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My Trip Westward, Week 3 January 5, 2016

Filed under: Being alone,Getting older,Outdoors,Travel — a.woman.aging @ 2:44 am

2015-10-03 11.07.28

October 2, 2015          To Helena, Arkansas

Somehow, I had never realized there are thousands of acres of pancake-flat land along the Mississippi where cotton, rice, and soybeans are grown. I decided not to go to Memphis, and the next bridge south across the river was at Helena, quite some way south. Thus, I ended up driving for many miles in this flat land called the Arkansas Delta. There were seas of cotton, often alternated with huge fields of rice and some soybeans. By 1860, Arkansas was the 6th largest producer of cotton, made possible by a considerable amount of slave labor. The number of slaves grew from about 20,000 in 1840 to over 400,000 in 1860. It is also one of the largest rice producers. There is some thought that many of the rice-growing techniques, such as levying and flooding the land at the right times, was learned from slaves who had grown rice in their home countries.

Huge machines that looked like monsters worked the land sending up billows of dust. The irrigating mechanisms with their metal spines and ribs reminded me of the long and huge dinosaur skeletons my little grandson had recently shown me in one of his favorite books. Occasional houses broke up the tedious landscape, mostly little clapboard affairs with peeling paint. And then, rounding one of the few curves, a grove of trees which framed a lovely little church and old cemetery. I made my lunch there and strolled among some of the very old gravesites, pondering the lives of these people.

Again, I was the only guest at my night spot, this one greatly different from the night before. The weather was too chilly, overcast, and windy to camp so I went to the only B&B in Helena and what a treat that turned out to be. The new owners had only been there for 2 weeks, and with no other guests, I could explore all I wanted and talk to them at length. Escaping from Dallas corporate life, they were trying something totally different. The mansion was built in 1904 by a cotton baron. The interior was full of intricate woodwork, beautifully preserved. Every fireplace was different. Then, as now, there must have been an enormous contrast between the rich and poor. A building as wretched as any I have seen in third world countries was only a few blocks away. Like most other towns I saw along the way, much was abandoned and falling down. The liquor store was the busiest place in town. I know, because (I ended up walking from my Inn about 20 blocks total, having been told it was a shorter distance!) it was a bustling place- walk-in and drive through. After I bought a bottle of wine, the clerk stepped outside with me and talked at length about the town. A very nice guy. Everywhere I have been, people are so friendly and helpful. By the way, Arkansas is from Indian words meaning “land of downriver people” or “people of the south wind” depending on the tribe.2015-10-02 15.54.51

October 3, 2015     Into Mississippi

I had no idea when I fantasized about my trip, that I would end up in Mississippi! It is an interesting experience to wake up in the morning and not know where one is going or where the coming night will be spent. I’ve reflected on this quite a bit but haven’t come up with anything profound. I do know I am very glad for the experience.

Since the bridge took me to the northern part of Mississippi and I had never been there, I decided to go more or less across and see what unfolded. Luckily, there was a welcome station as I needed a map. A most pleasant welcomer greeted me and her smile revealed a solid gold tooth seemingly in the middle of her upper teeth that fit perfectly in a gap among her lower teeth. I found her charming. She soon had me married off to a man standing beside me and laughed and laughed when I told her we weren’t together. I noticed that he didn’t laugh. I chatted for a while with a couple from Lyon, France who were doing the entire blues trail from Natchez to Chicago!

I had seen enough of flat cotton and rice fields and grain elevators, so put on an audio version of a book by Stephen Hawking, “The Universe in a Nutshell” and was soon trying to grapple with thoughts of evaporating black holes, multiple dimensions, P-branes (what in the world?) and the limits of the universe(s). It was too much. Apparently I wasn’t as bored with the scenery as I thought, as my focus wandered at the things I was seeing and I couldn’t follow the book. I know no more now than I did about these esoteric matters except that there are now various theories in quantum physics having to do with ‘string’ theories and multiple dimensions and no way, at least so far, to prove any one right. Physicists live with theories, not exactness. Sounds like my trip.

At last the land warped into rolling hills and the roadsides were covered with more kudzu than I had ever seen, seas of it going as far as one could see until heavy forest was reached. Trees in the kudzu’s way had become bent green goblins, the spookiness traveling with me down the road. I saw a restaurant and stopped for vegetables, desperate and craving. Bad as they were, they were good.

I ended up in Oxford and the Faulkner home, Rowan Oak. He named it after these trees, though none were on the property. A beautiful place built in 1840, he moved in 90 years later and added electricity, water, and an addition. Whiskey and his typewriter, in part, inspired his writing. I tried to soak up writing vibes while I wandered around. A fitting place to visit– I just finished “As I Lay Dying” a few weeks ago. Then, greatly surprising myself, I ended up at Elvis’s birthplace in Tupelo! What a day. Got spoiled by the very nice hotel I checked into. By the way, those that research these matters think that “Mississippi” is an Indian word meaning “the Father of Waters.”

October 4, 2015 The Natchez Trail

I discovered that Tupelo was where the headquarters of the Natchez Trace Parkway was and went straight there in the morning. I had barely heard of it, and now think I always confused it with the Natchez Trail that follows antebellum homes. The narrow 444-mile-long national park is credited to the local DAR ladies in the early 1900s who wanted to preserve the disappearing ancient pathway from Natchez to Nashville. This Indian trail had been in use for thousands of years before modern ways made it obsolete.

It was another raw, dreary day. Grey and somber, it was still a pleasure to drive with no trucks, no billboards, and the early fall colors. Patches of bright yellow tick-seed sunflowers struggled here and there to fight the dreariness. A Wisconsin couple on recumbent bikes had just stopped at the headquarters. Apparently, the Trace is a mecca for bicyclists and they were there to do the entire thing with another couple. These two were at least my age and the man was pot-bellied! They average about 40 miles a day and an escort brings their supplies for overnights. Modern cycling includes cell phone communication, flashing laser white lights in front and red in back. Many bicyclists were on the road with their blinding lights as I drove along.

I found myself feeling heavy and sad as the miles passed. Flags were at half-staff at park headquarters because of the latest mass shooting. The Trace’s history, posted in various ways along the route, about both Native Americans and whites is about struggles, death, war, treaties and broken treaties with the Indians, suffering, and, in the case of Meriwether Lewis, suicide as he was making his way to Nashville. I stopped often at the marked places of interest– Indian mounds, the monuments, a cave and spring the Indians used, and the reconstructed cabin that served as an inn where Lewis shot himself. At one point, there were a dozen or so vultures in the road attracted by an unlucky raccoon. I slowed to let them get out of the way which they did walking slowly and without concern. In my rearview mirror, I saw them regathering around the animal, the group moving as one with a grace that resembled gently flowing water. I was astonished by the whole display.

I walked solemnly on a part of the original Trace. I considered the courage and fortitude it must have taken to walk on this path for miles and miles whether for trading, for war, for mail delivery (after the white people took over), and so many other reasons. The Trace is too narrow for wagons—it was either foot or horseback. I read where men called the Kaintucks in the Ohio River Valley around the 1800s would build flat boats and float their goods to trade— furs, wheat, whiskey, and more— down to New Orleans; then, as the Mississippi River current was too strong to go back up the river, take the boats apart, sell the wood, and, if they couldn’t afford a horse, walk back to Ohio, using the Trace as far as it would take them.

Finally, I could take no more and decided to leave the Trace and focus on beauty and happy things as much as possible. I had crossed a corner of Alabama and was now in Tennessee. The gloom and cold remained and I was about to check into a motel when the sun broke through! So, at the last minute I was able to find a nearby state park and camp by the Duck River which was good for my spirit. By the way, the origin of the names Alabama and Tennessee are not known with certainty. Alabama may be from a Creek word meaning ‘tribal town’ or a Choctaw word meaning ‘thicket clearers.’ Tennessee may be a modification of a Cherokee word meaning ‘winding river’ or ‘river of the great bend.’ From what I have seen, both are suitable.

October 5, 2015 Across Tennessee

This morning I find myself up at 6am EST because it is Central Time here. It is barely light and I watch the half-full moon grow dimmer as the sky lightens. The fog grows denser over the river or is it just that increasing light makes the fog easier to see? I am never outside at this hour so I have a lot to learn! Fire burning, coffee ready, now I am literally a ‘happy camper.’ I am glad to have my own camp coffee- a French press pot and good beans from home. Across the river the sky is showing a pale pink glow. Large water drops fall from time to time making tiny plop sounds. It must be the dew collecting on the leaves above me until it gets to a critical mass, then ‘plop and plink’ sometimes even on my head.

I am starting to get homesick if that is what is means to be longing for my dear family, my cello, my daily routine, friends, and home and gardens. I am surprised to find myself like a barn-sour horse on a trail ride, that you have to be ready to hold her back or she will take off at a gallop when she knows that the homeward stretch and barn are near. I am propelling myself faster toward home than I had intended so now it is clear I will get home a few days sooner than what the calendar shows. So, crossing Tennessee was a travel day. I made no special effort to find interesting things to see or do except to identify a state park to camp in as the weather was beautiful. Nonetheless, I did have a small adventure.

My route to the park took me through Oak Ridge. My children had a great-uncle who was a physicist there through much of his life so I decided I would look for a public visitor center. Well, Miss Google Map was again not reliable. I asked Miss GM for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Visitor Center and up came the route, 3 miles from where I was. Off I went and was soon at a security gate. “Mam,” says a heavily armed but very nice guard— guns strapped on his legs, a thick pouch on his chest— “since you have arrived unauthorized, I will have to check your license, take your photo, and photo your car before you turn around and leave.” Can you imagine how happy I was that they didn’t need to search the car! It would have taken hours with my now chaos of stuff and I would have been so embarrassed.

My campsite was on the edge of a TVA lake, it was warm and sunny, and for the first time, I got there early enough to cook a real dinner. I craved greens so much I had canned spinach! It is not at all as bad as I remembered. Maybe it helped that I warmed it in a dollop of coconut oil.

October 6, 2015 From Andersonville, TN to Hot Springs, NC

Leaving Big Ridge State Park looked, on the map, like one of those ‘you can’t get there from here’ places. It is Union County, way out of the way– union supporters in the Civil War and helpers to escaping slaves. Hairpin curves and beautiful mountain scenes turned into strip malls near Knoxville. I had little choice but to get on I-40 but was surprised and rewarded coming up over a rise by a breath-taking view of the mountains as far to the north and south as the eye could see. This was just before I-81 split off. Leaving the interstate madness as soon as I could, going on Route 70, as the miles went by I reflected on how certain scenes—a porch, a hillside, an old swing, a tiny brook—have always evoked in me a deep stirring of memory that I have never been able to grasp. Then a longing and wondering sets in until a bit of time has passed and the feeling fades. Today, it was a porch of a certain style attached to a simple white clapboard house on a hillside looking towards a high mountain. What is this tug at my heart?

I was headed into Hot Springs, NC. Having lived in NC for 45 years plus and always wanting to see Hot Springs and Marshall, both in Madison County, here was my chance. Hot Springs turned out to be a cute little town at the confluence of a bold stream, Spring Creek, and the French Broad. Indians began used the healing springs 2,500 years ago. By 1778 traders were stopping for the waters. The town was named Warm Springs for the 98˚ springs, then changed to Hot Springs when a 117˚ spring was discovered. In 1884 a large hotel was built for people coming from all over to ‘take the waters.’ Sadly, it burned and another was built which was used to inter German soldiers in 1917. Three years later it, too, burned down. Now the springs are in private hands, the current hotel dating from 1990 and people still come from all over the world for the waters, though far fewer than in the heyday.

I found a cute room at the Alpine Court and walked all over the town which was about 2 blocks long and wide. By the end of the warm sunny afternoon, I felt like I had talked to half the people in town, all friendly– an interesting combination of local mountain people and hippy-granolas. The Appalachian Trail literally goes down the main street.

Being the last night of my trip, I splurged on a proper dinner (local trout and collards, at last!) and even dessert. The restaurant was in a building dating from the late 1800’s. Two blues musicians played and sang and, boy, were they good! Especially the harp. I learned the two went from Chicago to Florida on their performing path. While I ate, I mused about the paths my life has taken— some by choice, others by happenstance or necessity. There are probably other things I could have done reasonably well, and plenty I could have never done. In the midst of my thoughts, I see the young male waiter bounding up 25 stairs (I counted them) carrying a large box. That, I know, I could have never done along with plenty more serious things.

Walking back to my 1950’s motel, the blues harp still singing in my mind, I reflect gratefully on what a perfect last trip afternoon and night this has been. Will I be any different when I get home, will I spend more time on things that bring me joy? I already know I want to do a trip like this again.

October 7, 2015 Hot Springs to home!

The morning found me walking the town in the fog, clutching my travel mug, looking for a place to get a cup of coffee. Things were not looking promising. I didn’t see another soul and only 2 stores were open—the town’s two hardware and goods stores. I rounded a corner to one, determining to ask about coffee inside, when a tall lanky man suddenly appeared clutching a large shoe box under one arm. “Excuse me, ma’am, (in what I would soon learn was a Texas drawl), do you know where I can get a cup of coffee? I’ve just slept a few hours in my car on my way to see my son in Brooklyn. My horse on my farm hurt my leg and I came here to ‘take the waters.’ (He hoists up his pant leg to show me the damage.) My shoes fell apart and I just got a pair at the store (he motions to it).” He goes on. He tells me he wants to walk the Appalachian Trail and asks if I think the shoes he just bought are suitable. I don’t. “I am 67. Do you think I can do it—walk the trail?” I tell him it takes study and preparation and training. I go on about these things a bit as he is interested and doesn’t seem aware of the reality of walking the AT at all. He is humble, deferential. Clearly, not a man with much money. “Thank you so much, ma’am. I don’t want to take more of your time. God, bless you. Please pray for me.” I walk away not thinking of wanting coffee just now.

Heading out to Marshall, I did find coffee. Rounding a curve some 15 or so miles from Hot Springs, Marshall, the Madison County seat, suddenly appeared in my view– a tiny town in a narrow valley made by the French Broad River. I was astounded by my first ever glimpse of it. It looked almost European.2015-10-07 09.07.24

Eventually, I made it past Asheville and onto I-40 and intended to zip on home. Apparently, I wasn’t quite ready to give up my trip as, on an impulse, I turned down Highway 18, past South Mountain Park, past a pumpkin and apple stand where I bought a beautiful eating pumpkin from an overall clad farmer who had gotten up at 3am to drive to Hendersonville to get the apples, and, then, onto Route 150 which skirts the top of Lake Norman. All of a sudden I am gazing at a HUGE plant full of contraptions past a sign “Marshall Steam Station” that made me feel I had entered a land of giants. I looked this up later. It is a coal power plant owned by Duke Energy. I am not sure I had ever seen one before. I learned that the Marshall plant is the second largest Duke Power coal facility in the Carolinas. It generates enough electricity to power approximately two million homes. I couldn’t help but wonder where that coal ash goes.

Driving along, I realize one of the reasons I like to travel so much is to see and feel the lay of the land, how is changes, how the soil changes, how that determines the economics of the area, what plants grow where, how long it takes the mountains to rise and smooth out again, what the tiny towns look like, what people put on their porches– so many more things. Feel it in my bones. Smell it.

Feeling full of gratitude and thanks, I arrived home safe and sound in the afternoon from these 2,550 miles trip with no mishaps. I so appreciate all of you who followed my journey and kept me company with your insights and comments. It made a rich experience even richer. So many thanks to you.

∞ The End ∞




My Trip Westward, Week 2

Filed under: Being alone,Getting older,Outdoors,Travel — a.woman.aging @ 2:39 am

Saturday, September 26, leaving Chillicothe to Shawnee State Park

As I sit in the evening by my little fire– fed and showered and in a fine mist wetting me slightly, to consider my day– I marvel at what can happen when nothing special is planned except to wander. I think of Dr. Suess– oh, the places I’ve been and the things I’ve seen…

I left Chillicothe for the Serpent Mound, another 2,000-year-old earth works. When I arrived an afternoon of poetry and music with a Native American theme was just beginning, a nice surprise. I ate my lunch purchased in a rural Amish bakery on the way to the beat of powerful drumming. A Lakota woman taken from her mother at a very young age to be raised by a white family read her wrenching poems clearly written in her attempt to find peace and sense in her life. After growing up, it took her 40 years to find her mother. The mood was lightened by clever funny poetry-stories by an Appalachian woman.

Rain began just as I left to walk the Serpent Mound, a huge undulating creature with certain bends of the body aligned with the equinoxes and solstices. Power radiated. I don’t think I was imagining it. Others were walking in the rain, too and we all greeted each other with a smile. I went back and heard a few more poems and more drumming before heading south to drive along the banks of the Ohio River and find a B&B or a campground (it was obviously the latter).

On the way in a sad little town like so many others I had been passing through was a fossil museum- a small dusty private affair next to the 19th century Gothic home of the owner-collector who was away collecting. I step in the odd museum and a slight dark young man approached me with his hand outstretched holding a flat piece of beige rock with a perfect imprint of a tiny fish. “Look what Richard just gave me” as he gently wrapped it with a piece of cloth. He was of more interest to me than the fish with his shoulder length coal-black ringlets, wispy beard, ink pool eyes and limbs so thin his joints looked like boulders. His friend who was minding the store offers me a tiny piece of Osha root (a western herb I knew about but had never seen) to chew after I had commented on a few herbs on the counter among helter-skelter fossils. I crunch into grit and wipe it onto my hand. “Uh-oh,” he says, “that must have been the Dragon’s Blood. Here’s the Osha.” I chewed as I said goodbye to the two men and the largest trilobite in the world.

Soon, the blue Ohio was meandering in my view, lined from time to time with an occasional nice house and many more abandoned and falling down. American flags flew proudly in front of some that otherwise looked abandoned. Such wreckage– a fresh flag was the only way to tell people were actually living in some of them.

Sunday, September 27 From Shawnee State Park, OH to near Frankfort, KY

I slept so hard in my little tent, I felt glued to the land and had to struggle up. Eventually, by a little fire in clean clothes (!), coffee in hand, and maps, I considered what to do next. I had thought of staying at Shawnee 2 days, but rain was threatening and I didn’t like the space too much. I learned that the park was on what had been Shawnee hunting grounds. I wanted time to absorb all that has happened, to walk a trail or two and plan. No cell reception made for old-fashioned trip planning.

I studied the US map I had brought with me so I could get an overall perspective and realized that I am not even going to get to the St. Louis area much less the far west! Today is the end of one week on the road. I decided to head toward Louisville which I had never seen and would have never thought much about except for hearing stories about it from a dear friend who was born there. I crossed the Ohio into Maysville, Kentucky, a charming old town with a few murals on its flood walls, cobblestone streets, and Victorian buildings. What a contrast to the decay on the Ohio side. It is as though one state chose the right approaches to their economy and the other the opposite. Of course, they both have desperately poor areas and wealthy areas but right here the contrast was stark.

Blue Licks Battlefield State Park provided my lunch place. The geology of the place had created salt licks so that in the olden days the buffalo had made a path all the way from the Ohio River to there for the salt. The path, known as Buffalo Trace, was used by the Indians and later, the whites. I walked on a bit of it. The sun was hot and as golden as the goldenrod that lined it. A man saw me studying my map as I lunched in front of the Pioneer Museum and got to talking. Spritely, mustachioed, safari-hatted and geo-caching, he was full of information about just about everything to do with that part of Kentucky. He suggested I stop at a farm for retired race horses, so, inspired by his enthusiasm, I did just that. The other folks on the farm tour were apparently into races and knew the famous retired horses. I savored my interesting glimpse into that world and then went on to a commercial RV campground on the Kentucky River as no state parks were close enough. The RVs were packed like sardines about 12 feet apart.

On my way back from the shower my nearest RV neighbors invited me to sit by their fire. A three generation family of about 10, all but one weighed twice as much as they should have, and all the adults smoked. We chatted and I asked about the eastern part of Kentucky. (I wanted to go to Hazard but it was too far out of my way.) “That’s too rough over there, they ain’t but a bunch of rednecks over there.”

My little tent area was bleak but I had the friendly RV neighbors and the moon I saw in the middle of the night made up for the campground that I saw as unattractive, even ugly. Though I missed the much-announced eclipse (foggy) and any peak of a blood moon, the moon I did see was huge and so bright I could only glance at it. And, I learned my neighbors found the campground attractive. There is a lot to ponder in between these two things.

September 28-30 Monday-Wednesday Louisville, Kentucky

Needing a rest and not being able to camp in the city, I booked an Airbnb room in a 1920s house near a lovely park called Cherokee. My first Airbnb booking. Most of the parks here have Indian names– Shawnee, Chickasaw, and more. The room was perfect, though rather bare. My hostesses, Amy and Amber were a college softball coach and a heavy equipment operator, respectively. They were helpful and friendly and mostly stayed out of the way except showing me how to use the washing machine which I certainly needed and appreciated at this point. The rest of Monday, I rested. Never drove the whole time in Louisville. Walked to restaurants for meals.

My notion that I hadn’t done any substantial walking on this trip is now assuaged. In the two days here, I must have walked 5 or 6 miles. The neighborhoods look so much like where I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, it was almost spooky. The brick houses, the cracked sidewalks uprooted by huge trees that had been growing for a half century or more, the mansions. I couldn’t stop myself from walking around blocks seeing houses that looked just liked those of childhood friends and my favorite– elaborate webs of alleys, even some brick ones! Alleys were my favorite place to walk and play when I was a child. One went around in back of our house and curved up in a mysterious way onto a higher street. One day, from my bedroom– I must have been 8 or 10– I looked out of my window into the alley and saw a flock of goldfinches. Yellow and black birds! They were magic to me. The other alley magic was the years of finding bits of blue glass in the gravel (more likely coal ash) and on one occasion, opaque yellow bits. I collected them. Forevermore, alleys make my memory dance with flashes of yellow and sparkling blues punctuated with velvet black.

Another first on Tuesday- I used Uber to get to town for a city tour, and then again to get to the house I learned my friend’s grandparents had built in 1916. From there I walked in a gentle rain to the huge, old and beautiful Cave Hill Cemetery where her grandparents were buried. Almost lost on the winding roads inside the cemetery, I finally saw a tall, thin, pony-tailed man tending a grave, clipping and raking. Though wet, it was warm and he was wearing shorts and a raggedy shirt. I assumed he was cleaning up a family grave, but no, he had been a grave tender there for 37 years. “I just left my shack since it stopped raining. Finished my Reader’s Digest. You should go see my shack, I fixed it up for Halloween.” He explained it was a small brick building near the way out that served as his headquarters. We chatted a while and I learned about grave tending and that he once stayed in the house in San Francisco where Charlie Manson lived for a while and that lots of people come to see the grave of the KFC chicken man, Col. Saunders.

Walking on, at last I saw the ‘shack’ and found it charming, enjoying the orange decorations that gave some color to the day. I thought about him having this place for 37 years to retreat into when he wasn’t working. Wow.


September 30 Wednesday Louisville to Cairo- I made it to the Mississippi River!

With no precipitation in 33 days prior to yesterday’s in Louisville, the morning broke chilly, dark and exceedingly gloomy with the rain falling reluctantly as though the clouds weren’t sure they really wanted to let it go. It made for dramatic scenes leaving the city on the expressways along the river with all that water, dark clouds, and so many bridges. I took a little cut through part of Indiana which was pretty, everything neat and prosperous looking, even the tiny towns. Listening to Diane Rehm interview Erica Jong as I drove along, I was so shocked to learn she had had a facelift that I missed a turn and ended up quite a bit out of my way. Jong said, “Society has no tolerance for saggy baggy women.” She further said, after Ms. Rehm (who is 79) protested, that though she had no regrets and would do it again, she admired women that don’t alter themselves surgically. I suppose it served me right to get lost, being so judgmental.

Driving across Kentucky, I looked for a post office in all the towns I passed through and finally gave up. So many businesses and homes flew American flags I could never spot a flag-flying PO. In one little town I stopped in, Princeton, the main attraction was a pretty pale lemon and white mansion on the main street. The owner, a single woman who never married or had children lived in it alone all her life. She left it to the town to be kept exactly as she had it and wanted the townspeople to enjoy it as much as she had. I hope she left a good endowment to go with it! The back of the house had two Japanese Kousa dogwoods (Cornus kousa) hanging with colorful curious looking fruit– very pretty.

As I drove along, I listened some to local AM radio to get a feel for the culture.  Struggling to find my way to the Mississippi River on obscure little roads, Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” played and I had to smile. I realized it was the perfect theme song for my trip, which has now defined itself with its own theme– Native American past and the confluence of great rivers.

It wasn’t easy to find the confluence of the Ohio with the Mississippi. The roads were confusing on the map and the bridge over the Mississippi was closed. The experience was anticlimactic and disheartening. Fortunately, I had read in online travel posts that Fort Defiance State Park where the rivers met was in bad shape and hardly maintained. That combined with the nearby mostly abandoned town of Cairo, made for a post-apocalyptic feel that I haven’t shaken free of yet. The coming together of those majestic rivers should have been glorious. Though the blending waters were beautiful, the despair and poverty of the land that touched them made for a deep-down dissonance of heart that was hard to bear. So much history that I hardly knew and most of it destructive– Civil War battles, river boat disasters, ruining floods, racial violence, and, finally railroads and highways with their vehicles, making the rivers less vital.

There was nowhere nearby to camp. I stayed in the nicest place around, a Quality Inn. Next door was a long gone restaurant. There was nowhere left to eat in town that I wanted to go to.2015-10-01 09.56.39-1

October 1   Cairo to Paducah to Crowley’s Ridge State Park, Arkansas

My post-apocalyptic feel was heightened as I explored this unfortunate town. It looked like it had been deserted after bombings in a terrible war, which, in a way is what it has suffered going from 15,000 people in its heyday to about 3,000 now. What a history it has from its height when the rivers were the nation’s highways, to the Civil War, the coming of the railroads, the destruction of many floods, and toxic racism. Lest we think we are not barbaric here, Cairo was the site of a lynching of a black man and a white man in 1909 with a crowd of 10,000 watching and some participating. The former was burned, beheaded, and his head put on a post at the place of his alleged murder of a white woman.

A ghost town now, it left me with a feeling of profound despair coupled, oddly enough, with a sense of awe. Awe, in a negative way that we are a third-world country after all and should do better. And in a positive way, that these people have endured, somehow– the ones that are left. I saw blacks and whites laughing and chatting with each other in the only grocery store in town.

I back-tracked 34 miles to see Paducah, Kentucky, another river town, this one with a thriving historic district and more beautiful murals on the flood walls. It was laid out in 1827 by Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame) and named after the Comanche’s. I had to pass up the American Quilt Museum as it would have taken hours to see it properly. I saw another confluence of great rivers– the Tennessee and Ohio.

Driving on through southern Missouri, I was enjoying some bright sunshine and the surprise of seeing fields of cotton. The area seemed ripe for a mini-dustbowl as dust was flying up from the plowed fields with the slightest wind. I was determined to get to Arkansas before nightfall since I had never been there and headed to the closet state park I could find.

Finally, at the park, it was so late no rangers were around so I followed late check-in instructions, got my ticket and proceeded to the tent camping area. No one else was there and it was a rather large area so it had a spooky feel. This was not lessened when a battered truck with two young men did a circle around.  I ate, settled down and decided to take my sharpish walking pole into the tent with me that night. Sitting by the embers of my dying fire enjoying being entirely alone, playing the harmonica, and looking up at the stars I felt both an insignificant speck and part of something way beyond my comprehension.



My Trip Westward 2015, Week 1

Filed under: Getting older,Outdoors,slow and local,Travel — a.woman.aging @ 1:04 am


Sept 18, 2015

I spent the day packing for my Big Road Trip West. I am about to embark on a trip I have always wanted to do and figured I had better do before I get any older! I will head west with my car packed with camping gear after visiting family in Maryland for a few days. Leaving tomorrow. I may make it as far as the Mississippi River, I don’t know. I have no planned itinerary except a northerly western route the first part of the trip and a southerly route on the way back. I will follow my nose and see what adventures unfold. I hope to post my progress and a few photos daily or near daily. I am so excited and a bit apprehensive!

Note: Some of this was posted on Facebook, hence certain comments.

September 21, 2015

My adventure has started. I took off from family leaving some tears behind in a grey desultory afternoon. Barreling through the Baltimore-Washington area had a dystopian feel to it especially passing the National Security Agency and then signs like the Cryptology Museum, Historic Savage, and Ruined Land Road. Indeed, the area had that look one sees in large metropolitan landscapes – a certain depressing film of neglect with trash and broken things on the roadside, uncut weeds, and too many people to keep up with. Following Google instead of my nose, I was reminded that Google Maps sometimes takes one down obscure secondary roads. I was on my way to a state forest I saw on a paper map to camp and soon learned that it was closed. The drive was a surprise coming out of the metropolis– I suddenly found myself in the land of multimillion-dollar mansions, huge sweeps of lawn, enormous mature trees, and beautiful winding shady lanes thick with forests. Then it blended into farms mixed with suburbs with mile after mile of dried corn stalks and rolling fields of yellowing soybeans. New houses sprouted into the midst of old farms like molars in a giant’s gums. Except for the undulating semi-housed landscape, I would have thought I was in Ohio.

Choosing a different state park, I learned that Miss Google Map is not very good at getting one to park headquarters. I secured my camp site at Little Bennett State Park in western Maryland. Just as I had a nice little fire going and happy hour under way, it started seriously raining so I am cuddled in my tent as I write this. I am taking this as an auspicious beginning for my adventure. What else could I do?

September 22, 2015

It rained all night and was still spitting from time to time in the morning. I managed to stay warm and dry enough through the night though almost everything got wet including part of my pillow and sleeping bag. By the time I crawled in my tent, my husband’s cold he no doubt acquired on the long flight he had from Alaska had hit me full on, so by this morning a box of tissue was my constant companion. After a tiny struggling fire and coffee, there was nothing to do but buck it up and throw the mess in the car and head out. I followed a byway to one of the smaller bridges across the Potomac. At a high crest early on there they were – the mountains in the distance. The pleated ribbon of a road seemed pasted down on the rollercoaster hills. I bought stamps at a tiny post office in Tuscarora, Maryland. The PO had a large poster behind glass telling about the “depredations of the Iroquois women by the colonists,” slavery, and other atrocities. Of course there are no Tuscarorans there now. Curious and oh so sad, how places and buildings are named for what was destroyed. Doug was the one that pointed this out to me years ago and now I see it everywhere. It is called Imperialist Nostalgia. It happens even in a subdivision. Hoot Owl Lane suggests there used to be hoot owls until their habitat was destroyed. Indeed, today I also saw many roads named after long ago mills.

Fredericksburg has a small museum where George Washington had his first military career office. I had not realized how brutal he was to the Indians. He ordered the Iroquois to be destroyed. Leaving there was more corn and far views of land studded with silos. I passed a curious cluster of brightly colored and oddly built houses– lavender, lime green, pink, and always crumbling abandoned buildings. I crisscrossed the Potomac several times, tiny now, and surprisingly, the land, as it became more mountainous, grew scruffy and pale-weeded. Houses were poor and trashy. Frequent laundromats I realized are a marker for poverty. I made my way well into West Virginia, still under threatening grey skies, and I’m now holed up in a warm dry motel in Petersburg as I write. I know now this will be a trip full of monuments to the destroyed Indians mixed with the rich colonial history in these parts, and my meeting of important rivers. I started to reflect on something but my cold-fuzzy head couldn’t hold the thought. Lest you think this is all fun look at the last picture!

September 23, 2015

Grey skies and gloom this morning followed me to breakfast in a funky place full of grizzled hard-bit local people (my appearance matched!) and the Seneca Rocks, an interesting out- cropping of a certain kind of sandstone. They are named for the Seneca Trail which went from New York to South Carolina (another Indian name along with the Monongahela National Forest that I drove through). I talked with a few people there and learned about the Trans-Allegeny Lunatic Asylum some miles down Rt 33 which became my afternoon adventure.

The largest hand carved sandstone block building in the western hemisphere, building the asylum began in 1861 and took 25 years to complete. The last patient left in 1994! It was known for its humane approach. Rusty swings on the grounds shadowed children once there, mixed in with adults and even mentally ill Confederate soldiers for a while. The cemetery has 2,100 graves. Talking with the woman running the little gift shop, I learned that long ago she had been a nurse there. She told me about the horrors of taking care of the lobotomy patients during that tragic era. She spoke of many other things but her heart and courage were shown by this story– a retarded man who had grown up there had always refused to wear clothing and had, thus, never been outside. She enlisted another young nurse to help her on her mission to change this. Bribery with candies finally got him to at least put on pants for a while. When secure that candies would assure that his nethers would be covered, the two waited until their supervisor was gone and led him outside. She said she will never forget his smile and squeal (he didn’t talk) when he wiggled his toes in grass for the first time in his life. After that, they took him out often and he even played some in the swimming pool.

This is what it is all about– this crazy travelling. Driving through beautiful mountains valleys, meeting friendly and helpful people, discovery, learning your limits and capabilities, and, it took me a while to realize this, I don’t have to rush! The warmth of humankind and beauty of nature. My day is closing in a beautiful campground at Cedar Creek State Park by a nice warm fire trying out my brand new harmonica. Thanks to all there is, was, and ever will be.

Sept 24, 2015 Thursday

By noon, I had left behind my green creek-sided campground and felt spit out by the mountain curves into a hot dry hard-scrabble rolling land, brown, studded with goldenrod. Autumn yellows, early turning leaves, pumpkins beginning to be everywhere– a nice time to travel. I soon reached my only planned destination- the confluence of my beloved New River (called Kanawha here) and the Ohio River at the once thriving town called Point Pleasant. Begun in 1774 over the objections of the local Indians, the name belies the violent history of the killing of so many native people and the betrayal and brutal murder of the then Shawnee Chief Hokoleskwas, called Cornstalk by the whites. His remains, moved several times, are now on the very corner of the confluence where a fierce battle occurred over 250 years ago.

Within 5 minutes of arriving, I had made 3 friends, all with NC connections (while asking how to find the historic hotel I picked to stay in) and had a walking tour of the town from one of them. So much history here! The flood walls now are partly covered with beautifully rendered murals showing the progression of early times from the Native Americans to the white takeover. Here is a place that history will not be forgotten and remembering and honoring the native people must be felt. I didn’t know any of this when I decided to find the confluence nor that I would sit there sipping wine in the tiny Tu-Endie-Wei State Park there watching the sun go down.

The whole town is redolent with the sweet fragrance of old-fashioned petunias which spill 3 feet down huge lush hanging baskets up and down all the the blocks. The town is losing population as are so many in the Rust Belt, but those that are here are so friendly and eager to tell what they know. There is so much more, but not for now! I heard honking geese flying over as I walked back from dinner.


Sept 25, Friday        

Point Pleasant to Chillichothe

First, thanks to all of you! I have not traveled with Facebook as a companion before and it makes for a fascinating and different experience. I so enjoy your ideas, comments, and feedback and am humbled and blushing at your compliments. What amazes me the most are the connections so many of you have with some of the places I am visiting, how you know about various areas, have memories evoked by my accidental touching on some place or thing, and more. Surely, we are a connected people and world. Our small network demonstrates this well and reminds me of the oft quoted “six degrees of separation.”

My thoughts have been dwelling on how different travel is in the age of internet. Except when out of signal range (which is getting less and less common) there is now instant access to routes, what to see, and to other people. Not like the pay phone days when on a trip one wouldn’t try to call but every few days, and before that, nothing but occasional letters. The solitude and real ‘not knowing’ is gone and connection is now near constant. No judging, it just is.

This morning I visited the River Museum and got a glimpse of what life was like in Point Pleasant in the heyday of the river boats. Such glory and such tragedies! I said goodbye to the confluence of the rivers seen from the tiny park and honored the dead in the 1774 fight on the very land I was standing on. About 1,000 fought on each side and each side suffered about 100 casualties. The colonists’ memorial is large and many of the names of those killed are listed. The Indians have no names listed and no memorial except a smaller one for Chief ‘Cornstalk’ only. The information on his plaque is not even correct. Still, a memorial is there.

I enjoyed the town and hotel so much. Met so many friendly people, saw artwork, met another person with my name (we bonded instantly, of course), sat in local eating places and watched the locals bantering with each other, walked all over, smelled the petunias again, absorbed the smoothness of the river waters again, saw people fishing, and so much more.

Crossing the Ohio, I went on in early afternoon to see the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park near Chillicothe. I had heard about the mounds built by these mysterious people much of my life. I learned 90% of their earthworks which had been there for 2,000 years were destroyed by farmers and the military in the last 150 years. Thanks to all those who are working to save what is left and restore some of what was destroyed. In the museum artifacts of copper, mica, clay, and black obsidian showed sophisticated artistry and reminded me a lot of Mayan art, though the rangers told me there is no known connection.

A sad day, too- word came via email that my dear friend of 55 years is dying. I have tickets to go see her on Vancouver Island in November but now it looks like that will be too late. I am grateful to be in the midst of this ancient culture as it somehow offers me strength and comport that the continuity of our lives continues and that we will not be lost.

I wanted to camp but after all this and trying to find a store to replenish my food and happy hour supplies, it was just too late so I am in an ordinary motel. But, I did get to see CNN’s Anderson Cooper covering some of the Pope’s visit. And, so, the evening ends with his message of goodness and hope and his really nice smile.




Side Effects of Cataract Surgery They Don’t Tell You About December 10, 2015

Filed under: Getting older — a.woman.aging @ 7:26 pm

I put it off as long as possible, partly due to my own anxiety, and partly due to the advice of the three ophthalmologists I consulted over the years for various opinions. At last, with my eyes already not able to be corrected to better than 20/50 on the left and 20/30 on the right, with the added cloud of cataract, things were getting so bad I couldn’t even shop very well anymore and driving was beginning to be a concern. Reading and computer activities were not a problem. Reading music was. I keep having to enlarge my music more and more, up to 120% which proved to be a lot of trouble and I still had a hard time seeing it.

So off I trotted to Duke Eye Center with the help of my dear husband and three days ago had the left cataract removed (the worst one) and a lens that corrects for long distance vision implanted. The procedure was a breeze other than having to wait a long time for my turn in the OR. The care and attention of the nurses and staff was excellent. A large green X was placed above the correct eye and then later the anesthesiologist put her initials to the side of the eye – no mistakes about which eye to do! I was assured, even though I had never had sedation, that I would handle it well due to my wine drinking habit. (Oh, goodness.) I saw lots of colors during the procedure each time my eye was manipulated, and other than knowing when the speculum placed to keep my eye open, I was aware of very little else. There was no pain at all. And none of what happened bothered me a bit. I suppose that is thanks to the modern drugs. (However, I got no feeling of any kind of high and my younger son told me that sedatives are no fun anymore.) Doug’s opinion went unsolicited.

The post-care instruction sheets that were given to us explained all about no heavy lifting, no bending, no sex (!), and other various prohibitions. However, I soon learned there were quite a few things they did not warn me about.

I did not know I had been living a life of bliss and innocence for many years. I am now finding out about the effects of what I can now see even with only one eye ‘fixed.’  I cannot even imagine how it is going to be in a couple of weeks when the second eye gets its new lens.

First, there is vanity. I took a look in the mirror after day two when my eye was settling down into its new state, and saw, to my horror, that I looked way older than I thought – so many wrinkles! Where did they come from? And, it appears that my glasses for years have covered up sagging bags under my eyes. Now what? Do I just accept this new knowledge about my real looks or do I learn to apply clever makeup and get special glasses to cover those bags? Time will tell. At least, everyone else looks older, too. Hopefully, I will be able to mind my manners and not mention that to friends.

Second, there is dirt and embarrassment. I had no idea how dirty my house was. Again I shudder to think what I’m going to see with two eyes instead of the one. Everywhere I look I see dust, dirt, smudges, spots, specks, soiling, grime, gunk, grit, stains, spider webs, spider droppings, lint, and general debris. I have swept, scrubbed, rubbed, and vacuumed to my current limited ability and, alas, I see every little return of a new spot or piece of leaf trekked inside. Now, I find myself wondering what others have thought about the state of cleanliness (lack thereof) of my home. Yikes!

Third, there is dizziness, discombobulation and, and mild nausea. I assume this is from my two eyes now being so vastly different – the new one being probably near 20/20, the other, the last time I was told, being about 20/900 uncorrected. I got my ever-patient husband to remove the left lens of my regular glasses. That made it worse. Finally I have settled on using my computer glasses with the left lens out of them. It has helped some but I still am vaguely nauseous much of the time and off-balance and slightly dizzy.  I am sure this will come to an end when my other eye is corrected.

Forth, my legs are full of bruises. Due to everything being cattywampus, and my head swimming slightly, I find myself lurching wherever I go and have been bumping into edges of stools and chairs and other things. Similarly when I reach for something I miss it, but that is not causing bruises, at least.

Fifth, there are other things to cope with in this period between surgeries. I struggle to keep my balance. I struggle to read and in fact really cannot read normal-size text. Thank goodness for dictation software on phones and computers. Headlines and large print are so sharp that I did not know letters could be that sharp. I am unusually fatigued. Someone pointed out to me that it takes a lot of energy to struggle to see, so maybe that is the reason. I can handle not doing my regular exercises (since I have a hard time making myself to them anyway) and not driving (my poor husband) and not doing all manner of other things one is not supposed to do or cannot do. However one of the forbidden activities is lifting heavy things so now I find myself urgently wanting to.

I am biding time between the surgeries and looking forward to the second one. I anticipate I will not be anxious at all since I now know what it is like and have a very competent surgeon. They have it so streamlined and efficient it is really quite amazing. I am exceedingly grateful for this aspect of modern medicine. My great-grandfather who was blind the last nine years of his life has been much on my mind. He had some of the earliest cataract surgery ever performed. The patient had to lie flat for a week with sandbags about his or her head to keep the head still while the sutures healed. Tragically, he choked on a liquid being fed to him and the sutures in both eyes tore; thus, rendering him blind. It must have been a blow for his ophthalmologist who was his nephew.  He had developed the procedure and did my great-grandfather’s surgery.

When I was seeing green through my new lens at the first post-op checkup, my doctor told me the lenses have a yellow tint to protect against UV light. My husband said he wished they’d been rose-colored.


A Picnic in a Cemetery and an Unexpected Gift August 18, 2013

Filed under: Death and loss,Food,Getting older,Outdoors — a.woman.aging @ 1:15 am

          Now who would think the cemetery would be such a social place, at least on this one lovely summer evening? I must tell you what happened when I needed a spot for a little picnic. I had an engagement that evening in a nearby city that was far enough away that it required I leave too early to eat at home. Not being one to go without dinner, I stopped on the way and got some take-out sushi and strawberries. I knew the route well and picturing every detail could not think of a single easy place to stop except the cemetery where a year or two ago in a spell of ‘end-of life’ preparation I had bought a plot and had a marble bench with our family name erected on it.

          I had only stopped by a couple of times since the bench was placed and that was to visit the grave of a young man who had become part of our family, I being his mother figure, and whose ashes my children and I buried there soon after I bought the plot. I had had my doubts about getting something there for my own remains as, being a municipal cemetery, it had that well-regulated somewhat bare look and the only plots available were down near a busy highway – the same one I traversed for several decades back and forth to work and still do for other reasons.

          The bench was nice and clean and I settled down with my picnic after paying my respects to our dear friend. Not another soul was in the whole place. Soon the sun which had been behind a cloud emerge. I had selected the plot because of a tiny locust tree I hoped would eventually grow large and beautiful and provide shade. At this point it was far from that and, furthermore, was struggling to stay alive. So, I had to retreat to the shade of a larger tree where my car was parked. I pulled out a folding chair and again set up my picnic.

          My thoughts wandered like a splashing waterfall over the gravestones and contours of the cemetery as I ate pondering the mysteries of death and the struggles and beauties of life. Soon I was startled by an old derelict car that pulled up right behind me; odd, very odd, in that entire large cemetery. A young man with baggy pants, a slouchy shirt, and earbuds hanging off his shoulders jumped out and began wandering seemingly aimlessly in and out of the nearby graves. As he turned and came straight back toward me I felt an instinctive flash of concern, nothing I could control, and wondered if I should leave. As he approached I asked him if he had family there.

          Indeed, the gravestone I had been staring at after moving into the shade and, furthermore, was thinking about – wondering who that person was and what her story was – was his grandmother, buried one year ago. Beside her with a small temporary marker was his grandfather,  just buried one month ago. And close by where he had been wandering were two high school friends of his. The young man began to tell me stories about his friends and especially his grandparents and how much he loved them.

          When he mentioned what the middle initial on his grandmother’s stone stood for, I asked if he knew of the famous African-American civil rights activist who had the same last name– long gone now. I knew her slightly decades ago and admired her as did everyone else in town. “Yes,” he said, “she was my great-aunt.”  Then, back to his grandmother, “You know my grandmother wanted to be buried here – she had looked at a lot of different cemeteries – because she wanted to be where the traffic flowed and friends were passing by from time to time. I drove her here once or twice so she could see it before she picked it out. She couldn’t drive.”

          We talked a little further about loss and sorrow and how his 22nd birthday that next day made his feelings all the more acute. He parted, flashing a sweet smile back to me as he went to his car. Just as he was getting in his car to leave, a woman about my age approached weaving through gravestones to reach me. From her name, she must have been of Scandinavian descent. Her father was buried there, she said, and she and her husband were going to be beside him. She said she came often and found it a comfort. Our conversation had melded into other things to talk about when I glanced at my watch and saw that I had to leave immediately or be late for my presentation.

          Maybe I will see her and the young man there again sometime. My heart was full when I left. I know I will be among friends when my turn comes to be in that ground.


One Tiny Road Trip December 14, 2012

Filed under: Being alone,Outdoors,Travel — a.woman.aging @ 4:11 pm

I had a one-day road trip and I want to tell you about it. One tiny road trip, from an early morning through a late afternoon. It came about because I had to be in a town halfway between central North Carolina and the Virginia border for a midmorning meeting. The rest of the day was mine and I decided to skirt along the state border westward to the mountains over roads I had never been on. I went through scruffy crossroads that were nothing but names on the map and nothing else and proud little towns with names like Locustville, Wentworth, Sandy Ridge, Stoneville, Francisco, Westhaven, Toast, and Lowgap. Some had flags flying, little parks, a spruced up main street. Mostly, there were no towns, just fields, farms, gardens, and forests. The almost flat Piedmont rose to high purple mountains. I had a lovely day.

Let me tell you what you would see if you did this. First, the early morning sun would pour in parallel waves across the swells of road in the Piedmont glinting on pine needles and meadows, finally crawling through the trees and casting spotlights on houses. You would see a sunbeam settling on an old abandoned store’s weathered wood, lighting it up as though to say look at me, I am still here. You would see all sorts of interesting houses from very old to very modern, from tiny to huge, decrepit to fancy, wood and stone. The tiniest cottages with pumpkins out front to celebrate the season, glinting in the morning sun might be your favorite.

You might find it hard to stay on your route as it would have so many turns. A blink of the eye might make you miss a turn and in moments you are in Virginia suddenly turning around. The rolling hills mile after mile will seem almost manicured with their sprawling fields mown and now sprouting new grass invigorated after the summer heat dissipated. You would see even now in this 21st century there are fields and fields of tobacco and even some cotton. You might round a curve and see a row of trees planted by some thoughtful person which have leaves whose undersides flutter pure silver in the breeze, gently trembling just to show you how pretty they are.

Odd things show up, too. Lots of them. Strange structures, funny houses, a tiny ice cream store in the middle of nowhere made in an old van, dusty antique stores. A church named Progressive Primitive Baptist Church. When it is lunch time, you might find the old café in the town where trains whoose through its center with piercing whistles trailing their clacking wheels. As you pass by the door of the storefront church beside the café you see painted in big letters, “Have you been washed in the Blood?” The word blood is painted red and is bigger than the other words. The sentence below asks you, “Are you ready to die?” Now you might feel somber and contemplative but with a hungry stomach you open the door, its old chipped dirty paint letting you know its been years since anyone fixed the place up, and you go into the café, a narrow old place with a long counter and a just as long row of barstools covered with that heavy diner-red vinyl. Old guys with deeply grooved faces group together smiling at the young waitresses. The few booths are full. You might think about how in the past the place would’ve been heavy with tobacco smoke. The lunch you get might be perfect by your taste or it might give you indigestion if you are not used to that kind of food.

The rolling hills begin to look like mountains and your ears might start to stop up. With delight, you may notice that your route is taking you along a foothill ridge line for miles and miles, to the south of which is a huge mountain often glimpsed when there is a break in the trees and a good position for a view. Luckily there is almost no traffic because when there is it can really be slow – a school bus, a truck full of tall evergreen trees, a tractor-trailer truck that makes you hold your breath for fear it will fall over as it rounds the curves.

The ridge line road flows on and you might be startled when you see a gentle curve ahead banked with an inward slope as they do so the rain will runoff. It makes the edge of the road look like it is really the edge of the world and as you round it the great blue glory of an enormous sky opens before you and you might take a deep breath with the beauty of it all.

Have you ever noticed that the maple trees in the mountains show their first brushes of gold and orange on the side where they get the most sunlight? They glow forth in the sunny day seeming to thank the sun for its gift. The mountain ridges are the first to be burnished with this gold, looking like a giant paint brush ran down the tree tops. The abandoned fields have given way to white and purple asters. The goldenrod once so bright is mostly brown and drying up. Sumacs offer up sudden glimpses of their deep red leaves and berries.

Soon you may find yourself rolling towards an enormous looming rippled mountain range as though you would simply lunge straight into it. After a while, if you keep going you are in a pass and as you wind your way you cross the Eastern Divide. Something about that always causes reflection, especially when you notice that the signs of autumn are more advanced on the other side. So often along the miles of road there are little lanes turning off, the kind with two dirt strips and grass in the middle where cars and tractors have gone and carts way long ago, and they meander around little swells and finally disappear. The trees on their edges have showered yellow and brown leaves into puddles on the lanes. Oh, how these little roads beckon. Such a longing they set up to know their stories and where they go.

Even the poorest of some houses have put out Halloween decorations. Some houses are greatly festooned. One even has a giant tarantula spider web that takes up most of its front yard. Another has a round bale of hay with half a scarecrow sticking out looking distressed. There are straw people and pumpkins, orange, white, green, tall, and flat. Shafts of dried up corn stalks. bales of straw.

A field full of pumpkins comes into view. That is pretty enough but a few miles on around another curve there is a huge field full of pumpkins lying on grass as though placed deliberately and this field is also full of black cattle contentedly grazing. The stark shapes of brilliant orange, green, and black are so beautiful and arresting you may even feel your eyes well up with tears at the wonder of it.

The sun is getting lower in the late afternoon and some clouds have gathered. You might have some cello music to listen to and as you round another curve and the music is swelling into a climax some clouds have opened at just that moment and the beams of sunlight coming through the opening are kissing the green blue mountain top.

Evening approaches. The waning light mutes the autumn colors. You may be thinking about the gentle seeming men and women you met tending their stores when you stopped here and there for a stretch. You pass a church that has a large colorful sign out front obviously painted by children. There are lots of stick people around its edges and in the center it says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This could be the perfect time to end your trip.

          All this is true. One day, a lifetime of wonder. Don’t you want one tiny road trip?


Forty Years May 24, 2012

Filed under: Getting older — a.woman.aging @ 12:25 am

I walked along the mountain river this evening in the dusk, the almost full moon behind me tapping me on the shoulder with each step I took. The water gurgled softly. I reached the place where a small stream tumbled wildly and loudly down huge boulders and rock outcroppings into the river.  The sound of the rushing water overcame the gentle murmur of the old river. Youth and age, I thought. I am no longer young- yet, yet…  There is such a bittersweet longing.

When I turned to go back, a soft mist had settled on the river and across the banks like a wispy bridal veil woven together by the evening whispers of wind. The mountains rose around. The moon shone brighter. My heart swelled with sorrow and gratitude. Sorrow that in twenty-one days it will be forty years since my beloved father died. My gratitude washed over my sorrow like butter on a warm finger swiping a taste, gratitude that I am still alive and have so much beauty around me, that I can see it, that I can hear the birds sing, cherish the early spring breeze, treasure my sweet family. So far, I have lived three years more than he. I notice the wild Rockets blooming along the river bank in the fading light, their petals mirroring the moon.  My Papa is the one that taught me the wonders of nature.

I was 30 years old reeling from the suddenness of his death and grieving that my three small children would not get to scamper through the woods with him marveling at every tree and mushroom, not see how busy he always was, not see how he helped people, anyone that needed help, not hear the stories of his youth in the Pennsylvania countryside. I had his strength, his energy, and years of living ahead. And now, forty years have passed and I still miss him every day. How is it that the love of a good parent can never be replaced no matter how many other kinds of love come along?

It perplexes me, that I, long grown and so long without him, still deeply miss him. Can we be fully adult if we still long for our parent? And I a parent myself. Sometimes I find myself dwelling in the sadness of knowing I can no longer remember the sound of his voice, the depth of his eyes, his laugh. How I could forget I do not know; but, then, neither can I remember my babies’ first laugh, the sounds of their first words.  I do remember the dimple in his chin having studied it often with fascination as a child even though I had one myself.  I remember his strong hands, his digging in the garden and sifting the dirt to get out the rocks, his integrity about his work.  Perhaps, the voice like notes of music is too effervescent to be held in memory.

I once had a lover that was the age my father was when he died. I thought about it at the time and think of it now- oddly, strangely. Did my father, my mother and he estranged for many years, long for a lover? In my youth, it never occurred to me. There are so many things I never knew about him that I would talk to him about if I had another chance. The not knowing of so much of him is another piece of the sadness and longing that is nestled in my heart. When we are young we are like a coppiced tree not knowing which way to grow new branches. When we are old we have grown our branches and reached to the sun but some of our branches became brittle and fell along the way.

I cannot believe it has been forty years since my dear Papa died.