Saturday, May 24, 2008

Atlanta - we're almost there!

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent
about things that matter.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Late, late on Day 8 we reached the Carson's place, outside of Atlanta. They are transplanted homeschoolers from Los Angeles, with three darling girls. We enjoyed New Orleans so much that we left a few hours behind schedule, and, boy, it's a long way from Louisiana to Georgia. They were so kind to wait up for us, and feed us healthy, homemade food at midnight. I was so out of it, I didn't take any pictures of them.

We awoke to the LAST day of the trip. That night we'd be in Asheville! Wow. We were looking forward to staying put someplace for more than 6 hours. But on that last day, we wanted to check out Atlanta a bit. Adele and Stacey convinced us that the MLK Center was really worthwhile, so that's where we went. They were right. It was quite moving and inspirational.

It's run by the National Park system, the 1st park we visited that was in an urban environment. It's in the workng class neighborhood where King was born, and later preached. He and Coretta Scott King are buried there, King's archives and library are there too. It is the official, "living memorial dedicated to the advancement of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., leader of America’s greatest nonviolent movement for justice, equality and peace."

We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.
Martin Luther King, Jr.


Not surprisingly, we loved New Orleans. Despite it's traumas, the spirit of the place is rich and strong. We stayed with our dear, old peacenik friend John Fitzgerald and his family. We met John five + years ago in Highland Park, protesting the war. He started the Friday film nights that I took over when he moved to NOLA, pre-Katrina.

Connor loved John's son Max and their sweet new Christmas puppy Oso. We ate delicious gumbo and strode Bourbon Street like good tourists. Made an Organic Armor connection in one of the mask shops. We also went down to the 9th Ward and saw the devastation there. It was a cold night so we bundled up. We walked along a ghostly grid of streets that used to be lined with homes, now empty lots. Everything has been levelled. Some strange, red, glowing tents were set up here and there in the darkness to represent the new eco-friendly homes that will soon be built in those spots. There was a trailer with architectural models of some of these. We also saw the Common Ground House, a place where many grass roots, permaculture-type rebuilding efforts are based.

Map of houses in 9th ward destroyed by broken levee (in red).

John is a printmaker who makes beautiful letterpress cards and images. He took us to his studio in an old warehouse not too far from the French Quarter. Paul coveted the gritty, industrial, artists-loft vibe. It was the kind of place he hoped to set up for Organic Armor in Asheville (and succeeded in doing, as you shall see if I ever get caught up with these posts).
We will definitely head back to NOLA someday.

Couchsurf #2 Houston

After a very, very long drive, we reached Houston late on New Year's Day. There we met another couchsurfing family who welcomed us warmly on an unusually cold night for south Texas. They are Burning-Man-going, homeschoolers too, so we had a lot to talk about. They treated us so graciously, despite suffering from lack of sleep due to being new parents.

We headed out to New Orleans next morning after promising to stay in touch.

Peppermint NYE in Texas

We left the Caverns and headed southeast. It was New Year's Eve. We spent it in a crummy Motel Six in Fort Something or other, Texas. Watched several hours of "Mythbusters" and ate peanut butter on crackers for dinner. At midnight we took out a gift from my friend Janet - a peppermint pig. Apparently there is a Victorian holiday tradition of smashing a candy pig and sharing the pieces as a way to release the old year and bring in the new. We all made wishes for our new life in Asheville.

Carlsbad Caverns - favorite place on the whole trip

What a magical place we visited on the last day of 2007 - Carlsbad Caverns!

It's a huge series of caverns underneath the Guadalupe Mountains in southeast New Mexico, 700 feet underground and extending for miles. It doesn't look impressive when you drive up, the visitor center has been gutted for remodelling and all the services are operating out of a string of gray trailers in the parking lot. The cafeteria food was microwave dismal. But, as in all the National Parks we visited, the rangers were friendly and helpful.

To get to the caves you must either walk in the natural entrance, which adds about an hour onto your tour, or go down the elevator. Since we only had a few hours, we opted for the elevator, which is not for the claustrophobic. I had a mild panic attack and had to do lamaze breathing to keep myself together. The idea of going 700 feet under the earth in a little metal box made me a bit anxious.

On arriving in the huge central lobby we sat for a while and regrouped. None of us had ever been in a big cave before. It was so quiet down there and always a comfortable 56 degrees F. I started feeling better right away, as long as I didn't think about all the rock between me and the sky.

The caves were first explored by a cowboy named Jim White in 1898. The local native people apparently never went further than a few hundred feet in, but old Jim was smitten with the place and charted miles of it. He spent his life trying to share his enthusiasm for the place and helped get it declared a National Park.

The "rooms" have names like the King's Palace the Queen's Chamber, and Fairyland. White named some of the prominent formations, such as the Witch's Finger, Bottomless Pit, Temple of the Sun, and Rock of Ages. You can see animal shapes, goddesses, cathedrals in the rocks. The Park Service has it beautifully lit and the paths are pretty easy to walk. Much of it is even wheelchair accessible.

Paul was really awed by the place and wants to go back. He said he had never felt such calm energy. It's hard to describe. I think it allows you to become just a little more attuned to the slow, slow, geologic-scale movement of time. It was hard to take good pictures without a tripod so I copied three of these from the National Park website.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Roswell, NM

We drove until very late to get to the Roswell, New Mexico Motel 6. It is SO dark there at night you can see a little town coming for miles and miles by the dim light it throws up. Living in 24-hour lit-up LA for so long, I rarely experienced actual night. The pavement edges of route 285 were the limit of our world, but up above, through the windshield I could observe the stars' movement (or rather the earth's).

I started feeling random waves of anxiety in the car. Worry about things I forgot to do. Fear that we were making a huge mistake. Residual stress I think. A slow unwinding was occuring. The huge trucks zooming by didn't help. A hot shower and bed at the motel were good medicine.

Roswell is the home of Area 51, the supposed crash landing site of a UFO in the 1950s. A cottage industry of UFO souvenirs and conventions has grown up here and it adds a wacky touch to a quiet little desert town. When we woke up we had "Out of this World" coffee, and went to the UFO museum.

Petrified Forest

Arizona is all about the rocks. We took a detour from I40 through the Petrified Forest National Park, stopping first at a couple of cool rock shops.

The Petrified Forest/Painted Desert has a small but cool visitor center with friendly rangers, Late Triassic dino fossils, and a great walking trail lined with giant petrified logs. Further into the park we stopped and looked at some petroglyphs. People lived in this area for thousands of years and left many archeological traces.

Couch Surfing

Late afternoon on Day 3 we left the canyon and headed to Flagstaff, for our 1st couchsurf. is a beautiful, old idea - hospitality - updated for the 21st century. Travellers and hosts meet online in a network, sort of like myspace. You have a profile and can view other profiles and search for hosts by location. There is a vouching system so you have a modicum of reassurance that the stranger you are about to let sleep in your home (or visit for the night) is not an axe murderer. But there is definitely an element of risk. You have to trust your instincts as well as have faith in the concept.

I love the simple, off-the-grid, no-money-exchanged aspect of it, as well as the opportunity to practice the ancient art of hospitality.

In Flagstaff we met Dallas Scott, a 21 year old student of Nutritional Anthropology (who knew there was such a thing!). She embodies the Couchsurfing idea - it's not about impressing anyone with your matching towels - it's about curiousity, warmth, sharing of food and ideas.

Dallas was a gracious host despite the fact that 2 sets of surfers arrived on the doorstep of her little apartment AND she was in the middle of moving. She made us a lovely dinner and we had great conversations about travelling in India, organic farming and gluten free recipes. She is the kind of earnest and idealistic young person that gives me hope for the future. Here's a blurry picture of us there.

Grand Canyon peace

Okay, I'm on a roll here. Next stop was the Grand Canyon. Day 2. It started to get pretty cold as we headed up into the high desert. When we turned onto 64 north there was snow on the ground and it was dark. Really dark. With a million stars. And quiet.

We stayed at the Yavapai Lodge, which I would heartily recommend. It's right in the Park and is one of the lower priced places, though not cheap. Next morning I woke up to this beautiful view out the window:

The quiet peace of this pine forest helped me, for the 1st time in months, feel human. I had forgotten what that felt like! I was too used to being a stress machine. I said a prayer of gratitude that we were really following our dream at last.

Later we took the shuttle to the rim. What a place. Puts it all in perspective.

4 months later

Hello out there! Sorry to be so uncommunicative. Been a little bit busy settling in and the longer I waited the more stuff I wanted to tell you.... and the more overwhelming it seemed to sum it all up. But tonight it seems doable, so here goes.

After weeks of stress we finally left Los Angeles on December 27th. I think I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown by then (no joke). Debbie brought over armloads of In & Out burgers for lunch. Friends and family gathered to send us off. I had only 2 brain cells firing and was still trying to sort things and pack the car. I had the emotional capacity of a toaster by then.

Kate gave a heartfelt toast that made me teary. Hugs and lump-in-throat little jokes ruled the day. Thank goodness Dan helped me pack the car (10 pounds of the proverbial stuff in a 5 pound bag, plus 2 five-gallon buckets of latex), but all that left little room for 3 weary bodies. We drove off about 3:00 pm. Good bye Fayette street, Highland Park, Los Angeles, old life.....whew
First stop - Vegas!

Hmm. Who's idea was this? It seemed to make sense a month ago. 100% fake everything designed for wholesale numbing of the spirit and extraction of cash.

It was cool for about 2 hours and then my frayed nerves screamed - Get me out of here! It took Paul and Connor about 14 more hours to come to the same conclusion. But at least we were ON THE ROAD at last.

Connor had a great little nest in the back seat (note 10 flavors of m&ms from the m&m museum).