Road Trip VIII, Days 28-31, Durham, N.C.: The Five Things I Miss About My Hometown

Spending a full week in Durham and Chapel Hill has me reflecting on the answer I give to folks who ask me what I miss, since leaving the South 27 years ago. It’s a short but sweet list.

1. My family. Officially, all that’s left here are my amazing parents—Mom shown here with a salad containing the last of the Traveling Avocados that ripened as we crossed the country.

Mama knows what’s good for you

Unofficially, our “family” now includes friends the Mate and I have known in some cases longer than we’ve known each other. But that’s another category. I do know, as a 56 year-old, how incredibly lucky I am to still have both healthy parents living in the same house where they raised me.

Mom in her truck, pulling her horse trailer

My dad’s collection of shoes reveals his active life better than anything.

2. Friends—both tribal and non-tribal. I’ll explain that in #5.

Respect the oak.

3. Oak trees. I’m not talking those scruffy things they have out West. With a few exceptions—talking to you, Laytonville, CA—those oaks are piddly, short things with prickly leaves. But the white oaks of the east? They have GRANDEUR. And their dead leave smell like life.

The next generation of red oak—so vibrant

4. North Carolina-style pulled pork BBQ and Mama Dip’s fried chicken. With fried okra, and hush puppies, and greens. Sweet tea optional.

I’ve blogged enough about soul food—I’ll just leave it at this.

5. Tarheel basketball. With the Tribe—a.k.a. a bunch of over-educated lefty lawyers, professors and administrators, and retired ditto—who gather once a year to eat #4, above, and scream at 20 year-old guys tossing around an orange ball. I didn’t want to violate my friends’ privacy by posting their picture, so here’s a shot of a Chapel Hill fire truck—just to give you some idea of the grip Tarheelism has on this town.

Even the paramedics bleed Carolina blue

Last year our team won the National Championship, but they did so in April, when we were already back home in the northwest…where nobody cares, except to inquire, “What IS a Tarheel, anyway?” So, yeah—I miss that.

Go Heels!

If you are someone who no longer lives in your hometown, what are your five things? Take your time and think about it.

Road Trip VIII, Days 19-23, Nashville to Asheville: Don’t You Westerners Start With Your “These Ain’t No Mountains”

We’ve made it to North Carolina, my home state. But not, as yet, to my hometown. For once we aren’t fleeing weather on this trip, which means we’ve been able to slow down and enjoy time with friends in the Blue Ridge.

That means lots of walks and hikes on steep, rocky pieces of earth which, to me, are most definitely mountains, thank you very much, but to my Californian Mate…not so much. Please ignore him. These mountains are old, they’re beautiful, and they’re full of old, beautiful music, songs full of references to valleys and hollers, songs I can’t get out of my head when I’m here. I love these mountains.

Sunrise from the front porch, up on Butler Mountain

But I’m not about to set up a head-to-head beauty contest between them and my beloved Cascades or Olympics. I mean, let’s be realistic, okay?

So on our hike yesterday, I went small, ignoring huge oaks and laurel thickets and waterfalls for something subtler…and also very welcome, after all the desert we just crossed: fungus.

The first I came across are what’s commonly known as a British Soldiers. Usually their heads are bright red; I’ve never seen pink ones!

Maybe they’re all wearing their Pussy Hats!

Then there were these beauties on a fallen tree:

Who knew decay could be so lovely?

And this little guy, doing a good impression of a tide pool creature:

Sea slug? Chiton? Nope—fungus.

Finally, on our way back, these fragile white fans:

I know, I know. We have pretty mushrooms in the northwest too. But let the east shine for now, ok?

Since I mentioned Nashville in the heading I should mention that, yes indeed, the Mate and I paid our respects to Music Row, and ate some kick-ass ribs at Acme Feed and Seed (which I did not take a picture of ’cause I already felt conspicuously touristy).  But neon and cowboy boots are not our thing. I’m happy for those who love Nashville and all it stands for, but we were just as glad to get back to our motel and watch the Tarheels play. 😊

And speaking of Tarheels…next up, Durham, Chapel Hill, and the ACC tournament! And…where will Traveling Avocados #5 and 6 find their destiny?

It’s That Time Again: Wing’s World Hits The Road

If you’ve been following Wing’s World for at least a year, you know by now that Wing & Mate take to the road in February with the regularity of migrating swans–minus, of course, the awesome grace.* Also we’re heading east, not north, and also, swans have that life-or-death impulse behind their travels, while ours is more…let’s say … discretionary.

(*please, no Wingspan jokes)

OK, bad metaphor. But anyway, for you newbies, fair warning: Wing’s World is about to morph into a travel blog for the next several weeks.

The original draw for this trip is described in this earlier post; click here to read.

For now, I’m going to enjoy throwing out a few teasers from past trips, answering the question, “Why take seven weeks to drive across the country in the off-season?”

  1. Beautiful places at their least crowded. Like…

    Like Guess Where National Park

2. Beautiful places we’d never even heard of

The Source of the Missouri River, in Montana.

3. Faraway friends with ridiculously cute kids who are growing up way too fast.

NC Wildflower Walk!

4. Hidden cool spots of cities we didn’t even think we liked.

Watching an ambitious grafitti artist at work in Dallas

5. Ridiculously cute animals on the farms of family members.

Ben the Sheepherding Donkey in Vermont 

6. Deserts!

Arches National Park (duh)

7. Mountains!

Long’s Peak in Colorado

8. Desert mountains!

Anza-Borrego SP in California

9. Bike paths! (We are FOOLS for bike paths.)

…like this rails-to-trails path along the Illinois River Canal

10. and…let’s not forget FOOD.

It’s all about the BBQ. With hush puppies, slaw, and fried okra. Not pictured: sweet tea.

‘Scuse me, I just got very hungry for some reason. But I’ll see you from the road!

Road Trip VII, Days 32-34, Sheridan, WY back to Lopez Island: Going to America, Big-Time

When we Lopez Islanders take the ferry to the mainland, we call it “going to America.” We are literally insulated–“insula” being Latin for “island.”

Road trips take Going to America to a new level. 34 days. 23 states plus one Canadian province. A (rough) total of 65 friends and family members. More bike paths than I can remember.

…like this rails-to-trails path along the Illinois River Canal

The Mate and I set out on our seventh Road Trip more or less as usual: same camping gear (barely used, thanks to the weather), same cooler, same road food. (Remind me to tell you about Noodlebag sometime!) And of course, same ol’ Red Rover.

In the ferry line: almost home!!!!

But something felt different this year, striking out across this huge, gloriously varied country. That something was our new president. Knowing I was driving through state after state where the majority had voted for Donald Trump made me…cringe a little. Mainstream Republican is one thing. But this pussy-grabbing, egomaniacal, racist ogre? How was I possibly going to relate to my fellow citizens in the rest areas, parks and motel lobbies?

The answer: focus on our American commonalities.

Commonality #1: Sports. We sports fanatics share as much passion–maybe more–as political parties. Tarheel Nation probably comprises a lot of Trump voters. When we’re cheering our beloved Heels to another possible national championship, we love each other.

Haven’t made it to the Dean Dome since ’15, but–there in spirit!

Commonality #2: Love of landscape. Whether we love it for loud recreation like snowmobiling and hunting, or more quiet pursuits like hiking or horseback riding, I know our love of the beauty of the land is the same. We might use different language–“sacred” vs. “awesome,” “transcendent” vs. “niiiiiice”–but we are talking about the same thing.

“Whose woods these are I think I know…”

Best way to appreciate nature: be a tree!

Commonality #3: Judgementalism. Somehow, I find comfort in knowing we all share this flaw. A small example: I find myself feeling “judgy” when staying with friends who don’t compost or recycle, or who buy produce that comes from halfway around the world. But at the same time, I have friends who probably judge ME for my ginormous carbon footprint, with all the driving and flying I do.

A larger example: Indian Country. We passed, and passed through, many reservations across America. Somehow the land that makes the most impression on me is in the rural mountain West–probably because, unlike the eastern states and the west coast, the swath that runs from Montana south to New Mexico LOOKS THE SAME as it did 150 years ago. (Again–not talking cities here. Just the land.) Driving past the site of Little Big Horn or Sand Creek, for example, I have no trouble visualizing exactly what those warriors and soldiers would have seen as they confronted each other, or the view families would have had from their encampments.

All that land was theirs. Now almost none of it is; it’s been swallowed up by a dominant, unsympathetic culture. If I were Native, would I be able to contain my rage? So who am I now to feel like my country’s been hijacked by the supporters of Donald Trump? I’m still part of the mainstream.

I’m not saying “it’s all relative.” Of course there are extremes I don’t hesitate to call Bad: pussy-grabbing, for instance. Big no-no. But this trip has helped remind me that the people I struggle to understand probably have just as much trouble understanding ME.

 

In the middle of a long day crossing Montana on I-90, we stopped at the Missouri Headlands State Park.  It is, as the name implies, the beginning of that body of moving water we call the Missouri. It’s a good place: Lewis and Clark’s party camped there for three days.

Not a bad camp spot.

Lewis and Clark were sent by Jefferson to stitch our country together, west to east, by waterways. They failed, of course–Mighty Mo don’t cross no Rockies!–but the land routes they found served the same purpose in time. And of course, as American culture spread across the continent, other cultures were soon shattered.

“This rest area is your rest area, this rest area is my rest area…” See you there, America.

The lesson here? “This land is your land, this land is my land.” We may not agree on much. But in asserting my love for this big ol’ country, I’m not going to whine about it having become “unrecognizable” to me, as some on the left like to do. I DO recognize American culture, warts and all. And some of those warts are mine.

 

 

Road Trip VII, Days 29-31: Down ‘n’ Out in Estes Park, Colorado–NOT

Getting sick sucks. Getting sick on vacation in Estes Park, Colorado, gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park? That’s a bit harder to sound-byte.

Pretty sweet spot for a town, right?

On the one hand, I couldn’t do my usual racing-around-seeing-things stuff. Hiking? Noooo.  Biking? Also a no, thanks. Shopping–nope. And it’s hard to get excited about discovering restaurants when you’ve lost your appetite.

But on the other: I’m on VACATION. I get to lie around and not feel pressured about all the work I’m not getting done! What could be more fitting?

Even better, attitude-wise: getting sick when you’re vacationing with a friend with a scary heart condition.

The one hike I did manage, at 9,000-ft. altitude, had me gasping for breath and walking in slo-mo. Which is exactly what our friend does ANY day he hikes at altitude.

Pretending I don’t feel like curling up for a nap

So, Gretchen’s pity-party was swiftly cancelled. I spent the rest of the weekend soaking up scenery from the car or the window of our rented cabin, and soaking up friendship.

Long’s Peak–a LONG way away, thanks to the miracle of telephoto

Rocky Mountain hiiiiigh….from my car window….

Oh, and that friendship that was in danger of being tested by sports fanaticism? The sports gods were kind to me: our friends’ UCLA Bruins lost on Friday while our beloved North Carolina Tarheels won, so we all cheered together on Sunday as the Heels advanced to the Final Four. Just so you know. 🙂

Thanks, Nature. I needed that.

It’s a lesson I can’t seem to learn too often: compassion and gratitude beat back self-pity every time.

Road Trip VII, Days 22-28, Shaftsbury, VT to Fort Collins, CO: The Ultimate Adventure-Buddy Challenge

You’d think, after a month on the road, that we’d be heading straight home now–next stop, our dear evergreen Washington State.

Instead, we’ve diverged to Colorado. We have an adventure-buddy date.

Seven years ago, when our retirement from our primary careers turned us into annual road-trippers, we found kindred spirits in a pair of friends from North Carolina. On every trip since 2012, we have met our Adventure Buddies somewhere along the way. We rent a house for three days, take turns cooking, and go for lots of hikes.

2012, Moab, Utah:

Arches National Park (duh)

2013, Sedona, Utah:

A little late snow that year!


2014, Yosemite:

Who took this pic? Our Adventure Buddies, of course!

2015, Yucca Valley, CA (near Joshua Tree):

…and great Mexican food nearby too!

2016, Anza-Borrego State Park, CA:

Thanks, Adventure Buddies!

At the end of each day, we watch college basketball together, men’s and women’s. See, our buddies are Tarheel fans like us. North Carolina, remember? If we meet during the eastern portion of our trip, there are regular season games to watch. And if, as now, we meet in late March, there’s the NCAA championship. In the rare years that Carolina’s not in the Sweet 16–yes, we Tarheel fans are that spoiled–we can always root against Duke together.

This year we’re meeting in Estes Park, Colorado, right next to Rocky Mountain National Park.

This place.

So, this should be a perfect weekend, right? #1 seed Carolina’s in, playing this Friday. And Duke? They’ve already choked lost to a lowly 15-seed.

Except.

Something I forgot to mention: these NC friends of ours moved to LA. As in UCLA. Whose team is also in the Sweet 16. Playing Friday.

Luckily for our mutual friendship, UNC and UCLA aren’t playing each other Friday. So we’re free to cheer for both.

Except.

If both couples’ sports-gods prayers are answered, both our teams will win. Then they have to face each other.

How ’bout that for a test of friendship?

I’d like to think that, on Friday, I’ll be wholeheartedly cheering for the UCLA Bruins to beat Kentucky. And I will be. Mostly.

But I gotta admit, more than a teensy part of me will be secretly hoping they lose. Just so we can all cheer on the Tarheels, together, on Sunday. If Carolina loses and UCLA wins, I’ll be a huge Bruins fan.

And if it comes to UNC-UCLA? I’ll be cheering first and foremost for our friendship. Of COURSE.  What kind of person do you think I am?    🙂

 

 

Road Trip VII, Days 10-16: Tobacco Road (a.k.a.Durham and Chapel Hill, NC) During March Madness

Spending a week in the house you grew up in will, when you’re my age, make you think. A LOT. First of all, I’m one of the VERY few people I know in their mid-50s whose parents both still live in the house they raised me in. Which means I can, in fact, go home again–with apologies to fellow Tarheel Thomas Wolfe.

That’s a pretty rarified privilege right there.

So I’ve been spending the week thinking about privilege. Not just white privilege, which has been much on people’s minds since, say, Trayvon Martin, with the 2016 election as a nice little underline that this shit is real. No, I’m talking about about a more generalized idea of privilege. The kind you breathe growing up, to the point where you’re not aware of it. Like air, it’s just THERE.

That’s how it feels to be a Duke or a Carolina basketball fan.

Yes, the two programs, at either end of Tobacco Road, are  bitter rivals. One’s private, one’s public. But like their colors, both share only slightly different shades of the same blue-bloodedness. While some universities would give their eyeteeth to be able to join the NCAA Big Dance even as a lowly 16-seed, Duke and Carolina people are shaken to the core at the mere possibility of coming in anywhere lower than a 6. (Yes, it has happened, and no, I don’t wanna talk about it.)

Full disclosure: I’m a Carolina fan who was practically raised on the Duke campus. So I know what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about walls–visible and invisible. I’m talking about that sense of safety and well-being that comes with belonging to an exclusive club. I’m talking about walking onto a park-like campus of huge trees and gracious architecture thinking nothing more than, “Hmm, a chicken biscuit sounds good right now” or “That’s a cool shirt, maybe I’ll get one of those.”

Order yours today.

[Note: a major component of club-belonging is in-jokes. Case in point: the above T-shirt, which would take so long for me to explain to you that I’ll just mention the hashtag and move on: #theceilingistheroof ]

The other day I took a break between watching ACC basketball games with my fellow Carolina Tarheel fanatics*** and went for a run along Bolin Creek in Chapel Hill. There I saw a young woman lying in a hammock strung between two trees, on a tiny island in the middle of the creek. She was working on her laptop, in the hammock. (I don’t generally carry a camera when I run, so you’ll just have to imagine it.)

[***since, for those of you new to Wing’s World, watching ACC games with our Tarheel Tribe, from our former NC lives, is the reason the Mate and I started road tripping to begin with]

That girl was, I decided, the perfect symbol for this feeling I was trying to capture: confident in her ability to creek-hammock without asking anyone’s permission, in her safety to do so without getting bothered, in her artless joy in the beauty of her surroundings. Laptop in hammock in creek? Can’t get more privileged than that.

The wall surrounding Duke’s East Campus doesn’t keep anyone out. It just sends a message.

That was my whole childhood: supported, surrounded, embraced. I had Duke Forest practically in my backyard to run and ramble in, the Duke track to train on, Duke coaches to consult with (during my high school years) and hone my athletic talent and (I suspect) help me get into the college of my choice.

One of the Duke Forest entrances. Anyone can enter…but does everyone feel, as I did, that it was really mine?

Of course I’m not saying that everyone who walks onto the Duke or Carolina campuses comes from circumstances as lucky as mine. I know most of them must face, or have faced, adversity of some kind–financial, emotional, physical, all three. But once members of those Duke or Carolina tribes, we are somehow blessed for life, whether we choose to think about it or not. We belong. We expect our team to win.

So what?

I’m still thinking about the “so what” part. I suspect it has to do with empathy. What, I wonder, do you think?

PS: Go Heels!

How Sweet (and Shameful) It Is To Be a Tarheel: The NCAA Finals And The Bathroom Law

We Southerners who leave the South are a conflicted bunch. I recently tried to capture my mixed feelings about my “sweet sunny South” homeland in a song. Here’s the chorus:

Yeah, it’s another song about the South, y’all–

Tryin’ to sort my feelings out once and for all.

How can someone feel so in and out of place?

That sweet, sunny South where I first saw the light,

If she’s my ol’ mama, I’m a teenager in flight.

Do I want to hug her neck…or slap her face?

That conflict has been raging stronger than ever this past couple of weeks, as these two feelings battle within me:

  1. I am SO DADGUM PROUD (as Coach Williams would say) of my Carolina Tarheels, playing their way into the National Championship game!
  2. I am so ashamed of the North Carolinian voters, who elected the representatives who passed HB2, a.k.a. the “Bathroom Law,” which requires people to use the bathroom assigned to whichever gender they were born with.
(courtesy cnn.com)

(courtesy cnn.com)

Luckily, the law is encountering an enormous backlash. I doubt something so discriminatory will stand for long. But just the fact that my fellow Tarheels thought it was a good idea to pass a law so mean-spirited and divisive makes me sad. So much for the “New South.”

(courtesy pinterest)

(courtesy pinterest)

I’m wearing my Carolina Blue as I write this–earrings and all. I’ll be cheering my head off tonight, and I’ll be almost as proud if our guys lose than if they win. But what would make me the proudest? If my former fellow citizens reject this law with all their physical might. I want to get back to feeling like hugging their necks instead of slapping their faces.

The Final Four and the Sickness That “Heels”: Carolina Fever

Here’s why I know I’m not a COMPLETELY un-redeemable Carolina men’s basketball fan:

  1. I have a sense of humor about how much it means to me (sort of)
  2. I refuse to defend Tarheel Coach Roy Williams from charges that he knew about the fake classes his players were given credit for “attending” these past few years. He probably did, or if he didn’t, he should have.

But here’s why I know I’m pretty far gone: this year, right now, I DON’T CARE. The Heels are in the Final Four for the first time in seven years. Back in 2009, they won it all, under the leadership one of my all-time favorite players, Tyler Hansbrough, who stayed all four years to get the job done. This year, that favorite player is Marcus Paige, another senior (and Academic All-American). The Heels are one game from the finals, two from the championship. And I don’t just want that championship for me, I want it for Marcus.

This guy.

This guy.

But I want it even more for someone else. A whole family, actually. Last month, back in my home state of North Carolina to watch the ACC tournament with our Tarheel Tribe, The Mate and I learned some terrible news. The day before the tournament began, the 48 year-old son of some of our Tribe members was diagnosed with leukemia. His parents and his brother were in shock. And they all spent the next three days in someone’s living room cheering for the Tarheels.

The Tribe (partial), doing what we do.

The Tribe (partial), doing what we do.

Wait, you say–what? What is wrong with these people? Their son is going through chemo in the hospital and they’re watching basketball? Where’s their sense of perspective?

My answer: these folks were doing exactly what they needed to be doing. They were seeking solace with their Tribe. And of course their son–who’s SUCH a fanatic he doesn’t even join the annual group because he gets too nervous–was watching all the games at the same time, from his hospital bed. It was a beautiful kind of group witness…crazy, yes, but loving.

Son Two joined the Tarheel Tribe at an arly age.

Son Two joined the Tarheel Tribe at an arly age.

Didn’t hurt that the Heels won the tournament.

And now? Our friend’s son is almost done with his first round of chemo. Being the fan that he is, he’s already joking that he’s going to have to go back into the hospital NEXT year in order for the Heels to win again.

And that tells me something. College sports may be corrupt in all sorts of ways…but it’s also pure in one special way. It brings the Tribe together. And maybe, just maybe, the Heels, through their athletic efforts, will have the power to heal.

Go Tarheels.

OK, I’m Home–Now How Do I Hang Onto All Those Memories?

10,000 miles. 20 states (OK, 19 plus Puerto Rico). 60 close friends and family members. 23 local, state and national parks. 

We’re home. Time to caption & share the photos. That should do it for capturing memories, right?

For any normal person, maybe. But for capturing the full vibrancy of a past moment, I like to play “Best of.” It’s a game we started with our kids when they were small, and I think it rubbed off more on me than on them. Here’s how it works:

Best Hike of Trip: Nevada Falls in Yosemite (3/28). (I mean, really, how could anything in Yosemite NOT win Best Hike?) Eating an orange way too close to the edge with my son who’s about to disappear into Central America for 2 months…

Casey

Runner-up: El Yunque Peak, Puerto Rico (3/7) Getting drenched with The Mate on the way down…after all, it IS a rain forest…

Honorable Mention: Nevada Falls again (3/27). Yup, I went up twice in a row. Didn’t have enough time the first day.

Best Bike Path: Turtle Bay, Redding, California (3/29). An old favorite, not a new discovery, but nothing beats this wonderfully curvy path with its little roller-coaster section, wild bunnies, blooming redbuds…

Runner-up: Provo River, Utah (3/23). Exercising nervous tension before Carolina’s final NCAA game…

Honorable Mention: Bettendorf, Iowa (3/20). Who knew the Quad Cities were so into fitness?

Best Dinner: That little hamlet near Ceiba, Puerto Rico that served fish with sauteed onions and lime (3/6). Giant as-yet-uncaught fish patrolled the waters beneath the restaurant deck, probably scarfing the entrails of our dinner.

PR

Runner-up: a tie between Mama Dip’s Fried Chicken in Chapel Hill (3/14) (Mama Dip catered our wedding back in 1986!) and our friend Ben’s braised lamb shanks in Asheville, NC (3/1). Ben OWNS lamb.

Honorable Mention: fried pork and plantains, El Yunque (3/3 and 3/4). Good thing we got out of there; that diet would have killed us. But we would’ve died happy…

Best Lunch: Allen & Son’s BBQ with fixins (3/13). OOOF. No possible runner-up.
image

Best Breakfast: El Yunque Inn’s creamy oatmeal with fresh mango (3/4). Since all our other breakfasts were cereal, that one kinda stands out…

And, lest you think with me and The Mate it’s all about exercise and food…well, it is. On road trips, we are rarely in Museum Mode. But we do branch out occasionally.

Best Cultural Experience: Bluegrass & Beer at Asheville’s French Broad Brewery (3/1). It’s the name of the river, silly, not some Parisian chick…

Runner-up: My own (first!) author reading at The Regulator Bookshop in my hometown, Durham, NC (3/11). 🙂
20140317-135105.jpg
Best Unexpected Find: Great Basin National Park, Nevada (3/25-6). Aspens. Quiet. Wild turkeys.

Runner-up: Rock Canyon, Provo, Utah (3/22). Whoa, those rock climbers are all so happy!

Honorable Mention: Tie between the Ceiba Country Inn, Puerto Rico (3/5-6)--all those dogs!--and the Indianapolis Museum of Art’s 100-acre sculpture woods (3/19). Is that a spaceship sinking in that lake?

Notice a pattern here? The bolded words are the real memories. The whole “contest” is just an excuse to push my brain to run through all those thousands of possibilities, reinforcing the synaptic connections of every single one of those 49 days. 

Oh, and the dates? That’s just my nerdiness. See, my grandma lived to be 103 and kept a razor-sharp memory till the end. Just in case I’ve inherited her longevity genes, I’m keeping my own brain in SHAPE.

So that’s how I remember good times. Do you have other tricks? Memorabilia? Rock collections? Or are you so glad to be home you just let it all go and move on to doing laundry?