Small Dogs in The Snow

Small Dogs in the Snow, January 2020

     The soft, slippery, sibilant sounds of an early morning snowfall greet me as I open the front door. The dogs — two Italian greyhounds (one very young, the other getting old) with their tiny feet and delicate, long, leggy legs — look out at the snow, look up at me, look back at the snow, and seem to say, “No thanks. We’ll pee inside this morning.”

With a small shove, I send them out anyway. I grab a coat and go stand on the front step to keep them company. It’s not that cold; the snow is still light and gentle, not the heavy, wet, solidity of what is predicted for later in the day.

     Once outside, Fred the puppy finds that snow can be delightful: he prances; he runs his nose along under the snow and tosses it into the air, trying to catch it in his mouth as it falls, sparkling, separate, splinters of snow all around him. After just a few minutes of this, he runs back to my side with a shiver. Then back to the edge of the garden where there is a small patch of bare dirt to do what we came out here for him to do. 

     The older one, Bambi, has sat at my side on the step watching the pup’s antics with the snow. She quivers, trembles, and shivers, pretending she will die if she is made the leave the step. I have to physically lift her and move her to that patch of dirt where she reluctantly pees, and then they are allowed to come in.

Back in the house, the warmth and flickering glow from the fireplace beckons us all: the dogs into their bed on the hearth, me to a softly cushioned chair nearby with a good book. 
(c)2020 P.J. Pescosoldio 

When Forests Dream: A Meditation

When Forests Dream

 

I dream of air and light and space, but all I feel is stretching out of a dark, moist confinement. Time passes and again — or still — I dream. I dream of openness, of warmth, of breeze. Later and again – or still – I dream of wind across my leaves, of rainfall, of reach and movement throughout my being.  I dream of cold deep within, slowing, movement chilled near to a stop; no growth, no stretch, frozen. 

Later comes a loosening and rising. I dream of soft rains, cloudy skies, and barely-there sunshine. And now, again — or still — I dream of other: other buds unfurling, other roots reaching towards mine, other branches stretching towards that weak sunshine and soft air. 

Together we dream of distant beings, of roots intermingled, the mycelium sending messages from far away, the fungus bringing us their dreams to add to our own. We hear the song of those with feathered limbs, no leaves but down and wing. We cradle their homes between our twigs and branches; we give them rest in our hollows. We provide shelter beneath our canopy, between our trunks, and under our roots to all the small furred and scaled things who travel below.

From faraway we dream tendrils of messages, floating on threads of memory and sense, the sharp split of metal, piercing our skin and flesh; fires burning our trunks. And together, again — or still — we dream of a future where we hold Gaea together in intertwined arms and roots, an overarching and under reaching web of life.

 

P.J. Pescosolido

(c) December, 2019

The Rodeo Murders (first two chapters)

Synopsis

The California High School Rodeo season had been moving along as usual in District 6. The cowboys and cowgirls were all honing their skills. The barrel racers trying to shave tenths of seconds off their times; the saddle bronc riders trying to remember to keep their feet high (Mark out) on the way out of the chute so as not to disqualify; the team ropers having the usual squabbles with their partners over missed catches.

One day upon arriving to set up for a weekend Rodeo, Jill Lamonte found the dead body of one of the opposing district’s bull riders on the ground outside the office. The young teen had apparently been murdered with a blow to the back of the head.

The story will follow Rodeo Secretary Jill as she simultaneously tries to keep the rodeos on track, the members calm, and help figure out who killed Rusty Baker.

 

Chapter 1:       Off to the Rodeo

January in California’s San Joaquin Valley often brings with it a dense Tule fog, cold, wet, and clinging to the rises and hollows along the foothills and laying thick on the Valley floor. This early Saturday morning was typical for the season as Jill Lamonte headed toward the weekend high school rodeo. The drive had taken nearly twice as long as it should have with visibility near zero and the few vehicles out at 5:30 a.m. creeping along the blanketed roadways. Jill enjoyed the peace of the drive, slow though it was. Her son had driven over the night before to camp out with friends at the rodeo grounds. Jill relished the hour alone before all the hectic activity of running a weekend rodeo.

Going up the hill to Springville left a bit of the fog behind, but scraps of white still clung in low spots. As she turned into the rodeo grounds, Jill passed through the gravel parking lot and turned down the hill towards the small shack abutting the arena that would be her office for the next two days. As the volunteer parent serving as Rodeo Secretary, Jill was responsible for getting all the participants checked in, their back numbers handed out, doing the draws for position and stock, and making sure the time keepers and judges were all set up and ready for the day’s official start at 8 a.m. The office shack was made of weathered, wide slats which did little or nothing to keep out the cold, damp air, but it had a broad counter to set up her laptop and printer, and to lay out the bins of miscellaneous stuff that would be needed throughout the day. For winter rodeos, Jill also always brought a small electric heater to plug in near her feet, creating at least a small circle of warmth in the chilly space.

Off to the right of the arena, and up a slight rise, was the campground which Jill saw was filled with RVs, pickups with camper shells, and various shapes and lengths of horse trailers. There were old single horse trailers that looked as if they’d been new forty years earlier alongside full “living quarters” horse trailers that could sleep six people and transport 8 horses. The range of trucks, and trailers reflected the range of families who participated in the nearly century-old sport of California High School Rodeo. There were well-to-do ranching families, who raised their own stock and bought their daughters the most expensive and well-bred horses for barrel racing and pole bending. There were Tule tribe families supported by the salary of a janitor father and secretary mother, who used all their spare cash and help of scholarship money from the Casino to pay for their sons’ bull riding gear and entry fees. And there were many “in-betweens,” families who had participated in high school rodeos for generations now, grandparents, parents, the latest batch of kids, all pitching in financially to make the tradition continue.

Jill had been serving as the Secretary for District 6 of the High School Rodeo Association for 3 years now, since her son, Harley, had started riding bulls when he was just a slight, not yet developed 13-year-old. Now a senior in high school, Harley was well muscled and one of the star bull riders of the District.  Single mother Jill had watched every bull ride along the way, sometimes holding fists clenched with nerves, but always supportive of Harley’s love for the sport. There had been discussion over the years whether the bull and bronc riders needed to wear helmets; Jill was relieved when other parents in the sport had insisted that as long as the boys were under 18, they were required to wear full protective gear to participate at the high school level. Bull riding is a dangerous sport: so much can go wrong in a short 8 second ride. The District and State associations had seen their share of bull riders carried off the arena grounds on stretchers with broken bones, bleeding wounds from the blow of a bull’s horns, and scary head injuries even with the insistence on helmets.

As Jill drove her F150 across the parking lot, she hoped for another day with no injuries to kids or livestock:  that would be a successful rodeo in her eyes.  Turning into the area in front of the rodeo office, the truck’s headlights passed over what looked to be a person laying against the office shack’s outer wall.  Jill backed up so the headlights would be focused on that spot, and then put it in park and climbed out.  As she walked over, she recognized it as one of the boys from the opposing rodeo team, Rusty Baker. Having been Rodeo Secretary for so long, she knew many of the kids in other districts as well as she did the ones in District 6. Rusty was another bull rider. She had eaten meals with him and his parents at different rodeos across the state over the past several years. She leaned down to touch his shoulder, wondering why he was sleeping outside on this very chilly morning. As she pushed against his arm, Rusty’s head dropped to one side, and Jill fell back at the sight of the wound on the back of his head. After checking for a pulse, and finding none, Jill immediately pulled out her cell phone and called 911.

*                *                      *                      *

Within half an hour, the Tulare County Sheriff had two cars on site, and the coroner had been called.  District President Ken Davis had arrived as well. Ken had been running the show for nearly 8 years as his three sons made their way through high school rodeo one after another. Ken was a tall, lanky man with a full handlebar mustache and a pale grey Stetson. Jill had never seen him without his hat, so had no idea what kind of hair he had under the hat. Several times she had done double takes when seeing men she knew only from rodeos in other settings: often she was surprised to see that they had curly hair or were balding. You just never knew what a Stetson might be hiding. Ken’s wife, Dani, was standing at his side, looking pale even under her normally dark complexion. Like many in the families that made up high school rodeo, Dani had Native American ancestry. Ken and Dani had pulled up right after Jill’s grim discovery, and had helped her keep the kids the office area until the sheriff’s deputies had arrived. The three of them were shaken, but being of tough Western stock, they were holding it together until they could get a moment away from the shocked stares of the kids and other parents who had gathered around.

While they waited for the coroner and detectives to arrive, and the detectives to finish setting up the screen around the body to shield it from view, Ken, Dani, and Jill fell into a choppy sort of conversation.

Ken said, “I wonder how much this will delay our start time.”

“Really, Ken? That’s what you wonder?” Dani looked shocked at her husband’s seeming off-hand callousness. “I think everyone would understand if we cancelled the rodeo all together this weekend. There’s a boy dead here.”

Jill spoke up, “I don’t know if people would understand. You know how some of these rodeo parents are. This is the last rodeo to qualify for the Champion’s Challenge. Some kids won’t have enough points in their events, if they don’t earn more this weekend. An awful lot of parents – and kids – will be disappointed if they lose their chance to go to Challenge.”

Ken agreed, “Dani, we’ve been doing rodeo as a family for close on twenty years now, from junior events through high school. And Will now doing calf roping at NMHU for the college team. You know as well as anyone that people will practically kill to make sure they get every point they can to qualify for the big championships.”

“You don’t think . . . ?” Dani stopped, looking even paler than she had a few moments before.

“What?” Jill asked.

“He said, ‘people will practically kill’ over rodeo points . . . “

“I didn’t mean it literally!”

“I wonder where Rusty was in the points standings so far this year . . .” Dani mused.

“Oh, for Pete’s sake!” Jill exclaimed. “You two can’t seriously be thinking that one of the kids or parents had anything to do with this! He probably had too much to drink and fell and hit his head. Until we get an opinion from the police or the coroner, we shouldn’t be standing here speculating and starting rumors should someone overhear.”

The three quieted as a black van with white letters spelling out Coroner’s Office pulled up to the building.

Now that it was getting light out and the early morning mists had lifted, Jill walked to the corner of the building so she could see across the arena to where a group of bull riders were sitting on the edge of the chutes chatting among themselves and doing the bull riding moves that they all practiced even while standing on solid ground. She saw her son’s blond head among them, and walked out to the center of the hardened dirt ground to call out to him, “Hey, Harley! Come talk to me real quick.”

“I’m getting my rope rosined up. Bulls are first today, right?” He called back.

“We may be getting a late start. Come over here; I need to tell you something.” It seemed unlikely that the other bull riders hadn’t noticed all the activity around the office, but there was a building between where they sat and the police cars and huddle of people. Harley jumped down off the chute and jogged across the arena to meet her. “What’s up, Mom?”

 

His phone started to buzz in his pocket, and he said, “Hang on,” as he answered.  “Hello? . . . This is Harley . . .  No, I haven’t seen her . . ..“ Jill could hear a strident female voice coming out of the phone. “I’m in the arena with my Mom . . . I haven’t seen her since last night . . . No, I haven’t seen her . . . Mom, she wants to talk to you,” and Harley handed Jill the phone.

“Hello?”

“Jill, this is Kathy Robinson, Kaylee’s mother. I can’t find my daughter. She’s not answering her phone, and I was told that she was with your son last night. I believe the person who told me that, and suspect that your son knows where she is. If we cannot find her in the next few minutes, I’ll be calling the police.”

“Mrs. Robinson. While I don’t appreciate your implication that my son is lying, I assure you I will talk to him about it right now, and see if he has any ideas . . . I will call you back shortly.” Jill hung up and handed the phone back to Harley. “She is very upset. She says one of Kaylee’s friends insists that Kaylee was seen getting in your car last night, and no one has seen her since. So . . . what can you tell me?”

Harley looked as offended as any 17-year-old boy has ever looked. “Mom. I’m not lying to her. I saw Kaylee last night. She was hanging all over Rusty Baker when we were all chillin’ at Tyler’s trailer. If anyone knows where she is, it’d be Rusty.”

Jill felt her heart sink. “Oh, dear. Honey, something bad has happened. There’s

been an accident of some sort, and Rusty is dead. The police are here now, and they’ll be trying to figure it out. Since you were with him last night, they’ll probably want to talk to you and everyone else who was there, too. Now I’m worried about Kaylee, too.”

Harley looked stunned. “Dead? How can he be dead? He’d had some beers. But he seemed fine at about midnight. That’s when Colby and I left to go back to our campsite. He and Kaylee were together. Was he driving drunk?”

“I don’t know what happened, Honey. Text me Mrs. Robinson’s number, and I’ll tell her that she needs to get over here right now and talk to the deputies. Let your friends know we won’t be starting on time. I’m sure Ken will make an announcement soon.” Jill reached out to give her boy a tight hug and a kiss on the cheek. She had to stretch up to do so since he’d passed her in height a couple years before during his growth spurt at 15. For once he didn’t pull away in embarrassment at his mother’s open display of affection in front of his friends, and she knew he was truly shaken by word of Rusty’s death and Kaylee’s seeming disappearance.

The two parted and trudged in opposite directions across the arena, Harley back to the bucking chutes and Jill to stand with Ken and Dani at the edge of the office shack. Jill spoke, “Harley says he and Colby and some other boys were hanging out at Tyler’s trailer last night and that Rusty was with them. He was still there when they left at midnight And Kaylee Robinson’s mom says she is missing. According to Harley, Kaylee was with Rusty last night.”

Ken asked, “Were they drinking?”

Jill responded, “I don’t know about the rest of them, but he said he thought Rusty had had a couple beers. . . .  Harley asked if Rusty had been drunk driving. I didn’t know what to tell him.”

“That red-haired deputy came over while you were talking to Harley. He said the detectives should be here soon. They’ll want to talk to you first since you found him. But once they take the body away, I think we should get the rodeo started. It’ll give people something to think about besides death.”

A few minutes later, the detectives arrived and went over to talk to the coroner near the body. This was followed shortly by the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Robinson who rushed up to the deputy sheriffs, and started a long winded, exclamation filled harangue, with frequent side-long glances in Jill’s direction.

Jill turned to Ken and asked, “What do you want to do about the rodeo? More and more kids are arriving to start check in. We need to announce something.” She pointed towards the parking lot — which was filling with pickups and horse trailers — and a number of people walking towards the group of people held back by the deputies who had strung a tape across the gate to the rodeo grounds itself.

Ken said, “I’ll go to the announcer’s booth and see if the P.A. is hooked up. If it is, I’ll just say there will be a delay of a couple hours. I won’t say why. Then I’ll see if we can get cleared by the police to get started any time soon.” With that, he turned and walked across the arena towards the announcer’s stand which, as at many rodeo grounds, was located just above the chutes.

*                *                      *                      *

Sixty miles away on Highway 46 headed west, Kaylee Robinson slid across the bench seat of an old Chevy pickup to snuggle up closer to Bryce Ballard’s side.  Bryce, a muscular, 22-year-old who had graduated from the local junior college and now worked as a welder, looked down into Kaylee’s soft blue eyes and smiled at her. “Where to next, little lady?”

 

Chapter 2:       When the Luck Runs Out

Early in the evening, Jill sat alone in the rodeo office working on calculating points for the last barrel race that had ended the day’s events half an hour before.  The rodeo had been delayed until noon, though the boy’s body had been moved several hours earlier. The detectives – Fairchild and Delano — wanted to interview everyone who had been around the scene. They had also talked to Harley and his friends who had been with Rusty the night before. They had left cards with everyone, and had said they’d be back to interview more people that evening when the day’s events were over and people were back in their campers and trailers settling in for the night. Though they hadn’t said so directly at least not to Jill, the detectives seemed to be treating Rusty’s death as a murder, not an accident. From what Ken had told her after his conversation with Detective Fairchild, there was nothing nearby that Rusty could have fallen against. It had to have been that someone hit him from behind.

As she worked through the list of 45 barrel racers, and entered their times into the spreadsheet, Jill mused over all the snippets of conversation she had heard as the day progressed. The rodeo office was often a gathering place as people came to check on the “go sheets” and look at the posted results. They stood around chatting and seemed to forget that Jill was sitting right there, just behind the loose-slatted shed wall, overhearing every word. Most of the talk today, naturally enough, had been about the disappearance of Kaylee Robinson and what, if any, connection it might have to Rusty’s death. Some of the conversations had been crude; others sympathetic; almost all worried.

One conversation between two girls on the other side of the wall from where Jill sat went something like this:

“I heard at the Paso rodeo that Kaylee was hooking up with all the bull riders.”

“Well, I heard that Rusty and Kaylee had gotten together at Paso. But Jenny McBride told me Kaylee didn’t want to see him again.”

“But I heard that she was with him last night! Maybe they had a fight and she smacked him with a beer bottle!”

“Kaylee’s tiny; she couldn’t hit anybody hard enough with a beer bottle to even break the bottle, never mind kill someone!”

“But if she didn’t kill him and then run off; where is she?!”

“Maybe someone else killed Rusty and then kidnapped Kaylee because she was a witness.”

Later a boy and a girl were talking and the boy said, “I never liked that Rusty anyhow. He’s like all those bull riders, they think they’re such hot shit.”

The girl replied, “Don’t say stuff like that! He wasn’t as bad as some. What do you think happened?”

“Is it true that Rusty was sitting in first in points in his district? Maybe whoever’s in second wanted to get him out of the way!”

“That’s stupid.” She replied, “Nobody takes rodeo so seriously, they’d hurt someone to improve their own standing.”

“Don’t you remember those girls down in District 8 who got kicked out for hurting another girl’s horse?”

After those two wandered away, Jill focused again on her work, but over the course of the afternoon, other comments would from time to time catch her attention.

“Did Kaylee show up yet?”

“Did you hear about . . . “

“Do you think . . .?”

“Are you scared?”

As she finished up the points, and started to put her things away for the night, she heard two more people on the other side of the wall. Their voices were low but she heard one of them say something about Harley. She stood quiet and still to listen.

A girl said, “I heard Janelle say that Kaylee got into Harley’s car. But Harley says she wasn’t with him. She was with Rusty.”

A boy replied, “I saw Rusty after he left Tyler’s trailer. I talked to him for a few minutes. We went back behind the chutes and smoked a joint. After that he said he was going to go sleep in the back of his truck. But I saw him walking out towards the barns instead of to the campground.”

Jill walked out of the office and around the corner to see two kids that she didn’t know. They were the ones talking. “Hey, I’m Jill Lamonte, Harley’s mom. If you know anything about what Rusty was doing after midnight when he left Tyler’s trailer, you really should contact Detective Fairchild. I have his card right here.”

The boy, black haired, slim, and suddenly visibly nervous backed away. “No ma’am. I don’t know nothing about it.” He turned then and ran off towards the campground, the girl following close on his heels.

Jill called after them, but they kept running until they disappeared between the rows of rvs and campers parked there.  She shrugged and made a note to remember to tell the Detective what the boy had said. That bit of information had Rusty alive well past when Harley had last seen him, and in a different location as well. As she walked back into the office, she noticed that the horseshoe that had always hung above the door was facing down.

Chapter 3:       The Night Before

 

12 Days and 4,555 Miles

12 days and 4,555 miles after we left California, we have arrived in the wonderful town of Mount Washington, Massachusetts which will be my home for the next three months. Having captained the Arab for so many miles all across the U.S. mostly successfully (no living beings were damaged and only a couple of objects suffered), I somehow managed to sprain my ankle within a couple of hours of arriving, and it is now quite swollen and looking bruised.

We were planning on visiting Harpers Ferry and Gettysburg yesterday as we passed through West Virginia and into Pennsylvania. It was, however, 53 degrees and raining when we arrived in Harpers Ferry, and not much better an hour or so later when we got to Gettysburg. Those NPS sites have been put aside for another trip.

Final thoughts on the journey: the best parts were the unexpected places we discovered when we left the interstates. The interstates are miles and miles of nothing but rest stops, gas stations and fast food at the exits. Off the interstates is where you find the real America and its people, those like Officer Henderson, the kind policeman in Pensacola, Florida, and the old lady (she must have been close to 85) who is still making and selling preserves and relishes and running the farm stand outside of Vidalia, Georgia. I found a couple of places I definitely want to visit and spend more than an hour or two: Savannah, Georgia, Charleston, South Carolina, and Harpers Ferry, West Virginia to name a few.

Both Linda and I discovered we liked sleeping in the RV best when it wasn’t too hot outside. The AC is really loud, so it seems you have to choose between sweat and quiet … I’m thinking of trading the Arab in for a class B motor home instead. I think I would be happier driving something smaller. We shall see. 

As always, you can see photos from the trip on either my Facebook page or on Instagram. Addresses below.

Thanks for traveling with us. The next adventure begins in a couple of weeks with a trip to Maine!

http://www.facebook.com/pjpeski

http://www.instagram.com/enchantednaturalist

 

Travel Day

Today was a travel day: 382 miles from Charleston, SC through North Carolina (which has tons of wildflowers planted along its highways), and just over the border into southern Virginia. Lunch in Fayetteville, NC at a nice little place called the Blue Moon Cafe. Nothing much else to report, except that I find it much more tiring driving the RV for 7 to 9 hours in a day than I ever did driving that long in a car. My wrists and elbows start aching after about the fourth hour. Maybe because if it’s at all windy, it catches the side of the RV, and it simply takes more effort to hold it straight on the road. I would suck as a long-haul trucker.

Tomorrow we Revisit the civil war with stops at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. 

Good night from Jellystone RV Campground in Emporia, Virginia.

Total miles 382; total hours (including stops) 9 1/2

Ghosts and Other Things that Haunt Us

The theme of our last couple days of travel, as we went through Georgia into South Carolina, seems to be about ghosts: local legends of ghosts and ghosts as a metaphor for things that haunt us.

 We passed through the small town of Abbeville, Alabama on our way to Andersonville NHS. Abbeville boasts a sign at the city limits, “Welcome to Abbeville Home of Hugging Molly.” Naturally we had to find out who Hugging Molly is. Local Abbeville legend tells the story of a ghost named Hugging Molly, a seven foot tall woman as big around as a cotton bale, who would chase children who were out too late and hug them tight with her huge arms, screaming in their ears. Parents would use the tale of Hugging Molly to make their children come home on time: “If you’re not home before dark, Hugging Molly will get you.” Abbeville’s version of the boogie man.

 Later that day, we reached the site of the infamous Confederate prison called Camp Sumter, but more commonly known as Andersonville. During the Civil War, upwards of 30,000 Union soldiers were held as prisoners of war there with minimal food, clothing or shelter. 13,000 of them died of starvation, dehydration, and disease while at the prison.  Wounds they bore when captured often went untreated; infections were rampant; some literally had limbs rotting off from gangrene as they slept in the mud for days and weeks on end. After the war, when the remaining prisoners were released, their stories of the horrible conditions they had endured led to the first war crimes trial held in this country. The confederate soldier who ran the prison, Captain Wirz, was tried, convicted and hung, though he maintained until the end that he had done his best in impossible conditions. Even the confederate soldiers who worked at the prison were living on starvation level rations. The fault lay, according to Wirz, with the war itself.

The modern site of Andersonville is the location of various memorials to the men who died there and a National Cemetary where not only those 13,000 soldiers, but modern soldiers are buried as well. There was a funeral being held the day we were there. Andersonville NHS is also the site of the National Prisoner of War Museum.

The POW Museum is stark, and brutal, and incredibly sad. Architecturally, it is designed to bring to mind guard towers and barbed wire and cell blocks. It is dedicated not just to those who were imprisoned during the Civil War at Andersonville and other camps in both the north and the south, but to all American soldiers, men and women, who were held prisoner in WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf war, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The Museum emphasizes their commonalities and the shared emotions, though more than a century exists between the earliest and latest captives. The fear, friendship, deprivation and torture, despair, and relief when freedom is finally regained. Freedom is held dear when it was once lost. As one former POW from World War II explained, “I haven’t taken anything in my life for granted ever since.”

History and emotion seem to carry a physical weight at Andersonville. The ghosts there cling.

While Andersonville is in a way appropriate as the location of the National POW Museum — because it was the site of the largest POW camp ever built on our soil — the country might be better served and POWs better honored were it it a place where more people could visit. Andersonville is not easy to get to; it is not on the way to anywhere else, and it is a good 2-4 hours drive off of the interstates (depending on from where you are traveling). But I encourage you to go there. You will be moved and educated.

The next day, we paid a brief visit to a Fort Pulaski off the coast of Savannah, Georgia. At Fort Pulaski, confederate soldiers were held prisoner by the Union. A group known as “the Immortal 600” were held there, a number of them died from Yellow Fever. 

The Civil War dead, about 620,000 soldiers, should haunt us.

 

Texas Wieners and Flying Waitresses

One of the true pleasures of traveling with my mother are the unintended moments of humor created by her slightly unsure distance vision. Just two examples: while driving into a truck stop in Texas, looking for a place to get a bite to eat, she said, “How about Texas Wieners; that sounds good!” 

“What? Where’s does it say that?” She pointed to a shop ahead that advertised “Tires and Wrecking Service” on its sign.

Then yesterday, somewhere in Louisiana, she asked, “what did that sign say?” 

“Falling Waters State Park. Why?”

“I thought it said ‘Flying Waitresses’.”

I look forward to hearing more misread signs in the days ahead.

 

Low-hanging Wires, the Arab and Officer Henderson

A few weeks ago, while talking about this upcoming trip, I noticed that auto-correct kept changing “the RV” into “the Arab;” her name has been The Arab ever since.

As I think I’ve mentioned before, we have had a couple issues figuring out how to maneuver this vehicle as it is much larger than either my mother or I are used to driving. The Arab isn’t a huge RV; it’s a C-class (with the overhang over the cab), about 22 feet long and 12 feet high, but far larger than a regular-sized car.

Which brings us to today’s adventure. We had a peaceful morning; a relaxed start out of Lake End Park outside Morgan City, Louisiana. We continued along south of I-10 through the Atchafalaya National Cultural Area, crossed through New Oeleans and over Lake Pontchartrain. Just an easy few hours to cross out of Louisiana, through Mississippi and Alabama, and into the panhandle of Florida. We were aiming for a restaurant called Jerry’s Drive-In for lunch in Pensacola. Jerry’s is described by the Road Food book as a really good burger joint which also serves things like deviled crab and popcorn shrimp. I was looking forward to trying the deviled crab roll. Alas when we arrived, we found that Jerry’s is closed on Sundays.

Leaving the parking lot, Linda suggested we cross into “that wide parking lot” just across the street to do a u-turn to get back to our planned route. Ok. Successful u-turn completed. Neither of us noticed how low overhead the electrical lines were hanging … As I completed the turn and started to head out again, I noticed in the side mirror that the line had caught on the back ladder of the Arab and was stretching … Not what you want an electrical line to do. So I backed up away from it. Now it was hanging a mere five feet above the ground between us and the parking lot exit. We didn’t know what to do. We were trapped. The 911 operator was not entirely sure what to do either, but he dispatched an officer to help us figure it out.

That’s how we met a very nice, young policeman from the Pensacola police department named Caleb Henderson. I explained what had happened (including the desire for deviled crab and burgers) and how we got ourselves into this position. He sympathized and agreed that we were missing out by not getting to try Jerry’s. After telling me that he was going to have to issue me a large citation (to which I said, ok, because I sort of thought I deserved it, having partially dismantled the property of a public utility), he laughed and said, “just kidding. I’m not sure how to write it up; and I suspect the wires are hung too low in violation of code, so we’ll just wait for Gulf Coast Power to get here and fix the wire and then you’ll be free to go.” Yay, Officer Henderson!

The end result is that I may be getting a bill from Gulf Coast Power for repairing the line, but as with both the other times, it could have been far worse. I could have pulled down the pole, blown the transformer, squished a parked car … But All’s well that ends well. And we have another adventure story to tell.

We continued along, avoiding anything that looked even remotely low-hanging, viewed the beaches at the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and are spending the night in a hotel in Miramar Beach, so we can have a peaceful evening and do some laundry.

Tomorrow we head up to Andersonville National Historic Site.

Everyone Is from Somewhere

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Janis Joplin was born and raised through high school in Port Arthur, Texas, just 22 miles south of Beaumont where we had spent the night (along with thousands of Jason Aldeen fans who were in town for a concert of his at the Ford Pavilion). Saturday morning we started the day at the Museum of the Golf Coast in Port Arthur; they have a small section of the museum dedicated to Janis and other musicians who hailed from the area (among them another who died too young, J. P. Richardson, the Big Bopper, who died in a plane crash along with Buddy Holly and Richie Valens).

Port Arthur seems to have fallen on hard times: the downtown area alternates between well-kept and near-derelict, but the people at the museum are hopeful for better times to come. They seemed delighted that we had gone out of our way to come see the museum. Charming people and the museum is much larger and more interesting then one might have imagined.

Continuing east, we rejoined I-10 a few miles later and crossed into Louisiana over the Sabine River. Lunch in Lafayette at Steamboat Bill’s: shrimp and crawdads and other delicious morsels. After lunch it occurred to me that we weren’t too far from New Iberia, the setting of many of James Lee Burke’s novels about detective Dave Robicheaux, so we diverted south off I10 again and headed into Acadian country. Linda explained to me that if you slur the word Aacadian, that’s where the word Cajun comes from. Thanks, Mom! All those years of reading Mr. Burke’s novels, and I never before made that connection!

New Iberia is similar to Port Arthur in its mixture of well-maintained historical buildings and some down-at-the-heels parts of town. But I enjoyed seeing the home of both fictional Dave Robicheaux and his creator James Lee Burke along the banks of Bayou Teche.

Since we were already well off the beaten path, we decided to head even deeper into southern Louisiana. We ended the day on the shores of Lake Palourde outside of Morgan City at Lake End Park. Filled with people camping, and fishing; feeding ducks and squirrels; enjoying the warm weekend weather. It’s a beautiful place, filled with trees draped with Spanish moss, breezes off the lake and the sounds of happy people. So here we will spend the night in the RV (which, by the way, has acquired a new boo boo: this time I was at fault. I hit a low-hanging branch and broke the vent cover over the bathroom. We figure if it rains, we can leave the toilet lid open & hope all the water goes in it!).

 Total miles: 260; total time (including stops) 7 1/2 hours. A short day today to balance out the really long day yesterday.

Somewhere in Texas

6 am Beaumont, Texas

We woke up yesterday morning in west Texas — Fort Stockton — to clear skies and dry air. This morning, 600 miles farther east, we awake to mist and heavy, warm, humidity in Beaumont on the Gulf Coast of Texas. Within two hours of our drive’s start in Fort Stockton, it started pouring rain and continued for nearly 12 hours. We passed five traffic accidents (from people driving too fast in the rain; one car upside down in a roadside culvert), backing up traffic for miles as the authorities cleared the road. We passed from cactus and sagebrush, through green rolling hills, to land that looks a lot like the bayous of Louisiana. I’ve never been to this bottom corner of Texas before. It is lush and green and moist. A stark contrast to the drought stricken central California that we left five days ago.

Today we will visit Janis Joplin at the Port Arthur museum before heading towards New Orleans.

Total miles yesterday: 600; total time (including stops) 13 1/2 hours

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Cactus to Caverns (Arizona and New Mexico)

I missed yesterday’s post because the RV Park where we stayed last night — in Alamogordo, NM — didn’t have a very good wifi signal. Tonight we are in a hotel in Fort Stockton, Texas; wifi is strong; photos are uploaded; it’s time to catch up! As always, there are more photos on my instagram page: @enchantednaturalist

We started out Wednesday at Saguaro National Park outside of Tuscon, Arizona. Saguaros can live to be 200 years old and reach 50 feet in height. We were lucky to arrive when we did as many of the cactus in the park were in bloom (photos below).

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Later in the morning, we visited Fort Bowie where the US Army fought a number of battles against Geronimo and Cochise’s son, Naiche. After crossing into New Mexico, around noon we had lunch at a little Mexican diner in Lordsburg, NM called Ramona’s which had mostly positive reviews online (the one negative review was funny: he was looking for a strip club and “was directed to Ramona’s; I was hoping for titties, but got tamales.”). We finished the day driving through the White Sands Missile Range and White Sands National Monument. Total miles 472; total travel time: 11 1/2 hours.

Thursday, May 14

The drive from Alamogordo to Carlsbad Caverns crosses a mountain range through Lincoln National Forest. The road is windy and steep, but very beautiful. Along the way, you pass the Mexican Canyon Trestle where a tourist train used to run up from the Valley near Alamogordo up to the town of Cloudcroft at the summit. There is a small memorial to “Dad” next to the viewing point for the old trestle. One wonders if Dad got too close to the edge trying to get a good picture, or committed suicide, or . . .? A small Matchbox car was next to Dad’s flowers left there by a boy named Justin.

Ten minutes past the trestle, one reaches the lovely little town of Cloudcroft. At an elevation of 8600 feet, it is one of the highest towns in the United States.

A few miles farther along US 82, one comes to the little hamlet of Mayhill. We’ve passed two herds of Elk and one of deer; gone past several beautiful vistas, and pulled over next to an historical marker commemorating the skirmish with the Apaches in which a Captain Stanton was killed. Then I looked across the street and saw a little convenience store totally plastered with the most hateful signs, including ones saying “Kill Obama” and “Russia has a leader, Al Quaida has a leader; where the hell is ours?” That much hate at 7:30 in the morning changed the mood for a while, but another hour’s drive brought us to Artesia, NM and the Chaos Cafe for breakfast. Then it was on to Carlsbad Caverns National Park where I had a face to face encounter with a rattlesnake on my way from the parking lot to the Visitor’s Center (I let the rangers know so they could move it to a more appropriate spot). The Caverns themselves are beautiful and eerie, but I felt none of the awe that the Grand Canyon inspired in me.

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The remainder of the day was spent on backroads, through the corner of Texas that goes underneath New Mexico, through wildflowers and oil wells, and lots of men in large pickups and oil tankers. Now we are in Fort Stockton, Texas for the night. Total miles 333; total travel time (including stops) 11 hours.

Please visit my instagram page @enchantednaturalist for more photos from the day!

 

In All Its Grandness

I have been trying all day, since we left the Grand Canyon at 9:30 this morning, to think of how to describe the Canyon to someone who’s never seen it. There are no words big enough. I thought I knew what it would be like; I’ve heard about it, seen pictures, seen it in movies for my entire life. But 54 years of others’ descriptions and photos did not prepare me for the actuality. It is immense. It is awe-inspiring. It is GRAND. When I arrived at the edge, all I could think was, “Wow.” Just wow.

It is painfully beautiful; I had tears in my eyes looking at the scope of it, the mist of morning still muting the sharp edges. I could go on and on in terms both mundane and profound (“It is so many miles long, so many feet deep” or “my spirit soared upon first seeing the canyon”), but no matter what I say or how many pictures you see, you will not “get it” until you stand on the edge yourself.

Total miles today 450. Total travel time (including stops) 11 1/2 hours.

PJP 5/12/15

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The Beginning

We left Visalia Monday morning about 9:30 a.m. After a quick stop to get vaccine booster shots for Japanese encephalitis and hepatitis A & B (in preparation for a trip I have planned for January and February 2016). Our first stop was only 45 minutes later when we arrived at the Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park just outside of Earlimart. Allen Allensworth was born a slave in 1842 and escaped slavery during the Civil War, joining the Union Navy. In 1886, he joined the 24th Infantry regiment and became its chaplain. Allensworth retired in 1906 as a Lt. Colonel, the highest ranking African-American officer in the U.S. army.

Moving to California in 1908, Colonel Allensworth, along with 4 others, formed an association to purchase land and promote home ownership. They purchased land in the San Joaquin Valley just south of Tulare Lake, and on August 3, 1908 the town of Allensworth was founded. It was the only town in California founded, built, governed, and populated entirely by African-Americans.

After a quick stop at CampingWorld in Bakersfield to inquire why my refrigerator wasn’t getting cold (because I hadn’t turned on the main power switch — just like blogging, RV operations are a learning process!), we continued on towards Tehachapi and Mojave with a brief visit at the Cesar Chavez National Monument in Keene. The CCNM has beautiful rose gardens, a fountain, and plaques — one in Spanish and one in English — with Chavez’s words, “It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life.”

Fuel stop in Kramer Junction. Linda’s turn to drive. I told her, “Go straight before you start turning left, because the RV is bigger than you think.” Ten seconds later, she was scraping the side of the RV along the post next to the gas pump. It could have been worse than a few scrapes, paint markings, and a small dent given that the propane tank of the RV is on that side ….

Finished the day in Kingman, Arizona after an uneventful afternoon of driving. Total miles 432. Total time (including stops) 8 1/2 hours.

 Photos to follow.

Itinerary May 2015

Less than 48 hours from now until we hit the road for this Spring’s eastward travels. The RV is almost all packed, and I found some cool new kitchen gadgets to try out. There’s the 3 in 1 Breakfast station, that makes coffee and toast, and has a tiny frying spot on top for an egg, as well as a Cuisinart egg cooker that can boil, poach and even make a small omelet. Interesting times ahead in the little RV kitchen!

I plan on sharing our travels through words as well as pictures of the places we go over the next two weeks, but here is a preview of our planned itinerary (all subject to change, of course, depending on mood or unexpected events along the way). We only plan on driving about 400 miles a day, leaving ample time to visit places we want to see. If anyone reading this has any suggestions for restaurants or other points of interest along this route, please let me know!

Day 1: California to Arizona

We plan on heading out of Visalia, California around 9:30 am. Our first stop will be at the Colonel Allensworth State Park outside of Earlimart.  Allensworth was the only California town to be founded, financed and governed solely by African Americans. Allensworth is less than an hour from here, but I’ve never stopped there before and think it is worth a visit. After that we will have a quick stop at the Cesar Chavez National Monument in Keene, CA, and then continue on across the Mojave National Preserve to our first night’s stop in Kingman, Arizona.

Day 2: Arizona

We start off our second day with a visit to the Grand Canyon. In all the times I’ve driven across the country, this will be the first time I’ve visited it, so I’m excited about this. Then we will head south through Phoenix to Interstate 10, stopping along the way for a quick visit to Montezuma Castle National Monument. Our second night will be in Coolidge, Arizona, just down the road from the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument.

Day 3: Arizona to New Mexico

In the morning, we’ll pass through Saguaro National Park and have lunch at La Posta de Mesilla (which the Road Food book recommends) near Fort Bowie National Historic Site.  In the afternoon, we will travel through White Sands National Monument on our way to Alamogordo, New Mexico for the night.

Day 4: New Mexico to Texas

If we start early enough, we should arrive at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in time for the first guided tours of the day. That’s the only thing planned of interest on day 4; the rest of it is just driving down to Sonora, Texas to a Good Sam RV Park there.

Day 5: Texas

A three hour drive in the morning will bring us to San Antonio, the Missions and the Alamo. After which we will spend the afternoon driving to Highlands, just East of Houston where we will spend the night.

Day 6: Texas to Louisiana

Day six begins with a short drive over to Beaumont and the Big Thicket National Preserve; then we will head on to New Orleans and the Jazz National Historic Park. Nigel Fields, one of the Park Rangers who I met in Alabama earlier this Spring works there (I was in Alabama to take part in the NPS Walking Classroom commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery civil rights marches). We spend the night just outside NOLA.

Day 7: Louisiana through Mississippi and Florida, and back up to Alabama

A full morning’s drive will take us through the bottom edges of Mississippi and Alabama and into the panhandle of Florida. We will have lunch near the Gulf Islands National Seashore, and then turn north to Eufala, Alabama and the Lake Eufala Campground for the night.

Day 8: Alabama to Georgia to South Carolina

Just a short 2 hour drive in the morning of the eighth day will bring up to Andersonville Prison National Historic Site. I read McKinley Cantor’s book Andersonville years ago, and have always wanted to visit the site. After that we will continue on to Savannah, Georgia for lunch at Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room, and then a few more hours of driving will bring us to Charleston, South Carolina for the night.

Day 9: South Carolina to North Carolina

Day nine seems to be mostly driving; towards the end of the day we will get to Fort Raleigh National Historic Site and spend the night at The Refuge at Roanoke Island.

Day 10: North Carolina to Virginia to West Virginia

In the morning we will visit the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge (mostly because it has a great name!), and then we will drive up to Harper’s Ferry National Historic Site, where John Rudy works (another of the park rangers I met in Alabama). We spend the night at the Harper’s Ferry KOA.

Day 11: West Virginia to Massachusetts

There is the possibility of visiting Gettysburg on our way through Pennsylvania, but at this point in the trip, we may just want to drive the remaining 379 miles and get to our Berkshires home in the Town Among the Clouds, Mount Washington, Massachusetts.

A Brief History of Me

I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about what my initial post should say. I had numerous brilliant ideas. Unfortunately, I didn’t bother to get up and write them down, so this will have to do.

Born in Chicago, and raised in New England, my family and I moved to California when I was 11, leaving lots of extended family in the East. So perhaps my love of travel began then. Over the next 7 years or so, I spent most of my summers back in New England visiting with both my maternal and paternal relatives. During high school we lived in the small town of Exeter, California where my father had become involved in the orange business.

In college, I majored in Art History and Art at Scripps in Claremont, CA, then a few years later– continuing the bi-coastal theme — went on to study at and graduate from Vermont Law School. Between college and law school, I did my first solo cross-country drive in 1985, then another in 1990.

Somewhere along the way, I got married and had a son, Harley, and got divorced a year or two later. So I raised my son as a single working mom. We did a few years of home-schooling partially so that we could take great field trips: to Monterey to the aquarium; to LA to the Holocaust Museum; to Lake Tahoe for skiing lessons. Once in 2006, while flying back from the East Coast, we got off the plane in Dallas, found out our connecting flight was delayed by several hours, and rented a car to drive the rest of the way. I’ve always preferred driving to flying. It’s a much better way to see the world: on the ground, interacting with the environment at every stop, occasionally smuggling fireworks and/or cattle across state lines … That’s a story for another day.

Harley graduated from high school and started college in 2012. No longer a full-time Mom, I have driven across the country 5 times since then, taking a slightly different route each time.
My goal is to hit all 50 States — I only have 4 left: Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Alaska. Once I finish that goal, maybe I’ll try to visit every National Park!

The next trip begins in just a few more days: this time in an RV accompanied by my mother and two Italian Greyhounds. Our planned route is the farthest south route along I-10 all the way to Florida and then North. You are more than welcome to tag along.

PJP 5/6/2015

 

Musings from Home and the Road