Hyperbole alert: my parents have given me and my sisters uncountable great gifts over the past 6 and a half decades, starting with, y’know…life. Nurturing. Education. That ol’ stuff.
But this one? This one’s right up there, beyond bicycles and maybe even musical instruments. It’s a slow-mo gift, for sure, but it…has…begun: my parents are starting to divest themselves of Things.
I can’t call it “de-cluttering,” because most of it is great stuff: sports equipment, books…more books, more sports equipment…OK, that’s pretty much my family in a nutshell. They also have a lot of art, but I don’t think they’re giving that away just yet.
Most specifically, my mom startled me this week by mentioning the “bare shelves in the living room.” Now, I knew of my dad’s plan to donate all his science books to the Duke Bio-Sci Building’s Student Reading Lounge–a place dedicated to the delicious art of book-browsing, a practice that’s gone the way of the card catalogue. But I didn’t realize he meant to donate them, like…now! So I got my mom to send me some pictures.
Here’s the “before”:
And here’s, well–now:
Clearly, there’s still one shelf to go…but I kind of hope it stays there as a reminder of all those decades.
To give a sense of the history of our house’s book-walls, here’s me and my mom and sisters with our grandparents back in…let’s say 1964.
So. Let this be a lesson to me. What lesson? Pick one: Never too late to divest yourself. Never too old to surprise your children (my parents are about to be a combined 179 years old). Never too old to make a difference in this world. Or just to finally do what they made us girls do, and Clean Your Room!
What’s next? Stay tuned. My Amazing Parents continue to amaze me.
When it comes to the state of the world, be it locally, nationally or globally, everyone I know–and probably most I don’t–has felt like this a good deal of the past five and a half years:
Most folks I know–and even more I don’t–have also found sources of inspiration to get themselves up off the floor and stay positive, or at least productive. Staying within my immediate circle of control is my go-to: cooking a meal for someone; spending time with an elder or a child; sometimes just contributing money.
But for me, real hope takes larger-scale action, and I would like to share my personal “hope-workout” of the last few years: Common Power.
Originally named Common Purpose and founded by UW Communications professor David Domke, “CP”s goal is “to foster, support and amplify a democracy that is just and inclusive.”
Even better, in my book, is the way CP goes about their work. I was first introduced to their three-part mindset when I attended a standing-room-only (obviously pre-pandemic) meeting in Seattle back in…2018, I think. This image speaks for itself:
Since joining, most of my “work” has been calling elected officials or phone-banking in “red” or “purple” states, which, no, I do not love. (Who does?) But most of that calling hasn’t been about trying to convince people to vote a certain way. It’s simply been working with in-state, non-partisan organizations (like NC’s You Can Vote) to give folks information they need to register, or to get their ballot accepted, or find their polling place. Do we target traditionally sidelined or disadvantaged voters? Of course. That’s the point. And as a result, those folks we do reach are, often as not, more grateful than grouchy.
Besides providing me with an escape ladder from the Pits of Helplessness, CP has also become a source of inspiration, learning, and even joy.
Close to home, when I can, I attend AJ Musewe’s Lunch and Learn series midweek, where the delightful AJ explores themes like the history of redlining, or little-known democracy pioneers. (When I can’t attend live, I listen to them recorded.)
The monthly meetings (fully accessible now–no more trips to Seattle!) begin with music and good news, and always leave me pumped up about the next event, like…the inauguration of the newly-expanded Institute for Common Power, coming up June 4! That one’s in-person, so I don’t know if I can go, but maybe you can go, and personally mingle with some civil rights heroes, compatriots of the late Rep. John Lewis, who survived the campaigns of the 1960s.
CP enthusiasts are also encouraged to join state “Teams” to focus their energy on one of seven states where democracy is both imperiled but also salvageable. Of course I chose Team North Carolina. And while I’ve limited my participation to online and phone work so far, I intend to travel next fall with Team NC to my home state to do the most effective GOTV work of all: knocking on doors, connecting with people. I CAN’T WAIT.
Best of all, for my teacherly soul, CP’s emphasis on next-generation leadership means that my NC fieldwork will be directed by leaders younger than my own kids. They’ve all been through CP’s Action Academy–a completely rad organization in itself; maybe you’d like to contribute, or recommend a youth to attend?–and I also CANNOT WAIT TO WORK WITH THEM.
Can you hear that hope-muscle working? Does your own hope need a workout? I invite you to check out Common Power.
There is a word…but not in English. Here’s one to add to your list, along with Schadenfreude and Cafuné (Portuguese for running your hands through the hair of someone you love, according to 41 Fascinating Words From Other Languages We Should Definitely Import to English) :
Dayenu. Or, as it says on our refrigerator magnet,
Jews and other folk who participate in Passover will recognize this word from the Seder ceremony. In Hebrew it means, roughly, “It would have been enough…” with the added connotation of, “…and yet, God did even more! Wow!”
Passover may be behind us for this year, but the season of Dayenu is just getting going, at least here on Lopez Island. Our normally gorgeous woods and fields have somehow become even gorgeouser (hey, I just invented Word #42 for the list) with wildflowers.
Like our woodlands even needed decorating–let alone by hot-pink orchids that look like something invented made by fairies…
…or golden-blooming succulents whose leaves want to get in on the color wheel action themselves:
And those are “just” the wildflowers. Then there are the lilacs planted all over our island, some 100 years old. Don’t get me started on lilacs. Or better yet, do–then read about them in this blog post I wrote some years ago on that heavenly-scented topic.
Extra color, extra scent, in a place which makes daily work of overloading our senses, year ’round? What else is there to say? At a loss for ways to express the feeling, I wrote this song–again, “some years ago.”
Had the rising sun not overwhelmed me…Dayenu.
Had my humble daily bread not filled me…Dayenu.
Had your arms not simply held me…Dayenu.
Had the lilacs never breathed so sweetly…Dayenu.
Had the wild fawn not leapt so neatly…Dayenu.
Had you not loved me so completely…Dayenu.
It would have been enough,
It would have blessed us to the core.
Had this morning been our only gift,
We would not have needed more.
Had the sunset not shanghaied my breathing…Dayenu.
Had the starlight not adorned the evening…Dayenu.
Had you not promised never leaving…Dayenu.
So my “Dayenu” these days–apart from my Mate–is spring flowers, wildand tame. What are yours? What’s better than sharing a cup that’s runnething over?
Okay, “kismet” sounds a bit too Greek. How ’bout serendipity? (Wikipedia tells me its origins are…Sanskrit?!) But I love the sound of the word, and I love that I get to re-start this blog in its post-travel mode (done with Road Trips for now!) with a happy nod to…serendipity.
One week after our return from Road Trip XI, with my to-do list nicely underway (groceries purchased–check; garden prepped–check; car vacuumed–check; washed & waxed? Nope, too much pollen in the air)…
…I EMBARKED UPON A NEW NOVEL.
That’s how it felt, honestly: caps locked & loaded. Normally, I’d take months or years thinking through a plot idea, then writing some character back stories, dallying with questions about theme, before diving into a very…thorough…outline. No actual writing, no scenes, until, you know…it was TIME.
But come June, I’m kicking off the pursuit of my Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing. My plan is for the rigor of that program to compel me through the production of a brand-new novel at a speed I’ve never contemplated before. Which means that by June 1, I need a 20-page (max) writing sample for workshopping purposes.
During that first week home (while vacuuming the car and weeding the garden), I let the raw ingredients of plot and character, theme and narrative device roil freely around in my brain. Then, one week ago I sat down at this computer and began spooning the resulting chunky soup onto this screen.
Four days later, a friend loaned me her library copy of a book I’d never heard of: A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, by George Saunders. “It’s due back on May 21,” she said, “so read it fast, or just go ahead and return it if you don’t like it, okay?”
I noticed the book was written by the author of Lincoln in the Bardo, a novel I did not care for. But I trusted my friend’s recommendation on this one. Cue the serendipity.
Turns out, far from being a novel, this book is a master class for writers. Especially writers at the beginning of a project. Especially me. Yes. This book, I’m pretty sure, was written for me, right now.
Already, only a third through his book, Saunders has given me new perspective on every important facet of writing. Here are some of my notes on what he says about character:
…he says that the more thoroughly the reader knows a character, the less likely she is to judge her harshly. The writer becomes like God, substituting love (empathy) for judgement. I love that idea.
“Always be escalating. That’s all a story is, really: a continual system of escalation. A swath of prose earns its place in the story to the extent that it contributes to our sense that the story is (still) escalating.” (p. 153)
…about theme and narrative device:
“…that’s what an artist does: takes responsibility.” “The writer has to write in whatever way produces the necessary energy” to move the reader. “It’s hard to get any beauty at all into a story. If and when we do, it might not be the type of beauty we’ve always dreamed of making.” (p. 105)
…and this bit about narrative voice that pierced me–in a good way, if you can imagine that:
“…how little choice we have about what kind of writer we’ll turn out to be…This writer may turn out to bear little resemblance to the writer we dreamed of being. She is born, it turns out, for better or worse, out of that which we really are: the tendencies we’ve been trying, all these years, in our writing and maybe even in our lives, to suppress or deny or correct, the parts of ourselves about which we might even feel a little ashamed.” (p. 106)
It’s way, way, WAY too early to say what my next book will become. But the fact that I was given a master teacher in its very first week feels like an excellent sign.
Plus, a library book is a whole lot cheaper than an MFA.
Just kidding. I’m still going for the MFA.
Curious, though–anyone else out there have one of these joy-striking examples of serendipity to share?
Road Trip XI …by the numbers: 8 weeks. 10,000 miles (best guess). 26 states. 62 far-and-dear friends and family members. 14 national parks/monuments. 20 state parks. 6 post-season Tarheel men’s basketball games (5 victories + 1 almost!)
…and by the category:
Best hike: Custer State Park, South Dakota, Needles region
Best bike ride: Colorado National Monument rim road
(Honorable mention: Bizz Johnson trail in Susanville, CA …but it doesn’t win because it gave The Mate a flat tire)
Best waterfall: Sioux Falls…even though conflicted feelings arose when I read about its blasted, quarried history
Best trees: California redwoods
Best wildflowers: Rogue River National Recreation Trail, near Merlin, Oregon
Best wildlife: tie between javelinas in Arizona…
…and [not pictured] wild burros spotted in Utah off I-70 (a first for us)
Best sunset: outside our Virginia motel on our loversary
Best restaurant meal: sushi in Chapel Hill with my parents
Best home-cooked dinner: our friend Ben’s roast lamb with chimichurri
Best gift from our hosts: kumquats/avocados/oranges from our Hollywood cousins’ trees
Biggest detour: dropping south all the way to Las Vegas in order to avoid dangerous, truck-toppling winds
Best silver lining: getting to hike & clamber in Red Rocks National Preservation Area (or whatever it’s called) just outside of Vegas, just before the winds hit
additional bonus to silver lining: the desert in bloom!
Longest day’s drive: Moab to Las Vegas (460 miles)
Scariest drive: crossing the Cascades on snowy lil’ Rt. 89 past Mt. Lassen in California
And now for a couple of less-traditional categories.
Best basketball game: UNC vs. Duke in the national semifinal (81-77)
Best dog: Ramses in Olympia
And finally, the Grand Travel Blog Award for Best New Discovery goes to…Oregon’s Rogue River Trail!
We’re already talking about how to get back there.
…but for now, oh my goodness–it’s good to be home, safe and sound and grateful as all get-out for this long, LONG getting-out.And now, as Wing’s World morphs back into its non-travel mode…thanks for traveling with me anyway!
What camping enthusiast wouldn’t enthuse to camp near this?
That’s exactly the problem, as The Mate and I began to learn a few years ago, and now, in the post-COVID travel boom, multiplied by ever more active Boomers actively booming around the same places we like, we’ve discovered a basic flaw with our mode of road trippin’: it doesn’t work any more.
But let me back up to where I left off a week ago. Knowing we were in for some dangerous winds, we veered south from the Black Hills and holed up in one of our favorite mountain towns, Estes Park, CO.
Estes Park is uber-cute, and probably a complete zoo in high season, which we vowed always to miss.
EP is so cool, it has its own elk herd!
While the trails of Rocky Mt. National Park (just up the road) remained inaccessible to folks without snowshoes, we were able to traipse up to my favorite Gem Lake with only a little bit of scary ice & blow-you-down wind.
After two days in Estes–which included watching our beloved Carolina Tarheels come within inches and seconds of winning a national championship they were never supposed to be in the running for, taking the game down to the wire and giving it their full hearts and ankles (so proud of those guys, can you tell?)–we decided to move our trip a little further on, while still waiting one more day for the winds to abate before crossing the Rockies.
Luckily for us, we have friends in Denver (one of whom had just returned from watching the Final Four in New Orleans!). They invited us to stay. We enjoyed them nearly as much as we enjoyed their charismatic dogs.
Thursday, when it finally felt safe, we joined the semis crossing the 11,000-foot pass on I-70, marveling as ever at the peaks and wishing that downhill skiing had less of an impact on them. [Not pictured: marvelous Rocky peaks]
After dropping down, down, down, down, we aimed for Colorado National Monument, a gorgeous hunk of sculpted rock erupting above the town of Grand Junction. Knowing we had no reservation for a campsite, I kept my fingers crossed: Please let there be one! Please let there be one!
We got lucky that time–thanks to having a tent, not an RV, and arriving on a Thursday, and, oh yeah–it’s the Colorado National Monument, NOT National Park. Huge difference.
It’s always hard to stop taking pictures of rock formations; bear with me.
Of course you can’t put railings around an entire canyon, but this particular railing seemed designed just for me…because OF COURSE all I wanted to do was crawl out onto that ledge, a.k.a. that flat-topped, nearly free-standing pillar of red stone.
After a happy camping night–first time since early March that we’ve been able to camp on this trip!–we continued on down toward the town of Moab. Again: no reservations, so we had no hope of camping in either Arches or Canyonlands N.P. BUT we knew there were several BLM campgrounds strung along the Colorado River, which operate on a first-come, first-served basis. It was Friday; we didn’t love our chances. But once more…
We got the very last one, at 10:45 in the morning. (Then we spent the afternoon & evening hours watching disappointed would-be campers like ourselves drive by, turn around, and move sadly on. We felt for them; we were them. There are so many of us now!) [Not pictured: dust from cars of disappointed would-be campers.]
Since we only had a half-day to recreate, we opted for Moab’s famous bike trails, saving the hiking for next day.
We celebrated our special spot that night by sharing an enormous microbrew from the Black Hills.
We could have opted to stay another night. One of the curses of the BLM system is also its blessing: once you’ve pitched your tent, you can stay up to two weeks, $20/night or $10 for seniors with passes. (Two more years till I get mine!) No wonder there are never any spots during high season.
But the winds were picking up again, and we wanted wifi & showers (BLM sites are pit-toilet only, and BYO water). So we reserved ourselves a basic cabin in town, and took ourselves to Canyonlands–the 30-miles-distant part, not the 85-miles-distant; Canyonlands is VERY spread out!–for a day of hiking.
Because there are too many types of rock to choose from, we opted for several shorter hikes. First up: Aztez Mesa. Yep–right up to the tippy-top…
I love cliffs, remember? And ledges? Turns out I DON’T love ledges that look like they could crumble beneath your feet. This trail sent me scrambling to the left.
Next up: smooth red slickrock.
From the up-close to the faraway, this view of the Green River’s work, etching itself through layers of time:
Same theme, different view:
One last look…just not quite believing it’s real:
And just to throw one other rock formation into the mix, here’s Upheaval Dome, a mysterious , rainbow-colored pile inside a crater that geologists are still arguing over.
Need a break from all the red rock? How about some red Paintbrush?
We left Moab feeling both grateful and a bit deflated. Now we know that, if we want to nestle into that amazing habitat anywhere closer than a commercial room, we’re going to have to do the P-word: PLAN. Plan WAY ahead, like 6 months at least. One of the best parts of our road-trippin’ is its haphazardness, but that luxury seems to be evaporating.
But we found a silver lining.
Next morning, hopping back onto Interstate 70 West, The Mate & I were treated to three and a half hours of almost nonstop geological wonder. Starting with…
We kept turning to each other in confusion: Hold on. Have we not driven this stretch before? Wouldn’t we remember this if we had?
The above photo I took at a viewpoint, where we parked. All the following, I simply snapped as we drove past.
The colors changed with every curve or hill.
I think we saw every color except blue. Even black got into the mix.
The colors and formations simply Did. Not. Stop…till eventually we bumped into I-15, and that, my friends, is where I-70 ends (after starting in Baltimore; we looked it up).
So my takeaway from the past week is this: if you find yourself one of those disappointed, non-planning-ahead would-be campers…don’t whine; find your blessings where you can. Take a hike, and then go drive the interstate! #silverlinings #redrocks #istilladorecliffs
In case it has, ahem, escaped your attention, last week (March 29) marked the 40th anniversary of the Carolina Tarheels’ first national championship, in 1982. That date matters quite a bit to The Mate, and even more to me, because that’s the day Michael Jordan baptized me into Tarheel fandom with what’s known as “The Shot.”
Up till then I had been more of a Duke fan if anything, but being back in Chapel Hill, on spring break from college, when The Shot fell–that was total immersion. I’ve never lapsed.
Fast-forward 40 years and six days, and guess what: our team is once more playing for the national title…in the same exact city where MJ helped them win in 1982.
Now, in case you’re someone for whom college sports means little or nothing, I’ll just briefly refer to a certain rivalry game that occurred last night, where a certain 42-years-tenured coach of a certain rival school to UNC ended his career–or rather, had it ended–by those selfsame Tarheels. Not sure if I speak for all Carolina fans, but truly, for me, if “we” lose tomorrow, I won’t care so much, because “we” already beat Duke twice on the most blaringly national stage possible.
But I’m still looking forward to one more day of sports babble, one more evening of texting far-flung fellow fans while alternately cheering and doing calisthenics for extra mojo.
Amidst the madness, however, Road Trip XI continues! We left Milwaukee last Tuesday, and spent two cold & dank but otherwise VERY happy days at the home of old friends with lots of dogs and cats. The Mate & I managed one uncomfortably windy ride along the Mississippi, and then relaxed with critters and pie.
Leaving the frozen north for the slightly-less-frozen latitude of I-90, we crossed into South Dakota and chose Sioux Falls for a recreation stop. It was too windy to ride, so we decided on a walk–till our first glimpse of the falls stopped us in our tracks.
The more you explore, the more waterfalls you find.
However, when I stopped to read the signage, my awe changed to sorrow. Turns out that incredible sight is actually a remnant, blasted and quarried to a shadow of its former self. A view from the observation tower provided the gritty perspective of the whole scene, surrounded by the ugliness of industry.
“But can I blame those white folks from 140 years ago?” I thought. “They were so excited about electricity. How are they any different from me, driving across the country using fossil fuel even when I know better too?”
We drove on, sobered by these thoughts despite the thrill of that beautiful pink water garden. Crossing the Missouri River, I glimpsed yucca plants, and decided: It’s official–we’re back in the west!
But from there, the land got REAL western. As in bad. As in Badlands.
We’d driven through the Badlands decades ago, in the summer. This time, entering under rainy skies, we made a startling discovery: those jaw-dropping crags aren’t made of natural cement, as they appear. They’re made of MUD.
So every drop of rain simply reduces each elegant, striated mountain into, eventually, something like this:
Trying to hike across this stuff was like trying to hike on oiled ice. I’ve never felt any substance so slick. The Mate & I managed a couple of miles, hiking as much sideways as forward, trying to stay on grasses…
…but eventually we gave up and tried a shorter, drier trail. This one featured some fun obstacles, like
…but also some amazing color.
Speaking of color, just a glimpse at the Yellow Mounds on our way out:
Seriously, this park is one of the most accessible in the country: just a stone’s throw off the interstate, and entirely driveable.
And oh yeah, it comes with bighorn sheep.
We finished up that day by driving into South Dakota’s Black Hills. Since we knew nothing about this area, I booked a motel with full kitchen for three days so we could explore. And oh my goodness, did we ever.
We started with the George Mickleson Trail, a state-run, 109-mile rail-trail that winds through some of the most amazing scenery any bike trail gets to boast of.
Unfortunately, the snow patches kept increasing in size as we rode, making me nervous. Liza’s tires did great, but she’s no mountain bike, and I really didn’t want to fall. So we called it quits after 90 minutes of so, but 100% we’ll be back in a warmer season if we’re ever able.
The Black Hills are most famous for Mt. Rushmore, but we didn’t care to visit. That’s just no way to treat a mountain, in my opinion. We did glimpse the Crazy Horse work-in-progress from a ways off…
…but didn’t opt for the tour. I do feel better about that monument, since a Lakota leader commissioned it, but still…I prefer my mountains whole, thank you. Which is why I fell deeply in love with nearby Custer State Park.
If only it weren’t named after a war criminal! But that’s not the mountains’ fault.
Heading out of the park, I snapped a shot of the single-car “tunnel” which gives some indication of the ultra-mountainy road up to the park. And lo and behold, what does that dashcam shot show but…
So…go mountains. Go Heels. Go tradition, and marriage, and teamwork, and the Church of the Great Outdoors.
But Monday night, in New Orleans? Especially, Go Heels!!!!!
The Mate and I are NOT good at slowing down. Hunkering down, chowing down, gettin’ down–yes. But slowing down, once in road trip mode? Our past m.o. has always been to pack the car to perfection and then, GO. Stop for recreation (and some stretching & peeing & gas-buying), but otherwise, spend the day getting to the next stop.
This trip is different. Since we’ve assigned ourselves a whole extra two weeks, and we’re trying to mesh our visits with the schedules of other people, sometimes we actually need to be less in a hurry. As in the past several days.
We left our cousins’ farm in Vermont at a leisurely 9 a.m., and chose to backtrack south a bit for the I-80 route across Pennsylvania, rather than taking the shorter I-90 across NY. Weather in PA looked better, so I chose us a promising rail-trail, and…Whoops.
[Not pictured: rail trail in White Haven, closed in both directions]
Instead we ended up biking here, in Lewiston PA, where the farms were so classical…
…I wasn’t surprised to see a couple of Amish buggies trot past on nearby lanes. (I didn’t care to take their pictures without permission.) Fun fact I discovered: Bucknell U. is in Lewiston.
Next day, again–no hurry. We forced ourselves to sleep in, putting sleep in the “sleep bank” for the upcoming, VERY late-scheduled Tarheel game. Our rec stop was Cook Forest State Park, in western PA, which promised a stand of old-growth conifers–something I’ve NEVER seen east of the Mississippi.
Cook Forest delivered.
The largest of the hemlocks and pines were 48 ” across–hardly redwood-sized, but still big enough to be hard to capture in a frame. So I settled for this fallen one…
…and more rocks!
The park even had sweet little cabins (seasonally closed, unfortunately), with an adorable swinging bridge.
An additional note of poignance amid all the stately forested beauty: the blaze of the main trail happened to be the colors of the Ukrainian flag.
So after our hike, we returned to our car, and CNN, feeling a mixture of extra blessing, but also helpless heartbreak.
We spent that night in Ohio, by the Sandusky River. (All these were motel nights; with rain/snow threatening every day no one felt like camping.) Next day we FINALLY passed back into Central Time, and discovered a place we’ve probably driven past a dozen times on previous trips: the Indiana Dunes.
A federal and a state park lie adjacent there. We opted for the federal by default, but later decided the state one, which was older, actually offered more. The Bog Trail on the federal side didn’t, in March, actually show off much of its purported diversity…
…but I was treated to some fresh new skunk cabbage emerging for spring.
But it’s not the bog’s fault I was there in a wintry season. What really attracted me were the oak-covered dunes, with trails silky-soft to tread.
In the state park’s trails, the back-and-forth between sand and vegetation was even starker:
But even so–kudos to those oaks!
That night, hunkered down (remember, we’re good at that) near Gary, Indiana, The Mate & I splurged for once on pizza
in order to properly celebrate what might be the Tarheels’ final game of the season.
But it wasn’t. All our mojo worked, and the Heels advanced to the Elite Eight. Then The Mate & I gratefully collapsed, around midnight. (We are NOT used to being in eastern time zones during these games!)
When our plans to meet up with family in Chicago fell through, we had hopes of returning to the Dunes next morning before the short drive to Milwaukee to see friends. But it was snowing sideways, so–know what? Let’s just drive. And get some pho. And see a movie. OKAY to slow down, remember?
Milwaukee greeted us with a cold snap, at least for us Northwest wimps: a high of 30 with a vicious lake wind.
We got a great tour of the lakefront…
…and UW Milwaukee, where our friend works.
My German heritage instantly bonded with the offerings at the public market…
…but after our tour, we were happy to cuddle up with our friends’ dogs.
You notice my shirts, right? With Carolina vying for a place in the Final Four, and with the mercury dropping back down to 20, I wore BOTH my UNC shirts (as well as my lucky earrings) to watch the game.
It worked. GO HEELS! Bring on Dook!
Next up: Minneapolis, and then…westward! Slowly!Turns out there’s something to this smell-the-roses-type travel after all.
Visiting with our Vermont cousins is an enormous highlight of our road trips, mostly because it isn’t often feasible. What I mean is, this lovely farm is so much easier to visit when it looks like this:
…instead of this (4 years ago):
True, spring means mud season here…
…and the trails in the upper hills all had that flattened, emergent feeling.
But Vermont is easy to love in any season–possibly the most calendar-ready state of the entire 50. On our bike ride along the Battenkill River in Arlington (just down the mountain and up the road from our cousins), I kept stopping to take pictures. (Pretty good workout, actually, as I have to ride twice as hard to catch up with The Mate.)
Vermont houses and towns are so Norman Rockwell that Norman Rockwell himself actually lived and worked there.
This was Norman’s front porch view:
As for Vermont’s farmlands, their age is impossible to ignore, as a ramble in any woods reveals the mossy criss-crossings of ancient stone walls.
But something new is happening in these old hills. See, this beautiful farm…
…once just a “gentleman farm” owned by our cousins’ New York grandparents, who patronized the arts…
…does not actually belong to our cousins, but to the family trust of which they are part. In fact, for decades it was a horse farm catering to, let’s face it, the upper crust. But when the younger generation took over the work, they decided to make it a REAL, working sheep farm, and in the past 10 years since we’ve been visiting regularly, their passion is making itself felt.
First, they’ve made their focus regenerative agriculture. What does that mean? Let’s hear from Jesse & Cally’s Studio Hill Farm website:
On our farm, we practice holistic management. This ensures that our farming practices strengthen and enrich the environments in which they’re employed. Therefore, as we raise animals on our land, our fields grow more fertile and abundant—which then allows us to raise more even animals on the land…which then makes the fields even more fertile and abundant…and so on. With simple management changes supported by basic biological principles, all agriculture around the globe could achieve this ecological and economic positive-feedback loop. We hope Studio Hill will serve as one example among many.
Second, in order to fund their ambitions to restore the land, they’ve been farming a whole new crop: Air BnB clients, happy to pay to nestle themselves into the calendar picture for a few days at a time. Since our last visit, our cousins even bought the very non-traditional-farmhousey house their former neighbors inflicted upon the upper hill, and turned THAT into an Air BnB house.
They were going to house us there, as a matter of fact, but it was booked instead by a group of travel nurses—a win for everyone! Yay nurses! Instead we stayed in the old brick house pictured previously, which the Big House looks out on.
They even put together a yurt, and a treehouse is still under construction.
All this property expansion was made possible by supporters of sustainable farming who invested in our cousins’ dream literally, thanks to a company called Steward, whose mission I’m copying here…just in case you want to pursue investment in a farmer’s dream yourself 🙂
Our mission is to promote environmental and economic stewardship through regenerative agriculture. We do this by providing flexible loans to human-scale farms, ranches, fisheries, and food producers looking to propel their operations forward.
But we don’t do it alone—Steward gives qualified lenders the opportunity to purchase loan participations, advancing our mission by helping to fund the growth of regenerative agriculture in their community or across the country.
Hence the title of this post: our cousins, through borrowing from Steward, are able to make something new out of something old.
Oh, and that Carolina Blue part? I just had to throw in a shout-out to our Tarheels, who were busy taking down #1 seed/defending champs Baylor in overtime on our radio as we approached the farm. We had to stop the car and sit an agonizingly tense ten minutes out at the bottom of Trumbull Hill Rd, afraid we’d lose our signal if we drove any further. (I didn’t say the game was pretty—but they did win. Heels in the Sweet 16!)
On the 3-week anniversary of this Extra-Strength-Making-Up-For-2021-Road Trip, we left my folks’ farm and headed west. Well duh, you might think–turning for home means west, right? Yest, but no. We were simply heading back to the Blue Ridge, and friends we’d missed on our first visit the week prior.
THEN we turned north, which is why I’m writing this from Allentown, Pennsylvania, two days and several states away from where we started yesterday. (We spent literally 10 minutes crossing Maryland–the suuuuper skinny part that probably involves some interesting history that I need to look up.)
Our goal is Vermont, and cousins, and a donkey almost as cute as Stevie (World’s Cutest). But since we were gifted with both time and good weather…
…back we went.
(Actually, about that weather? It did catch up with us one day, when The Mate and I were preparing to ride our bikes in the rain just for the sake of riding on a closed section of the Parkway. But we got up there only to find ourselves enveloped in a cloud so thick it made driving dangerous, let alone biking. Ah well.)
[Not pictured: us not riding in the rain on the socked-in Blue Ridge Parkway.]
Saying farewell to our friends, we headed north into Virginia, and stopped to ride the New River State Park Trail.
Have I mentioned how much I adore rural rail-trails?
It was really hard to turn around, but the trail is 57 miles long, so…
With a Tarheels game to watch and a special St. Patrick’s Day love-anniversary to celebrate, we opted for a generic motel with a kitchen that night in rural Virginia near Shenandoah National Park…but were still rewarded with another spectacular Motel Sunset.
Next morning, we took advantage of the mountains’ proximity–the reason we’d chosen this route–to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail heading into Shenandoah NP.
It started off intriguingly enough…
…but ended up being pretty, y’know…meh, at least for a National Park. This creek was the main highlight:
Lesson learned; next time we’ll actually drive INTO Shenandoah NP and be more intentional about choosing a trail. But it was still a lovely walk. And just when we turned around, saying to each other, Really? This is it? we noticed these:
So there ya go: this is why I always choose mountains. Even when the trail isn’t spectacular, it always finds some kind of gift to give. And as we head north tomorrow, through New Jersey, up into New York and over to Vermont’s Green Mountains, I’ll be looking for even more of those gifts to accept. With gratitude.