"I was, in fact, homesick for wildness, and when I found it I knew how intimately - how resonantly - I belonged there. We are charged with this - all of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice." - Jay Griffiths, Wild: an Elemental Journey

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Duluth, Minnesota

After two days of driving from Toledo through beautiful, solitary woods in northern Michigan and Wisconsin, and sleeping in my car without a shower, I arrived in Duluth to couch surf for the night.  Thank god.

I had never seen any of the great lakes before this trip, and certainly never been to Duluth.  My jaw dropped at the site of the huge, sparkling city rising from the wilderness much like Las Vegas rises surprisingly out of the Nevada desert, or the way the Colorado Rockies majestically announce their presence after days of driving across nothing but flat plains.

Driving into Duluth
I was incredibly fortunate to be able to couch surf with Deanna - for a million reasons!  She is an environmental educator currently working with teachers in local public schools to bring their kids out onto Lake Superior and incorporate local ecology into the curriculum.  She has been working in environmental education her whole life, and had plenty of helpful tips for me on how to break into that world.

Also, she is a healthy eater and a great cook.  Her pantry looked identical to mine before I left.  It was obvious that she only shops at a health food store.  After two days of road-food, my body was quite grateful for a delicious, home cooked dinner of ginger tempeh, roasted carrots & zucchini, and wild rice - that she harvested HERSELF!  Each year, she takes two friends and goes out in a canoe to harvest over 200lbs. of local wild rice which she then eats for the rest of the year.  It tasted nothing like Uncle Ben's.  This was the real stuff.


My beautiful host, Deanna
Over dinner we talked and talked and talked.  She had gone to both yoga and an acupuncture appointment that day.  She has lived in many of the towns I am considering moving to out west.  She backpacks, kayaks, rock-climbs, and pretty much anything else outdoors.  She's in her early 30's and had some fascinating relationship stories.  It felt a little bit like talking to myself!  What a refreshing reminder of how not alone we are in the world.

After dinner, she took me to the local co-op, and then up to a lookout where I could see all of Duluth and the lake at night.

The next morning, before she headed out for work, she made another delicious meal for me - huevos rancheros.  And I made some fresh juice for us with my traveling juicer.  She had just enough time to walk me out to the beach - which is directly behind her house since she lives on a sandbar between Lake Superior and the river (whose name is escaping me at the moment).  What a spectacular sight.

Now I am headed on to the last, long leg of this journey.  I have at least 22 more hours of driving to do across Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana.  I will take route 2W, which is the northern most east-west highway in the country.  It is further north than the route I took last year, and more remote.  There aren't even any towns with couch surfers between here and Whitefish, Montana, where I'm going.  I'll be sleeping in my car for one or perhaps two more nights, and filling up on gas and food at every opportunity.  

This will be the solitude I've been looking for.  Like a whitewash of my brain.  I'm hoping to arrive at my friend Katie's in western Montana completely enlightened and having everything in my life figured out. ;)  Yeah - look for that blog post next.

Blazing Glory of Death

All of the trees are turning in Michigan's upper peninsula.  Although I was "supposed to" leave for my journey by late June, I found myself being quite glad to be on this particular road on this particular day in late September.

And as I do every Autumn, I considered the fact that the brilliant colors on the trees are a direct result of the leaves dying.  Rather than simply hang their leafy little heads and fall helplessly to the ground, they explode with color.  They send out one, last, blazing hurrah to the world before accepting their time and surrendering to the pull of the soil below.

I saw a parallel to my life right now.  While one thing, one part of me, is dying (my marriage), I am not hanging my head in woeful despair.  I am on my way; I am blazing with color.  I will soon allow this partnership to surrender to the soil and become recycled into new lessons and new relationships and whatever else life will use it for that I can't possibly know right now.  

But before I do, I will fly across this country, leaving a brilliant streak of color in my wake.  I will take the remnants of love from my marriage and spread them behind me like a colorful cape.  I will not paint with colors of anger, bitterness, or self-pity, but only of love.  And I will bow to the trees for their yearly inspiration to not only live well, but to die well too.

Monday, September 24, 2012

On the Road in Northern Michigan

Yesterday, I finally left my Toledo family, despite their insistent pleas for me to stay.  I am not worried. I know I'll be back, somehow, at some point.

I decided to take a different route to Montana than I took last year.  I went straight north through the entire state of Michigan, over the bridge between Lakes Michigan and Huron, and into the entirely wooded northern peninsula.

Sunset near Lake Huron
After the sun set, I drove two solid hours in complete, wooded darkness before I came upon any life at all.  At 9:30pm, I pulled in to Roxette's diner with a half hour to spare before they closed.  I ordered macaroni & cheese and wings (don't judge me, there was nothing that resembled vegetables or anything healthy on the menu and I'd been wanting dinner since 7:00), and asked my waitress where I might be able to sleep safely in my car for the night.

She pointed to the two burly men at the counter and said, "Ask them.  They're my dad and uncle, and they're both truck drivers.  They'll know the roads around here."  So I did.

I found out that the only remotely populated towns were 30 minutes and three hours away, respectively.  I wasn't sure if I had any more driving in me for the night, so I asked if I could just sleep behind the diner.  They all said that was fine.  The man said he and his wife, who runs the diner, live just out back, so I'd be safe between the diner and their house.  Plus, the waitress (their daughter) assured me, there are border patrol all over this place.

After my meal, I pulled my car around back and began setting it up for sleep.  The other man at the counter (the uncle), approached my car and knocked on the window.  I opened the door.  He had a kind, simple smile.

"Listen.  You wanna sleep in the truck?" he asked.  "It's gonna get cold."

"Thank you so much for asking," I replied, "but I have a good sleeping bag and plenty of layers.  I'll be fine."

"Alright," he nodded.  "Well I'll be in my truck all night if you need anything."  He nodded in a fatherly, completely un-creepy way and retired to his mobile tractor trailer home.

I fell asleep easily and toasty warm in my bed, soothed by the hum of his motor just a few dozen yards away.

My station wagon bed

My sleeping spot for the night

Eating breakfast at the little Chippewa-owned diner a few miles down the road the next morning, I scanned my surroundings with a curiosity that must have been apparent.  I’m sure taking a photo of the furs for sale along the wall didn’t help me look like a local.

Furs for sale at the diner.  Of course.  Why not?

When I shivered and put my hat on, the man at the next table, who I could tell had been eyeing me with amusement, said, “What are you going to do when it gets cold?”  It was already in the 30’s outside, so his comment was obviously sarcastic.

“Oh I have more layers, don’t worry. ” I smiled and took a bite of my biscuits and gravy.  (This time there were healthier things on the menu, but I rarely pass up biscuits & gravy.)

“Where you headed?” he asked.  Now his wife and the other couple at his table were also turned around to look at me.

“Montana for now.  So I’ll be sure to get some real cold there.”

“What the heck are you doing in Montana?” he asked, chuckling, even more amused.  People of his generation seem perpetually amused/confused when I speak my plans.

“Well, maybe moving there.  Maybe moving somewhere else.  I’m not sure where I’m going to stop yet.”  I gave my standard non-answer.  He cocked one eye at me.  “I have pretty much all I own in that wagon out there.  I slept in it last night.  Was toasty warm.”

“You mean you’re going to go find a job somewhere and then that’s where you’ll stay?”

“Nah.  I left a job back home.  Not in a hurry to get another one.  I’m going to find somewhere that inspires me.  A beautiful place with good people.  And that’s where I’ll stay.  I suppose I’ll find some kind of work eventually as well.” 

He had stopped eating his breakfast now and was giving his full attention to me.  He was about my dad’s age, and reminded me of him a bit in his friendly, gentle manner.  “So you’re not married then, I take it?  No kids?”  This is always the question I get, as if no one ever travels, moves, or has adventures while married or with kids.  Hogwash.

“Recently divorced. (Separated, really, but the divorce is coming, and I like the way that sounds better.  It’s more final.  That's for another blog entry - maybe.  I don't feel like saying any more at this point.)  And no kids.  So I’m free as a bird!”

He laughed and shook his head.  He pointed to the woman next to him and said, “Yeah I’ve thought about doing that too, but I guess I like her too much.”  The woman jokingly punched his shoulder and gave a sympathetic smile to me.

I laughed as well, and that pretty much closed the conversation.  We went back to eating our respective breakfasts.

When I finished eating, I went to my car to gather the morning’s bare minimum of hygiene supplies.  I went back into the restaurant and straight to the bathroom to brush my teeth, wash my face, and at least change my underwear and socks.

The rest of the morning has been a thoroughly enjoyable drive through more national forests in northern Michigan.

The open, wooded road

Lake Superior
I still haven't received any responses from my couch surfing requests for tonight, so I'll probably sleep in my car again.  I don't mind at all, but I wouldn't mind a shower. . .

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Toledo, Part Two: Community, Bikes and Beer - Oh, and a Slackline

Last night I met the rest of Scott & Krissy's "urban tribe."  Luckily for me, there are three birthdays among the group this weekend, which of course means much fun to be had.

The plan was for all 20+ people to ride their bikes about 8 miles to Swig, a hip little bar/restaurant downtown, and then on to The Village Idiot, another bar with live music.  As the rain hit only an hour before we were all supposed to meet, all but five people backed out of the biking.  Scott and I were two of the five who stayed.

What a fun, refreshing ride through the rainy twilight!

Swig, as promised, had a great beer selection and delicious food.  Two things I really love about traveling through the midwest are the excitement people have about beer, and the many creative ways they come up with to cook cheese!  Tonight I had the most amazing beer cheese dip with homemade soft pretzels.  Yummmm!

I so thoroughly enjoyed myself among these fantastic people.  They are the hippest of the hipsters among groups of friends I've come across in my U.S. travels, complete with skull caps, tight jeans, and ripped leather jackets.  From first appearance, I loved their collective grungy, artsty, thrift-shoppy style. They have names like Snack, Boombox, and Entree.  They are in bands.  They are bartenders and warehouse workers.  They are married and single and divorced, some with kids, some without.

But more importantly than these demographic details were their over-flowingly kind hearts.  Every single person introduced themselves to me personally with a hearty handshake or a hug, a smile, and a welcome.  I felt instantly part of their tribe, and proceeded to laugh my ass off with them through the rest of the night.

After both bars and three total bike rides between all places, everyone ended up back at one of their houses.  One particularly kindred spirit I met, Travis, had set up a slack line between two trees in the front yard.  Nevermind that it was wet, dark, 2am, and that most of us were in some stage of inebriation.  There was slack lining to be had.  And I gotta say - I did pretty well!  I'm hooked now.

As the night and the inebriation level wore on,
we started adding obstacles - like people sitting in the
middle of the line that had to be stepped over.
I think that what will stay with me about this night will be the conversations and connections.  So many of this crew have also traveled extensively, and also love the mountains and the landscape out west.  When I asked each person, "Then why are you here, in Toledo?" the answer was always the same.  "For these people.  We have each other, and that's reason enough to stay."

To me, finding genuine community is one of the greatest treasures about traveling.  Seeing groups of people live with or near each other and love each other day in and day out, through all the crazy chaos that life brings their way, gives me hope in humanity, and hope that I will find such a community wherever I end up.  Thanks, Toledo tribe.  Much love.

Friday, September 21, 2012


Day two of my journey saw me leaving State College and the beautiful, inspiring, comforting Liz behind.  It was a great day for a drive.  I listened to the first six chapters of Anne of Green Gables.  (I had decided to download it before leaving and read it for about the 7th time because she reminds me of myself, and helps me embrace my talkative, imaginative, slightly-ridiculous nature.)  I also talked to another inspiring friend, Shelley, for over two hours.

Upon arriving in Toledo, I went straight to Scott and Krissy's house.  I met them on last year's road trip west because I couch surfed with them (http://www.couchsurfing.org/).  We hit it off and have kept loosely in touch over the past year.  Last year, we talked about intentional communities and traveling, and I played with their brilliant 2-year-old boy, Emerson.  In the past year, they had Sylvia, whom I couldn't wait to meet.

Scott, Emerson, & Sylvia

Mama Krissy joins the picture (and my flash gets weird)

We had a cookout with a couple of their friends on my first night in town.  We caught up, they asked me about my plans, and I explained that I had none after Toledo.  They quickly convinced me to stay through the weekend, so I could attend the nighttime bike ride to a bar into the city for a friend's birthday on Friday night.  Well, ok.  If you insist.

Since Scott and Krissy are currently living with Krissy's parents (seems to be a trend these days), they didn't have room to host me.  They had arranged for me to stay with Mike, a couch surfing friend of theirs.  After the cookout, I drove to Mike's place, set up my bed, and crashed.

The next day, Mike was at work all day, and Scott & Krissy were both busy.  I let myself sleep for over 10 hours, which helped to finally kick the head cold I'd been carrying around.  (Yay for breathing!)  Then I had a greasy, delicious breakfast at the diner on the corner that reminded me strikingly of the one in Twin Peaks.  ("Delicious pie.  Hot coffee.  Friendly service.")

Schmuckers Diner

I spent the rest of the day re-packing my car and getting rid of an entire box of stuff (most of which Scott & Krissy took off my hands).  I also walked to the Botanical Gardens,

This dahlia is about the size of my face.

and *accidentally* ended up back at the greasy diner for a slice of homemade cherry crumb pie a la mode.

I ate every crumb.

When Mike got home from work, I helped him harvest some kale, chard, peppers, tomatoes, and okra from his AMAZING garden.

Mike in the garden. (That's a huge tobacco plant behind him to the right.)

Mike, Scott, Krissy, and most of their friends are really into the homesteading/edible landscaping/local eating movement.  I became a produce messenger between them.  When heading to Mike's on the first night, Scott said, "Oh wait - I want to send some stuff with you for Mike."  He gave me two pumpkins and a bag of peppers so hot that you can't touch them without gloves.  When I left Mike's the next day, he said, "Oh wait - take this bag of stuff from my garden to Scott for me."  Vegetables act as the currency of friendship.  Love it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

And I'm Off.

Yesterday, I set out on the journey west that I have been planning for over a year. What it actually looked like to drive away was different than my imaginings in pretty much every way possible. 

In the vision that I didn’t even realize I was creating (until reality showed me that things would be different), Oldman and I spend a day carefully packing our cars and everything fits.  We drive off on a beautiful, sunny, summer morning, with fun travel music bouncing and smiles on our adventurous faces.  The open road before us, our new, married lives really about to start.

What actually happened was that I drove away by myself, in just my car, at 6pm on a cold, rainy September evening, with a sore throat and a head full of snot.  I left a pile of crap on the floor of my parents’ garage, because in my last-minute furious packing the car, it was evident that everything would not, in fact, fit.

Don't let the smile fool you.  I'm about to sneeze.

I haven’t posted in awhile because my life has pretty much been consumed with fighting.  Fighting with Oldman – sometimes against him, as all of our pasts came colliding full force into our naïve marriage, and sometimes with him, standing side by side as we fought together to keep our newborn relationship afloat.  Either way, I’ve been fighting nearly every hour of every day for the past two months.  There were seven conflict-free days.  I counted.  Folks, I'm tired.

In the end, he left a few days before me with all of his stuff.  We had one last counseling appointment before he left.  It was helpful, as they always are, and he still decided to leave.  He is not able to tell me how long he will be gone, or whether he will still head west on his own (from his parents’ in Louisiana where is currently), or whether we will meet up, or where, or when.

I’ve done this travel thing alone before, and I know I can do it again.  I’ve just never done it as a married woman, without my husband here.  I’m not quite sure how to inhabit this new way of being.  I’m not a wild single girl.  I’m not a happily married girl with my man by my side.  It sort of feels like I have the worst of both worlds, not really able to fully embrace either.

Being sick isn’t helping me to think clearly.  But it is sort of helping me to stay low.  Stay down.  Stay quiet.  Maybe this trip, at least this first part of it, won’t be like the sunny, windows-down, music-blaring trips of the past.  Maybe I’ll be a little quieter this time.

I stayed with my best friend from college, Liz, last night near State College, PA.  She’s known me for over ten years.  Over a sneezy, hot tea evening at a local eatery, she helped me remember myself.  She reached right through my cold-induced-ditziness and my relationship self-pity and reminded me that I’m a fireball.  She told me stories of myself from the past.  She reminded me who I was before Oldman.  She reminded me what I care about, when I shine brightest, and how much I am loved.

I am still sick and sleepy, and still afraid of what will happen to my marriage.  I still miss Oldman and wish he was with me.  But I don’t miss the fighting.  And I don’t miss feeling stuck.  When I’m in my car, at least I’m moving.  Moving forward, moving somewhere.  I’m going to take Liz’s words and keep on going.  Stay tuned.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Beautifully Imperfectly Gloriously Un-Put-Together

To continue my recent trend of humble, I-don't-have-it-together-after-all posts, I want to share this music video that makes me happy in every part of my body.  Especially when I feel sad in most parts of my body.

I saw it on http://thebloggess.com/ which is one of my favorite sites.  If you have been living under a rock and haven't yet heard of her, she (Jenny Lawson) is an inspiring, slightly blasphemous, definitely gloriously un-put-together blogger who writes about mental illness, her cat, and taxidermy, among other things.  Reading her this past year has given me the courage to be more honest about not having it all together in my own blog.

I don't even know if this is a real post.  It is just to say that I still don't have it all together, and the more I admit that, the happier I am.  Once I let go of the ridiculous standards that I put on myself and admit that I'm just like everyone else with good days and bad days, and holy moments and embarrassing moments, and beautiful eyes and wide thighs, and carefully chosen words and completely reactionary words - well, I guess I feel a little better.

To drive the point home, here is an image for you.  This week, the butterfly bush out back of my parents' house has been absolutely covered with monarchs by the dozens.  It has been an amazing sight.  Each morning I get up and look out the kitchen window to count them.  They must be stopping by on their migration or something.

So a couple of days ago, I was outside watching them and taking some pictures and I thought, Look at their beauty.  They are so breathtaking.  I wonder if they are conscious of their own appearance.  I wonder if they have any idea how perfect, how beautiful they are.

And as soon as I had the thought, I had a sensation of the monarch looking back at me thinking the exact same thing.  Do I know how beautiful I am?  How perfect?  Do you?

Monday, September 3, 2012

Three Lessons from the Ocean

I spent the past week in a rented house right on the beach with eight other people in Outer Banks, North Carolina.  We had a wonderful time eating, laughing, drinking, and mostly hanging out on the beach.

Two friends enjoying the beach

The ocean is an excellent metaphor for my life right now.  Water represents the subconscious, and according to many spiritual traditions, large bodies of water symbolize unknowing and fear.  The more time I spent in the water this week, the more lessons I learned about life.

Lesson One: Take Friends

I have always been afraid of the ocean - it is deep, vast, full of creatures who can eat me, and so unknowable that we know more about the surface of the moon than the depths of the ocean.  I have had recurring nightmares about sharks since I was a child, and every time I go to the beach it takes me several hours or even days to get up the guts to get in the water.  Mind you, this is from a woman who loves skydiving, grizzly bears, snakes, and spiders, and has no fear of public speaking, heights, small spaces, ghosts, or death in general.  But sharks and the ocean?  Yikes.

As usual, I finally gathered the courage to get in, but only with several other people.  This was the first metaphor.  Would two or three equally-vulnerable people around me really save me from a shark attack?  Probably not.  Will having a couple of friends in my life literally save me from emotional crises?  No.  But psychologically, having their presence and laughter nearby literally buoys me up - in both situations.  I need to be surrounded by supportive people before treading into the unknown.

Beach sunset with Oldman

Lesson Two: Keep Swimming

As anyone who's ever swam in the ocean before knows, to get to the calmer water, you first have to battle the breaking waves near the shore.  As in my life lately, the violent waves kept breaking and pummeling me - one after another after another.  Every time I thought - that one was bad, I'm sure they can't get any worse than that - they did.  Each wave seemed bigger, more powerful, more intent on driving me into the sand headfirst, breathless, and terrified.

But also as in life, the more I fought with them, the more I tried to "win," the more exhausted and defeated I became.  I was in their territory.  I could get upset and continue trying to stay upright, or I could surrender and simply let them wash over me.  It wasn't until I finally stopped fighting and just ducked under each one that I could pass the obstacle course.  I think the life lesson is obvious here.

Beach sunrise

Lesson Three: Don't Think. Feel. (or, Cut Off Your Head)

On the final day at the beach, we looked out and noticed several people waaaaay out in the ocean - standing.  They were at least three times as far out as any of us had ever gone before, yet it was obvious that they were able to stand.  We figured they must have found a sandbar, and we decided to go check it out.

This took all of the courage I had been growing through the week.  We had to swim for a good 10-15 minutes - over a deep part of the ocean floor where none of us could find the bottom - to get to the sandbar.

As I was standing out there with my friends, completely surrounded by water on all sides, I panicked.  Well, let me be more specific - my brain panicked.  Every time I allowed myself to think, I went on a downward spiral of fear.  My heart sped up, my jaw tightened, and I felt like I couldn't breathe.  When I  figuratively cut off my head, or forced myself to stop thinking and feel instead, I was at peace.  

I instantly realized that I was standing in beautiful, warm, green water with my friends.  There were schools of small fish swimming right through us and sometimes jumping out of the water.  Flocks of pelicans flew by at eye level, occasionally dive-bombing into the water and coming up with a fish.  We even saw a pack of dolphins playing further out.  Feeling brought me to a paradise.  Thinking took me to a hell.

The life lesson I will take away from this final scene is that when I am tempted to panic in fear, I will stop and look around.  I will allow my body to feel what is around me, and I will realize that I am safe, and all is well.