there examining the most puny envelopes of seeds. A packet of Black Seeded Simpson lettuce seed priced at $3.95. I could almost count the seeds between my thumb and index finger for that $3.95. I stood there and couldn’t do it. Returning home I found my Johnny’s Seed catalog and then called Jordan’s a seed supplier I had used for years.

So this is how it happens, innocently enough I swear. A packet of seeds at the local store was $3.95. I don’t know how many seeds that is, but at that price a guy should be smoking it instead of planting it.

From Johnny’s, a respectable outfit that I bought from for years the same Black Seeded Simpson Lettuce was priced at $5.15 for ‘one ounce’ of seed. Now that’s a bunch of seeds. You can scatter them around with rather reckless abandon. Greens for all. But then I checked out the Jordan’s catalog. Black Seeded Simpson in their smallest quantity was $2.55.

The fact that $2.55 package quantity was for 4 ounces only slightly sobered me. What is a guy to do–buy 35 seeds for $3.95, a whole handful for $5.15, or enough to fill a small pillowcase for $2.55? I’m sure this is what started me years ago in the direction of being a small market gardener. Couldn’t pass up a good deal on seeds.

So my back is a bit sore from spading up a good bit of our nice landlady’s yard, but I have knelt on the earth once again and whispered my prayer. “Now I lay you down to wake” and nestled these precious miracles into the soil.

We’re going to need more space.

‘OKAY, OKAY. I’M RETHINKING THINGS’ — January 22, 2014

Carlsbad_surfers_JulianneGCraneAfter my last little rant about my early education concerning leisure activities and my unease with such trivial pursuits, I’ve had a revelation. In fact I’ve been steeping myself in the notion that relaxation can be good. Palm trees: good. A balmy surf line glistening under sunlit skies with eager practitioners of that thing called surfing: good.

Maybe it had something to do with being raised in the cold northern climate and having to chop wood and carry water. I’m reminded of a spirited conversation one Thanksgiving between two cousins and myself. We were teenagers. As with most family gatherings work was woven into the day.

Each Thanksgiving we ate, of course, but we always seemed to butcher a couple hogs. The weather was always right for the event and provided enough gore and excitement for us youngsters.

Anyway, somewhere along the line my cousins and I were standing over a big iron grate on the living room floor. The reason I remember this was heat from the coal furnace rose up from the basement and provided a cheery warmth. See, that’s part of my point. We were always maybe a bit hungry and probably a little cold coming from our neighborhood.

My older cousin, maybe four years older than myself started talking about California. I remember standing there attempting to fathom what that meant. The word almost had a taste to it. Certainly exotic and equally unattainable. I had no way to wrap my imagination around what it could be. Popular music described it, movies depicted it. We only had Henry Mancini music in our house, no television and definitely no Beach Boys.

Jimmy_beachI’ve been slow I admit to letting all this leisure lifestyle in. Now, after being perched for a few days along a pristine stretch of beach north of San Diego taking in all this activity, did I say leisure activity … I’m thinking it might not be too late for me.

Maybe a smaller garden this spring. And maybe a couple travel brochures.

‘EARLY MORNING IN THE COACHELLA VALLEY’ — January 14, 2014

CoachellaValley_MojaveDesertWe plucked ourselves from sleep with starlight dappling the sky, no hint of the whirling dervish of planetary excitement rushing just over the edge of the sleeping world.

Now knife points of sunlight are cleaving open another day.  As I gaze out, with as much innocence as I can muster, the day should unfold much as it has from before my time and well beyond my time.

We have been out for months and months, again plying the nation’s little roads.  I’m never sure how to frame what it is we do.  We fit into some loose category of sojourners sometimes called RVers, or wandering homeless, or some other yet defined group of tribesmen off seeking sustenance and solar encouragement during the dark months of winter.

Daily I am confronted by my own deep-seated ideas and judgments in this endeavor.   There is something I just haven’t been able to get about leisure or a leisure class of people.

I was raised by a man who was deeply suspicious of idle time, and deeply committed to the principle that his son not have much of it.  Television did not model the American dream in our household.  Hard work was what we did.  All the while growing up I had a nagging doubt about our approach, as much of the rest of the world seemed to cavort about and eat off of things called TV trays, supping on a diet of coca cola and special chips, and collecting an endless array of shiny new things.

What didn’t I understand?  Why is it that I still am looking for something that I’m not even sure what it is? Wait, I know what it is, it’s just a bit illusory but it’s …  MEANING.  Each day I continue to look for meaning and purpose, and deep connection with my fellow travelers.

I’m not complaining about this stretch of my own grand experiment with life.  Each day is rich in experiences and full of possibilities. Now just to find my place in it all.

Maybe there is a spring garden out ahead of us.

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To read “Jimmy’s Views from 2013 — Click here

Photos, unless otherwise noted, by Julianne G. Cran