Monthly Archives: June 2012

A toast to the coast…almost.

A fruitstand on the road.

We pulled into Savannah late.  The day’s drive was long and the confidence we had that we could pull off the distance between Milledgeville and Savannah before nightfall dwindled. The countryside seemed to stretch forever as we waited and waited for signs of the coast, signs that we had reached some milestone, the eastern seaboard.   The maps were deceiving. Savannah had looked like it was right on the water. I imagined our arrival, the bus pulling under a canopy of willow trees draped in Spanish moss, the squirrels lining up to greet us as the sun sets, fireflies dancing around our heads while Sigur Ros played in the branches, the waves crashing just out of sight. Instead, we pulled into a Subway just as they were closing, sticky with the day’s sweat dried on our skin.  After dinner we drove a hundred yards to the other side of the parking lot to Wal-Mart and popped the tent.  It didn’t even matter that we were 13 miles south of the actual city of Savannah. Bam, Savannah had been reached, skid-a-ma-rinky-dinky-do, let’s go to bed.

Everything’s better with a sunrise. The town was as beautiful as we had heard about.  Spanish moss was everywhere and town squares lay every few blocks slowing traffic to the point where you even began to think in Georgian drawl. We came across a farmer’s market, saw a soccer coach helping a young girl, heard musicians playing to the trees, everything you’d see in any city park around the country. But it was Savannah. And we had gone through deserts and mountains, truck stops and Wal-marts to get there. It was our East Point.

But then again, it wasn’t.

Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home

We spent the day walking past the colonial era tombstones of a cemetery, hunting for Flannery O’Connor’s home, and trying to regain our composure from the heat in a coffee shop.  We had yet to see an ocean, we had yet to dip our toes into the warm Atlantic water.  As the sun dipped lower in the sky we decided we should venture on.  Skidaway Island State Park sits southeast of Savannah and provides a nice respite from the tourist crowds and charming but still artificial stone streets and wrought iron balconies.  15 minutes outside the city and we were in the marshes. It was fantastic.

Camp at Skidaway Island

Stretching his legs

Canopy of trees

Our van rested beneath giant oak and pine trees, moss dripped lazily from the branches like tinsel. The air, thick with the tidal moisture, smelled organic and heavy.  Eliot was happy we were done driving and started to romp around and we got out and stretched and breathed in the silence. That was another thing. The silence of that place was so rich with life. It was the cicada, the frogs, the dozens of birds darting around at any moment, the drip of water from the trees. But it was silent, devoid of the honking, hacking, hating of the city.  We walked until we found a trail and kept walking.  There were marshes, saturated from the high tide, fields of grass, and mounds of mud and silt where the fiddler crabs swarmed and raised their pincher claws like finger-snapping background dancers from Westside Story. We saw cranes and an egret, an osprey nest perched on a pole. In the visitor center we saw a fossil cast of a giant sloth that was found in the area. (The original we would later see in the Smithsonian.) We were overwhelmed by the diversity and abundance of life there, both past and present. It was all around, something primordial and harsh and beautiful about the damp ground, the alligator warnings, the insect clouds, and the smell of smoke in the trees.

We got back to camp, tired and grateful for the time we had had, the thought of the coast pushed aside for the time being. This would do.


Gigantor, the giant sloth, and Eliot maintaining his composure

Visitor Center fauna

Hot, sweaty, tired and happy at the tidal marshes.

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Road to Atlanta

The Midwest behind us, we passed through Tennessee and watched green waves of forest sweep the horizon. The kind of green that is possible in the South is something that imprints on your memory so deeply it becomes a part of the collective unconscious. Your kids and their kids will somehow just know and understand how green the South can be and how good that beauty will make them feel when they finally see it. Tennessee was like this. Georgia was like this. It’s the green of hope, of opportunity. The green that makes you feel like nature is going to put up a fight after all, that we can’t completely screw this world up as easily and quickly as we thought.  It’s a hope. And with that said, we had high hopes for Atlanta, having heard so much from so many people about the culture and history and beauty of the city.  But one of the first things we noticed was the traffic. Apparently Atlanta is second only to Los Angeles in traffic congestion.  Dallas has got to be up there somewhere, too. Why is it that we have only ever managed to make it into these cities in the heart of rush hour? We’ve got to stop doing that to ourselves.

We made it through the labyrinth of construction zones, one-way streets, false starts and dead ends and found the neighborhood where Jamie’s cousin, Laura, lives.  It felt good to get off the road and tuck into a quiet driveway for a couple of days and even better that we could stay in the arms of hospitality.  This was another first introduction for Eliot, who loved her house, her cat, her wagon, her daughter.  It was inspiring to be in her house and be surrounded by her art and we were both grateful for the chance to reconnect.  She took us around to a couple of her favorite neighborhoods and showed us a mural she painted for a restaurant. Murals and graffiti were everywhere. I’ve always had a fascination and deep appreciation for good urban art and the walls in the Little 5 Points area were as satisfying to the soul as eating big, fat crepes is to the belly.  A neighborhood’s pulse is splattered on its walls. Its breath stains the fingers of artists, its moods shift the direction of students and laborers.  We met a street poet named Craig. He asked me for five words and with them he gave me a poem.  Jamie, Eli and Laura walked up and he laid another at our feet. He spoke about our trip with truth and beauty.

We went around some more, saw the giant park near Laura’s house, had a picnic with her daughter, Marie, and Marie’s other mom, got some frozen custard and wagoned the little ones back home. By the way, what’s up, Pasadena? Get on the frozen custard wagon already.

We said our goodbyes to Laura and Marie the next morning at a café, grateful for the time we had with them and hopeful for the next stage of our journey.  We hit the interstate and headed east, creeping closer and closer to the coast. But before we reached the Atlantic we made a turn down a small state highway toward the town of Milledgeville.

Milledgeville, Georgia, is a small town with Georgia College and State University at its center but its history includes everything from its strong ties to Flannery O’Connor and her literature to being Georgia’s antebellum capital. It’s small but gives you the feeling that you’d be alright there, that it would take care of you with what it’s got. I wanted to see what I could find out about the creative writing program so we got out and walked around the campus. I was happy just to find the right building and my plan was to try to get some kind of ESP vibes from the hallways but then a woman appeared out of the blue (actually just an office, which in hindsight seems like a pretty natural place for a woman to appear from) and was kind enough to drop me into an office with a current MFA candidate. We flipped on the lights and hung out with him there and talked about the program.  The whole time I couldn’t help thinking that it was funny how I just happened into that place the way I did, as if a large and invisible hand was pushing me, patiently and gently, but still pushing me forward. It made me wonder where else we’re being pushed.  The campus was beautiful, the program sounded exciting, and the buzz from talking shop with an MFA candidate swept away any trivial concerns I had about where to find gas or which onramp to take where.

Funny, that big invisible hand.

Laura’s home

Laura and her art

Owls in Little 5 Points

Behind a cafe

More behind the cafe

Laura’s Mural

The happenings at another coffee shop

Our Goodbye to Laura and Marie



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Back to the South

In southern Illinois, there is the kind of town that is found under one of two conditions:  by trawling the comic book forums (or is it fora? Or is technology so powerful and omnipotent today that the rules of grammar are left sobbing in a moldy linen closet while the party rages on in the next room? But I digress) in search of yet-unlearned trivia and unsubstantiated rumors of future movie adaptations, or by drinking 12.7 gallons of fluid in 75 minutes and having little recourse aside from an empty coffee cup in the back seat. That town is Metropolis! For an old comic nut this was just short of providence.

Standing proud in front of the city courthouse was a massive statue of the man in blue and red, on the corner of Liberty and Truth. I think. It might have been Truth and Justice, or Liberte and Egalite, or Pancakes and Waffles. I was distracted. And across the street was the obligatory mural-painted gift shop and museum. We drank up the colors and lights and action figures and forgot our bladder issues, we bought a sticker for the bus, and we approached and then slowly backed away from the museum gate after seeing the entrance fees. It was marvelous. (It’s almost sacrilege to make that joke within a Superman-related post. Comic people will get it.)  At some point we had to leave, though, and with bladders empty we hit the road, the irony not escaping us that Metropolis, Illinois, was little more than that one statue and a gift shop in the middle of farmland.

But then we made it to Nashville. Now, I was not expecting much, not being a country fan or a fan of states with consecutive multiple letters in their names, which seems to be a deliberate attempt to make people feel dumb when forced to spell them, but I was impressed. Keep in mind that this was the week of Bonnaroo and the Country Music Festival, neither of which we were aware of, but apparently the rest of the world was because traffic was slightly more than atrocious. And despite all that we found it charming. There’s something to be said about any place where art and artists come together, where cultures converge and ideas mix and swirl and breed. There is life in places like this and that was what I liked about it. There are cute brick buildings and tree-covered college campuses and edgy bookstores and cafes everywhere but it’s the life of the place that makes you stop and get out of the car. You want to stand in the air and get some of that into your veins.  You want to make three wrong turns and passive aggressively tell off a pedestrian who corrects you just so you can park your car and get out and stand in that city’s life.  So we did that.

We spent the night again in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart and woke the next morning refreshed all but for the faint memory of skate boarders click-clacking away at 1:00 am and leaf blowers outside the window at 3:00. Breakfast at the Pancake Pantry across from Vanderbilt University was all we needed, though, to set things right.  I can only imagine that the crepe’s failure to completely replace the pancake in the United States is a dogged attempt by a secret office of our government to squelch French influence that dates back to their ingratitude for their assistance in the Revolution.  Go out and get one today.

On our way out of town we drove past honky tonks and clubs, restaurants and art galleries, the air of the city pouring through our windows, and we said goodbye to the crowds lined up on the street waiting for the coming parade. Tennessee, despite your name you get a gold star in my book.

Supermom and El Tornado, her sidekick

I’ll take your apparent disinterest as a sign that the emotions from being here are too overwhelming for you to express.

Captain Kiwi rests quietly at the tail of a dragon in Nashville.

Even walls make you feel neat sometimes.

Downtown Nashville

Yes he does.



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Myrtle Beach

This is not Myrtle Beach, but it is a pretty picture from the 1st half of our journey.

It’s late, but I want to write this down before I forget the feeling that I had last night as I kicked my sandals off and felt the soft east coast sand beneath my feet. The air was cool and there was a breeze. A break from the discomfort of the east coast humidity we had experienced over the past couple of days and nights. You would think that rain would cool everything down at least a little bit, right? Not a chance. Anyway, back to the beach.

Our day had been long and tiring. When we arrived at Myrtle Beach it was night. The streets were congested with neon lights and college kids. They were all scrambling and stumbling across the street, weaving in and out of traffic, hooting and hollering for the sake of hooting and hollering. You know the crowd. Some dude salutes our bus with a thumbs up. It’s summer vacation and Myrtle Beach is the place everybody runs to as soon as the bell rings.

Once we finally made it through the traffic we pulled into a small parking lot with beach access. Eliot had been lulled to sleep by the sounds of car horns, shouting drunks, and car stereos blasting bad rap. Who knew?

“Want to take turns going out to the water?” Erik asked.


“I’ll be quick,” he said.

Erik ran off into the distance. Out to dip his toe into the half way point of our road trip. As I waited for my turn I reached back into my mind remembering  moments that we had experienced so far. I thought of the beauty of the grand canyon and all the fun we had sitting and talking with family I haven’t seen in years. Rekindled friendships. Eliot meeting people who have loved him from states away. And then I thought about  saying goodbye to Memaw in St. Louis, knowing that was most likely the last time I’ll see her. It was the last time I’ll get to just sit with her like I used to. My heart hurts so badly from that goodbye and all the goodbyes we’ve had so far on this trip. I wasn’t prepared for this. But then I realize that it hurts because my love for them is real. And all at once, I am swept up by the awareness of how incredibly blessed I am to be on this journey…to actually have family and friends to say goodbye to.

“Be thankful for this time. Be thankful for this moment with this person. Be present,” I thought.

Erik came walking back and before I realized what I was doing I jumped out onto the sand, kicked off my sandals and started running. I just felt so full of joy that I had to run. I was so thankful for everything we had been given on this trip so far. We had seen so much and been given so much in so little time.

I reached the water, letting the waves wash over my feet. I wiggled my toes. The Atlantic feels warmer than the Pacific.

We made it.



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The Pilgrims’ Progress

We drove into Springfield, Missouri and headed straight for the Bass Pro Shop. We heard tales of its gargantuan size and the plethora of life ending tools and human cloaking devices in its aisles. I was totally prepared to be awed by the lengths man goes to entertain himself at the expense of wild fauna but I, and we, left with a different kind of hitch in our giddy up.

 We entered the foyer and were met by a giant Elk galloping downhill, flanked by bears in mid-stride and geese and duck and all other kinds of fowl in mid-flight overhead. To our right was a tank of water with a live alligator and across from him was another tank with sawtooth looking fish 5 or 6 feet long. There were rows upon rows of boots and hats and camo gear and guns, knives, bows and arrows, tents, jetskis, atvs, a cafe, a restaurant, ANOTHER tank with a giant snapping turtle, a waterfall with live ducks. Live ducks I say! The feathered creatures managed not only to make it through the door but to survive!
It was pretty amazing in a weird, self-betrayal and betrayal-of-all-my-vegetarian-and-vegan-friends kind of way.  I felt strange, but I bought a hat. Jamie felt strange, but she bought a hat.  Eli didn’t feel strange but I’m pretty sure he would have if he were old enough. He bought a hat. Nevertheless, we had a ball for the hour or so that we walked around, like a couple of kids at Disneyland.


Why hello.

Checking out the fish

We left for the KOA outside of town but were turned away by the prices. We found a Wal-Mart and set up camp in the parking lot. Now we had heard about a storm coming in but all evening the sky was crystal clear.  1:00 am came around, though, and I was awakened by the drum beating sound of rain on our poptop.  I jumped down below and pulled the top shut and climbed into the front seat as Jamie and I watched the wind swirl streams of rain around the empty parking lot. The wind roared and the lighting that flashed in the distance got closer and closer, and with it its thunder.  The bus shook and swayed in the wind. Water pounded the roof. When we finally began to get lulled back to the sleep by it all the lightning came upon us.  We saw the flash and I counted, one one-thousand, two one-thousand, thre-CRACK! And again we saw a flash. One one-thousCRACK.

It was amazing to witness God’s power and the overwhelming force of the elements that surround us each and every day.  It’s a sobering reminder of how small and how powerless we are. Eventually the rain subsided and the clouds blew away. By morning the parking lot was all but dried.  Onward we drove to St. Louis. For us it is the town of big family, Jamie’s aunts and uncles, cousins and second cousins, and Memaw.

Memaw  hasn’t been doing well these last couple of years so it was particularly important to see her and show Eliot his great grandma.  We went with Aunt Marcia and Uncle Charley, whose hospitality we will always be humbly grateful for, and a couple of their grandkids.  Memaw came out into the courtyard and was wheeled under the shade of a tent. We all sat around her and said hi, tried to stir her, tried to get a moment of clarity, of recognition from her tired face.  She lifted her eyes enough to see Eliot and then her head rose. “Why, hello!” It was beautiful to hear some of the same spirit in her voice that I’ve known of her from the short time I’ve known her. I can only imagine what the visit was for Jamie.  There were a few other moments like this but that wasn’t why we came or what we hoped for. It was just good to see her and good to know that Eliot had a moment with Memaw and she had a moment with him.  I pray it helped her in some way to see Jamie, to see Eliot.

We were grateful for the time we had with the St. Louis family, to reconnect with old relationships or begin again, this time as adults.

Poised at the Gateway Arch

Great Grandma (Memaw) meets Eli for the first time.

On our last day in St. Louis we travelled across the Mississippi to the Cahokia Mounds site, once the largest city north of Mexico. All the mounds, scattered across the countryside, were created by man, the dirt transported from sites like quarries and slowly built up into mounds for living spaces, worship, or geographical boundaries.  It was beautiful country by itself but we felt thrown into another time when we walked the steps up Monk’s Mound, the largest in the area, or passed Woodhenge, a calendar of wooden posts circled around a center post. It seemed fitting to end the trip to St. Louis with a visit to the mounds. From the top of Monk’s Mound we could see straight across to the gateway arch and backward to the country we’d be driving into from that point forward.

A visit to the Cahokia Mounds, just across the Mississippi

Eli exploring where native Mississippi royalty once trod.

At the top of Monk’s Mound



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As much as I love the anonymity of the road, it feels so good to pull into a familiar driveway knowing that family are eagerly awaiting us. Our visit with Uncle Lonny and Aunt Kathy was a time of rest and encouragement. It was a time of storytelling around dinner tables and fires. Words of comfort and healing and faith, always accompanied by lots of laughter.

There were lots of firsts. It was the first time they had met Eli. I finally caught some fireflies. We met some more family members. I rode a mower around their land. We were served mac and cheese the way  grandmas used to make it. And Eli experienced his first Smore, which he loved…he is his mother’s son.

We’ll miss them so much.

Erik is giving the tour to the kids. See their little feet?

New family!


Candi made this for us!

Uncle Lonny

Uncle Lonny and Aunt Kathy

Notice the flames?…so awesome.

Every chance he got, Eli would race over to the mower, climb up and pretend to drive it. VROOOOOM!

Uncle Lonny makes some amazing things in his shop.

Eli’s truck.

Eureka Springs

Old town

at the KOA

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Truck Food

Mama and Eli sharing a bite

The best part of Austin was a hot dog truck on South Congress. This was a vegan apple sausage with sauerkraut and honey mustard on a freshly made sesame seed bun. Delicious.



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