Travel Log, Recent Entries
ACROSS THE SOUTH
Next Stop, Old Friends
Tennessee was a welcome change, especially for Rus, who by the end of our Florida visit was considering killing himself and taking as many people with him as he could (fortunately Kathleen was able to talk him down). Rus had visited Tennessee many times, mostly beer runs across the state line when he lived in a dry northern Alabama county, and even had a short stay in a Tennessee jail as a young man. It was good to be back, especially since we were visiting Jack and Cindy. Jack and Rus were best friends in high school; they've had many adventures together and have stayed in sporadic touch with each other ever since. Jack and Cindy live with their two dogs, a cat, 13 horses (most of them the size of a Saint Bernard) and one calf, on a knoll overlooking some of Southern Tennessee's finest hill country. The house they built there is big enough for them plus all the animals, though some of the horses would have to share a bedroom.
Being both military brats, Jack and Rus were scattered to the winds growing up, moving every 2-3 years to a different state or a different country. They met in Paris, France, and graduated from high school together there. These days there's not much, apart from their families, that links them to that time of their lives except their friendship, which has lasted more than 40 years. It was, and always is, a special event to see Jack, and especially here on this beautiful land he and Cindy have settled in. In the evenings we feasted on Jack’s gourmet cooking and the good company of old friends; by day we drove Jack’s gators around the hills to explore the place, through creek beds and leaf-covered woods, open pastures in the flatland and finally, to the corral, to feed the horses. Ziggy had a new experience, being surrounded by 13 horses who found her very interesting. Jack also gave us a tour of the surrounding area, including a drive out to the Amish farms where we bought a walnut pie. We didn’t know there was such a large community of Amish in Tennessee.
Our next stop was Grassy Flat, near Hartford Tennessee, on the edge of the Smoky Mountains, to see Fred and Robin, who we'd met in Hunting Island, South Carolina. We were just leaving as they were driving into the campground, and Fred jumped out of his rig to ask Rus a dozen questions about ours. We had such an interesting connection, that when they invited us to visit them if we had the chance, we decided to make this our chance. The nice thing about not having a destination is that we can drive two hundred miles out of our "way" if we want to.
Fred and Robin live on a 20-acre farm in Grassy Flat, a prime part of the 10,000 acres that Fred's great-great grandfather owned when he settled this country in 1820. Fred says he's related to most of the people in the valley. They grow much of their own food in a large garden which they don't have to fence because their neighbors keep the deer population down, and because they're both vegetarians they don't have livestock, which simplifies their lives tremendously. They also make their own wine, and we did more than sample their latest, a very good dry blackberry wine, vintage 2005.
Robin is an accomplished batik artist who creates beautiful original designs on clothing which she sells at regional craft shows. Kathleen couldn't decide between two dresses; they looked so good on her that Rus uncharacteristically advised her to take both! Fred makes custom collars, ID tags, harnesses, and leashes for dogs, which he also sells at shows. He made us a gift of a beautiful harness for Ziggy, very flattering to her figure.
They live in a house that cost his father five hundred dollars to build, filled with artwork, both Robin's and others', that they've collected on their travels. They live comfortably, self-reliantly and creatively, an ongoing process of making conscious choices about what will add to the quality of their lives and what won't. They're both very alive and interesting, and were generous hosts. Fred has the quintessential hill-country knack of storytelling, accent included, that makes everything he says more interesting, as did the neighbors who stopped by to chat on the front porch. They invited their best friend Andy, a very sharp and creative younger guy from Germany who bought land nearby and lived on it for years before moving to nearby Asheville, where he makes instructional DVDs on home brewing. Have you ever heard a German speak English with a southern accent? It's about as endearing as it gets. We loved Andy, and since he stayed for two days, we guess he had a good time with us, too!
Alabama, revisiting old memories
Rus lived and went to college for a year in Florence, Alabama, and wanted to see it again, since it had been some 35 years or so since he was there. He lived in the upstairs of an old carriage house, and wanted to show it to Kathleen. We walked around town but couldn't find his old place though he knew we were in the neighborhood. We went into a beautiful new library to get directions, and found we were standing where the carriage house had been.
Another of his Alabama friends, David, was the son of a professor, Stanley Rosenbaum, who with his wife Mildred commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design and build their house, the only FLW home in the state. In 1999 the City of Florence bought the house and its 3 acres overlooking the Tennessee River for $75,000, spent another $700,000 restoring it, and opened it to the public. Rus had been in the home several times and had even been lucky enough to eat some of Mildred's wonderful cooking at a time when he lived mostly on cornbread, chicken gizzards and collard greens. Kathleen is enchanted with much of Wright's design so it was an easy sell to visit the Rosenbaum home again. All the contents had been included in the sale, so even the table settings were familiar.
The Rosenbaum House, Florence AL
Rus will always owe a debt of gratitude to Stanley Rosenbaum for the following reason: In 1968 the nearby town of Sheffield had a big "Support Our Men In Viet Nam Parade", with the local National Guard, old boys from the American Legion, high school marching bands, ROTC units, pretty girls in convertables, the works. Rus was inspired to join in with a large placard which said, "Support Our Men In Viet Nam--Bring Them Home, Now!", but was promptly arrested and hauled off to jail before he had a chance to jump in the parade. He was allowed one phone call to a friend, who called Stanley, who came over to the courthouse and met with the judge. As one of maybe four Jewish people in the whole town and a Harvard graduate, Stanley was an outsider but he commanded a lot of respect, and was well-known for his liberal views. He was also an influential member of the A.C.L.U. in Alabama. Shortly after his visit with the judge, Stanley came over to the jail and Rus was released, all charges dropped.
Rus' old friend John still lives in Florence, and we got to visit with him and his wife Jackie for a few hours before we left. One of Rus' most prized posessions is a sign which he and John liberated late one night from the back alley of a dentist's office next to the police station, which said, "Colored Entrance". 37 years later, John still has his edge, and it was great to see him again.
Another local attraction that we wanted to see was Helen Keller's birthplace in nearby Tuscumbia. The home and cottage have been beautifully maintained, with nearly all the original furniture from the 1800's. Best of all were the many photos of her throughout her life. Did you know that Helen invented a way to "listen" to someone talk by placing her fingers on their lips and throat and interpreting the vibrations? If you're ever feeling sorry for yourself, or just want a big dose of inspiration, think about Helen Keller and her remarkable teacher, Anne, for a few minutes and you'll ge sure to feel better.
At left: Young Helen Keller reading a book
On the way out of town, just had to see the old Fame Recording Studio in Mussel Shoals. You may not know the place, but if you've ever turned your car radio on, you've heard music recorded there.
Memphis and the Civil Rights Museum
On to Memphis. We didn't care about Beale Street, or Graceland, being saturated with tourist attractions; all we wanted to do there was visit the National Civil Rights Museum. It's a large complex, built on the site of the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King was killed April 4, 1968, (the room appears just as he had left it) and incorporates both the motel and the boarding house across the street where James Earl Ray fired the shot. At first it seemed grotesque to us to build a civil rights museum out of the core of these two infamous buildings, but as we walked through the exhibits and absorbed the long, painful, and ongoing story of African American people's struggle for nearly everything that white people take for granted, the power of the site became clear. A great tension builds from the presentation of the historic events as they unfolded. We were moved and deeply saddened, but we also found it to be an inspiring testament to the numerous heroic woman and men, both invisible and well-known, who fought for what they knew was right.
By this time in our trip we were on a schedule. We had miles to cover, people to visit, and a few days set aside at a favorite spot just for us before attending a very special event, Rus’s parent’s 60 th anniversary celebration in Desert Hot Springs, CA. So we drove into a spectacular light-show of a sunset to Little Rock, where we camped, and then arrived, as the doors opened the next morning, at the newly-opened William Jefferson Clinton Library. Housed in a beautifully modern, spacious building that juts out as if it were a bridge across the Arkansas River, the library is packed with photos, memorabilia and the story of Clinton's presidency. In spite of his human failings (we've noticed that most people have them), we like Clinton and these days he's looking better than ever by comparison. It was an interesting and enjoyable stop. After walking the dogs and picnicking on the spacious grounds, we hit the road to Dallas and one of Kathleen's favorite places, Karla’s house.
Karla is Kathleen’s sister, and her house is so familiar and pleasing, it feels almost like home. When Kathleen tells people she loves Dallas they often look surprised. But Dallas means hanging out with Karla, laughing together, sharing our deepest thoughts about everything under the sun, eating her fresh and wholesome cooking or trying out interesting restaurants, and enjoying some of the sophistication and culture that a big city offers with a guide that knows what's happening. Karla lives in a wonderful neighborhood of small homes near White Rock Lake and the arboritum. It's a great walk from her place to the lake, through an area where the homes get progressively grander and further from the street, softened by large, shady old trees and ample lawns.
We happened to be there during an unusually cold spell, with sleet and ice and temperatures down to 14 degrees, so this visit was less about doing the town and more about simply being together. We did brave the cold to celebrate her birthday at a place called the Standard. It set a new one for us. The chef's attention to quality and his creative knack for blending herbs and flavors produced an exquisite meal, from soup to entree, and to the fabulous chocolate something we had for dessert.
One day Rus took Turtle to Camping World for some work, and the two sisters went shopping. Like old times as kids, we were picking out things for each other to try on-- knowing each others bodies and tastes so well-- laughing at ourselves in certain cuts and styles, and enjoying the sweetness of sharing this stage of our lives and of our bodies with one who understands the challenges of maturing with grace and acceptance, with humor and even a touch of elegance. Karla is in an inspiration and a joy to visit.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
If you could have relatives anywhere, where would you choose to visit them? Kathleen feels doubly lucky to have a sister in Santa Fe because both the place and Anna's family are a treat to see! Long recognized by artists, the beauty of Santa Fe comes both from its high desert mountain setting and from the unique and typical architecture that blends so naturally there. Anna, Frank, 7 year old Bennett and their 2 dogs (We missed Kyrie, who was out of town) live in an adobe-type home on the outskirts of town. The spirit of Christmas was in the air and their house looked lovely.
Their family is as dog-centered as ours so we had fun walking the dogs each day in the arroyos and hills of the spacious dog park. Sunday morning Frank took us to a Mexican market to pick up some items for breakfast. There we had to pull ourselves away from the medicinal remedy counter which carried bottles of bull testicle capsules, poltices with the Virgin de Guadalupe on the wrapper, and potions for wealth and love. Later, we drove out to the lovely Santuario de Chimayo, noted for it's sacred earth, and then ate dinner at the Rancho de Chimayo where Frank had proposed to Anna some 19 or 20 years earlier. It was a good visit, they are in the midst of undertaking some major changes and shared their thoughts and feelings about the challenges and possibilities ahead. Most of all, we enjoyed the warmth of sitting around the fire, talking late into the night with people we love.
Faywood Hot Springs, New Mexico
Faywood Hot Springs in the distance
We made Faywood Hot Springs, a magical desert oasis we'd discovered the previous winter, by early evening, with time for a relaxing soak before dinner, and a hike up the hill nearby to enjoy the sunset. Very few others were there, just as before, so we had 4 luxurious days, often with the pools to ourselves, and endless empty miles of surrounding desert to explore by foot. Ziggy had fun at first chasing after the jackrabbits, but as she realized she was no match for them her pursuits grew more and more half-hearted.
Faywood appears to be on its way(very slowly) to becoming a retreat center, with a visitors center and meeting rooms nearing completion, and a watsu (a type of gentle massage done suspended in water) pool under construction. We admire the owners' dedication to this huge undertaking and wish them much success.
And Back to California
Our next stop was Desert Hot Springs, a small town near Palm Springs, CA, for a very special event: Rus' parents' 60th wedding anniversary celebration. Les and Marge don't live there, but took a suite of rooms at the luxurious Miracle Springs Resort and Spa, invited everyone to meet them there for three days, and generously picked up the whole tab. It was great to see the three generations of their family (including two of our own sons, who we hadn't seen since we left), complete with daughters-in-law and girlfriends, all gathered together in their honor. Les and Marge's marriage has always been an inspiration and a blueprint for Rus, even when he wasn't paying attention. Now, mellowed by so many years together and free of so much of the "busy-ness" that occupies younger couples, their love for each other is the first thing you would notice about them.
Home, Humboldt bay
Then heading north and home to Humboldt County to see our family and friends, and make preparations for our next trip, to the Americas. It was great to be home again, but since our house was still rented out for the next 18 months, we felt a little like visitors. Fortunately, we have generous family and friends who offered us places to stay, and we don't know what we'd have done without them, as it ended up taking 2 1/2 months to get everything done. Thanks to Jamie and Larissa, Marni and Tony, and especially to Don and Kathy, who had no idea (and neither did we) we'd be staying at their cottage for six weeks!
The weather was a disaster practically the whole time we were home, which hampered our efforts to get ready. Not just rain, but severe storms and gale winds causing week-long power outages, flooding, downed trees and slides blocking highways for days, making any kind of work impossible. We needed to make some major changes to the Rig, including tires, suspension, security and storage (see "The Rig: Update") to make it road-worthy for the next trip, but were stalled by the weather at every turn. There were other preparations as well, including vaccinations, health certificate for Ziggy, doing our taxes, setting up a new accounting program, banking, getting a satellite phone, as many et-ceteras as you want. Eventually got it all done and on March 9th, 2006 we took off into the sunset, traveling south.