Taryn? Another post so soon? Why yes. I’m experimenting with a new format. I’d like to try for daily posts, or near daily depending on cell service coverage. Why? To explore my creative being. And now that I am caught up I can start… except the area we are in, is of course, spotty with coverage.
Where did we end up? The road closures yesterday guided us towards Twentynine Palms, CA and that is significant because it is an entry point for Joshua Tree National Park. Which I fortuitously discovered reopened to camping the day we rolled into town. Yesterday. Sometimes the gods of chaos give me good gifts instead of grief. This morning it rained and we packed out of the BLM land with a chance at getting a reservation or walk-in. The popular California campgrounds were challenging to get into before Covid-19 and across the country campgrounds became harder to reserve after Covid-19. How long was it going to take for California to realize it had something to do just outside of Los Angeles? It was a long drive across the Park to find out..
A few reserved signs were posted and a couple campers had already set up but we were golden. Twelve days in Joshua Tree National Park. Hold on to your hats; this right time, right place almost never happens when I’m in the vicinity.
I was approached on the beach by a middle age woman with the gift of gab and some painful ideas. She regurgitated ideas from memes like the virus would disappear one day and come back in ten years. I tried to keep my space and assist her in reality. My husband had his own conversation with a teacher where he learned that the local population holds beliefs about this being a part of God’s plan and the end times. There being excitement in the religious population to embrace current events and little desire to change habits.
Tuesday, March 17, 2020: Clear Lake State Park, California
The first night. We changed direction and pace to make our way home, traveling by mostly interstate instead of scenic backroads. We had to drive south to go east because a winter storm was sweeping through the Rocky Mountains, Plains and Midwest. We found this state park about an hour from where we stopped for supplies. Restaurants were starting to move to take out only by force in some places and by choice in others. It was dark and late when my phone, blue-toothed into the radio, blasted out the warning declaring a shelter-in-place order for Sonoma County. Then mid-morning a park employee accompanied by California Park Police came through to inform us they were closing the State Parks and to give us advice about where to try to stay.
Wednesday, March 18, 2020: Rabbit Island, California
Rabbit Island, a familiar camping spot for us in a National Forest, we stopped at before going to the Sequoia National Forest. Again we rolled in well after dark. And in the morning there were no cows to greet us. The news? Pennsylvania was shutting down rest stops. Someone else traveling from Florida to Michigan reported on Facebook finding hotels closing up behind and ahead of them. The Canadian/American border is closed to unnecessary travel.
Thursday, March 19, 2020: Mojave Desert Preserve, California
We stopped before dark. Finding resting spots on wild lands is too challenging after dark. Part of me was happy to see the desert again, but it wasn’t supposed to be this way. A spring rain storm swept through. In the morning President Trump announces closing the southern border and sending asylum seekers back to their countries. I weep for the cruelty.
Friday, March 20, 2020: Thirty Minutes Outside Kingman, Arizona
Supplies. We’ve carried minimum supplies. After the troubles in Death Valley I started stocking up on dry foods (that was traumatic, food deserts are real), but we still kept minimal dog food and paper supplies because of the minimal space. Now we cannot find toilet paper (three states later). Getting dog food and meds filled just over the Arizona border. Getting pet food. Errands take time, checking for toilet paper and some groceries while we wait for the scripts to fill.
Illinois under stay-at-home order beginning tomorrow at 5:00pm.
Made it about thirty minutes south of Kingman, Arizona. We originally planned to cross Arizona at Flagstaff, but that city was getting cold and snow so we are going the more southern route and swinging past Phoenix. Between Phoenix and Flagstaff are mountains and twisty roads we don’t want to get tangled in right now. I’ll get to say hello to the Saguaros for a brief moment.
Saturday, March 21, 2020: Navajo National Monument
Home is probably still snowed in. Can’t stay here. Can’t get there. One day at a time. Uncertainty rocks the world. Humanity is in crisis. May we walk through this fire and come out better for it. Here, now, communities rally together finding creative ways to support each other, while our governments make cruel decisions and we let them.
We traveled. Stopped in a small town for a couple staples, tried again for toilet paper: nope. Wanted to take a break from the road and reality by stopping at the Grand Canyon. There were more people than we anticipated and a young woman up on her soap box. She stood on a rock, all attitude in her cocked hip, yelling into her phone about the people not keeping six feet apart and everyone was going to die infecting her small village. Too much. When I realized she was filming, that’s when the panic attack set in. To be clear I was able to be there without being in anyone’s space. And it took some cognitive processing to manage it.
We headed SE on 64 (Desert View Dr.) into the Navajo Nation lands. All their roadside stands were vacant and scenic points closed.
We found a place to camp for the night just before sunset in the beautiful Navajo National Monument.
Sunday, March 22, 2020: Maxwell National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
The night before we discussed staying a day or two to catch our breath, but in the morning (late morning) we both felt ready to go on. No sooner had I stepped out of the camper, then a park officer rolled up in his truck, decked out with a regular surgical mask, to inform me the park was closed and we had to leave. Not that it was closing, closed, note: there was no one to pay for the site last last night and the park was half full.
I’ve tempered my desires to stop for photographs in exchange for eating more pavement. This was harder driving through the harsh and beautiful Navajo lands of Arizona and New Mexico. Passing on Monument Valley and Shiprock. Along with local flavor like homemade signs; “I Eat Pilgrims” and “Tourist Go Home.” Also passed up (I believe) a Native mural depicting a face with respirator “Beware Covid-19.”
We thought we had found National Forest land to camp on twenty minutes outside of Taos, New Mexico. Found it gated and the road snowed in. I was tortured with the drive through Taos to get there. Knowing no matter how much I wanted to see the town, circumstances were out of my control.
New Mexico’s decision to close state parks became, clearly, more of a challenge than anticipated as the sun set. I made my husband pull over (despite his insistence the signs demanded a pass to park) to eat and stretch before we did this stretch of road in the dark (and hopefully find an easy place to stop for sleep off of I-25 or before. A rest stop, Cracker Barrel or Walmart would do.
Or… a wildlife refuge.
Monday, March 23, 2020: Stapleton, Nebraska
Morning came on slow and mild. The morning plan: north to Nebraska via Kansas to avoid the storm systems. Ever North and East.
Michigan, our destination: Stay Home, Stay Safe Order; in effect at midnight.
Rolled through the Kansas plains while the news cascaded on by the minute. What inevitable choices would our leaders make? I worry for us more now than I did after 9/11. As much as I’d dreamed of seeing this country and then maybe the world, now I want to curl up in the forgotten forests of the southern shores of Lake Superior. Where our winters are harsh, but the people are strong. Where the world can forget to send it’s problems and we can carry on.
Tuesday, March 24, 2020: Blue Mounds State Park, Minnesota
Home was closer, but still too far away. Woke up to a cloud of starlings filling the air and spring fields with sound. Word came that the road to our home was narrowly plowed with tall crusty snow banks. Two hard days of travel or linger and hope for a melt? Linger and what new developments would occur in the country? Linger and be subjected to unknown tides. Or go on?
Thank you Nebraska gas station, finally scavenged a roll of toilet paper. Situation critical. By this measure, Tuesday was a good day. By others, I don’t know. On this day the United States President switched his rhetoric from being a war time president to seeing churches packed for Easter and reopening the economy while we crossed the American heartland.
Drove by a rural bar in South Dakota with a full parking lot. What will history sound like?
We had made reservations for a campground in Minnesota. I was stoked upon arrival to check out the showers. I practically skipped over to the building, to find each door locked.
Wednesday, March 25, 2020: Blue Mounds State Park, Minnesota
A great long deep breath and stood still while the world turned.
Hoped to shower. Dashed.
Hoped to do laundry. Failed to rally the effort and energy.
My husband went to procure supplies from the nearby town while I could barely keep my eyes open. The other camper left. We saw many campers and RV’s on the road this week, more than we had seen moving before.
News: Wisconsin: “Safer at Home” went into effect for 30 days. Waiting for news on the governments passing the relief bill. India locked down.
Thursday, March 26, 2020: Home, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan
We left the campground before sunrise. Drove through fog and drizzle, I reflected on the desert. A place still relatively wild and free because of its harsh climate, like home.
News: Minnesota “Stay at Home Order” ordered and in effect Friday, March 27. We passed a huddle of smokers outside a pretzel factory and saw people sitting down to eat at a gas station diner. News about New York grows worse daily. New Orleans. Georgia. Washington state. Florida. San Francisco.
Home. I know these roads and trees. For hours now I’ve known these roads. We are going to pass near where we bought the camper soon. (It is coming apart again). The snow banks are still high. The trees are small and grow densely together. Boreal Forest. 35 degrees. No cactus. No Border Patrol. No surreal landscapes. No starfish. No whale plumes. To reach a big metropolitan area one has to drive at least six hours. To reach a major city, eight to nine hours.
News: the United States has surpassed Italy and China in Covid-19 cases.
Update: after crawling across the snow bank with a cat in my arm and sliding down into the dark recesses of my cold dark home, I waited while my husband hit the switches on the circuit breaker. Heat and hot water would be mine soon. My cat wandered the dark rooms calling. Light! Glorious light. Which dimmed… and flicked and died away. We are back in the camper for the night. Dreams of long hot showers without pressing buttons every thirty seconds will have to wait on the power company.
It was always a good possibility that we would leave home for the road with Truck, but not return with him. (Yes I think of my husband’s large white diesel truck as Truck and a him, for no clear reason).
In the town and with the people I grew up with, a person’s car was often as much a part of their identity as their personal style. Truck has been a part of my life since I met my husband in 2009. Kurt somehow had all the qualities I wanted in a partner (not that I was looking!). So I joked to myself (never out loud) if he rode a white horse the deal is done. Then I saw he was driving a big white truck and I figured that had to be close enough.
Over the years Truck has been a problem. There was us stuck in the middle of no where in a sugar sand back road because Truck is more of an Egyptian pyramid stacking brick than an ideal off-road vehicle. Oh Truck could tow, but was not created as a 4 wheel drive, a much needed aspect of having a truck in the north. Lucky for us a plucky 4wd came along and pulled Truck out of the predicament. While me and Kurt’s kids watched.
Kurt came home with a topper for Truck so our dog at the time, Baby, would be able to travel around with us, especially back and forth downstate. The particles of that topper are still with us. It fell apart and had to be dismantled for the trash. Not all of it made it yet…
I had to buy a car (instead of a tiny truck like my Tacoma) so Kurt could make efficient monthly trips downstate. While I was more than happy to make that sacrifice, I would be left with Truck. And often you could find me laying in a mid-winter snow bank crying next to Truck. Truck idling on a sheet of ice with cat litter scattered around all the tires, chunks of wood, carpet remnants, and whatever other idea I could come up with to get the giant useless block to move. I failed time and time again to move that mule. 5,000 pounds of two wheel drive.
I gave Truck it’s first dent down the side of the bed. Years later Kurt gave the other side a perfect match.
You could find me attempting to park the beast in any lot, with any amount of room. Then watch me walk away cackling, swinging the keys, as that extended cab With an eight foot foot bed careened across however many spaces I needed. Of course I was parking away, far, far away from the doors, way over yonder.
I had to run errands with the step-daughter and in the middle of traffic Truck starts smoking inside the cab with that telltale electrical fire smell. I know things here and there about cars and their problems, but cars smoking and maybe on fire? Nope. It was a panic response to get the kid safely out of Truck, then we had to wait an hour for Kurt to come. It was luckily only the end of the speakers. I think one one worked, sometimes. Maybe. We haven’t listened to the radio in months on this trip.
When we were still driving in Michigan, when our road adventure was fresh, there was foreshadowing of Truck’s doom. The engine light came on briefly and then we forgot about it.
Until Death Valley.
When the engine light comes on there things get complicated. We just finished coming from Racetrack Playa, which was 26 miles (52 miles round trip) of washboard gravel one way. We had 60 miles of moonlit desert blacktop to drive when the check engine light came on announcing the end of the alternator. We waited four days for a new alternator to be delivered to the Post Office and Kurt had to be there waiting for it. But it didn’t work. And Kurt did things. We drove Truck with a charged battery to civilization and got a part to regulate the charging, for whatever reason the truck’s brain was going bad. That fix caused over charging.
After days of Kurt fiddling and researching…
The end has come for Truck, 2000 Dodge 2500 with 396,451 miles in Las Vegas, Nevada. All the things wrong and all the things we needed from a vehicle just made it impossible to keep Truck on the road.
No more crooked driver side seat. No more cracked windshield. No more “shut the radio off, I can’t understand it.” No more rattling rusty Michigan body. No more fighting with the tail gate. Or the doors that were possessed. On the other hand we definitely didn’t attract the wrong attention. No one was looking at Truck and thinking “I want what they have inside.” I’m sure it was thief repellent.
Truck, you were there for our first date and us falling in love driving around seeing the sights in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. You kept us safe on long trips. Hauled all the materials we needed to fix our house. Rescued the other cars when they broke down. And you got us over 10,000 miles across the country.
We were thrust into a situation where our options were all less than appetizing so we went all in on the idea of traveling. Go West to find some future, like so many people before us. In the beginning it felt like we were merely fleeing the brutal winters of home. Then it felt like an extended vacation. Now I’ve reached a tipping point.
I go West. I go West in search of something more than. At the crest of this tipping point I find my head and heart. The true being in my form sizzles at my skin longing for its release from the long prison. Somewhere in this life I put away my truer self. I put her away. I contained that wild artist child. I tried to be many different people. I put on different masks hoping to blend into environments I never quite understood.
As a child I was wild. And creative. I ran unsupervised in a pink dress and sparkly jelly shoes. I trashed clothes because my whims decided My-Little-Ponies needed outfits. I drew cats with long tails and white tips. But I hid that child away. I grew up in a home where alcoholism and anger reigned hand-in-hand. I took that wonderful wild child and hid her away because I wanted to fade into the background. Instead I quietly continued to grow stronger in my creative abilities.
Long term travel by truck and travel trailer is slow. Well, we (my husband, two dogs, a cat and I) are slow. We stop for the dogs. We stop for the sights. We stop for lunch. We stop because we want to spend a few days somewhere. We decide to see half of Texas when we didn’t even want to go there in the first place. Instead of a vast dangerous wilderness filled with indigenous tribes; I’ve found reservations marked on maps, old roads, weathered abandoned houses, rusted cars, forgotten towns, endless fences, rampaging cities, tourist holes, scenic campgrounds with all the modern conveniences and whispers of the wild and savage past trampled by docile tourists.
I also find myself with this time. Finally, the time to think. Throughout the years I always wanted to take time off of work to just think, if I could just take those days I could figure it out. IT. Whatever it was. What I wanted? What I was thinking? There was this something I needed time for. Hours, days and apparently even weeks were not enough for me. I needed to be removed entirely from my life.
Wherever you go there you are.
There I am
A complex damaged resilient creature with a drive to create….
What have I learned about myself in these weeks?
I feel a budding inside of the artist. She’s almost ready. Almost done cooking. The elements are all there stewing. I’ve seen works in small galleries, big galleries, and museums. I’m feeling more confident that there is something particular to me. My artist voice is about to mature. This time of travel and reflection is a gift I cannot ignore.
Subjects/Themes/Topics coming into sharp focus:
Melancholy over what the earth has lost to human inhabitation and the perpetual growth economy
Celebration of nature reclaiming man’s work
Appreciation of nature: wonder, joy, awe
Sadness over human sprawl across the landscape and a yearning for freedom from modern human artifacts
Enjoyment of the living creatures around me plant and animal
Capturing the essence of my subject in medium/media available (photography, acrylic, ink, color pencil etc.)
The ground is angry here. The sky is horizon to horizon tucked across rolling hills of cattle, longhorn cattle, horses, sheep, goats, and sometimes some exotic imports that make you question your sanity. Texas, like Florida, is fenced up, the wild places gone (at least in the places I went to). To the northeast more trees than I imagined Texas to have. Closer to San Antonio the prickly pear cactus are thick and the trees grow lower and scrubbier.
I’ve seen the smallest whitetail six point buck. A perfect rack on a comically sized deer (to my Michigan eyes). My first armadillo. Then my second and third of these lumbering disinterested snuffing creatures. At one state park an angry cardinal attacked our camper for two days. I walked out of a bathroom at twilight to be greeted by a scorpion. Once, only once, I tried to get a low angle photograph and got a hand full of pickers.
And that is Texas for me, more beautiful than I ever thought, and also more angry. I found rich art scenes in small towns and the cities we stopped (Austin & San Antonio). Some towns were perfectly tidy and full of robust downtown business while others were near empty. I saw houses, lived in, that couldn’t possibly hold in a high wind. Endless, endless, endless fences of every kind. I yearn for land without fences. Ranch houses in brick. Ranch houses rustic. Ranch houses in stone. New ranch houses and old.
The Alamo was one of those places I wanted to see. Connived to see. There was always something about that place and its history that charmed me from and early age. Now it is a garden paradise nestled in a city and it is hard to convert it in the mind to the wilderness outpost it once was.
Guadeloupe River State Park
The best way to see Texas (in my humblest opinion) is by staying in the Texas State Parks. They are a big deal, plan ahead. Make reservations. We couldn’t always stay at our first picks and sometimes…
You get a spectacular gift.
My first view of the river was a limestone cliff bathed in the orange glow of the setting sun. The bald cypress trees in full fall foliage making perfect reflections against the glass still river. Twisty bunches of roots befriending each other. On the trails I found strange oaks growing in surprising directions stunted by the rocky lack of soil. One trail ended in a cliff overlook of the Guadeloupe River where we watched the sun set on a photoshoot of a child in a white dress and velvet boots.
Caprock Canyon State Park
As we drove north towards the Texas Panhandle, Texas began to look like Texas to me. Flat and dry with plateau formations in the distance. Dry river beds. Caprock Canyon rises red out of the plains. Buffalo roam the park, which makes getting to the bathroom tricky at times. Or in our case handling upset dogs that have never encountered cows let alone buffalo.
Lake Arrowhead State Park, Wichita Falls, Texas
There are a lot of places named Wichita and that can make conversations confusing. One of my friends thought I was going to see mountains.
I’ll save you the suspense. This place is flat. (We did find the Wichita Mountains later).
We were looking for a place to hole up for the holiday weekend. Anyplace. Because, as we learned, you must make reservations for the state parks in Texas. Planning is key. There is an app for that (TX State Parks).
For the last four nights I’ve been listening to the too-fast drum beat of what I like to call the tell-tale-heart of this park or its resident oil rig. A novelty for travelers, but for me who doesn’t tolerate an analog clock ticking, it was a low level feel of doom. My husband couldn’t hear it. Twenty-four hours a day pumping away at the earth. About an hour south there are miles of wind turbines rising gracefully in uneven clusters. I think even Don Quixote would take pause at these. A little further south a solar farm. Meanwhile at Arrow Lake oil derricks emerge out of the shallow muddy waters.
Side Trip Through Oklahoma: Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge and Black Kettle National Grasslands
Knowing you’ll never go to a place again and having nothing but time leads to extra adventures on your plate. Why not see what Oklahoma looks like? Looks much like Texas. Has few trees and golden December grass stretching to the horizon under wisps of clouds. blue skies, and cattle.
We entered the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge under the warnings of “artillery shells passing overhead.” They do things a lot different outside of Michigan. The road wound through the low stony mountains, small deep blue lakes, rolling grass plains complete with buffalo that we saw and longhorns that we did not see.
The Black Kettle National Grasslands was a different experience. We entered through the town of Cheyenne, Oklahoma. I was excited to learn there was a cluster of museums in town, and then a bit disappointed when they were not addressing the elephant in the room, so I did not stop. I was not interested in their one-room school house.
The elephant in the room. The National Grassland is named for the Indian Chief Black Kettle, who’s village was attacked outside of Cheyanne by General Custer. A simple history of Black Kettle National Grassland was that it was Native American Land, then it was Reservation land, then it was opened to settlers, and then the dust bowl hit. Now it is a mix of private and public land and I was pressed to figure out which part was public. (Okhistory.org)
Amarillo & Palo Duro Canyon State Park
We drove into the sunset, I mean directly into the blinding fury of retinal damage with no relief, and as dusk set in so did the aromas of the Texas Panhandle. Cattle feed lots plus other mysteries. My google searches yielded an unrealistic fantasy of the prettily named Amarillo. There were enough galleries and museums around to fool this traveler.
I Googled again. The Panhandle has a reputation (one that’ll punch you in the guts) (I don’t think ax body spray could even compete). A word on the feed lots. They hit hard. Not just the smell, but emotionally. The first one we passed I saw cows standing on cows. In others they had more room. The ones in Hereford, Texas look painfully big on satellite images. Now I am not going to condemn anyones diet, but we can do this better. We can choose local and small farms. Where I am from we have a food co-op and they visit/vet the farms.
Palo Duro has the reputation of the Grand Canyon of Texas. We descended (ten percent grade warning) in the dark and woke up in the middle of a canyon. Frosty sunrise coffee. Perfect overwhelming vista in every direction. Picturesque rock outcrops. Falling rocks next 100 feet. Watch out for wild boar and rattle snakes. Texas Panhandle in December.
One word of advice, if your husband wants to go hiking here, ask questions. After traveling and sitting any movement is welcome, I looked forward to a hike. However, hiking up 500 ft of difficult canyon wall trail is not the place to start hiking when you are not used to activity. At the top we both agreed that the down descent seemed scarier then going up, so we took the “easier trail” to the road. Ladies and Gentlemen, this was not easy, we hiked further up the Canyon. Up. Further up. At the top I got a hiking stick from the Canyon Gallery. My prize for 500 ft of elevation. With the jello legs of a foal I walked with my husband down the glorious ten percent grade black top to our truck. Thankful it was December and not August.
Cotton fields. Cotton Fields. Cotton Fields. And the pines. We Stayed the night in northern Alabama at a woodsy state park with a history of iron mining before the Civil War. The drive up through the pines had me nostalgic for my childhood in Georgia, and looking at a map that was geographically only a few hours away.
The surprise was the South had industrial capabilities, that is not what was taught to me in public schools. What I was taught is the North held all of the industrial might and the South depended on outside sources. Of course the site at the current Tannehill Ironworks State Park was strategically targeted by the Union.
Unfortunately we only drove along the Gulf coast. White sand beaches lined with shore birds on one side, coastal houses up on stilts on the other. Blocks free of development filled with mature Live Oaks. Later we learned that these areas were once filled with antebellum homes lost to storms.
Call it bucket list. Call it dream vacation. Call it whatever you want. Between reading novels, watching movies, the history, the food… I’ve been enamored with the place. It was as dark and damp as I imagined. The old buildings tended to. Narrow streets with Spanish architecture smashed together. Narrow glimpses of courtyards behind locked wrought iron gates.
But then you get to Bourbon Street. I did not know about Bourbon Street before I went there (or maybe I didn’t pay attention?). Among the crowds of tourists there were street performers, they appeared to be families. The atmosphere was so loud, so cacophonous, I couldn’t think straight. Then I saw white middle age business suite guys standing on the balconies lurking with their beads clutched tight. Not looking like they were having one bit of fun. Their beady eyes tracking the flows of people. It was Wednesday at 6:00pm.
New History and Old
If you go to New Orleans the cemeteries are as amazing as they say. I’m not one for tours, but tour is the only way to see St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and it is worth it. I only regret that I could not wander with my camera as I wished.
Within view of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is the most recent tragedy in New Orleans. While we were traveling and galavanting, workers were still trying to retrieve the the two bodies from the hotel collapse. Which was visible from almost everywhere in the French Quarter, looming over the revelry.
All along the rivers the plantations of old divided up the land. Some still working plantations, some gone, and some tourist attractions.
Antebellum is such a pretty word…
And they are such pretty structures, with the mature live oaks lining the drives up to a symmetrically built house. The one that caught my eye was colorful. Turns out that was typical of the creole plantations before British/American colonial influence came to the area. Because the creole were influenced by the French, Spanish and island culture.
But I had to tune it out and walk away. Slaves. Slave quarters. The tour included innuendo to all the things that happened to women slaves. Including documentation of births.
Here we were touring a plantation for fun. In an area where the descendants of the slaves and the descendants of plantation owners could still be living side by side. And my insides feel ugly. Because I think about my friends and my family being treated as 3/5ths of a person. It is too real. And there is rage. I think about the people I care about and then in my mind take away all their autonomy and tell them they aren’t human. I don’t know if antebellum is such a pretty word anymore.
We took US 90 through the delta swamps of Southern Louisiana. To my Michigan eyes the raised roads through the cypress swamps were magical. All egrets and Spanish moss dotting the waterscape with cypress rising unbelievably from the murky standing water. When our first attempt at staying on the Gulf failed we drove even further south on the delta to Grand Isle State Park. The cypress trees gave way to golden grass islands and deep waterways crawling with fishing boats, shrimp trawlers and more types I have no name for.
Ohio as I remembered and expected it is still farms and wayward old farmhouses, a very similar vista to southern Lower Michigan. I was able to stop and catch, what was for me the quintessential Ohio landscape, a lonely old abandoned farmhouse.
Southern Ohio was the surprise. Hills and what could be defined as mountains set back from the empty fall fields with morning fog rolling back. Winding narrow roads with old wood barns built up tight to them covered in vines and bereft of paint. Covered wood bridges heaving their last breath of life, or in some cases carefully conserved. Federal Style houses set neatly right up to the sidewalks in tiny towns or elsewhere abandoned to the woods. New builds up in the hills with winding driveways and gated across from the river. On the river little houses toggled together defying paint and right angles. Indian burial mounds both set aside in state parks to enjoy and popping up lonely in farmer’s fields.
Kentucky and Tennessee are combined in my memory as one big green drive from before. On this trip we crossed into Northern Kentucky from over the Ohio River and drove along narrow winding tree covered roads hugging the side of a small mountain. Eventually this gave way to rolling green hills with little farms as far as the eye could see. My first thought was “this must be that Kentucky Blue Grass.” I felt like we were high up in elevation maybe we were, maybe it was my imagination. Each turn another perfect vista. Old barns with tobacco drying. Cows and horses and sheep in the fields. The horses. Tall delicate golden, brown, black, white, silver stately dancing horses. Huge horses. Running horses. Horses to make you weep they were so perfect.
Tennessee sticks in my head as all mountains and huge valleys containing the roads and the houses. This human felt very small driving through those valleys trying to see all the rocky outcrops. The houses changed to a lot of tin roofs and front porches. The cities we saw were busy building and it all felt new. Brick paver sidewalks and the muted fall colors just starting at the beginning of November.
We took an unplanned lunch in Nashville and walked German town. Checked out the farmer’s market. There was a moving monument to Tennessee’s history from the geological formation of the area to the state’s part in the Civil War through when it the monument was constructed.
The Upper Peninsula was so untouched by the Civil War and the Civil Rights Movement for example, that as we drive through towns and cities richer in American history for better or worse, I am not tempered to its realities emotionally. And there I am reading on a stone wall about the end of a nation. About Tennessee’s role in the downfall of the Cherokee, this thing I read about. This thing that I watched documentaries on. There. In stone in front of me, because this is one of the places the people should be.
It will not be the last time I will walk away feeling mixed up. And it wasn’t the first.