Road Trip VI, Final Installment: One Day None Of This Will Be Yours

This will be the final post of Road Trip VI; after this, Wing’s World stops being a travel blog and morphs back into its un-pigeon-holeable self. Unlike past years, when I’d now be accompanying The Mate on the drive back across country, vowing never again to eat that much fried chicken and BBQ (until next year), I am actually home already, courtesy of Delta Airlines. Red Rover and The Mate are still faithfully road-tripping back to me, but my bakery is opening early this year under new management, and I opted to fly home early.

But I’m still gone to Carolina in my mind. Because the weather was so sweetly springy last week (for once), I spent a lot of time wandering around the grubby little farm I grew up on. In between cuddling Stevie, the World’s Cutest Donkey, I took some time to meditate on this fact: my family’s farm is slipping away…but not the way you might think. 

Even cuter in real life!

Even cuter in real life!

My parents jump-started Carolina Friends School by donating land. That’s why I grew up next to CFS, and why I refer to it as “My Sister the School.” And since my real sisters and I have moved away and feel no desire to return to the South, our parents have decided that CFS will inherit all the rest–the pastures, the barn, the garden, the pond, and the house I grew up in. And, being wise people, they have already begun the bequest.

Tierreich Pond: Now With Extra Turtles!

Tierreich Pond: Now With Extra Turtles!

Slowly but surely, my sister the school is taking over the farm. Where dense piney woods once separated the pastures from the school buildings on the other side of the creek, now the construction of new athletic fields and a road to a future performing arts building have left only a handful of trees to delineate the old from the new.

Follow the red clay road!

Follow the red clay road!

It’s changed my whole mental geography. There’s no longer a “here” and a “there.” Now it’s “old” and “new,” but new gets newer every year I visit. My little sister is moving in.

I hear the horses are learning to appreciate baseball.

I hear the horses are learning to appreciate baseball.

Don’t get me wrong–I think this is great. It’s just weird. I know I’m lucky to have hung onto my childhood geography for over five decades. So few people get to do that! And now, I’m even luckier: rather than watch the Old Home Place fall into disrepair, I get to see it transformed, into classrooms or Quaker conference facilities, or whatever the CFS Board decides.

Dormitory? Hmm...

Dormitory? Hmm…

Come to think of it, those new roads are a good idea. Future Quaker educators might have a little trouble with my parents’ driveway.

My folks insist this is safe to drive across. Hey, it's only a 20-foot drop on the other side!

My folks insist this is safe to drive across. Hey, it’s only a 20-foot drop on the other side!

So rather than singing “What Have They Done To the Old Home Place”, I’m looking forward to next year’s visit. Hey there, lil’ sis–my, how you’ve grown!

 

Road Trip VI, Days 20-23, Monroe, Louisiana to Cumberland Island National Seashore: Whose Woods These Are I Think I Know

Piney hills. Black-water cypress swamps. Real, deciduous oaks that understand they’re supposed to grow new leaves every year. Maples starting their spring blush. Redbuds already blushing hard. Spanish moss. Magnolias.

We headin’ HOME. Or I am, anyway. But this journey was the idea of my Californian Mate, so he can hardly complain.

But the scenery is already leading to some arguments interesting discussions. I’m a western chauvinist with a deep strain of southeastern nostalgia–an uncomfortable combination. Makes me tetchy. I can claim–and do–that northwestern forests are more dramatic, beautiful, and walkable than those in, say, my home state of North Carolina…but you can’t. The Mate walks into this trap constantly.

Him: “Those pines are a such a weird shade of green.”
Me: “Well, at least they have more individuality than our firs.”
Him: “These wintertime hardwoods make the forest look dead!”
Me: “But at least you can see through it this time of year! And look at the size of that hickory!”

I’ve come to think of these southeastern forests as the ultimate glass-half-full-vs.-empty scenario. I can choose to see a scrubby, scratchy, inhospitable tangle of poison ivy, smilax and honeysuckle…or I can see heritage: my daily walk to school; summer blackberrying; finding a safe spot to pee in the woods during a run. Or, in literary daydreams, Scout Finch and Zora Neale Hurston’s Janie.

 

I know my bipolar attitude is the result of too much history. I can’t see cotton fields without thinking about James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men; can’t see big magnolias without thinking of Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit.” The South is soaked in more misery per acre than any other region in our country.

Usually, I’ll admit, I see those scruffy, history-laden woods and and think how lucky I am to live diagonally across the continent from here, in forests where nothing wants to bite me or make me itchy, or make me think of slavery, share cropping and the KKK.

These woods aren't dead--they're just getting their beauty sleep.

These woods aren’t dead–they’re just getting their beauty sleep.

But if anyone else says that to me? Nuh-uh, honey.

BTW: I’ll write about our discovery of Cumberland Island in my next post. Right now I just have to give a little shout-out to our friends Raven and Chickadee (a.k.a. Eric and Laurel) for steering us to Oak Mountain State Park via their travel blog, Ravenandchickadee.com. This largest of Alabama’s state parks offers miles of steep, winding trails in wild-feeling woods an astonishing ten miles south of its largest city, Birmingham. We didn’t get enough time there and look forward to staying longer some day. In Alabama!

Oak Mountain, Alabama? This western scary snob says, "Pretty pretty!"

Oak Mountain, Alabama? This western scenery snob says, “Pretty pretty!”

Road Trip VI, Days 16-19, Scottsdale to Dallas: A Texas-Sized Apology

This is NOT the post I was planning on, until last night. The Mate and I have spent the bulk of these past few days hiking and biking in our favorite Texan discovery: Caprock Canyons State Park. Last year we only had time for a day hike, so this time we were thrilled to have nearly three days here. I was planning to talk about the park’s bison herd, and to post lost of pictures like this:

"Do not approach wild bison," the brochure says. Ummm...

“Do not approach wild bison,” the brochure says. Ummm…

And this:

Hey, big guy. Or gal. Ma'am. Please, after you...

Hey, big guy. Or gal. Ma’am. Please, after you…

Or some of the park’s beautiful red scenery:

No, "Texas scenery" is not an oxymoron.

No, “Texas scenery” is not an oxymoron.

In between photos, I was planning on inserting as many snarky comments about Texas as possible, like: “Someone must’ve picked up Texas and shook it, ’cause all the scenery ran down into these canyons.” If you’ve read any of my Road Trip posts from the past five years, you know I love to hate on Texas–its in-your-face attitude, its giant vehicles and lack of carpool lanes, not to mention recycling bins…and don’t get me started on its senators.

But guess what, Texas: something happened, and I owe you an apology.

On our second night of camping, we were to be joined by our friends from Dallas. These dear folks were willing to drive five hours through Friday traffic to meet us at our campsite in the evening and go hiking next day.

When they didn’t show up on time, we thought, “Oh well, traffic,” and got dinner started. (We were out of cell phone range.) But when they arrived in one of those Texas-sized pickups, followed by a state trooper, we turned off the stove. What happened?

Turns out they’d hit a deer, out in the middle of Texas nowhere. The deer died instantly (and mercifully). This is what happened to their little VW:

I still can't believe neither of them was hurt.

I still can’t believe neither of them was hurt.

As they were standing on the roadside, in shock, assessing the damage, a truck drove by, did a U-turn, and stopped to help. The driver was an EMT, and even though our friends were (blessedly) unhurt, I found this very reassuring. This guy insisted on escorting them to the nearest town, Turkey, Texas, 10 miles away. That’s about as far as the now-radiatorless VW could limp.

That guy got our friends as far as a garage, closed for the night. But as they were standing there, discussing their options–motel? None in sight; Rental car? Seriously? This is Turkey, Texas–an old guy stepped out of the convenience store across the street and overheard them. He invited them in to recover, and had them leave their poor mashed car on his driveway. Then he insisted on driving them the remaining ten miles to the park, then escorting them to our campsite. He left them with his phone number in case they needed help the next day.

Thanks, guy from Turkey, Texas!

Thanks, guy from Turkey, Texas!

I know, I know. Good Samaritans come in all shapes and sizes. But the fact that this one came in the guise of someone with whom our friends likely shared NOTHING in common politically was especially poignant to us. A bunch of sweet, helpful Texans. Thanks, universe. I needed that.

 

 

Road Trip VI, Days 8-11, Pinnacles National Park to L.A.: How Giant Rocks Bring to Life My Inner Philosopher-Child

I said it last year in a post from Joshua Tree: I LOVE big rocks. Climbing on them, sitting in their shade, hiking around them–heck, even just driving past. There’s something about the way a nondescript hillside suddenly bares its soul to reveal the inner globules of sandstone or tuff or conglomerate that were there all along: “Look what I got going on!”

Let's go, y'all!

Let’s go, y’all!

And yes, of course I don’t mean “suddenly”–we’re talking about erosion here. But that’s the effect, and it gets me every time.

The Mate and I just spent two nights camping in Pinnacles National Park. While our nights were private, there were actually four of us on our daily hikes: us two, my inner child, and my inner philosopher.

Big Rocks!!!!!

Big Rocks!!!!!

Inner Child was the loudest: “Can we climb on that? Can we can we can we? Ooh, look–CAVES!!!!”

Caves!!!!

Caves!!!!

But Inner Philosopher was just as insistent: “Do you REALIZE that all these fantastic spires and hoodoos are actually just the remnants of what is there ALL THE TIME–what you are even now walking upon and taking completely for granted? Have you thought about what it MEANS that only passivity in the face of inexorable forces can reveal the inner truths of external appearance? Was the Buddha right–all is illusion? Or are these rocks the living soul of the earth? Or are they merely the next layer that our mortal eyes are capable of SEEING?”

I see a spire. Inner Philosopher sees...inspiration.

I see a spire. Inner Philosopher sees…inspiration.

Luckily for The Mate, most of this chatter was inside my head. All he had to put up with was me, oohing and ahhing at the condors and hummingbirds. But he was doing the same.

Couldn't get a picture of a condor. But here's a hummingbird for you!

Couldn’t get a picture of a condor. But here’s a hummingbird for you!

I know this isn’t a classic travel blog, but just in case you find yourself in the lower Bay Area or traveling toward LA on I-5, here’s a classic travel blog tip, take yourself to Pinnacles. Who knows who might turn out to be making the trip with you?

 

Road Trip VI, Days 4-7: Oakland to Pinnacles National Park: Oh, Those California Hills

When I was 16, my dearest wish was to go to Stanford. No, not true; my dearest wish as to win the heart of a certain blue-eyed California man. But Stanford was second. Not for its courses of study or its resume-boosting power, understand. I was in love with the hills.

I first saw them while out visiting my aunt in the Bay Area. I was a little North Carolina girl, raised in the unspectacular beauty of the rural south. Those golden hills, graceful grass swellings studded with tortuous oaks–I had never seen anything like them. To walk upon them, I felt, would be like walking into a painting. No scruffy underbrush of poison ivy and blackberry. No copperheads. Clean and pure.

(Courtesy Wikimedia; I did not have my camera handy--but can't you just hear them calling you?)

(Courtesy Wikimedia; I did not have my camera handy–but can’t you just hear them calling you?)

I did not get to do that. By the time of collegiate commitment, I was in a deep relationship with that California man–my Mate–who had grown up literally across the tracks from Stanford and scorned all things Cardinal in a visceral way. I stuck to the east coast, and I’ve never regretted that choice. And later visits to this area, seeing my in-laws, taught me that those hills were never as pristine as they looked, being, A) laced with poison oak and B) largely private property, and therefore C) loaded with cow poop. Neither clean nor pure.

But driving past them now, when they’re green with recent rain? My heart is 16 again. Northern California is so freakin’ gorgeous.

I’m reminded of lyrics from one of my favorite songwriters, Kate Wolf:

Here in California, the fruit hangs heavy on the vine

 but there’s no gold, thought I’d warn ya–

and the hills turn brown in the summertime.

Yeah, yeah, I get it, Kate–youthful dreams are just that. Life doesn’t turn out that way. But in my case, it turned out better. Thanks, life.

I’ll write about the Pinnacles later. Right now I’m too busy connecting with my inner teenager.

Road Trip VI, Days 1-3: Tacoma to Oakland: Pitcher Plants and Sticky-fingered Hugs

Two year-olds have their own gravitational pull. Two year-old TWINS have a pull exponentially stronger. That explains why, for the second year in a row, our road trip brings us first to Oakland. That’s where these cuties live–our pseudo-grandkids. (They’re actually some sort of cousin, but who looks at anthropological charts when they can look at these guys?)

These guys.

These guys.

But much as we’ve looked forward to being hugged with little sticky fingers, The Mate and I have not rushed headlong to Oakland. There are too many pretty places in between. After a short visit with vibrant old friends in Eugene, we zipped off the interstate and headed for the California redwoods, which exert a pull of their own. And that meant…

Oh boy! Highway 199! We love this road. From the bowl of Grants Pass (“Grass Pants,” to our family), it winds up through mixed-forest hills to the high valley of the Illinois River, near Cave Junction. Acting on a tip from a friend who grew up here, we turned off on Eight Dollar Mountain Road and went for a bike ride and then a hike-picnic in a very unusual ecosystem.

This place.

This place.

Pine trees + manzanita = Dry. Moss + pitcher plants (tall, insectivorous swamp-denizens) = Wet. This little mountain features both of them together. How weird is that?

These guys.

These guys.

Another cool feature of our outing: serpentinite. Yes, I did read the info kiosk that told me exactly what makes this glossy green stone so green and glossy–and no, I don’t remember what it said. All I know is, I picnicked sitting on something we dubbed “the emerald throne.”

This stuff.

This stuff.

And then, yes…off we drove to our happy place among the redwood giants, about whom I’ve written before. And from there along the crashing coast, back up and over the hills, moving through fog from redwoods to oaks to vineyards to the Bay. And the babies. Feeling gratitude for all creatures great and small.

The Road is Calling: Off We Go on Road Trip VI

It’s that time of year. Days are lengthening, bulbs are pushing their tender way through softened ground, and Wing & Mate are heading out in “Red Rover” on their annual Road Trip–#6.

For background on said Road Trip, and why it’s timed to get us to North Carolina in time for the ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament, click here.

For the next five weeks, then, Wing’s World morphs into a travel blog. Scenery, food, weird road signs–the works. Whee!

Red Rover says, "C'mon, people!"

Red Rover says, “C’mon, people!”

See you on the road.