In Context: the relationships that nurture a resilient future

I wouldn’t be honest if I said this road trip had not begun with any structural or thematic perimeters. Punctuated by sustainability residences at both Goddard College goddard-college-logo in the northeast and Prescott College in the southwest, it should be a dead giveaway, we are writers with activism living in our hearts. Yet even with the obvious focus of the largest periods of rest during this trip, we hadn’t fully embraced the sustainability asprescottpect until we attended the Association in Literature and the Environment (ASLE) conference just a few weeks prior to leaving.http://www.aslebiennialconference.com/

I was presenting my ideas on gender and we both got an earful of wonderful plenary speakers and workshops (including one our favorite indigenous writers, Linda Hogan! http://www.lindahoganwriter.com/) If you have an opportunity to attend an ASLE conference, please do. It only happens every two years, but we learned so much about seeing our work through an environmentalist lens and how we might be able to garner resources among those of like mind whether they are creative writers or not. Did you know there is a category of fiction called CLI-FI as in climate fiction? Just check out some titles at http://eco-fiction.com/ While writer’s are constantly trying to defy categorization, sometimes finding you fit a category you never knew existed is a bit like returning home to lost family and finding a whole culture of support. I’m learning to be careful with my metaphors. I wanted to say it was a goldmine, but then given the recent horrific goldmine spill in the Animas River in Southern Colorado made me rethink the metaphor. For me, that’s the intersectionality writers need to be exploring. In what ways do we support the status quo?

Which brings me back to the other bookend for our trip that I want to bring to your attention before we get into some road stories blogging, in case you might like to plan ahead a little bit and show up. If you are in the area or nearby, please come! Ron and I are honored to play a small role in the upcoming bay area Soil Not Oil Conference featuring Vandana Shiva as a keynote. Although we will be discussing with writers how to change the paradigm in our workshop and would love to see you, the coolest part of conference will be the workshops and presentations by so many great people working for a more resilient future. And so please consider this a public service announcement of our context. We exist, because there is soil. Ironically when we move beyond the catastrophic doomsday scenario that our relationship with oil has claimed for us, we discover we do have alternatives and its roots lie in the soil. Regenerative agriculture is rich with new metaphors for writers, new metaphors for all of us. Come and find out! http://soilnotoilcoalition.org/

 

 

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Soylent Tornadoes

soyentIt’s hard to write when you are on a road trip. Harder still when you are camping. But when the mosquitoes and tornadoes come at you, it’s time to hunker down in a hotel with a bottle of wine and a king sized bed and rest up.

Hot shower. It was good. Maybe not as cool as taking a bath in a Minnesota lake by moonlight (with several loons cat-calling from a safe distance), but refreshing and necessary. We did a couple of loads of laundry and cleaned up our car refrigerator and ice chest. As a matter of fact, the dryer is just finishing up the last few pairs of socks.

We drove an extra couple hundred miles so that this break won’t slow down the trip. And since we ate leftovers in the dark, we have last night’s dinner fixings ready for tonight.

All good and well.

This morning I noticed that the “weather” we experienced was actually a catastrophic weather system. We stopped at a hotel in Houghton Lake around 10:30. The desk clerk was cryptic. We had no idea what she meant by “If you don’t have a reservation we don’t have any rooms. I don’t have enough power to run my pumps.”

We went on to Claire. The Days Inn there was pretty dark. Most of the street lights were dark. I found some guys in the meeting room (the front desk was dark and unmanned) who reminded me of the storm chasers in the movie Twister. They had all sorts of portable electronic equipment set up on tables. One of them told me a transformer blew up, that the power was half off all over the county. I told Karen I felt like a storm chaser.

We diverted off to route 10. By the time we go to Midland the lights were back on and things looked normal if deserted – even for midnight. This morning I saw the news about the damage. Two tornadoes. Cars crushed. Roofs torn asunder.

We were fine, traveling in our protected bubble, as usual.

King sized bed, air conditioning, hot shower and a mini fridge. All the luxuries – and a complimentary hot breakfast (with shitty coffee and stale biscuits). Finn passed out hard as soon as the door was closed – he didn’t even get up when I went down to breakfast. There was a news story on in the morning room about a 27 year old guy who created a new meal beverage call Soylent.

I wondered out loud if he knew that in the movie, Soylent Green, it was made of people because there was no food left due to climate change. That film is from 1973. Messages are coming in from all over. Weird weather, prophets on ABC morning news. And several of our friends “just happen” to be within a hundred miles. No one got hurt – but the lightning show was spectacular.

Karen says the clothes are dry, we gotta hit the road.

See ya later.

Visions to Change the Narrative

lakeDriving through the open lands of eastern Oregon and Idaho on our way up to Yellowstone Park I am mesmerized. The open landscape is like a sponge that soaks up all of the civilized thoughts and voices that contain the montage of competing needs of my current daily existence. Out here, the balance of checking accounts or even the numerous books and articles crammed into my mind from the pursuit of a master’s degree in education, all leak out and seep into the earth. I am both the lake that saturates the water table around it with the burden of what she holds, and the prodigal daughter of the modern world who is reconnecting with her mother. She cradles me as everything releases, my body sighs with the finality of letting go. Though I am a mere tourist cruising through my mother’s land at the unnatural speeds of an automobile propelled by the petrol fuels that is killing her, she accepts me as one of her own.

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This has been my scholarly writer’s mission, to find the way to change our narrative, the one that has us racing toward our doom, sacrificing our own children, our lives suicidal, consumed by the obsession of madmen who believe they are leaders. The Crazy Ones are more like characters out of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. Just as Stannis is completely convinced by the illusion of contrived facts, the ones that allowed him to sacrifice beloved innocents, they will find their doom.

Yet we have become convinced we cannot stop the Stannises of our own world, those that worship the machine of oil dominance and politics measured by mere dollars, as if this money system were truly a natural thing. Adam Smith was a fool in a long line of fools all the way back to Edmund Burke, pretending a grandeur that is doomed to collapse around us all, if we are blind to everything but the GNP.  Don’t get me wrong this economic machine is a powerful force that is reforming the world in its own vision, and so it needs an equally powerful strength to bring it back into balance and that force is our reconnection to nature and our living world.

It was not by accident that the pastoral romantic poets sought to wake up the world to their own humanity, only to inspire more than one revolution, some successful, some not so much. But this is not a debate about the absurdity of the fragile and volatile ego of men with wigs of endangered monkey hair and absurd visions of commoditizing a dying planet, this is about knowing another story, one that is percolating in this landscape like a dependable geyser, and it is as close to me, to us, as the joy of my faithful service dog, Finn. It is about letting go of the absurdities and waking up to our connection to the land that feeds us, the water that quenches our thirst and the soil that grows our food. News Alert: Monsanto does not feed the world, the soil does, and the arrogance of the agribusiness practices of extractive farming practices driven by mere profit is part of The Crazy Ones’ thinking. They are drunk with their delusional power as the soil blows away in the wind and the poisons being used are more and more deadly to all of us.

Although I have been on this journey for a lifetime, the urgency is here and now. Winter is coming as they might say in Game of Thrones, but in my story it is not about the crash and burn of complete destruction. It is the restoration of not only the land, the water and the air— it is the restoration of our selves. I think perhaps we need to begin with the stories we tell ourselves. We can change. We can start with our perceptions; survival of the fittest is perhaps the grandfather of illusions, and even Donald Trump had to have someone wipe his ass when he was a babe, but of course, self-obsessed narcissists can’t admit that, it would be admitting that they cannot control the world when the polar caps melt. They would rather control their own fate through suicide than admit they are wrong; just watch the melt downs of egos on the political stage! Are these the people we should be following to storm the castle? Ah, if the world were run by midwives, we might forget storming castles altogether in order to survive the transition to a more resilient world and learn a thing or two about stewardship along the way. I would tell a different story.

One of the stops on this road trip was visiting relatives with young children. They had a caterpillar sanctuary. Imagine the bravery of young children watching that caterpillar. When she wakes, she flies. We are like that butterfly, too, but it is not cocoon time, it’s time to fly, to take action to create a different paradigm, one that reinforces the basics, things that have been reinforce on this road trip. Life matters. Air, water, and soil are sacred. Soldiers of The Crazy Ones need to know it’s time to walk away. The only survivors of Stannis’s delusions of grandeur are those who chose another path. It’s waiting for us, behind the false rhetoric of inevitable oil dominance, there is a far more beautiful and resilient world to be embraced. The only illusion is that our destruction is inevitable. It’s time to embrace another vision.

DSC_0076I began my scholarly journey at Portland State University with an elective class on women mystics and at the end of my studies I took the class on Women Mystics again. It was only a single credit class, but I can see now it framed my work well.  From my perspective we all have the capacity to have a vision of another world, and the belief to know it is possible, and to take action on that belief. It doesn’t take a master’s degree to see the alternatives, though it might take a deepened heart to do whatever action is needed to make that vision happen.  The irony here is that once we stop following The Crazy Ones it’s as easy as knowing we are already butterflies. We already have the technology and know-how to let the wind carry us, but The Crazy Ones don’t want us to know that.windmills

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

 

first leg map

 “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah”

-everyman/woman the day before leaving on a six week road trip.

NOTE: This was written before we left – we have only just now gotten to the point where we can post it. Note to fellow road trippers: There is no cell service in Yellowstone – and there is no 4G in Montana (if you are on MetroPCS)

Tomorrow is the day. Karen made the reservations at the first few campgrounds. We know where we will be on each of the first 8 days. We have made lists. We have amended those lists. We have met with financial adversity and defeated the foe – or at least bludgeoned it into a temporary coma. We have tested the tent, and the hammocks. We homemade deodorant, bug spray and sunblock. We are almost ready to load the car…

Christ. How the hell are we going to get all this into the car?!?

I am a few doors down on Lovejoy in the Alphabet district enjoying the smell of roasting coffee at The Local Roasting Company taking a break from packing while Karen gets stuck with long needles; her last acupuncture treatment before we depart. The Portland Streetcar runs along Lovejoy, the NS train just blew by out front. The door is open, the temperature is perfect. What a cool town! Me? I am worried about the weather everywhere else. Tell me why I am leaving Oregon when the weather is the best of the year? We have been out of state traveling for the last four. And though we vow never to do it again (that’s the same thing we say after EVERY road trip too).

If you have read any of our other preliminary articles about this road trip, you will already know we intend on making yogurt, kombucha and sprouts while we are on the road. The plan is to camp cheap, cook meals and photograph/scribble our way east, then south, then west and north.

Our son, Justin (who will have a birthday while we are on the road and we’re sorry not to be here) is holding down the fort. He worked with us on the building our camping inventory which includes hammocks with mosquito netting, our stove, Finn’s backpack and our camera bag. We can’t praise Sierra Trading Post enough for the amazing prices on our Mountainsmith accessories.

Our first stop is Craters of the Moon in Idaho. From there we are going to Yellowstone. It’s our first time. In the past, most of our road trips have been on a tighter time budget. We are stretching out on this one; trying to slow down and see.

I want to make an interactive map, but it is enough to just get all our clothes washed. Maybe after we get to Vermont.

On top of all this, we found out last week that our rent check bounced because the bank was withholding taxes. We told them not to, but something got mixed up on their website, so we discovered that we were not only very late on July but the money for August wasn’t there anymore. Par for the course, as they say. On the winning front, our tenant at the farm agreed to pay their rent early and for some reason Shell, Exxon and Texaco have chosen to extend enough credit to do the whole trip. That means we are leaving with only $50, but we are trusting that the universe (or the muse of road trips, Varvara) will provide. She always does.

And on top of all this, we still need to get everything into the car leaving enough space for us (and Finn). Photos to come –

My break is about over, so I will have to close this now. Check out our funding campaigns – there are several ways you can get involved – there is still time for us to route our journey in your direction. Drop us a line.

Chao

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The Writers Road Trip

This is a reprint of an article we wrote for The Writer in the World.

Descended at least culturally if not genetically from the ranks of our most exulted literary road warriors – writers like John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac, and Ken Kesey – my wife Karen Walasek and I have exercised and exorcised our wanderlust cyclically throughout our forty year marriage. There have been many, many journeys punctuated by periods of growing and transplanting roots. In the first twenty years of our marriage we lived in sixty different homes. We moved so often that family and friends were annoyed at having to repeatedly revise their address books. Banana boxes housed our possessions during those tempestuous early years.

We drove east, north, south and west, crossing the continental United States at least fourteen times. Most of these journeys were made by car, though a few began with planes or trains, and there was one drive-away rental car that we wrecked in Zanesville, Ohio during a snowstorm. We hitched home from Tucson to New Jersey for Christmas one year and got stuck on a milk run Greyhound from Pecos, Texas which became the scenic backdrop for my novel, Jam. Talk about long, strange trips.

As a novelist, songwriter and artist, I think of traveling as the little known tenth muse. I call her Varvara, or Βαρβαρα if you are Greek. Varvara delights in our discovery of ourselves through the strangeness of others. She coaxes and teases, leading by a trail of the tiniest breadcrumbs, whispering in her raspy alto. Her song is like the tug of the stars on my heart.

Most writers have used prompts. I assign timed ones to my students as a way to bypass the censor and get down to the deep stuff. A month long road trip is a bit like immersing your whole body in a writing prompt. Motion occupies the conscious mind and lets your creative self – wander – absorbing the peoplescape. All you have to do is copy down your impressions.

We began referring to these trips as vision quests after our “vacation” to New Mexico in the early 1990s took a surreal detour from the normal planned family excursion. Karen was about to attend her first Goddard undergraduate residency as we set off from our home in eastern Pennsylvania during the hottest part of summer toward the Southwest, bisecting Tennessee on Interstate 40. Our favorite movie at that time was The Milagro Bean Field War, Robert Redford’s 1988 film version of John Nichol’s novel. The movie became a template for our trip as we wandered around New Mexico in search of Joe’s bean field. It was a sweaty trial, six of us pressed into an overheating Volvo wagon. We didn’t know that the town they used in the film was chosen more for aesthetics than fact (the novel was a fictionalization of a real water rights war) or that plastic bean plants were driven into the dry soil for the filming.  Ruby Archuleta’s goad to Charley Bloom, the reluctant editor of Milagro’s alternative paper La Voz, surfaced as commentary on the deficiencies of our preparation: the air conditioning “wasn’t up to it.” The voice of our muse, Varvara, narrated the inner landscape as the sun purified us.

We didn’t plan it, but a member of Karen’s Goddard cohort lived at the mouth of the road to our primitive campsite. She prepared Anasazi beans, brown rice and corn bread, a gift that connected our modern family to the indigenous cliff dwellers of an ancient land. Looking outside her kitchen window at the neighboring straw bale adobe buildings across the fields, she explained that Joe’s actual bean field had grown right there, next to the Pilar Yacht Club, a whitewater rafting outfit.  Back then we were surprised, called it serendipity (which is another favorite movie.) These days we know it was part of Varvara’s plan.

Road trips have always punctuated the geographically stable stretches of our marriage. It’s a cycle independent of season.  We grind through our daily lives, making small headway in our various endeavors when the tumblers unexpectedly align, opening our sights to new possibilities. Once again, that lock has fallen open.

We bought a new/old SUV and a DSLR camera. We will journey across the north to Vermont through Canada, diagonally dissect the southeast to visit our farm in Tennessee and then power on to Prescott, Arizona via Interstate 40, retracing our earlier journey through Taos. We plan to return home to Oregon along the coast of sun parched California.

In this post Clinton/Bush/Obama culture, this road trip promises to braid new stories with the journeys and vision quests of the past four decades. Varvara is whispering themes of resistance, indigenous identity, and the impulse to decolonize as we head out to embrace the country’s changing narratives, both dominant and otherwise.  It is going to be a trip. We even bought a mini refrigerator and a blender for the car with plans to make yogurt and sprouts on the road. Maybe kombucha, too! You can come along.

Most importantly, we are journeying with our senses and writing muscles tuned. As the fabric of the land and American psyche impresses itself upon us, we are hopeful she will feed us with wonder and possibilities for a more resilient future. This summer, Karen is beginning her fourth degree, a low residence PhD program in Sustainability Education at Prescott College. And I am embarking on my third, also in sustainability, at Goddard’s Vermont campus. Both happen in August. Updates can be found here. I hope you will join us for the ride and do let us know if we are in your neighborhood. We’d love to connect. Who knows what plans Varvara has for all of us?

This is not the first road trip and it will not be the last.

Additionally, we are running a crowd funding campaign Wishlist on GoFundMe. Most of these items are going to become necessary before we are done (some, like flushing the fluids in the car are necessary now) and there are a few luxuries on there – check them out. We would love it if you just want to donate the item if you have it or can provide it. Contact us via social media or email.

I will update this post when the campaigns go live.

Updates for our preparations (we are leaving August 1) can be found here in successive posts as they develop – so please follow our blog as well. As said, after we depart, we expect to publish updates, which will include articles by Karen and Ron, photos and videos (if we get a Go Pro, we will publish Finn Cam – the record of Finn’s adventures from a dog’s eye view) every couple of days. I hope you will join us for the ride and do let us know if we are in your neighborhood. We’d love to connect.

 

We Are Going to Road Trip!

Our Crowd Funding site is almost done.

Follow us!

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We Are Going to Road Trip, Again (yes, all of us)

Ron picked up Karen hitchhiking in the summer of 1975 when they were both nineteen. He was on an errand to buy groceries and she was on a camping expedition to the Delaware Water Gap, complete with backpack, dog, and ex-boyfriend in tow. There is a scene in the SF movie Minority Report where Agatha, a gifted precognitive, guides the Tom Cruise character through a crowded mall. It’s about timing and knowing when to move. (If you own the movie you can find the scene at 1:36:36 or, as long as Fox doesn’t ban it, check it out below.)

We like to think of our first meeting in this way, as a carefully synchronized event, one that wouldn’t have happened, if either party had doubted and waited a moment too late, or jumped the gun and left a moment too soon. All fate and possibility exists in finding the precise time and place.

And yet because we each trusted that tiny voice inside that said, “it’s time”, even if we had no idea why we were putting one foot in front of the other, because we listened and responded when we heard the instructions, “Go now!” we have been able to carve a life and relationship that will have lasted for 40 years this November. Road Trips have punctuated our marriage since that first sunny day. You could say that our successful lifelong relationship was built on the insights and worldview gained by trusting the myriad possibilities found on the road.

There have been at least fourteen cross country road trips, with and without children; sometimes with dogs, cats and a few with horses. Early on, Ron was in a band named Frostwater that toured around New England in a big Dodge van. When our son Justin was nine days old we were on the road. Touring with a band is really just one big road trip punctuated by tiny flashes of stage light, floating in a river of burned all night service station coffee. During this phase Frostwater played with luminaries like Pete Seeger and Alan Ginsburg.

Haul Away is a Frostwater cut on the Clearwater II album

More from Frostwater

The richness that these experiences afforded is greater that the wealth in any retirement account. We forgave ourselves the cost of drinking all that bad coffee. Eventually we learned to better prepare for our trips and have even cooked up a few meals in a wok on a hotplate when we couldn’t build a fire.

We have driven most sizes of moving truck, with and without tow dollies. We have done it via low cost all-nighters, and we have stayed in cushy hotels. We’ve car camped, wilderness camped (one wedding present was a North Face mountaineering tent that we used until we lost the poles on a road trip from Tucson down to San Blas Mexico). It’s as if we were born with a strange nomadic gene that erupts without warning.

All Ways Near, from Out of my Love by Ron Heacock

More from Ron Heacock

It’s not wanderlust exactly. It’s more like a call to find connection. It starts quiet and soft, but t grows louder, electrifying the air with the fury and drama of lighting finding ground.

Road Trips provides a special vitamin that helps you see. It’s true, travel cures complacency. Choosing a different road from the crowd is worth more than the cost of the disruption to your normal life. Stretching out and meeting new people in new places, for no other reason than to do it, is the best way to widen your world view. And it will teach you right away that the world is bigger than you thought. That’s not only fun, it is exhilarating. It is also liberating. The time has come; we are going to road trip! Can you hear the whisper; did you know that you can come along?

A proper road trip has to begin with a reason. That’s so the planning and preparation can be justified. You see, without the proper justification we would never let ourselves dream. We have too much work to do (NOTE: we work at what we want to, but it doesn’t mean we don’t work.) This time, we are beginning new degree programs. Karen is beginning her fourth, a low residence PhD program in Sustainability Education at Prescott College. And I am embarking on my third, also in Sustainability, at Goddard’s Vermont campus. Both happen in August.

Our basic route will take us across the North through Montana, cutting down through Michigan, East past Buffalo and Albany and Brattleboro, stopping in Plainfield Vermont for a week. Then we will be over to the coast – Provincetown and Martha’s Vineyard, down through Morristown, NJ, stopping off at our farm in Pulaski Tennessee before finding our way to Prescott Arizona. We have a conference in San Francisco in September – after that we will head home. Whew!

Because it marks the beginning of a new chapter, this road trip will also be a vision quest. Several of our past road trips have been also. Which brings me to the purpose for these crowd funding campaigns, there are two. You can follow along with us as we go. There are several ways you can help. Here’s how:

  1. Tell everyone you know (in person, email or through social media) who might be interested in Road Trips, Writing, Decolonization, Self Determination, Freedom and Resistance.
    1. Hook them up with the Blog, or our FaceBook Page. Like us!
    2. Share links to our crowd sourcing sites
  2. Help us determine our route
    1. We have some places we have to be at certain times, but the rest is unformed and in the ethers
    2. We want to read, speak and sing at impromptu events, house concerts, writer’s groups and book events See the blog for updates, songs, videos, pictures and articles.
    3. We would love to visit with you (Ron is a kick ass cook – we ran HillHouse Writers for close to a decade – we fed our guests meals to die for!)
    4. We want to include interesting places in our journey – we are out to make stories.
  3. We will be writing, photographing and filming as we go. We are seeking opportunities to co-publish, reblog and promote. You can…
    1. Introduce us to outlets
    2. Publish our serialized journey on your platform
    3. Help us find sponsors, we are open to using and promoting products and services that are sustainable and ecofriendly. For example, we purchase a lot of equipment from REI
    4. You can suggest new products and services

We will be compiling this trip and future trips into a printed publications. It is possible that we will create a series. The perks that we are offering on our Indiegogo campaign include these books as well as organized ways that supporters can influence and become part of our story. You will be able to subscribe to our writings as well.

This is not the first road trip and it will not be the last.

Additionally, we are running a crowd funding campaign Wishlist on GoFundMe. Most of these items are going to become necessary before we are done (some, like flushing the fluids in the car are necessary now) and there are a few luxuries on there – check them out. We would love it if you just want to donate the item if you have it or can provide it. Contact us via social media or email.

 

Updates for our preparations (we are leaving August 1) can be found here as they develop – so please follow our blog as well. As said, after we depart, we expect to publish updates, which will include articles by Karen and Ron, photos and videos (if we get a Go Pro, we will publish Finn Cam – the record of Finn’s adventures from a dog’s eye view) every couple of days. I hope you will join us for the ride and do let us know if we are in your neighborhood. We’d love to connect.