Lessons from the Road

DSC_0228It’s been a year since our summer road trip. We’ve covered thousands of miles since then, punctuated by two frigid cross-country, storm-eluding, highway-closing for Wyoming wind, driving the snow-covered-dirt-road-detour for miles, turn-the-car-on-in-the-middle-of-the-night to warm our metal tent parked at countless rest areas, fast-red-road-country[1]  crisscrossing moves to the farm; all the while remembering, whom this land once nourished.

It’s almost as if it’s taken half the year to catch our breath! Soaking in our rural sanctuary for recovery; and perhaps, to also forget, for a short while, how long and large this beautiful country really is. But even with the hardships of the road, there has been a depth of value to traveling that has settled into our lives, a bit like muscle memory becoming stronger, turning micro trauma into awakened conviction.

We’re living in a socially constructed world of never-stopping and never-ending production. This supreme disconnection from our bodies is rooted in the belief that we are machines to be hammered by the ever-more-powerful extraction of our time, squeezing more-than-a- body-can-give into a predigested work week box. “I think; therefore I am, and I shall overcome this limitation of needs” becomes the mantra of the disposable; as if, Maslow’s wisdom can be erased; as if, even he didn’t go far enough when he appropriated much of his theory from First Peoples.[2] As if, in our pursuit of conquering nature, we have been turned against our own life needs, turned against the needs of all present and future life, ignoring in a great-profit-seeking-denial that we need to eat, sleep, love one another, and rest. And, we need to do all of this in a world overflowing with clean air, land, water and life.

Of course, that denial can easily be re-enacted on the road, like the time we drove from DSC_0014 Prescott, Arizona, to a campground on the coastal beach in one day to save money; the inhumane push through a 112 degree Mohave fraying my body and mind until right about the time we crossed the coastal range in the blackness of night with invisible ravines on her curvy roads. Thrown into an all-consuming panic, I forced Ron to slow to a snail’s pace. In my exhaustion, I could not keep from imagining falling into the abyss. Descartes might say he was right; my thoughts ruled over my imagination so powerfully that had I been the one driving they might have found us the next day at the bottom of a gorge but I would argue, of course, he was wrong.

He was dead wrong. The abyss was a metaphor for how wrong he has been for centuries, and how dangerously far we’ve fallen by following his lead. No one and no thought can control the sanctity of life, because contrary to the industrialized model, contrary to the miraculous advances in medical add-ons and interventions, contrary to the push to homogenize all-things-living into a one-size-fits-all-profit-seeking-DSC_0011commodity; life is not a machine. No matter how much we deny, no matter how many constructs we create; no matter how many wars are lost by someone, nor how many urban paradises spring up out of the desert, no matter how much cool technology Steve Jobs has created, nor how often bible pushers will tell us our bodies are evil; we are not machines.

[1] Fast Red Road is an amazing novel by indigenous writer Stephen Graham Jones. http://www.demontheory.net/

[2]  https://lincolnmichel.wordpress.com/2014/04/19/maslows-hierarchy-connected-to-blackfoot-beliefs/

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.

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finn3

 

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.