“Life is beautiful if you are on the road to somewhere.” ~ Orhan Pamuk
It’s felt like such a hard slog to venture forth this year. Part of that is basic covid fatigue—endlessly hearing about it, the signs, the masks, the lack of services. Part of it though, at least for me is the knowledge that this is the New Norm. New-Norm. NewNorm. We live in a world of incompetent political leadership at all levels when it comes to the big issues like climate change, sanctioned and unsanctioned violence, disease/healthcare…. So I am traveling now in spite of the inconvenience, because it is not going to get any better folks. Maybe here and there, now and then but that’s all. Sorry about that. It’s NewNorm time.
And I can’t wait to get on the road again
On the road again
Goin’ places that I’ve never been
Seein’ things that I may never see again
And I can’t wait to get on the road again
And it’s best if you’re traveling with Willie Nelson on a highway in Texas.
Road trips are not everyone’s cup of tea or coffee. To me traveling backroads, two-lane highways, in a reliable car (have done many of these trips in extremely unreliable junkers…does add a bit of drama to the whole enterprise) by myself is maximum enjoyment. Oh sure, you get tired and lost and can’t find anything to eat that’s not been packaged a very long time and the motel you booked turns out to be s**t, but when are you more free, have more choices–your own choices, when better to think about the country you live in, and wonder why you didn’t study geography? There’s some music that’s tolerable for those long-day jaunts through the trees or prairies or mountains. The sound track to Oh Brother for example or anything by Terry Allen. Dylan’s good, Paul Simon, Rufus Wainwright…. The most important thing is to stay away from interstates; the spirit of adventure will be instantly gone. You’ll be bored. Don’t be bored. Take a two-lane.
The Old Place is the 80 acres of woods and swamp and fields where I was born: actually I was born ten miles down the road in Blackduck but Robert was born on this very land. It is, for reasons I cannot exactly explain, the most important place in my life. I was a very happy young child there, free to roam the woods with book in hand, or walk up and down the road telling myself cowboy stories (and here I am in New Mexico!). Once I became a teen and discovered we were poor it was a bit more difficult to be me. Still, I’ve always returned, when mom and dad were alive from wherever I was, and after they were gone, every year or two meant a trip north to visit Robert and others and a visit to the land, the Old Place. The land was passed to my sons a number of years ago, and Teresa, Steven, Patricia and Sara will inherit 20 acres each. Which it turns out is most fortuitous, since it seems to be one of the few areas in the US that will remain habitable on into the future even at the current rate of planetary destruction.
Here are random photos of the old house and land around it and some of the nearby towns and prominent places as of June 2021.
Robert and Marsha and I roamed around our northland and Scott and Steven came up from their respective places in California and New Mexico. I drove around the state VISITING. Like people should do more often.
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest …
Said Shakespeare, just in time for the birthday party.
There were some other elders to visit on this trip. In Minnesota, Helen Week, a youthful 99 years old, here with daughters Kathy and Barb, and with me. We’ve all known each other since birth I guess. Louie and Helen were among mom and dad’s best friends their whole lives, the coffee and cake consumed during those years could fill warehouses.
And then there’s cousin Vivian in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I’ve been coming to Vivian’s since I was born, only then this house was Aunt Mabel’s. Vivi was 89 this year. Loving funny tough old girl. Just weeks after I visited in June, she had a serious fall and is now in a nursing home. She’s perfectly fine in all ways except various parts of her body are wearing out. Vivian is a character in that old-fashioned sense of the word, a one-of-a-kind human being. Can’t wait to get up there next summer and hang out wherever she is…I can’t imagine going north and not having Vivi there.
My last ‘elder’ visit was the most enjoyable of lunches with my high school friend, Pat. It pains me only a little to refer to the two of us as elders although I’m sure we’re both used to the reality of that label by now. I’ve written about Pat before…the pleasure of discovering how compatible we are after lo, these many many years. We were friends in grade school and part of high school but not besties so to discover and renew an even better friendship, which seems to encapsulate the best memories of Northome (and Mizpah) school years all rolled into one person, is quite special. Validates those years somehow. Pat’s lived and taught and raised a family in International Falls all these years, up on the Canadian border. For additional visiting pleasure, it’s quite beautiful up around the Falls which is right on the Rainy River and right by Rainy Lake and Lake of the Woods and the Boundary Waters…which might be all one and the same…or not. Anyway it’s Minnesota at its blue and green and walleye best.
Steven and I went up to the Falls a second day to do some paperwork with the land. Our family land, now the boys, which will eventually belong to the grandchildren is at the opposite end of Koochiching County from International Falls although that’s the county seat where all things legal happen.
I drove through Del Rio on my recent Texas trip to San Antonio and Austin so had a few hundred miles of fairly deserted desert/prairie/hills to contemplate the reality of being a refugee…I didn’t see the Del Rio bridge under which a few thousand Haitian climate refugees were sheltering but they were very much on my mind. The UN Refugee Agency estimates there are 82.4 million people forcibly displaced worldwide at the end of 2020—displaced by “persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations or events seriously disturbing public order.” What’s not directly stated is the number of these that are in some ways, directly or indirectly, climate-change refugees—the UN says there were 21.5 million in the spring of this year. What we do know, given the general incompetence of every single governmental entity in the world and their universal inability to solve any problems of conflict or climate whatsoever, the numbers will only grow.
I am one of the world’s fortunate, tooling down the highway on my way to visit granddaughters, an elder with family and friends within visiting distance, all of us relatively safe for the immediate future. I try to imagine not knowing if my elderly brother, my sons and grandchildren and cousins, are alive much less safe. I try to imagine knowing I would never see them again. And not knowing if my friends survived the last riot or bomb; did any of them drown in the last hurricane? I try not to think about the future when some or all of the people to whom I’m close will surely be among the displaced and lost. Many of us surviving the guns and drugs will likely be starving or gasping for breathable air as we continue to kill the planet at an ever faster pace. I am so angry. And feel so hopeless.
HOWEVER, these post are intended to be about my happy visits to see some of those people whom I love and cherish…and, among the younger ones, where there is still hope for the future.
June, 2021 was spent back home in Minnesota; this last week of September with granddaughters in Texas. In both places, family and friends…what really matters when all is said and done. This post, People in My Life: Texas, will cover the most recent pleasures of Patricia and Teresa, in their respective cities of San Antonio and Austin, with their respective companions, Luna and Jon. It will be followed by People in My Life: Minnesota/South Dakota.
Patricia has a great job, just passed her dental assistant test (and has plans to become a medical coder which involves way too many numbers and not nearly enough adjectives for someone like me—who can barely count), a comfy apartment, and the world’s prettiest, smartest, most compatible roommate.
On Sunday, Patricia and I drove over to Austin, where I would hang out another couple of days with Teresa and Jon, and friend Celia and I could travel plan, no easy task in the time of covid.
Teresa’s working remotely for her San Francisco engineering firm and Jon’s pursuing his doctorate at UT Austin. Just moved into a pleasant apartment with a grandmother’s room (I’m pretty sure that’s what they said it was…); they do need a dog but I’m told that Jon’s very nearly as nice a roommate as Luna.
Way down in southwestern Texas along US 90, three odd little towns named Marfa, Alpine and Marathon hug the roadside. I’m told (by a local artist) they contain Important ART and the cool art crowd (Marfa, of course); Christian conservatives and shops full of ‘pretty’ landscapes (Alpine); and free and independent art spirits, and laid-back hunters and ranchers (Marathon). Previous exposure to Texas being Dallas, Houston, the Panhandle, and too many Republicans, I had no idea I really liked (part of) Texas…and it turns out I really do.
Especially Marathon. Especially my hotel—the La loma del chivo Na bolom. I cannot say my hotel experience on the first night in Carlsbad or last night in Hobbs was outstanding. I was going for budget and that’s risky…whether choking from the odor of decades of cheap cleaning fluids or trying to sleep five feet off a highway that’s a major long-distance semi route, you’ll usually be sorry. But Marathon, well that is another story.
The La loma del chivo Na bolom is different, not budget, but not expensive either–good different in every possible way from a typical small town hotel. It is comprised of small cleverly-designed home-made houses—homemade out of recycled material, paper , bottles and more…owner Ingrid called mine a paper mache house! Felt sturdier than several apartments I’ve known over the years. I won’t try to describe my unique abode since a whole lot of photos are included in this post. Just to say it was imaginative, colorful, and pleasantly-odd, with enough world art of every size and origin (probably majority East Indian) to easily fill a gift shop. It was what all hotel spaces should be…cozy and secure with a comfortable bed and workable toilet and shower—although none of the furniture or fixtures was ordinary—you’ll see what I mean.
I roamed around, talked to an artist who was all about freedom to live and work exactly how he wanted. His indoor and outdoor workspace was perhaps a bit messier than typical city zoning would have permitted but hey…that’s why he’s in Marathon, Texas.
It’s a great place to get off ‘the road less traveled’ and take the ‘unbeaten path’ to a place part art, part hippy, along with streaks of both spiritual and ‘don’t mess with Texas’…speaking of mixing metaphors or riddling a sentence with overused expressions. Marathon was fun…and fun is always good.
September 22, early 23, 2021: Albuquerque, New Mexico almost to Marathon, Texas. Cheap motel on noisy street in Carlsbad on night one. My first substantial road trip in a few years. Albuquerque to Carlsbad NM to Marathon TX to San Antonio TX. Granddaughter Patricia’s in San Antonio to Granddaughter Teresa’s in Austin to Hobbs NM to Albuquerque.
Primary goals, besides having good fun with Patricia and Teresa, include never setting tire to interstate and taking ever more photos of the grand geography of this whole big beautiful country—if only the bad people would go away.
Every day should include a report on an event, sight, or activity peculiar to the day thereof. Today, for example, I engaged in two highly recommended activities for elders desiring mental fitness—solving puzzles and socializing. And all because I believe in Real Paper Maps and Road Signs to guide me to my destination. It went like this:
9:30 am. Los Lunas. Half an hour from home. Following Highway 47. Oh dear, my map says do this, the road sign says do that. I ask a person #1…she says it’s there. It isn’t. I ask person #2…he says it’s back there. I look again at the map. I drive back a ways. I ask person #3…she says…and then #4 says…which takes me back to a sign I saw in the first place…doesn’t match the map but by now I’ve been in Los Lunas (a really small town) about 40 minutes. Person #4 is the winner. And, by socializing with four people and working my way through a puzzle, I’ve completed my elder-health-goals for the day.
Of such grand adventures is travel made. Day one saw mostly the kind of flat, unpopulated country that’s only interesting from two-lane roads where one can stop at every historic marker, pull over at will for a stretch and photo of a windmill, and wait with anticipation for the next McDonalds where an apple pie and a pee is always available.
I drive and I drive. Easy days. I could have been a truck driver. Solitary road trips offer the best thinking time in the world. With a companion there’s bound to be an occasional exchange, and if someone else is driving…well, you nap, right? On a plane or train, there’s reading/writing, people around speaking. Bothersome. But my kind of road trip. Me and Ghost (or any one of the many clunkers I’ve driven over the years) and the highway. I formulate my future, ponder my past, and I imagine what it’s like to live on that ranch over there or in the last village I passed through…what it’s like to be a cowboy, a bank robber, to be a crazy Scandinavian artist planning a ‘Prada’ installation along a desert highway.
“If you must have motivation, think of your paycheck on Friday.” Noel Coward said that.
I’m lucky I suppose. It was never my paycheck that inspired me to go to work; most of the time I found great satisfaction in what I was doing (although of course the paycheck had to be there when all was said and done), always in a creative arena or offering small supports for lives in trouble. Now in the new-normal of today, I continue with great good luck to work at North Fourth Art Center, a place/organization combining my two interests, art and social work. In the past that meant the KiMo Theater, Global DanceFest and the Day Arts School for individuals with developmental/intellectual disabilities. Interesting, exhilarating, worthwhile. But that was then…the challenge for front-line workers in the arts and social justice arenas to make any difference at all has increased exponentially with the disruptions of covid spread, climate change, and cult-building. Makes me want to wear a t-shirt urging ‘Creative do-gooders of the world…Unite!’
Today I just want to say a good thing and a bad thing…it has been a pleasure to return to our familiar warm and colorful Center with a few creative colleagues to see what we can make of this unpredictable new-normal. We have a substantial federal grant, bright and connected young people, a host of workable ideas, and multiple years of experience. What could go wrong? (Well. Actually there could be multiple years and layers of pandemic-time and drought and fires and floods and our very own home-grown rampaging terrorists and an increase in Republicans and Jeff Bezos could kidnap the best among us for his Mars colony where he intends to wait out the apocalypse.) Anyway I’ll be retired by then.
In a year or two or three, I’ll have all the time in the world for writing, reading, blogging, ranting, poem-making, class-taking…I could even reinvent letter-writing. I can volunteer as a reader or visitor for old-elderly (I’m young-elderly). I can drive refugees to appointments. I can dish out soup at a homeless shelter. I’ve been doing all of the above now and then over the years, but work (as in paid work) has often interfered. But I worry about not working. How will I know who I am? I honestly don’t think I’m a good enough human being to be a Jimmy Carter-brand retiree.
Or will I play out a me-first scenario. I made a vow a few years ago to order all of the books I wanted while still employed. I have been true to that vow. But there are impediments to consider in this plan too. For example: what if my eyes weaken when I have time to finally read each and everyone of those books? If I were the kind of person that prayed to a magic being I would request that my eyesight remain excellent until the minute I die (in lieu of supernatural intervention I’m using a good brand of eye drops and crossing my fingers). Then there’s streaming but I’ve pretty much watched everything on Acorn and there’s only so much one can stomach on Netflix and its tens of rivals, all with hundreds of mostly uninteresting shows. Not all bad though…with endless scanning the choices and time on my hands I’ll find the gems out there in the netherworlds of Amazon, Hulu and on and on. And there’s always the Great British Bake-Off to be watched over and over and over when all else fails.
Maybe I’ll find the perfect balance; I’ll write and read and stream and do the occasional good deed and cook an egg or dust a shelf occasionally, and my time will be filled. Right? The golden years all burnished and valuable.
Until then I guess I’ll get up and go to work.
Yonder See the Morning Yonder see the morning blink: The sun is up, and up must I, To wash and dress and eat and drink And look at things and talk and think And work, and God knows why. Oh often have I washed and dressed And what's to show for all my pain? Let me lie abed and rest: Ten thousand times I've done my best And all's to do again. A.E. Housman
Fall begins today. For me.
The New Normal starts today also. For me. On May 26, 2020, the first entry appeared in my fancy brand-new leather-bound diary. I declared it Day 72 of Covid-19 and noted the ongoing malevolent presence of DT in the white house, and that a black man had been strangled to death by the Minneapolis cops. I had vowed to only include items that mattered in the new journal.
Now it’s September 6, 2021, Day 545 of an unrelenting pandemic. We are living the New Normal. I have decided to acknowledge that. When this virus has mutated its last mutation, if that happens, we will continue to experience the rampaging climate of a pissed-off globe and a world mired in fear and hatred of the ‘other’… that is … whoever any one band of humans (with weapons) selects to vent their hatred upon.
In the meantime…who doesn’t love fall? At least those of us in/from temperate climates. Air chills, leaves color, school children chatter; we experience a burst of energy, necessary to prepare mentally and physically for the winter ahead.
So, I say to myself, do that. While Albuquerque doesn’t offer a proper autumn, I can consult my inner-Minnesota-child and proceed to lose myself in fall-inspired preparations for sundry worthwhile activities which, while they don’t involve canning peaches or butchering a steer, will make me feel prepared for something or the other.
I believe I’ll start by writing a small series of posts closing out this period of my life in blogland—the one that began February 12, 2020, a month before the Governor closed New Mexico down from Covid-19. My next Blog Book will include these eighteen months of entrees in a ‘travel-blog-book-with-oh-so-little-travel’.
Life and blog posts to begin anew, as autumn practically demands, when I take off later this month on a road trip (two-lane highways and small towns or odd villages only) through southern Texas to San Antonio and Austin. A small adventure with granddaughter visits as the reward.
Over the last weeks I’ve begun several posts about the awfulness of world events. However, since this is my first day of fall, my favorite time of year, how about I dispense with all rantings for now and post a few photos of my family on this holiday weekend. The bad things will still be there should I choose to use up tomorrow’s words on them.
Malaise: A general feeling of discomfort, illness, or uneasiness whose exact cause is difficult to identify.
If I can identify the cause(s)…is it still malaise?
I’ve made the first cancellation of the next previously-hoped-for round of travel. Gives someone as addicted to being out and about in the world as me, moments/hours/days of pause: It fills me with uneasiness. Notice me not saying anger or sadness or worry. Those are emotions I’m reserving for things I might be able to fix. However Cultism (represented by our home-grown fascists, trumpers, survivalists), Climate change, and Covid are beyond my ability to even alter in the slightest of ways.
So I am extremely uneasy (‘anxious, troubled, uncomfortable’). The world probably won’t crash and burn in my lifetime (although there’ll be more attempted coups, floods/fires/drought, and new strains of old diseases or brand-new viruses)…but, my dear grandchildren, good luck to you.
There is no good news, so I’m making my own as I sit here in my tightly-closed house because the California fires are pumping smoke in through any opening. I am willing myself into a strong enough state of denial to be re-planning all of my missed trips for a whole lot of time on the road and in the air in 2022/23. What I’m doing use to be called ‘whistling in the dark.’
Yes, breaking through my Sunday afternoon malaise—there is that ray of hope. Which would be a brighter ray if it weren’t for all the smoke in the air.