The Scope of the Land: zooming in and out to find real hope

DSC_0036When Ron and I left for our seven thousand mile road trip almost six weeks ago I knew it would change me. It’s something we used to expect from “vacations”, especially back in the day when family vacations were part of the norm and summertime promised a much needed long respite from the trials of K-12. Back in the not so long ago days when it was common knowledge that renewal was a necessary reset period that enables the hard work of childhood; we understood something about living that somehow we seem have to lost. These days we call it self-care, as if the sole responsibility lies within our own scope of action alone. In Prescott, Arizona the autumn callback to school is hallowed by the sonic return of the DSC_0146cicadas. For me back in the New Jersey suburban landscape of my youth it was the sound of the school bus. For me today, staying in the home of a friend in Santa Rosa, California while waiting on some car repairs before finally heading home to Portland, Oregon, it is the calling of my doctoral work. I am renewed and ready, but first I’ll pause to share the results of our, written with revolutions of turning wheels, grand reflective lesson plan for this particular road trip— One that could only be deciphered fully in hindsight.

DSC_0004One of the first things I noticed early on was how badly I needed the break. Even though graduate work is not physically strenuous, the all-consuming mental work is, at its core, still hard work. I already knew our bodies don’t know the difference between mental and physical stress and responds as if it is the same; and yet, there was this powerful cultural voice inside of me that forgot one important fact, I am human. I think in our nonstop around the clock modern life, we are charmed into thinking we are above and beyond anything that resides below our neck.

We spend so much time in our minds strategizing our next moves and hooked up to our varying methods of measuring our own worth that we tend to forget what is concrete, DSC_0034what is real. To be honest, I was a bit surprised that I, of all people, had fallen prey to
the trance of this modern life, the one that fooled me to imagine that I can
push my body beyond all reasonable expectations.

I was once a midwife who knew that bodies needed nutrient dense foods, nurturing care, and lots of healthy restful sleep. It’s ironic that even with my myriad of health issues I am still susceptible to this mind-over-body pair of blinders, the one that ignores my bodily needs for some culturally defined need. It screams false claims that it’s a mere personal choice of how far I can push DSC_0126myself. It insists that a strong will and hard work will pull me through all of life’s obstacles. Yet, upon reflection, most of us recognize; this is all lies. The exact opposite is, in fact, true. No amount of pushing back on the inevitable will get any of us past being a living human, alive upon a living planet that feeds us. With the smallest amount of time for reflection, we know ignoring our human needs won’t make them go away any more than ignoring the cries of a dying planet will avoid environmental collapse.
As we drove across the landscape I drank in the quietness like a thirsty child. The results were far better than any medicine. My cortisol levels dropped. I slept hard and woke up refreshed. By the time we got to the Northern lakes in Minnesota to hear the loons call beneath a full moon, I had lost weight—weight that had previously clung to my bones refusing to leave no matter what diet I tried. It was as if in the chaotic trauma of my workday stress, my body was storing up survival food for the whisper of an extended winter. When I finally found some downtime and  my body relaxed, the quiet landscape having convinced it not to worry anymore, I finally let go of the extra survival package. Suddenly I remembered! It’s not frivolous, or lazy to unwind and reflect on the world. It’s necessary to our survival and well-being. There are studies that have shown the wonderful effects of nature on our bodies. In our packed lives surrounded by nonstop input we can completely forget that we come from the natural world. This road trip changed all that for me. That it took such a dramatically long trip for me to renew is more telling about my stress levels than any other single thing.

DSC_0021Once I recovered from my civilized life, however, the first thing I noticed was how big and beautiful this country is. I noticed the water, or lack of it. I noticed the dark and the stars, and how utterly foreign it felt to reenter an urban world. Edmund Burke might have lamented over the civility lost in order to birth a conservative mindset, a mindset that seeks to define artificially imposed order, but I DSC_0030lamented over the strangely blind cruelty of dead things erupting from a landscape of living things. When we arrived at the skin of Buffalo, New York the GPS went haywire and the car overheated, as if our machines also felt the sudden increase in static and overloaded with the awkward reentry into civilization and reunion with family we hadn’t seen in well over twenty years.

DSC_0071If the first third of our trip’s purpose was connecting with the land and my own body’s needs, the second purpose was connecting with family, both blood and spiritual family. It was an odd punctuation of diving deep, recalling past intimacies and revealing current connections and realities. I could see my own children and grandchildren in the faces of my niece’s children. They, of course, share much of the same genetic history, but the likeness was striking. sunset vineyard crossingAlthough our stay was only for a night, and in some cases as the meeting continued with of other family members, even if only a mere hour or two, in each case, I couldn’t help but feel the strong connection and love bond that is woven into the fabric of our lives. Separation by time and miles is an illusion born of disconnection.

DSC_0109Stripped of our daily social commitments and vulnerable to the uncertainties of open road, each visit was an oasis mixed with unfathomable generosity, gratitude and intimacy. I felt honored and humbled by the connections we were making. Then I was reminded of something that Larry Merculieff had said to a group of Portland State University Indigenous Nation Studies students. Larry is an Aleut native taught both in the old ways of his people and in the world of academia. He told us many wonderful stories, but the one thing that stood out to me DSC_0160was the greeting his people spoke to one another, which translated into English as, “Hello my other self”. It dawned on me how this trip helped me capture the meaning of those words in my body. It resonated with me in both my heart and my head. It became apparent that no matter how bizarre and weird urban civilization seemed, once inside the circle of loved ones, everything became real again. Within us the deep connection between the macrocosm of the land and the microcosm of family grew together. What was hard to reconcile was the in-between world. If you hurt the land you are hurting my family, you are hurting yourself. The social constructs of society are DSC_0032failing both the land and the people. The social
constructs lied to us and tell us its narrowly defined economic view of the world is the only reality. I am not a stranger to the notion that money creates the world, nor the arrogance of those who believe that they make  reality in their own image even as the polar caps
are melting and forest fires are consuming the Pacific Northwest. For the love of land and life, this false notion needs to be uprooted and rearranged. How do we do this so it is the least disruptive to those we love?DSC_0079

The third braid of our trip is the weaving of both Ron and my academic pursuits in sustainability, social Innovation and education. The trip itself has been bookended by DSC_0037two significant conferences. Just a month before setting out we attended the ASLE conference in Moscow, ID. . Although I presented some of my fledgling theories on the link between gender and ecocide in a workshop, the highpoint for me, if I can call it that, was the undercurrent of devastating grief that participants were sharing about wholesale destruction of life on the planet; how helpless students felt when professors revealed the realities of climate change. I think Per Espen Stoknes captures the feeling best in his article, The Great Grief: How To Cope with Losing Our World,  And yet, it was important for me to not only understand the gravity of what was being lost, but to find my way around the hopelessness through to actions that would DSC_0081turn it around before it is too late. My grief turned to anger, like many of us who wanted to string up a long line of trophy hunters whose trite egos somehow think it is appropriate to claim the endangered. But anger like dystopias can only lead us so far. The answer I discovered was in the lovely Soil Not Oil conference held in Richmond, CA. Thank you, Miguel, for all of your hard work on this one; and for bringing Vandana Shiva to speak.
Vandana’s physicist’s ability to make connections that the so-called real world of agribusiness can’t seem to see has changed my life. The conference was packed with
Miguell and Vendanareal world visionaries like Vandana; activists whose feet were deeply rooted in the soil of the Earth. In one ten minute presentation alone I caught the reality that we really can turn this thing around. Climate change can be stopped. Yes, you heard me right. Climate change can be stopped, if we put the carbon that we’ve taken from the Earth and return it to ground. The real kicker is that it will bring health, wealth and happiness to all those we love. It’s called regenerative agriculture, and it works. The results and the proof are in.  All we need to do now is to dismantle and
rearrange the industrial agricultural model to one that works for everyone. We need to stop measuring success by the narrow-minded and finite perimeters of the commodities market. The landscape and our loved ones are far greater than that. Now that I am at the tail end of this road trip I know where I stand. My internal GPS is fully charged and the path is clear. You won’t hear anymore words from me about our dying planet. The concept of the Anthropocene is already outdated. This Earth is my home. My family depends on it. My grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren will thrive. vendanaAnything less is unacceptable. The great turning is here and now, and we all  need to embrace this reality, we need to return the carbon to the ground. It’s the only reality that matters. All the rest are distractions and lies. The lesson plan is completed, and now all we need to do is enact it. But first, do yourself a favor; take the necessary time to reflect on this, you owe it to yourself, your family and the world.

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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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.