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Posts tagged Travel

A Houseless Life

72  bar rises 29.73  0mph WNW dew-point 62    Summer, pleasant

Waxing Crescent of the Thunder Moon

“It is not how old you are, but how you are old.” – Jules Renard

Elizabeth Odegard has West Nile virus.  She’s lethargic, stays in bed.  Not much to do, but support your body and wait it out.  Mark thinks she may have gotten it in Thailand when they stayed on a houseboat.  Mark has the most unusual current lifestyle among the Woollies.  He and Elizabeth, then real estate agents, sold his house in Marine of St. Croix, pooled their retirement funds and began living a houseless life.

He often refers to himself as homeless, but what he actually is houseless.   His home is the Twin Cities and he’s rooted here.  He and Elizabeth went to Hawai’i three years ago and got the Cambridge certification in teaching English as a second language.  With that credential and a cash flow generated from investments (managed by Scott Simpson) they have moved from spot to spot:  Buenos Aires, Peru, Shanghai, Bangkok sprinkled with returns home.  Here they housesit for folks they know.

They leave for France later on this summer, where they will spend time with Mark’s brother and his family before heading off Morocco or Turkey or Chile.  Sometimes they work, sometimes one does and the other doesn’t.  It’s been all ESL.  Mark worked on a healthy sexuality exhibit in Thailand, for example.  They ponder a commitment in Japan, where the English language jobs require a year contract.  Most of their stints have been four months or less.

We talk about travel often at the Woollies.  We are a well-traveled group.  Paul and Sarah made a round the world trip early in their marriage.  Paul jets off to Africa, Syria and Cuba now and then.  Frank is in Ireland right now for the eight or ninth time.  Bill spent over a year in Japan building a nuclear power plant.  Tom travels the US every week.  Charlie Haislet and Barbara cruise in Europe, go to Africa now and again.  Stefan has been many places.

Last night Stefan talked about a childhood trip to Egypt.  “It made me want to be an architect.  Karnak.  With those great pillars shaved back and sloping upward.  And the details on the gate.”

We are atypical as a group in so many ways:  level of education, diversity of employment, life paths dominated by values, intimacy among men that has lasted over two decades.  Our level of income is high.  We lead lives of privilege in the most powerful country the world has ever seen.


63  bar rises 29.95  0mph NNE  dew-point 54  Summer, night and cool

                           Waning Gibbous Flower Moon

Back home.  The corn is past knee high; the garlic has finished its growth; the tomato plants that began from heritage seeds have fruit; the beans have begun to bush out and the onions have sky rocketed.  A wonderful pastel copper/brown bearded iris has bloomed and the Siberian iris have thrown up dark blue flags all over the garden.  There is, of course, the occasional weed, but that’s Monday’s task.  Perhaps Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s, too.

Driving as I did, a bit over 3,000 miles, movement dominates.  Even in Montgomery I drove to Maxwell four times, an equal number of times out for meals.  In the car.  Out of the car.  Stop for gas.  Now the movement slows down.  A walk in the garden.  Up and down stairs.  To the refrigerator. 

Here Kate welcomes me.  At the various motels slightly aware receptionists said how can i help you.  Here I get a hug, a meal, a smile.  An “I missed you.”  “Me, too.”  The dogs jump up and down, lean against my leg.  This is a place I know and where I am known.     

A Good Place to Live and a Fine Place to Die

65 bar rises 30.11 calm NNE  dew-point 55   Summer, partly cloudy and cool

Belton, Missouri

Waning Gibbous Flower Moon

“The discipline of the writer is to learn to be still and listen to what his subject has to tell him.” – Rachel Carson

The month of male rituals has passed.  Gabe has a circumcised penis and is a member of the tribe of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Joseph has his 2d Lieutenant’s bar and is a commissioned officer in the United States Air Force.  Grandpa and Dad has done his part by witnessing and participating in the ceremonies.

Family related summer travel still lies ahead.  This time a reunion of the Ellis cousins, among whom I will be one  of the few with the family name.   Only my father and his brother, of the siblings, six in all, were male and Charles, my uncle, only had a daughter.  Our relatives have not strayed far from the home base of Mustang, Oklahoma and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  Most still live in Oklahoma and Texas.  The reunion this year is in Mineola, Texas, east of Dallas.

This is the last post from the road.  My nuclear family loves the road and I’m no exception.  Something powerful happens to me when I’m away from home, parts of me float to the surface unbidden, triggered by strange places and foreign faces.

On this last segment through Arkansas and Missouri, there were familiar triggers from trips of long ago.  In the 1950’s Dad and Mom would pack Mary and me into the family Ford for a trip along the now legendary Highway 66.

As I came up 71 in Arkansas, I saw a barn with a painted sign on its roof, Meramac Caverns.  These signs began somewhere in Illinois on Hwy 66 and fired my young mind with visions of stalactites and stalagmites.  They are the moral equivalent of Wall Drug signs when headed to the Black Hills.

Joplin, Missouri also had a memory for me.  This was a bus trip, by myself, when I was 11 or 12.  I got off at the Diamond Bus Stop to have a bite to eat.  When I went out to get on the bus, it had gone on ahead without me.  A sinking feeling.  At that age it felt like I had been stranded in a foreign land an impossible distance from anyone who knew me or cared about me.  I told the person in charge of the Greyhound counter what had happened.  “No problem, kiddo.” He (or she) said, “Another bus comes by in 4 hours.”  And so it did.

This trip, like those, has a basic virture.  The miles go by and the scenery and the sub-cultures of the US change with them.  This is no faux transport portal, in one jetway and out another with only the sky in between.  This is travel in which every portion requires some personal effort, even if that effort is only holding the steering wheel and adjusting the cruise control.

Probably because of those earlier trips with family and by myself, driving or rail are my preferred methods of getting from one place to another.  The flavor of the  land, the inflections of the people change in subtle ways, even moving from Minnesota to Iowa.  The more pronounced differences, apparent in the South, seep into the bones, become part of my life and memories.  Now I have Montgomery, Stones River Battlefield, Pearl, Mississippi, Vicksburg Battlefield, Monroe, Louisiana and Ft. Smith, Arkansas tucked away in the data base.

The changes from cool north to humid south, from the plains of Illinois to the rolling hills of Kentucky and Tennesse, the poverty of Alabama and Mississippi, the pecan pie and shrimp etoufee, the floods of June all have their smells, feels and visual presence imprinted.

America, my country, is a huge and diverse land, filled with landscapes so varied it would take a lifetime to become familiar with even a few.   I am proud to be an American, though I often despair about our government.

In this month I have been on the Great Plains, in the Rocky Mountains, along the Platte, the Missouri, the Ohio, the Tennessee and the mighty Mississippi.  The bayous of Louisiana, the Wichita and Ozark mountains and the corn and beans of Iowa and Nebraska and South Dakota have stood by as I passed.

Though driving sometimes makes me weary, as I am now, I never tire of this land.  It is a good place to live and will be a fine place to die.

A Gallows, A Three-Holer

83 bar falling 30.11 4mph NNE  dew-point 42 Summer

Comfort Inn  Belton, Missouri

Waning Gibbous Flower Moon

At this point my body wants to be home, but home lies 7 hours further north, so I’ve stopped for the night, the last stop on this journey.

While Highway 71 wound through the Wichita hills, I listened to more lectures on the Civil War.  The Revolutionary War lectures ended somewhere in Illinois and I picked up the Civil War in Paducah, Ky.  I’m now on lecture 42 of 48.  The professor is good clear, succinct and persuasive.  The Civil War will finish before I hit Minnesota.

These lectures provide an audio and intellectual counterpoint to the visual joys of traveling.

The hills, the tin roofed homes with creaking front porches, the stands of crafts:  purses handmade,  rocks, Ozark crafts, handmade knives  Places I’ve never seen.

Bentonville, Arkansas, home of WalMart.

Ft. Smith, Arkansas, another state line town with a fort from the frontier days.  The fort had a gallows, a three-holer.  When I went under the gallows to suss out how it worked, I found a contraption that was simplicity itself.  An iron bar pushed up above the platform and allowed the executioner to exert force backwards.  This motion pulled small tongues out of small grooves.  Once in the air the weight of the bodies above would force the planks to which the tongue’s metal fastener attached to swing down and open.  Thunk.

It would not, however, work as currently rigged.  A safety feature I suppose.

There are enough fireworks on sale in Arkansas and Missouri to supply an insurrection.  If, that is, you wanted to sparkle and bang your enemy away from you.  The tents are colorful, looking much like circus tents and each one has a better deal and more comprehensive selection than any of the others.  Commerce is not an inherently logical process in the marketing side.

Joseph called while I passed through Arkansas.  He’s made it to Tyndall and has had a tour of the base.  It has a beach and a neighborhood filled with families.  He thought it looked like a good place to live if he came back as a teacher with a family at some point.

“There are worse bases,” a friend told him, “So enjoy this one while you’re here.”

He’s looking for a place to live right now and hopes to have something by early next week.  The furnished places are dumps, he says.  This means purchasing more stuff.  The good news is that the Air Force, from this point forward, will pack and move his stuff for him when he changes duty stations.  Good deal.

“Yo, Minnesota. You late.”

86  bar 29.91 steady 4mph nne  dew-point 56   Beltane, hazy and hot

Jacksonville, Mississippi

Full Flower Moon

“Yo, Minnesota!  You late.”  Said, on the high sidewalk in Selma, an African man of indeterminate middle age, salt and pepper beard, hair frizzed out, wearing a red shirt.  “”bout time you got down South, North.”

“Yeah, about 30 years too late,” I said, revealing my inner hope that I’m about 15 younger than I really am.

He was cheerful and continued his discussion with a smile and allusions to the Mennonites and some biblical tribes, but I didn’t get it all.  He was what in former times would have been called a character.

I got his allusion right away because I’d spent the morning at the Southern Poverty Law Centers Civil Rights Memorial.  This memorial commemorates 40 people either killed or dramatically involved in the civil rights struggle:  Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, John Chaney, and 36 names carved into the black marble ellipisodial rock outside the center.  It has water running over all the names.  Behind it, cut into a black marble wall is a favorite biblical quotation of anyone in justice work:  Let justice roll like waters, righteousness like an everflowing stream.

This memorial and the offices of the Southern Poverty Law Center are on the block up  hill from the Dexter Baptist Church where Martin Luther King preached.

As a result of visiting this center, I decided to drive the road from Montgomery to Selma, the same route that the voting rights march took.   This is our generation’s history, actions that echo still from those early 60’s years when many of us were in high school or middle school.  We watched this on TV.  Some of us marched early and often in civil rights marches in our various states.  And gains were made.

Even so, as I drove through Montgomery and saw the public housing development named Jefferson Davis Housing, as I saw the stark poverty of many African-American homes and boarded up rows of low-income housing, it became obvious that those gains had not been enough.  The job is not yet done.

This not news, of course, but it meant I heard the prophet on the sidewalk of Selma, “Yo, Minnesota.  You late.”

Joseph decided to stay another night in Montgomery to catch up on his sleep.  A good decision since he was sleepy while we ate lunch at the Shogun, a teppanaki meal with clanking knives, bursts of fire and food flipped onto the plate.  He needs the time to regroup and collect himself.

Selma, I learned today, had 10,000 residents devoted to iron smelting in the civil war.  It was a center of the Confederacy’s defense industry.  As I drove briefly around, it looked like an ordinary southern town, a little down at the heels but with a history.  It is a historical monument of critical importance to the development of an America that can have Barrack Obama as a Presidential candidate.

Mississippi looks lush and prosperous compared to what I saw of Alabama.  It’s a poor state all the way around.

“Just Like College. Without the Fun.”

June 17, 2008  Prattville, Alabama

Rain earlier tonight. A cooler evening and the dew-point will go down over the next few days.  Better.

Lost another long post this afternoon.  This is a connection problem with a weak wi-fi. I’m in the upper front right corner room and the wi-fi router is in the lower back left.  Irritating.  Anyhow, solve the problem and move on.  I’m writing these posts in Word and will copy them to Ancientrails.  That way, if the connection loses the post in the cybersphere, I can just recopy it.

The gist of that post was the nature of an Air Force base, at least Maxwell-Gunter.  The gate at Bell Street, where civilian can enter has a sign over it that reads:  The Intellectual and Leadership Center of the Air Force.

The base architecture has a southwest, adobe and tile roof theme, carried consistently in the many main buildings, though officer housing (for the base) and a few other buildings like chapels and churches tend more toward modernist.

The OTS complex, only one part of The Air University, looks and feels like a college campus.  As Joseph said, “Yeah, it’s just like college.  Without the fun.”

This is a self-contained world with residences, businesses, streets, police, and even its own airstrip.

The rules read  like an OCD’s dream world.  Socks rolled up with a smiley face.  T-shirts rolled.  Toiletry articles placed highest to lowest, right to left.  No water left in the shower after use.  You know about the beds.

Uniforms clean.  Really clean.  Shoes shined.  Bright.  ID in your sock because the pants pockets are thin.  And so on.

A real big dose of Superego.

Joseph’s flight, 9 other airmen who go through the OTS process together, is diverse.  There are three women, an African-American, two Asians and at least one Latina.  The wing, all the flights, has similar diversity.  Even so, the awards were won by white males.  The revolution is underway, but it has some distance yet to the finish line.

The commander of OTS is a woman.  Overall, my impression is that the military has done better at race relations than the society at large.  I’m not so sure about sexism.

Joseph, Julian, Raeone and I ate at a great little place called the Capitol City Oyster Bar.  It’s a world class joint with low ceilings, a cigar store Indian and an owner who wears a t-shirt that read:  Crazy Before My Time.

I had crawfish, Julian had amberjack, Raeone had crab and Joseph had a steak po-boy.  The waitress said her son was going in the Army, “He likes to blow things up and break them and shoot.  That’s my boy.”

It also has a national touring list of blues stars that perform there regularly.  Click on the link and check it out.

Tomorrow AM I give the invocation for Joseph’s commissioning, then he gets his bars.  I’ll put them on.  Raeone may help.

Joseph drove back to the base tonight so I could drop him off.  When he showed his new ID, the one with 2nd Lieutenant on it, the base security officer saluted him.  He grinned as we pulled away.

The military world is still unfamiliar, but I’m getting more acclimated each time Joseph goes through another phase.

Here’s the takeaway right now:  The military is a tool of the civilian government.  If we have a problem with policy, it is the civilians responsibility to change it.  The military will do what the government tells them to do.

We have to make sure we agree with what the government commands.  No, wait a minute.  We have to make sure the government agrees with us when it commands.

This may seem obvious, but it is striking me with force right now.

Well, off to bed since I have an early day tomorrow.

Southern Discomfort

78  bar rising 29.90  calm, SSE  dew-point 68  Beltane, sunny and clear

Full Flower Moon

On the road back to Prattville last night the full flower moon was high.  Montgomery has that near the sea scent, ozone mixed with humus and an occasional note of magnolia or jacaranda or plumeria.  The night was glorious.  On that humid air rode crowds of teens headed for the beach, ladies and gentlemen dancing under blinking white lights, loosened by a mint julep or a whisky and branch water.

With the windows and the moon roof open, I rode through the night and their memories were my memories.  I could remember growing up here, cotillion balls and military marches.  Going to school at Auburn.  Going back home to see the framed portraits of my ancestors who’d fought in the civil war.

In Gettysburg (the movie) there is a great scene that could only come in a movie.  Joshua Chamberlain’s brother Lawrence is talking with a captured Confederate soldier.  “Why are you fighting?”  he asks.   “I’m fightin’ fer mah rats.”  “Excuse me?”  “My raats.  I’m fightin’ for my rats.”  Lawrence shakes his head and goes away.  When I saw the We dare defend our rights monument in Alabama I thought of this exchange.  It says a lot about the Civil War.

Joseph is different.  He has more muscle.  His neck is bigger.  He holds himself with a different posture.  He has more confidence.  This from a young man who 12 weeks ago wondered if he’d made the right choice and sounded distressed, in extremis.

Now he talks calmly of a war with China or North Korea in which “We’d lose 60% or more in the first few days.”

“I don’t see a war with China,” I said, “North Korea’s a wild card.”

“Yes, it’s unlikely.” He shook his head, “Still, it’s something to learn about all this stuff from a different perspective.”

Today I head over to Maxwell AFB for an open house, lunch in the place where he’s eaten for the last thirteen weeks and an awards ceremony.  Tomorrow morning at 8Am he gets his commission as a second lieutenant and his bars.

Turns out the first two promotions come from time served.  A year from tomorrow he will become a first lieutenant, then two years after that a captain.  After that promotions are on merit and require a board.  His goal, he said, is to become a major.  Who knows what the future will bring.

Part of my southern discomfort is its resonance in my own heart.  It is, in part, my heart of darkness, the shadow place where the violent, aggressive, racist parts of me live.

There is also a cultural memory, one of restaurants like the Copper Kettle in my mother’s hometown.  A place where fried chicken, mashed potatoes, peas and gravy overwhelm all other foods, a place where these foods were Sunday dinner, eaten at what I now call lunchtime.  These memories also includes old Aunts with great bosoms smelling of talcum powder and lilac.  Aunt Mary, in particular.

This is the land of James Whitcomb Riley and the goblins’ll get ya if ya don’t watch out.  It is, too, my land.  Where I’m coming from.

These are the familiar parts, but, then, there is that foreign part.  More on that later.

We Dare To Defend Our Rights

80  bar rising, 29.86  Calm, SSE  dew-point 64  Beltane, night

Full Flower Moon

I’m one toke over the line sweet Jesus and the line is the state line of Alabama.  This is my first visit to Beautiful Alabama.  At the rest-stop welcoming visitors to the state there was a stone monument, 3 ft high with a pyramidal top.  On each of its 3 foot sides there was this declaration:  We Dare To Defend Our Rights.

The weather is hot and muggy.  The hostess at Buffalo Wild Wings, where Joseph wanted to eat, told me it was really hot a couple of weeks ago and that this was much less muggy than normal.  Then, driving back to the Plantation House Bed and Breakfast I heard the weather guy say in an upbeat tone, “It should cool down in the next couple of days.  Highs in the upper 80’s!”  Oh, Lord I’m not in Minnesota any more.

Joseph has gained 15 pounds and it’s all muscle.  He looks and sounds great.  The end of OTS won’t come too soon for him.  Julian, Raeone and I listened as he tried to unravel military life for three civilians.  Not easy.

He’s happy about his choice and excited about the future.  That’s what any parent wants for their child and I’m glad to see it.  More on him and his journey tomorrow.

The south makes me uncomfortable.  It is a place at once familiar–language, government, makes of cars and franchise restaurants–and foreign and for that familiarity more foreign than any country I’ve visited, even Thailand and Cambodia and China.  There is an underlayment here that I do not understand, a shared history and a way of life.  Race relations here, from the little I’ve observed, seem easier and the blacks I’ve seen more relaxed in their bodies and less wary.  I’ve heard this from black friends, that race in the south is an understood reality not shied away from like a bad odor as is often the case in the north.

Over the next few days, here in Montgomery and Prattville, then on the way home, I’m going to explore this discomfort, see what in me creates this response.  It may be the undercurrents of southern culture that exist in my own life.  I was raised on greens, cornbread and ham.  Pecan pie and sugar cream pie.  I say, ‘preciate that and thank youuu.  The south reaches well into Indiana and my mom came from the southern central part of the state.  Don’t understand, but I will, or won’t.

Swollen Muddy And Fast

90  Sunny, hazy   Airquality alert in Nashville.  Suggested:  Limit trips.

The deep south is close.  Tennessee was one of the upper slave holding states at the beginning of the civil war and did not secede with the lower south states of South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and tomorrow’s destination, Alabama.  

Murfeesboro, Tennessee has the Stones River Civil War Battlefield. 

Today’s journey was and is hot.  As the road pushed further into southern Illinois, there were signs for college majors in coal mining.  Carbondale, home of Southern Illinois University was in the vicinity.  These are also unglaciated limestone hills sitting atop layers of plant life from the Carboniferous, now black and concentrated into veins of coal.  Heat and coal and the underground, the cthonic realms go together.

The Ohio river, the mighty Ohio, flexed its muscles today, swollen muddy and fast.  It was over its banks and looked like it would get higher.  This is a big river and where it feeds into the Mississippi multiplies the river we call the Father of Waters. 

Kentucky, which never seceded and therefore allowed Union access to the south side of the Ohio, continues, in the main, the rolling limestone hills in southern Illinois.  

Paducah, home of the National Quilter’s Museum and the only place in the US creating nuclear fuel for electricity generation from out of date Russian weapons (literally swords into plowshare), is not far from the bridge over the Ohio.

At Russert’s, a woman named Keeum (Kim) took mah ordah.  Cahtfeesh.  She was real nice.  She gave me a to go order of iced tea.  Good food.  Boy, the folks must like it down here, it’s roly polyville.

Nashville had a freeway down, but there was a quick way around the bottle neck and I found it.  Cities do not draw me in as they once did.  I find myself more interested in the quiet, secluded setting and Murfeesboro, though a city, does not intrude too much out here near the Stones River Battlefield.  I’ll go there in the morning, then scoot on down to Prattville and the Plantation Bed and Breakfast.

I finished a 24 lecture course on the American Revolution in the 11 plus hours I drove yesterday.  A nice setup for the 48 lecture course I began today on the Civil War.  Fits right in with the trip.

A Summer Meander

                      67 bar steady  29.75  2mph NW  dew-point 53  Beltane, sunny

                                           Waxing Gibbous Flower Moon   

On the road again.  In under an hour I’m off to hotter, wetter, more flooded climes.  Traveling in the summer has many thing going against it:  high gas prices (this time, Yikes!), crowds, heat and stormy weather.   The shoulder seasons are optimal for travel:  March-May and September-October.  Summer does have two things going for it.  Life slows down a bit and school is out.

The two teacher family of Jon and Jen planned their kids so the births would occur at or near the end of the school year.  That put Gabe’s bris in June.  The Ellis cousin reunions are always in July.   Joseph’s OTS graduation could have been at another time, but it isn’t.  All this means three trips during less than optimal travel conditions.  The destination is the key, though I try to make the journey count, too.

Sometime in the next year or two I plan a third circle tour of Lake Superior.  This is nice to do in October, resorts have closed and crowds are minimal.  The air is cool and in the more southerly parts of the trip autumn provides great background color.  Also, I’ve decided on a dedicated trip to Gettysburg and a couple of the other battlefields I’ve not seen, like Bull Run.  This will be a fall trip as well.

Today though is for the south, a drop almost straight south, a bit of veer to the east, ending very close to the Gulf of Mexico.  Mobile is the site of a naval engagement during the Civil War, the Battle of Mobile Bay.  The way I have it paced I’ll take two days plus to get to Prattville where I stay at the Plantation Bed and Breakfast. 

After that, don’t know.  I may wander a bit through Mississippi, perhaps stop in New Madrid, Mo. again, epicenter of the largest earthquake in U.S. history.  It flattened buildings in St. Louis and was felt as far away as Boston.  Church bells rang throughout the center of the country.  Part of the fun of this kind of trip is the unknown destination, the freedom to meander. 

BYW  The Meander, a notoriously winding river, ran from the Turkish (then Greek) countryside near Ephesus to the Aegean.

June 2017
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