Thursday, June 27, 2013

Travel Post 2: The River

The River

So we are stranded in Hannibal, Missouri, for two nights, because a small crack in our windshield rapidly spread across our view, as the vibration of the overhead cargo hold in crosswinds encouraged it along. We were rushing, it’s true, to get to Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, trying to travel from the amazing IDA community (of which I will write more later) in Smithville, Tennessee, to Rutledge Missouri in a day. With a toddler. Bad idea.

But we made the good decision to not continue on into the night, watching the crack spread. We stopped at the Best Western here, and today we took the Mark Twain Riverboat tour around the Mississippi River for an hour. Tomorrow the glass folks will have a replacement piece for our car, and hopefully we will get to Des Moines by dinner. We’ll see.

The Mississippi River is a wonder. Hannibal, which prides itself to a fault on its hometown to Mark Twain status—Mark Twain Museum, Riverboat, Fried Chicken, is missing something, as one of the many small towns on this giant’s shores. As we chugged along on the riverboat excursion, I could feel the roiling weight of the river, and as Forrest spoke at one point, ‘I can feel it moving.’  The river is alive in a way that seems unbeatable. And believe me, I believe we humans have tried.

The tour guide told us that the locks were to be closed tomorrow, because the floodwaters are coming—again. Once the locks close, the businesses and building on the other side are ignored, the railroad is abandoned-- the river wins. Islands in the river are covered with water yearly, and the famous Twain Island of Huck Finn fame has been flooded four times already this year. There were also many mentions of the flood of 1993, when the river was 17 feet above the normal range.

The river wins.

But something happened to me on that tourist boat, so close to the brown god below us, looking out at an ancient landscape so fundamental to this country, to the history and culture this country birthed, and is still forming, still struggling through. Something that I had not let in for a long time, and something that caught me so surprised and humbled, and well—I felt happy. Looking at my family, gazing out over the water. I felt happy.

And the tears came, at the gratitude and awe that I got here, finally feeling the freedom of letting go of a life I no longer wanted, and finding that what I truly wanted most stuck around. I no longer had to think that I had to suffer for my happiness. And that in fact I did not have to prove myself worthy of this love and life, fear for its destruction, or defend it from the avarice of others. I get this life, and this is the life I want. And I found this, today on the Mark Twain Riverboat.

So thank God(ess) for the broken windshield and the river and the chance to live this life. And as the quotation from Twain on the wall at the Mark Twain Dinette told me today:
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

Travel Post 1: Mountains

I'm traveling for the summer, and am posting about my experiences, as they occur to me. I will post as often as I have internet access. Welcome to a life unhinged......
We are driving away from West Virginia, where we spent the weekend visiting with extended family and re-connecting with my partner’s fathers childhood in Huntington. I hadn’t thought much about this, our first stop on our trip, at all, instead focusing on the hours it would take to drive, the last push to get out of Westtown School. We did it, right on time, and managed to get to the Comfort Inn of Barboursville, adjacent to the Huntington Mall, in time for dinner on Friday.

The inn itself was a jarring reminder of what we were visiting. Truly a concrete jungle, the Huntington Mall stretches at least 50 acres, nestled in a ring of West Virginia mountains. The heat coming off the parking lot as we walked to dinner at Olive Garden was oppressive. The early morning jog I managed around the perimeter of the mall worked only because it was before sunrise. A few abandoned cars, or worse, cars with folks sleeping in them, smattered the giant grid of parking lines. It was surreal to say the least.

The family reunion was motivated by a cousin looking for his roots, in the face of the smallness of his immediate family. Four years ago, Paul sidled up to Milton, WV, on his hog, called over to Jeff Carter, his only contact, and started the journey of re-connection with this slice of land that, unbeknownst to me, is in my partner’s blood.

I really didn’t prepare for this trip. The depression of Huntington and Milton and Barboursville came like waves of nostalgia, reminding me of the depression of mid-80s Providence, Rhode Island, where I grew up.  Empty storefronts, the specter of industry and business, the population of Huntington currently half of what it was when Norman’s father was growing up in the 1940s and 1950s.

And more, the sense of pressure and brilliance of memory. I asked Norman’s father if he was enjoying the visit, as we wandered through Ritter Park, and he let me know there was a dual sense of the powerful memory of his childhood, and the pressure and tension of knowing that Huntington is much diminished from his time there. He let me know that for a time he had the sense of being attracted and repelled by moving back, and had the very common and compelling desire to regress into his childhood sense of safety, returning to his mother’s arms, safe as houses.

But he recognized the risk of regression and chose to lead a life unhinged from this place that holds the names of his ancestors on mausoleum wall and park title. Though the deep history calls, and he returns every couple of years. 

Visiting like this, given these broad swaths of information, was overwhelming, as we roasted in our mall adjacent Comfort Inn. The ring of mountains that witnessed the excess and decay of Barbourville seemed a rebuke that left me feeling like my sweat was from some unnamed shame, instead of the very normal heat ramped up by concrete. 

But that's too simple a judgment. At the reunion I attended, until my son called me back to frustrated napping attempts, I was struck by the bigness of the Carter family, and its location. Although there are slices of this extended family chaos that is as far flung as Alaska, Colorado, Massachusetts-- the largest grouping, hand over fist, is in the Huntington area. This family is this family because of the land on which they stand, and keeps them naming themselves as a part.   The history I witness, I now find myself a part of, lives in the land, the places and names themselves. This family is sacred, and deserves a place, a life if its own, in the land from where we come. 

We all come from these mountains, these places that are rare and precious, and endangered. These places live their sacred roles, their profane manifestations, as do we, as we live on and in these lands. The land is we, and we are the land. No matter how much concrete we chuck over it, or depressions we visit on its communities. Life wants to live, and all parts are in the river. 

I didn’t prepare for this trip, but family found me on it. Amen. Amen. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013


It's been quite awhile since I've posted. Major life changes are underway, and in the middle of change, I often get stuck. Stuck in writing, stuck in feeling. Overwhelm does not produce eloquence.

The truth is I am leaving the state, the relationships, the communities with whom I have the most connection, the most satisfaction, the best possibility of fulfillment. And we are moving up the coast to the land that calls to us, the lifestyle that we dream of, the reality we want to make.

I wish we could do it in Pennsylvania, and know that we cannot. Family resources make it possible for us to make the move to Vermont, and family is what calls us back to our New England roots. This call is not without its challenges, its risk, of course. But the call needs response, and we are ready to do it.  And so, a summer of travel and visiting, presenting at the FGC Gathering in July, family on Cape Cod and Alaska, and finally we land in Vermont in mid-August-- just in time to prep some beds and plant 10 pounds of garlic.

Our dream is to grow food on the land, building soil and community, finding the quiet and space for relationships and family that we hunger for. Our dream is to live differently then the powerful and persistent race-of-the-rat that has so thoroughly hoodwinked us all into believing that someone else owns our time. Our dream is to move beyond the mediated life of the work-a-day, and into direct confrontation with what is.

Along those lines, I have been enjoying completely re-listening to The Dispossessed, by Ursula Le Guin, as I do my last bits of work on the farm I have been cultivating these past six years. This book is a revelation whenever I encounter it. One of the most powerful things that stays with me is the awareness of reality connected to the centrality of self-determination as expressed in a utopian anarchist society.

This is most directly expressed in the protagonists experience, as an anarchist, of visiting a highly polarized capitalist society. The protagonist-- a revolutionary physicist limited by his anarchist society, named Shevek-- travels to the home world from which the anarchists had fled, in order to explore his physics in intellectual freedom, in order to keep a sense of revolution alive in a complacent society. What Shevek notices clearly at one point on this highly polarized, classed, and capitalist world, is both the proliferation of and invisibility-in-plain-sight of excrement. Excrement-- human shit. Excrement-- human excess. Excrement-- art that is propaganda, distraction, drug. Excrement-- life without center, without purpose.  Excrement to Shevek is real, part of life and necessarily something to be dealt with. But outside of the reality-loving society from which he comes, this is stuff that is pushed out of sight to the marginalized classes, and the results are bizarre to him.

Oh how this book makes me see our own society with new eyes, and my path with critical awareness. One of the issues that is so crucial in our farm project is compost. Where will we put it? What will we put in it? Water is an issue, we don't want to put it too close to well or upstream from pond. And location matters because we want it close enough so we can monitor it, use it, maybe easily add our own waste to it, as we get better at tending to its heat. I want to be up close and personal with this excrement that will make our gardens grow. I want to know this compost like the back of my hand, and know the value in all its forms.

And so I hope for the ability to see the excrement all around me, and to see its value, its reality. As I unhinge from a lifestyle of rush and tumble, reach and strive, I want to see all of life as it is, and not hide behind the structures that would keep life from me.