“Pen” Is a Verb Too–But “Addiction” Is Only a Noun

Back when my sons were young enough to go shopping with me, they used to work together to protect me from myself. Especially at places like Office Depot.

“Stay out of the pens section, Mom,” they would warn. “You know you don’t need more.”

Ahhhh…pens! Ink pens, in rainbow colors! How do I love thee? Let me count the ways brands.

When I was little, maybe 7-9, I loved those felt-tipped Flairs the best. I used them to draw. My drawings tended to feature the four Queens and Kings from the Narnia series–Lucy, Edmund, Susan and Peter Pevensie–with myself drawn in for good measure. Queen Gretchen. Every one of us outfitted in rich, royal colors. Sorry, I didn’t keep any of those drawings, but here are the Flairs…

Back then I bought these pens one at a time. A pack like this would have sent me into paroxysms.

Then I started journaling. As I’ve blogged about in the past, “journal” may not be an official verb yet, but it is to me! I started in 1975, and now, 44 years later, I’m still going.

A couple years of my life in here…

Flairs, I decided, weren’t as great for writing as they were for drawing. That’s when Sheaffer cartridge pens entered my life.

Remember these beauties? (Photo courtesy of Harvey Levine, MyAntiquePens.com)

Oh, those colors! Peacock Blue, Emerald Green…that delicious, chocolately Brown. My favorite journaling moments in those days involved switching colors when one cartridge ran empty, then watching the gradation of hues cross the page with my thoughts.

But boy, did I have some inky fingers in those days. And I doubt my teachers were too thrilled with my peacock-blue blots.

Somewhere along the line, though, the Sheaffers’ negative outweighed their glorious positives. Too many leaks, ink explosions, stained fingers. I got practical.

In my post on Journaling from 2013, I sang the praises of the Uniball. I still love those, but for more uniform, blot-free, downright sexy flow across the page, I now pledge my allegiance to the Pilot P-700.

Purple, and green? Be still, my heart!

After buying myself this multicolor pack, I had to go get my latest notebook and write. Did I have anything profound to say? Nope. I just lusted after the feel of that inky page-skating. And guess what? I got to capture that moment, if for no other reason than to laugh at myself a few years hence.

Don’t we all need a little more self-mockery in our lives?

Yeah…but now I’m gonna need a bigger steamer trunk.

Do you have a favorite pen, or paper for that matter? What writing implements speed up your heart?

Athletes and Other Workers During Ramadan: This Non-Muslim Woman Takes Her Hat Off To You

“Come in here and take a look at this,” The Mate called from the living room where he was watching the NBA finals from the seat of his exercise bike.

“That guy,” he indicated one of the Toronto Raptors jockeying for a shot, “is Muslim. He’s doing all this while fasting. He’s not even drinking water!”

“That guy” is Enes Kanter, a Turkish player born in Switzerland, who’s been playing in the NBA since 2011. Kanter is a devout Muslim. This time of year, that fact carries extra meaning.

The holy month of Ramadan began on May 5. During Ramadan, devout Muslims refrain from eating or drinking anything, even water, from before dawn to after sunset. Since Ramadan is a celestially-based holiday, its dates rotate around the calendar. Sometimes Ramadan falls in the winter, and the fasting period is relatively short. But sometimes–like now–it falls in spring or summer, when daylight can last up to 18 hours.

Eat up! This has to last you 18 hours.

I watched, fascinated. All the athletes were sweating profusely, as athletes do. During breaks, they sat on the bench sucking from their Gatorade bottles. All but one. 

I’ve often wondered about people who work in the hot sun at jobs like construction, landscaping, or road work. How do they get through their challenging work days, day after day, for a month?

I haven’t yet taken the time to pursue the question as it relates to workers per se. But since I started with professional athletes, this article by Shireen Ahmed for Buzzfeednews.com, “Here’s How 15 Hardcore Athletes Train During Ramadan,” provided some answers. 

All the athletes focused on preparing their bodies carefully during suhoor, the pre-dawn meal, and iftar, the post-sunset meal. Protein and potassium were the main components, along with necessary sugar. Hydration was, as you might imagine, absolutely essential.

Get in there, vitamins! I need you!

Take a moment and think about that: not only are you going about your day of hot, sweaty, exhausting work with zero drinking, you are also getting up at four a.m. in order to prepare your body.

Besides the actual diet, however, the most striking theme from the 15 interviewed athletes was the power of their faith to get them through each work day.

Ahmed’s article features Indira Kaljo, a former Division 1 NCAA basketball player, describing the difficulty of playing while fasting:

“The biggest challenge was waiting through the water breaks. Those minutes were very difficult. The second [most difficult] thing was the late nights and then having to practice daily feeling exhausted.” The most powerful thing that helped her get through the month? “Prayer. I used prayer.”

Nadia Nadim,  a professional soccer player in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) with the  Portland Thorns FC, who also plays for Denmark’s national women’s team, :fasts on training days but not on match days. ‘I know my body can’t handle it,’ she says, because hydration and nutrition dictate her performance.”

I KNOW, right??!!

And yet: athletes do fast on game days. Workers do fast on work days. Instead of nutrition and hydration each day, they take prayer, and faith. And they give faith back to the rest of us who watch in awe.

Manal Rostom, a professional mountaineer from Egypt,

“sees Ramadan as a month to push through with a positive mental attitude. She says that colleagues praise her efforts to teach and work out during Ramadan, but she remains grounded. ‘[They] don’t get how easy it becomes once you reset your mind to literally just do it. You will survive. Fasting trains you to become a better human being.'”

You guys are my heroes. Need some pie for iftar?

I’m not Muslim. But I recognize strength and goodness when I see it. And I mean this with all intended ironic humor when I say, “My hat is off.” Thanks for the example.

On Hugs: Embracing Ambivalence

I live in a very huggy place. S.O.P. for greeting folks you know is a good, solid hug, and even if a first-time intro miiiiight include only a handshake, by the time you’re saying goodbye to your new acquaintance, welcome back to Hugsville.

This happens to be fine with me. But I can’t help but wonder, what about people for whom hugging is NOT fine? I know a few who, in a group, go along with the hugs, but I can feel that their body isn’t into it.

Why, I ask myself, should it have to be?

Hugs are supposed to be a physical demonstration of mutual affection.

Like this. [Photo by Edward Eyer, courtesy Pexels.]

But if someone’s preference for affection-demonstrating takes other forms than physical;

if, gods forbid, they might not be feeling all that affectionate;

or if they have ANY other reason that’s nobody else’s business why they don’t want someone’s arms wrapped around them in that moment–

shouldn’t they have a right to excuse themselves without being uncomfortable?

I don’t have a specific solution to this situation, except perhaps this: When thinking of hugging someone you’re not sure wants to be hugged…

…use the ancient, tried-and-true handclasp as default.

While clasping, make eye contact.

Use those ol’ windows-to-the-soul to look for clues: encouragement to move into full hug-mode? Or keep it right there?

“Oof…I wish she’d stuck with the handshake!” [Photo by Amanda44, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

What do you guys think?

“Sleeping Cuties:” When Your Scientist Father’s Life Work Makes You Go “Wow!” But Also, “Awww…”

I’ve written before about my father’s work at the Duke Lemur Center. But never before has the mainstream media captured that work so clearly for us laypeople. And I have to say, I’m feeling a little conflicted.

On the one hand, my dad is a Serious Scientist who’s spent his life doing Serious Science. His past subjects have ranged from elephant seals to domestic and feral goats to reef fish to, yes, lemurs. (Which is why he is a co-founder of the Duke Lemur Center in my hometown, Durham, North Carolina.) His work has taken him all over the world, most notably to Madagascar, where lemurs live. This particular study has to do with understanding primate brains, with an eye to everything from surgery to long-range space travel. SERIOUS STUFF.

But on the other hand…these animals are really stinkin’ CUTE!

Now, thanks to this episode of Science Friday, created by Luke Groskin and Johanna Mayer, his research is easy to explain…and it’s also ridiculously adorable. I don’t really know what to do with that. But I guess if Dr. Serious Scientist Peter Klopfer can handle his subjects’ cuteness, so can I. Enjoy!

National Poetry Month And Morning Meditations: A Happy Confluence

I agree with my friend, author Iris Graville: “EVERY month is poetry month.” But I especially appreciate her post, “30 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month,” for its reminder of a convention I’ve been trying to lure myself back into: memorizing a poem. (That’s #4 on Iris’s list.)

When I was a kid, my dad would pay me and my sisters a dollar for each poem memorized. Go ahead, ask me to recite “I’m Nobody” or “Jabberwocky”! I still got ’em.

No one’s offering cash right now, but the rewards of having poetry in your head are undeniable. It’s SUCH a better response to the daily noise of ugly news than going, “la la la, can’t hear you!”  And, as I wrote in my last post, I’ve been starting my day with a poem since the election of 2016. If reading poetry works, how much more so memorizing? What a glorious way to start your day, with words of beauty coming out of your own mouth!

How my brain feels when NOT insulated and reinforced by poetry.

Incidentally, my other response to the “daily noise” and its lure toward tribalism has been to immerse myself in the words of bridge-builders. Relying heavily on Krista Tippett’s podcast, “On Being,” I spend at least an hour a week listening to people talk about how they’ve bridged terrible divides in their lives, or healed themselves or others, or found practices that lead toward the community they envision.

So I love the serendipity of finding this poem by Pádraig Ó Tuama in last week’s “On Being.” It offers me all three prizes at once: a beautiful, heart-opening meditation with which to start the day; a way to turn my sights toward hope and away from cynicism; and a path toward the kind of bridge-building thinking I want in my own head.

Pádraig Ó Tuama is a good guy to listen to, regardless of any hoped-for outcome. According to his “On Being” bio, he’s “a poet, theologian, and extraordinary healer in our world of fracture. He leads the Corrymeela community of Northern Ireland, a place that has offered refuge since the violent division that defined that country until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.”

He’s also extremely Christian, which I am not. But I’ve long since found a way to put my own meanings on the names “Jesus” and “God,” so they don’t stop me. If you find that they do, in this poem, I encourage you to substitute other words that work better. I’m sure Pádraig wouldn’t mind.

Here, then, is his poem.

“Neither I nor the poets I love found the keys to the kingdom of prayer and we cannot force God to stumble over us where we sit. But I know that it’s a good idea to sit anyway. So every morning I sit, I kneel, waiting, making friends with the habit of listening, hoping that I’m being listened to. There, I greet God in my own disorder. I say hello to my chaos, my unmade decisions, my unmade bed, my desire and my trouble. I say hello to distraction and privilege, I greet the day and I greet my beloved and bewildering Jesus. I recognize and greet my burdens, my luck, my controlled and uncontrollable story. I greet my untold stories, my unfolding story, my unloved body, my own love, my own body. I greet the things I think will happen and I say hello to everything I do not know about the day. I greet my own small world and I hope that I can meet the bigger world that day. I greet my story and hope that I can forget my story during the day, and hope that I can hear some stories, and greet some surprising stories during the long day ahead. I greet God, and I greet the God who is more God than the God I greet.

Hello to you all, I say, as the sun rises above the chimneys of North Belfast.

Hello.”

I don’t have a photo of the sun rising above the chimneys of North Belfast. But here’s a photo of the view from my own rooftop, which is a bit more apropos, isn’t it?

Hello.

I’ll be working on memorizing these lines for probably the rest of the month, maybe beyond. But who cares? Isn’t every month Poetry Month?

A Writer’s Greatest Gifts: Time and Critique. So Why Not Writeaway?

Taking the ferry home from the Orcas Island LitFest last weekend, I could not get to my notebook fast enough. Twenty hours of writer-panels (I wasn’t able to attend the full weekend) had left my brain so full of ideas and challenges for my own writing that I could hardly speak to anyone. Now, a week’s worth of hard writing work later (journaling, deep character background, pitch practice, scene revision, and everything in between), I am so grateful for the chance to have attended.

And I want to remind my fellow writers of what a self-gift it is to stop, drop and enroll in SOMETHING every now and then, just to realign the wheels (and unmix the metaphors). Literary festivals are great for this. Writing conferences, even better.

But best of all…if you can afford it…is a Writeaway. Keep reading, and I’ll tell you why you can afford it.

First of all, what is a Writeaway? It’s a Writing Getaway–the brainchild of my friends and fellow writers, Mimi Herman and John Yewell. In the words of their website, “We provide writing instruction, fabulous food and company in beautiful places, and a safe place for you to take a writing vacation with your muse, and maybe a good friend.”

Yes, you read that right: Writing instruction. Fabulous food. Beautiful location. Support, personalized critique, a new writing community. Time to work…and do all those things my own brain needed to do after only 20 hours at a LitFest.

In case you need some creds: Mimi & John are better than good writers; they are passionate teachers of writing. (Big difference, right?) Mimi is the 2017 North Carolina Piedmont Laureate and a Kennedy Center Teaching Artist. Since 1990, she has engaged over 25,000 students with her warm and insightful teaching. A Warren Wilson MFA alum, her writing has appeared in The Carolina Quarterly, Michigan Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, Crab Orchard Review, The Hollins Critic and other journals.John is a writer and editor with an MFA in fiction from San Francisco State University and twenty years of experience in journalism.

John & Mimi: ready to read, write & listen (and drink wine)

The shiniest, most awe-inspiring Writeaways of Mimi and John are held in castles in France and Italy, like these:

OK, you can close your mouth and get back to writing now. Dinner’s at six.

But they also offer domestic Writeaways in North Carolina, where they live.

Carolina-ish enough for ya?

Don’t live in North Carolina or feel like flying there? Mimi & John also offer the best choice of all (in my opinion): a Build-your-own Writeaway. 

“Have you ever dreamed of getting away to your favorite place to write – with friends and family, your writing group, your book club, high school pals, or colleagues from your creative writing program? Choose your own adventure and we’ll arrange housing, workshops, conferences, and fabulous food and drink for you and four or more of your favorite people. Let us know a little about yourself, and we’ll start planning.”

I can kind of, SORT of, imagine what it might be like to read the above and NOT think: HEAVEN! Yeah, I suppose some writers are the solitary type–and bless them. 

But if your Muse comes alive with a little stimulation BEFORE the necessary writerly solitude…oh, my. Why wouldn’t you consider a Build-your-own Writeaway?

Because of the cost, you say. Of COURSE there’s a cost. But Mimi & John are so passionate about what they do, they’re willing to work with writers to keep the budget as modest as possible. No castles. No fancy digs. Homemade meals. Whatever it takes to get you there. The time, expertise and inspiration is what you’d be paying for. If you’ve ever gone to a writing conference and come away thinking, “Well, about half of the workshops were worthwhile,” the Writeaway is the perfect answer, because it’s all tailored to YOU.

So I encourage you to check out this Writeaway Link for yourself. (And just in case you’re wondering, no, I’m not being paid to advertise. I’m just a big Mimi & John fan.)

If you do end up doing yourself the favor of signing up, though–please drop my name! We’ll all be thrilled. 

When Routine Is Anything But: Finding A Daily Path That Requires Open Eyes

Hey, welcome back to Wing’s World in its non-travel-blog iteration. If you’re hoping to read about travel adventures, sorry–you’ll have to wait till my next trip. THIS entry is about the art of staying home, one day after the next.

Home, for me, begins with a ferry ride.

If I were still teaching school, finding a daily routine would be no struggle; the struggle, as all teachers (and students, and parents) know, is keeping your head above water enough to teach/learn/communicate/eat/sleep/repeat with some minimal effectiveness. In my 20 years of teaching, I got all the news I needed during my commute.

As a former teacher, however, employed in one part-time, manual-labor job and one completely non-paying, artistic one, the idea of routine is usually just that: an idea. I gave up commuting, but I was fine with creating my own balance of baking and writing and keeping vague touch with the rest of the country for the first several years of my post-teaching life. Then came the election of 2016, and the real illusion was revealed: that America was on the right path, that Dr. King’s good ol’ Arc of Justice was bending appropriately.

Since that time I, like a lot of my White friends, have been working hard to re-educate myself in American reality, recognizing my own unwitting but comfortable complicity in helping make Trumpmerica possible. Routine is long gone as I cast about for the best way to make of myself a better instrument, a better citizen.

Going back to teaching is a decision I have moved beyond. I’m too deeply immersed in my writing career to be willing to sacrifice it, and too respectful of both jobs to be able to do justice to both at once. So I work at the bakery I continue to love, and fill my non-baking, non-writing time with a slew of different types of volunteer activity. This makes for a ragged schedule. I rather like the variety of my days…after breakfast. It’s that first hour that, since 2016, has really gotten to me.

See, my Mate is an early riser, and starts his day with a workout. Which he does in front of the TV, watching the news. He keeps the volume low, but our living room lies between our bedroom and kitchen. So by the time I’ve prepared my tea and sat down with my cereal, I’ve had, willy-nilly, an injection of CNN that makes my stomach hurt.

How I don’t want to start my day: angry, defeated, cynical, self-berating.

How I do want to start my day: hopeful, inspired, open-eyed, empathetic, challenged.

I’m lucky to live in a place where the scenery itself can inspire. But this view is NOT available to me first thing in the morning; it takes a 25-minute drive to the ferry dock. Not to mention clear skies.

Here are some steps I’ve taken to try to shape that first hour:*

  1. Hum to myself to drown out any CNN until my tea kettle does it for me.
  2. Before turning on my computer, re-read the poem I read yesterday from the collection of poetry I keep on the kitchen table. (Currently: Seamus Heaney.) Then read a new poem. (By this time CNN is a mumble in the background, nothing my brain cares about.)
  3. Turn on my computer, but before going to email, read some news stories. Lately, after finding myself turning to BBC, NPR and the Christian Science Monitor to escape CNN’s Trump focus, I decided to subscribe to the good old “failing” New York Times. The story that really got me today was about the escalation of violence against women in Honduras.
  4. Again, before email, I look at the weather forecasts, not just for Lopez Island, but for the whole country. I try to imagine how different people are being affected in different states and regions. (Road trips help with this–we know a lot of folks in a lot of different states and regions!)
  5. OK, now it’s time for email, Facebook, all that delicious focus on ME and my near-and-dear, or far-and-dear. But because I started with the bigger picture, it stays with me in perimeter even as my focus narrows. And because of the poetry, my brain feels brighter, my noticing muscles primed to do their job.

*on baking mornings, which start around 3 a.m., this routine is foreshortened, of course. I don’t need to worry about the Mate’s news habits; I’m actually up before him. But I spend the first ten minutes of my ride (if biking) or my drive, saying the names of people in need of special attention and love–anyone from an ill neighbor to, for example, the people of Puerto Rico.

I have tried, by the way, to internalize this kind of empathic meditation and make it part of my day when I’m not leaving for the bakery. But I haven’t yet found a place and time that feels natural. Still a work in progress.

“No man is an island, let that be my prayer/ no matter how alluring be the shore…”

Because of that, I would love to hear of other people’s routines. What special things do you do to start your day off on the right foot, for both brain and soul? 

 

Road Trip IX, Days 41-43, Moab to Lopez Island: Home! (And the Sisterhood of the Traveling Avocados)

After missing us for six weeks, our home was so happy to see us, it lit up its own windows with sunset.

Aww…we feel the same way!

19 states. 72 close friends/family members.  I’ve lost count of hikes and bike rides, but I can trace our route through the generosity of my cousins, who sent us on our way from L.A. with a bagful of avocados from their tree.

Thanks, cuzzes!

As the traveling avocados ripened, they graced our meals, most of which I managed to capture before gobbling. We started with leftover Vietnamese food in a motel in Mesa, Arizona:

Gluten free!

Next up: our avocados went camping in the Chiricahuas of SE Arizona.

…like camping NEEDS avocados, right? Turns out, it does!

Then they accompanied a salad at our friends’ in Dallas,

…making up in advance for all the greasy food we intend to eat in North Carolina!

and enjoyed a night in a sweet State Park cabin in Alabama:

Quick, before the squirrels show up!

Our avocados reached their culinary zenith at our friends’ in Asheville; Ben cooks the best food on the planet, and the guacamole just went along for the ride.

You have no idea.

So numerous were the avocados, they lasted into our return trip, where they appeared in a cameo on some curry in the Land Between the Lakes of Kentucky.

Thanks, cuzzes!

I did, of course, pay attention to more than just food on this trip. And now that I’m home, instead of playing my traditional game of “Best Of,” I’m just going to share some random Discoveries.

Discovery #1: Even when you’re going somewhere sunny and southerly, that white stuff can still follow!

approaching Los Angeles

Sunny, snowy?! saguaros in Tucson

Discovery #2: Disasters are much, much worse on the ground than they appear on television.

remnants from the Woolsey Fire in Malibu

Discovery #3: Apparently I am so immature, I can find delight in another athlete’s shoe explosion in a big game. (Oh, don’t worry, Zion Williamson is just fine!)

Photo credit–and cake credit!–to my friend and fellow Tarheel fan, Cynny Scott

Discovery #4: the Organ Peaks of Las Cruces, NM!

Where have you been all these road trips?

Discovery #5: The Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas has an ADORABLE Mardi Gras parade.

Aww…they probably ran out of time to finish decorating, but hey–viva recycling!

Discovery #6: the Missouri Bluffs section of Missouri’s Katy Trail

the Mate meets the Mighty Mo

Discovery #7: I thought I didn’t care for llamas. Turns out I care a lot for BABY llamas!

OMG, those eyelashes!

I won’t list “there’s no place like home” as a discovery, because I already knew that. And it remains just as true as ever. Thank you, Red Rover, thank you friends & family, and thank you, my Mate, for all that driving!

Home.

Wing’s World now morphs back into its regular, irregular, non-travel-blog self. Please keep visiting!

 

 

Road Trip IX, Days 38-40, Denver to Moab: Mecca’s Crowded–Who Knew?

By now you’re probably tired of hearing me talk about sandstone. Too bad.  So far on Road Trip IX, I haven’t had the pleasure of talking about RED sandstone.

This stuff!

After zipping across western Kansas and eastern Colorado (please somebody tell me something interesting about western Kansas or eastern Colorado!), we spent the night with a friend in Denver. Full disclosure: this stop was in full Carolina Tarheel Fan Mode, not our usual Outdoor Adventurers In Search Of the Ultimate Bike Path or Hike Mode. Our friend is from Chapel Hill. Together we ate pizza and happily whooped the Tarheels into the Round of 32. Mission Accomplished.

Next day we braved the passes of I-70 through the Rockies, blessing the weather gods and Colorado DOT for keeping the roads clear, even though the roadsides looked like this:

11,000+ feet, 20 degrees…and 55 mph!

Safely on the other side, temperatures back in the 40s, we took a recreational stop at Grand Junction’s not-so-hidden treasure, Colorado National Monument. We’ve camped there before, and know that its red sandstone towers and hollows and who-knows-what-to-call-its are the equal of anything outside of Arches National Park. We didn’t have the time to go deep into the park, but a single swift hike through the very corner yielded this:

“The Devil’s Kitchen”

Inside The Devil’s Kitchen. The Devil has some cool appliances!

After that, we said goodbye and thanks to Colorado, and zipped on down to Mecca Moab, Utah.

Why do I call it Mecca? Because Moab is the holy city for people of The Mate’s and my religion, The Church of the Great, Dirty, Sweaty Outdoors. In Moab, every other car looks like ours.

Red Rover says, “Finally! I’m one of the cool kids here!”

Wheels, wheels, wheels! Granted, some are attached to monster engines on scary-looking jeeps and ATVs. But most are some form of bike. And even those folks who aren’t there to ride around on something are still there to play hard and get dirty.

These families are climbing this super-steep red dune to race and slide back down. That could be the definition of cheap thrills.

While patiently waiting for the Heels to play their Round 2 game, we delighted ourselves with bike rides and hikes in some of the most perfect, astounding, God-given terrain available to mankind. Now when I say bike rides, I do NOT mean this:

I’m sure mountain biking is fun. I’m equally sure that I would kill myself if I tried to do it.

I mean this–this amazing trail that runs all the way from the rim of the valley,

Yes!!!! 7% grade…but the scenery takes your mind off the grind.

through town, and along the Colorado for who knows how many more miles (I had to turn around before finding out).

Sun started disappearing. Scenery stuck around.

As for hiking, well…the entrance to Arches National Park was two miles from the campground we were staying in. And if you don’t know Arches…

…please allow me to introduce you! This is the famous Landscape Arch.

And this is Balanced Rock. Not sure where the name comes from.

Pine Tree Arch is one of my favorites, mostly because it’s off the main trail. We actually had it to ourselves!

My hope was, if the weather was decent, we could spend a night camping after having safely seen our beloved team into the Sweet 16. (Pause for wild cheering from Tarheel Nation.) But stupidly, I’d been so deeply enjoying the fact of all these other fans of the Great Red Outdoors, I’d missed the obvious: those fellow red-rockers were our competitors for camping spaces. And unlike us, they’d been smart enough to make reservations. Months in advance, probably. The Arches campground was, of course, FULL FULL FULL.

You–keep walkin’.

So much for my “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” image of “I wanna sleep with you in the desert tonight/With a million stars all around.” Yes, there are first-come, first-served BLM campgrounds scattered about, but you can camp in those for up to two weeks. What were we supposed to do, hang around all day waiting on the off chance of being there when someone pulled up their tent stakes? C’mon! We have trails to hike, basketball games to watch!

No room at the inn for these ol’ lovebirds.

So…Irony. The very thing that draws us to Moab–the joyous celebration of its dirty, sweaty beauty–prevents us from engaging in that highest of ceremonies, spontaneous camping. Yeah, I suppose we could’ve acted like our younger selves and just pulled off the road somewhere to pitch our tent. But in the Church of the Great, Dirty, Sweaty Outdoors, I guess these days we’re those Establishment types who claim front pews. Next time, if I possibly can…I’m making reservations!

One last morning hike before we have to go… 😦

Road Trip IX, Days 33-37, Kentucky to Kansas: Bluff Buffs, Sharing Our Love of Sandstone

Since this is Road Trip #9, you can imagine how many times The Mate and I have crossed Kansas. But Kentucky, not so much. We’ve generally passed either above or below it; the big interstates make it fairly easy to miss. But this year we went to eastern Kentucky, on purpose, for two reasons.

Reason #1: St. Patrick’s Day was our 40th anniversary, and we wanted a pretty place to spend the night, plus a kitchen for me to make the Reuben sandwiches we’ve been eating together ever since March 17, 1979.

Thus: Natural Bridge State Resort Park.

Ooooh.

Pretty place with kitchen: check.

Reubens: check. (Roasted Brussels sprouts weren’t a thing 40 years ago…but they are now!)

I’ll be honest: the culture of eastern Kentucky makes me uncomfortable. In these polarized times, it’s hard not to imagine people looking askance at our scruffy Subaru, and The Mate’s ponytail. It’s hard not to wonder how we’d be received if we were a gay couple, or people of color. I also imagine what they’d think of me, a middle-aged lady acting like an early retiree, eating my hummus-arugula sandwich…a left-coast, REI-wearing, Subaru-driving Ivy Leaguer…

Maybe I’ve been listening to too much CNN, or reading too much US history, but that polarization is real

So it was a sweet relief to get up into those lovely trails and find people…enjoying the same beauty I was enjoying.

Ooh!

The Natural Bridge itself is very cool…

…whether from above…

…or from a distance

…but it’s only part of the sandstone sculpture on display. There’s also balanced Rock…

Rock: check. Balancing: check.

Lovers’ Leap…

Those teeny-tiny tents down there tell you how high up this is. Leapin’ Lovers!

…and then just the stone itself. I couldn’t get enough.

So…pretty!!!! I can’t stand it.

All the trails are concentrated in a small area, so I imagine during high season it must be pretty crowded. But in March, meeting handfuls of other tourists was just nice. Everyone up there had walked steep trails for the sake of scenery: my people!

Reason #2 for our Kentucky dalliance was two sets of old friends, not seen for over a decade. The first lives in Louisville, where I didn’t take any pictures, but we did ride our top-favorite bike path, the Louisville Loop, so here’s a picture from last year.

Coolest bike path ever! You go, Louisville!

The second was in Land Between the Lakes, near Kentucky’s western tip. We met our friend for a day hike, then spent another night in a very pleasant cabin. (Could we have camped? Yes. It only got down to freezing that night. I wimped out. No excuses.)

“Hey, it’s nice and warm in here.”

No sandstone here, but we did enjoy a lovely lakeside walk…

No sandstone? No problem.

which treated us to some splendid little crowds of turtles.

Yes! Spring’s a-comin!

And just as before, meeting fellow walkers in the woods did my conflicted soul as much good as reuniting with an old friend.

From Kentucky we headed across Missouri, another non-Subaru state. There, we visited another section of the amazing Katy Trail, a 200+-mile rail-trail that stretches nearly the entire length of the state.

And such a cute name too.

Our section follows the Missouri River, thus…bluffs!

Ahhh…

Otters wallowed in the powerful current. Cliff swallows attended their nests. Signs alerted us to Lewis and Clark’s one-time camping ground.

Mud nests. Not pictured: otters, and Lewis & Clark.

Because it was the middle of a work week, we met very few souls out on the Katy. But just knowing it was there, knowing that citizens of Missouri support this…

You can see I-70 crossing the Mighty Mo in the background

and this…

Free air for your tires and everything!

…gave me those warm fuzzies about my fellow Americans that I so badly need.

Next day, we had one more sandstone encounter, this time in Kansas. Most of what you see of Kansas from the interstate is fields (pretty unimpressive this time of year), but as you might expect, a few miles off the big roads yields great results. In this case: Wilson Lake State Park.

I mean, it’s not a wheat field, but it’ll do.

And guess what: sandstone bluffs again!

Hey, buddy!

Once again, our privileged status, on vacation in the middle of March, gave us the park to ourselves. And the solitude of my walk set me thinking.

The real stuff, the good stuff, what we share as fellow Americans–love of our land, our families, and our freedom to enjoy both–that’s our bedrock. Like sandstone, it has accrued over time, all the time warped and eroded by pressures like economic need and religious mandate. Sometimes it’s just covered up by ugly growth.

Something like this

So I hope and pray that this period we’re living through now is one of those temporary times–a period of ugliness from which our bedrock may emerge. I pray the rock isn’t riven straight down to its core. Let those bluffs hold.