Into The Dark

Tomorrow I leave for Hopkinsville, Kentucky, where I will view the total solar eclipse with tens of thousands of others as we descend on this town of 33,000 and possibly double its size.

Things I’m looking forward to:

  • traveling again (oh, that open road!)
  • live music
  • food truck food
  • a general air of good-natured mayhem
  • a for-real genuine NASA staff person who will wow us with her or his knowledge of the orbs and spheres and universal planetary and stellar amazingness
  • being part of a giant crowd of people wearing magic cardboard eclipse glasses, all gaping together up at the sky like overjoyed kindergartners

Things I’m a little uncertain about:

  • traveling with the holding tank still not repaired (that means no on-board toilet)
  • traveling without Connor
  • spending the night in a tent with Beasley
  • er. mah. gawr. all. that. traffic.

Things I will do just ‘cause I hafta:

  • share port-a-potties with the masses
  • get over abutting other tents (too intense…?), since it’s not actually a campground but an “area” that has been taped and gridded into 190 “sites”
  • in general reach down and find all my patience and humor and compassion, since they are all likely to be tested at least once or twice during the journey to and from and the three days camping

I’ve been reading a lot about ancient civilizations and how ancient peoples explained eclipses – Vikings believed a pair of ravenous wolves ate the sun and the moon; in Korea, fire dogs were trying to steal the orbs from the heavens.

A Hindu demon’s head was thought to trail around the sky, waiting for a moment to devour the sun and leave the world in darkness.

An African myth held that the sun and the moon were embattled, and the eclipse was the acting out of their reconciliation. Navajo tradition held that the eclipse was the out-of-balance cosmic order righting itself.

In preparation for the trip to Louisville that will follow, I’ve been reading a book called Lament of the Dead, which is a transcribed conversation between two Jungian analysts about “psychology after Jung’s Red Book.” The Red Book is noted psychologist Carl Jung’s mystical collection of artwork and visionary writings about inner journeys he undertook at night in private, delving into the other world of the unconscious. The collection of manuscripts was kept in a secret folio, safeguarded by the family after Jung’s death, but rumors abounded, and finally his family agreed to its publication, which process in and of itself is a story of mystery and intrigue.

Jung’s dreamtime travels were to him like immersing in, swimming in the sea of universal or “collective” unconscious, which includes all the souls of the world, living and dead. You could say he went into the dark to find illumination.

“Then turn to the dead, listen to their lament and accept them with love,” he wrote, hinting at the unfinished business (unlived dreams) he believed the dead bequeath to the following generations.

Fascinating stuff. I am preparing to go to a couple of cemeteries in Louisville where relatives have long slept. There I will sit and listen. For the untold stories. For the unrealized dreams. For their wisdom and advice.

Wishing you all a Happy Eclipse, wherever you will be viewing. In that darkness that is not darkness, may new imaginings come to light!

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A Sad Farewell

It is with great sadness I share with you all that last night I lost sweet Connor Bo Bonnor. While he’d made a full recovery from his respiratory illness, a sudden onset of violent seizures, signaling a rapidly growing brain tumor, brought us quickly to a point of no return.

I am at a loss for words right now, heart broken, feeling the void that – let’s just use the only word that comes to mind – that this noble animal once occupied.

Nine years ago this past April, my daughter and I delivered Connor and his eleven litter mates. That night remains one of the most wondrous I’ve ever experienced. I remember seeing Connor’s sweet face through the birth sac, and how we carefully cut the sac open and how I used a rough washcloth to rub his little chest until he gave a tremendous exhale, coughing and spluttering amniotic fluid on us and then inhaling to take his first breath, his white markings turning bright magenta as his blood was oxygenated.

Last evening the vet came to my kids’ house, and with her gentle assistance Connor quietly and peacefully breathed his last, showered with kisses and words of affirmation, love, and thanks on his way out of his life.

I am still in shock, to tell the truth. The seizures hit while he was sound asleep. I’d wake in Roadcinante to the frightening sound of his thrashing, his gasping for breath, and then when it passed, would hold him and stroke his side, talking to him as he gradually came around. But we think by yesterday his vision was compromised. More and more damage was being done, and the events were disorienting and deeply disturbing for him. For that reason, I’m grateful for how quickly things all unfolded, so he did not have to suffer further, but I’m still trying to wrap my head around all of it.

I am so grateful we were not on the road when this happened. And I can’t help but wonder at the urgency I felt that morning in Billings, even before the boys had come down with the nasty upper respiratory thing they picked up in Bozeman. Of course, the threat of wildfires and the triple-digit heat were reason enough to leave, but there was something more, as if I knew on some level it was important to come home, even if it meant cutting the trip short.

So many of you have told me how much you adore my dogs. So many of you have shared stories about your own beloved canine family members. I know many of you, too, share this experience of loss. It is a painful kinship, indeed.

I don’t know what it will be like traveling without Connor, living without Connor. Beasley seems to be curious about the new state of affairs but mostly happy to be hanging with his litter mate, Zeke. When we set out next week again, just us two, I’ll be interested to observe how he does.

How will I do? There is a gaping Connor-sized hole in my heart. I’ll be sad for a long while, I think, because he was a great dog – so adoring and loyal, my friend and protector, my sweet boy, always keeping a watchful eye, always anxious to please, always eager to climb in my lap and give big sloppy kisses. Ever overjoyed to receive hugs and ear rubs, and the more vigorous, the better.

The fact that he made this trip with me, that he “Chased Light,” too, all the way out and back again is a gift for which I am so very grateful. I know it was hard on him. I know he experienced extra stress. And yet, amazing dog that he was, he adjusted well to each leg of the journey, each new place, all the new people and new surroundings. And I know he was glad to be with me. He was always gladdest to be with me.

As evening lowered and the light faded from the sky, I watched the light go out of Connor’s deep brown eyes. On his way toward far fields where I cannot follow. Godspeed, faithful friend.

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The In-Between

Monday:  The mist hangs heavy over the mountain tops, and the air is still and clammy. Here in the Blue Ridge Mountains it has been a rainy spring and summer. Trees shimmer in dazzling shades of green and undergrowth is thick and deliciously tangled.

Right now as I look out over the deck from inside my daughter’s and son-in-law’s house, I watch two hummingbirds doing battle, buzzing past each other and circling back, both determined to keep the other from lingering too long at the bright red flower-shaped tubes sprouting from the hummingbird feeder.

Scattered around me on the hardwood floors like well-worn throw rugs is an assortment of dogs – Connor, snoring loudly, and Beasley with a happy eye trained on his beloved littermate Zeke, and my son’s old dog, Combo (his name parses his lineage). Sequestered in the back room is my son-in-law’s dog, Banjo, part boxer, part hound.

Banjo and Connor are sworn enemies. They’ve gotten into a couple nasty spats, so we keep them separated now. Whenever we are switching them back and forth, so they do equal time in solitary, they will walk stiffly past each other giving seriously meaningful side-eye.

I arrived back here Sunday afternoon. And don’t you know, I made it nearly 12,000 miles with no traffic incidents, on roads and freeways and interstates across twelve states, but 35 miles from home on I-81 in Tennessee, a semi-truck directly in front of me blew a tire with a loud pop, which explosion threw huge hunks of steel-belted tread back in my direction. To my left was a long string of traffic. With the heavy strands of tire coming at me, I tried to swerve and miss, but Roadcinante is limited in her swerving capabilities and also there was really nowhere to go.

As the pieces thundered underneath us, I hollered, “Shiiiiiitttt!” and hung onto the steering wheel. The minivan occupying the lane to my left slowed down and let me pull in front of them just as the semi pulled off onto the right shoulder.

It took a while for the surging adrenaline to abate. For the remaining miles as I climbed steadily upward I kept watch on all my gauges, worried something had been damaged, punctured, torn. But all seemed fine and I pulled up into the kids’ driveway around 5:30 p.m.

But then…the following morning, when I moved Roadcinante, I discovered a large wet puddle in the dirt where she had been parked.

I immediately found the leak (and let me just say right now how glad I am that I decided to follow the previous owner’s lead and never put anything solid in the system). Underneath Roadcinante, who had bravely soldiered through triple-digit heat, survived the deeply rutted roads at Arcosanti, healed her own brakes on the hill in California, warned me on the streets of Bozeman about the solenoids in the transmission that were about to go, and stoically absorbed the shock of hunks of rubber coming at her at 65 miles per hour, had suffered a breach in a joint in the “holding” tank (euphemism for pee-water) and was leaking that onto the ground at a steady drip-drip-drip.

The good news is, the holding tank is relatively small, and as I had just treated it, it was mostly water, and as it was only half full, it’s empty now. But I’ll put it on the repair list alongside Roadcinante’s generator, which has been acting weird and needs to be serviced anyway. I am imagining the grit and sand that must be in there. A veritable travelogue of my journey, the layers telling the “when” and “where” of my trip.

I’ll be heading out again later this month, traveling up to Hopkinsville, Kentucky to view the eclipse (a couple of months ago I secured a camping spot). The coordinators in Hopkinsville have arranged for a NASA scientist to be on hand for the day’s big event. And I already have my eclipse glasses, thanks to my dear friend in Eugene, Oregon!

For now, I’m mostly living and cooking and working in my kids’ house while sleeping in Roadcinante. One foot in, one foot out. Which is about how I feel. The road ribbons out behind me for thousands of miles, and as I sort through digital photo albums and compile notes, memories rise up.

That starry night in northern Florida. The 81-year-old man I met in La Grange, walking hundreds of miles to raise money for St. Jude’s Hospital. The cold mornings in Marfa, with the sun pushing the eastern boundaries. The heat waves coming off the border wall just south of Bisbee.

How the Pacific tugged not just at my feet but at something deeper, pulling me, mind and spirit, toward its power and beauty and deeply-held mysteries.

Wednesday: In March, while I was in New Mexico, I was contacted by a reader who wondered if I was coming to Portland, and if so, would I be interested in being interviewed for her radio show. Over the months we kept in touch, and in July I met and was interviewed by Dennise Kowalczyk for her KBOO radio show, The Politics of Living, which seeks to “elevate women’s voices” in the public arena.

Today the show is available here. The edited interview with me begins at around 17 minutes or so, but believe me, the whole show is worth a listen. Comic Sharon Lacey offers her philosophy on life as adventure and a regular segment of the show, “The She-Ra Solution,” offers historic perspectives on women who have made significant contributions to society but are often unknown.

Dennise also produces a podcast and will air our entire interview there. When it is available, I’ll provide the link.

 Sunday: Yesterday I went to the Farmer’s Market, which I had missed mightily. I was glad to catch up with friends, and savored the gift of taking in the artfully arranged vegetables and flowers and felted wool hats and paintings, pottery and potted plants, photos and jewelry, baked goods and craft beers, all the while my foot tapping to the music of percussionists playing “Afro-lachian,” as their sign advertised.

A friend who shares my nomadic tendencies, immediately asked after our hellos, “So, how long are you here for?” I laughed and nodded. “Right,” I said.

I will move back into my house at the end of this month. But even that feels like a temporary situation. It seems as if, now unfettered, most of my belongings belonging to other people, and after discovering I can live and work in a 19-foot van without too much angst, the idea of being back in a house seems oddly overwhelming.

My home is 1,020 square feet. It is very small and decidedly modest. But after my months on the road, I fear it will seem cavernous, gulping.

At the same time, I will be grateful to have a kitchen again and, no question about it, glad for my own bed, which my daughter has pronounced “the most comfortable mattress in the world.” And I will listen again for the owls at night, and the rustle of deer moving beneath my bedroom window.

This morning it is 52°F and the breeze has autumn in it. The dogs are restive, looking for a patch of sun to lie in. By the time I’m back on my own front porch, the Canada Geese will be winging over the ridge tops, calling anxiously to each other in their migratory fervor. I will watch them, the fluid “V” of their traveling formation, and listen to their voices fading into the valleys, my heart trailing after.

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The Way Home

Dog update: Connor is mostly fine. The spot on his eye may be scar tissue but does not seem to be something imminently dangerous. The weird teeth-chattering he’d been doing that looked like something awry neurologically has turned out to be an infected back tooth, so he is on antibiotics for that.

Beasley, on the other hand, is honking and snorting and has a runny nose and weepy eyes, and it turns out that he has kennel cough (Bordatella), because even though he was vaccinated, the inoculation doesn’t protect against all strains of the virus. Poor guy. So he is on antibiotics, too, and also Robitussin, which he would prefer not to have to take, and that is something, because Beasley will eat a rock if he thinks there is a 30% chance it is a kibble.

I came so close to getting them home unscathed, and in the grand scheme of a seven-month journey, having avoided rattlesnakes, scorpions, narrowly escaping an attack from another dog, and boarding in several cities along the way, we did pretty well. But they both feel puny, as my Southern grandmother used to say, and I feel badly about that.

Tomorrow I will load them into Roadcinante and we will begin our 8-hour journey back to the mountains of North Carolina. South of Cincinnati I-71 will veer off to the right toward Louisville, and it will be everything I can do not to take it. The very ground is calling out to me. The ancestors are clamoring. I want to stand in those oh-so-familiar places – Bardstown Road near Dundee, where I shopped with my grandmother at the Winn Dixie, and across from there was Heintzman’s Bakery where we stopped to pick up butter kuchen and salt-rising bread. I want to wander up Gresham Road, where my grandparents lived in a sweet brick house down the way from the wood frame bungalow my father had built with his two hands. I want to go to Cave Hill and watch the swans and find the graves of relatives who, when they died, just seemed like old people to an eight-year-old; now I want to listen for their stories and imagine their lives anew.

But my dogs are sick. And it’s time to go home. And if I’m being honest, I’m feeling some grief about that.

I have missed my kids and my friends and the lovely Boone funkiness and the soft mist that threads through the ridge tops of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the songbirds in the morning and the way sunlight filters through the hardwoods and glints on grass.

But something in me is turning, as if I’m holding back from coming all the way home.

I am hitting pause tonight, because I am not sure who I will be now that I won’t be traveling. Does that sound weird? It’s true. I’ve come to think of myself as having four wheels under me and an open road ahead. And…I am preparing for a time of both reunion and readjustment, and feel blessed to have the chance for both. So there it is.

I set out “Chasing Light.” What did I find? Well, that will be in part the unpacking that will take place in the writing of the memoir, when I talk to myself on paper, when I spread out the contents of my heart and mind and soul and sort through what has been illuminated, how the journey has changed and remade me – for in ways I cannot yet articulate, it most certainly has.

There are some things I can say right now, though.

I am drawn to the west, and part of my heart is still out there, especially along the bluffs of Northern California and on up and over to the big sky of western Montana. I am grateful I answered that call, to follow the light westward. We shall see in coming months what that means.

Also, I set out fearful and timid, nearly crippled by anxiety and worry and doubt. And yet along the way, I met so many wonderful people – interested, engaged, helpful. Generous, funny, encouraging. Fellow travelers. Fellow writers. Fellow foodies. Others who love the ocean, the desert, the moon, the stars, a sunset. The deer in the field. The whales in the ocean. The smoke of the wood fire at night.

Only twice out of seven months have I felt the least bit uneasy about my surroundings, and was never as afraid as I thought I might have been. Having two big dogs along helped, I know. They are plenty vocal when they want to be. But also, I realized my fears about people intending harm were unfounded.

Lastly, I will say this: you all have helped light the way for me. You have been – you are – light for this shadowy heart. Knowing I had company along the road, receiving your notes of support, sharing, humor, insight, those meant – those mean – the world to me.

So, thank you. There is a brightness I carry inside that is the result of having accumulated more than 10,000 miles with you amazing human beings along for the journey.

Next week I’ll check in, after the unpacking – both the physical and the emotional.

But really. Thank you.

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Crossing Over

I crossed the Mississippi River yesterday, Iowa behind me, Illinois ahead of me. The river, slate gray and stunningly wide, spilled its banks. To one side of the interstate, water flooded back yards and fields. To the other side, the Mississippi rose up beneath houses on stilts and encroached toward homes set farther back.

Later, I stopped at a rest area with the boys and let them wander in the thick green grass, marveling at the trees and the damp and the fact there were no “Poisonous Snakes!” warning signs.

Driving along I-74, I noted the vast expanses of corn fields, and clustered together as if small islands in enormous seas of green, the silos and grain elevators, barns and out-buildings, and the rambling wood-framed farmhouses.

I marveled, too, at the return of something I’d forgotten – humidity. My hair drew up into curls, and my bare arms felt heavy moving through the dense air. A haze, not unlike the smoke in Montana, hung everywhere, taking me back through the years to our farm in northeastern Ohio, to steamy summer days when the haze hung like that and my friends and I would lie around in the grass, watching for the sky to clear, and the horses stood swishing their tails, twitching their manes at the flies, giving the occasional snort, one hoof lifted and bent in a pose of utter relaxation. Taking me back to steamy summer nights when, upstairs in our 130-year-old farmhouse without air conditioning I would sit at two o’clock in the morning trying to cool off by placing myself in front of a large square window fan, splashing my naked torso with rubbing alcohol.

Those were hot nights, when the damp sheets tangled my legs and I wanted nothing more than to be someplace, anyplace, else. When I longed for a beach with a breeze or a desert lit with bright stars. When I cursed the old house, hated it for its stifled breath, for how it had made me its prisoner on those dreadful August nights.

Too bad I could not have bottled those nights and pulled them out the following January, when the snow drifts were six feet high and flakes drifted in around the old uninsulated casement windows to settle on my father’s moth-eaten olive-drab army blanket, under which I shivered.

In Bozeman, on one of the ninety-plus-degree days, I passed a bank marquee that read, “I’ve waited all winter long so I could complain about the heat.”

I pulled in to Carmel, Indiana, last night, staying with a dear sister-friend and family. I planned to be here over the weekend and then head to Louisville.

Except something is wrong with Connor. And my urgency has increased about getting him home to see our regular vet, to get him back into something like normal and out of the small RV, and off the town-after-town-after-town travel routine, to get him the attention he needs. I will keep you posted about his situation.

I do hope you will continue to read and follow! There is more to come! This leg of the trip may be coming to a close, but the journey is far from over.

I’ll be traveling to Hopkinsville, KY for the August 21st eclipse (coordinators of the event promise a NASA scientist will be on hand!). I’ll follow that stop with a trip up to Louisville, KY where relatives are at rest in a couple cemeteries around town, and wend my way back through the decades to see if I can engage them in conversation.

Work on the memoir begins in earnest, and I also plan to create a workbook, Chasing Light – Your Journey, as so many of you have shared your dreams about wanting to make a journey of your own.

In August, a Portland based radio show host will air the podcast of her interview with me. I’ll post a link to it when it’s up.

And…thrilling news! I received word that my essay, “Cooper’s Heart,” will be included in a forthcoming anthology of essays selected by the editors of O, The Oprah Magazine. The book, due out in January of 2018, will be titled O’s Little Guide to the Big Questions.

This morning I finally saw rain, what my mother and grandmother always called “a farmer’s rain,” straight down, steady, gentle and persistent. Like blessing from the sky, soaking the ground, watering the roots and tendrils, washing everything and everyone clean. I did not mind getting wet. I let it fall on my hair and my shoulders. I drank it in. I let my bare toes fiddle with the dense green grass. I heard the birds singing, and my own heart joined in.

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