Fall Sojourn-al

Frank and Michelle left on an 85-day cross country journey on October 2, 2006. Follow along across 11,000 miles, 33 states, 3 oil changes, and 50 bags of pita chips.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Final Chapter

We have made a decision that has taken fourteen thousand miles to reach. I can’t count the number of conversations--Michelle presenting one possibility while I tried on another, switching between futures ranging from easy to staggeringly difficult to implement—or the number of confusions, but things became increasingly clear once we focused on a single problem to solve. Michelle and I will stay in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, and buy a house, the really radical idea for us; and yet one that we’ve decided we’re ready for. I don’t think we would have made this choice without backing away from everything by taking our long trip. It feels now, back in Virginia, as if we are exactly where we are supposed to be, and as if we have traveled exactly as far and wide as needed.

To get here from Orlando we did not simply get over to I95 and drive hard all the way north, stopping only once along the fourteen hour journey. We headed further south first. Michelle’s aunt, Carol, lives in Sarasota, surrounded by some of the greatest beaches I’ve seen. Aunt Carol brought us to Venice Beach and about five others, where the ocean washed to shore a different kind of shell or created a beach of unique composition. Walking over sharks teeth, crystallized sand, or a soft powder like snow, we scoured for shells. I waded in the seventy degree water and sifted the seaweed for the abandoned homes of cocina, abalone, and conch. When we weren’t at a beach, we were eating with Carol’s family and having amazing conversations that helped clarify issues we’d struggled with for the last two months. In retrospect: we were finally ready to reach conclusions and needed a supportive environment, along with impartial listeners to sound things off of, in order to transition from questioning many aspects of our lives on a daily basis to committing to at least one of them.

By the time we left Sarasota, we knew that we would return to the Hampton Roads and buy a house. Still, we visited three sets of people that we had made plans with. My aunt and uncle live in Fort Pierce, Florida, in a development in the center of a massive orange grove. I had not seen them since our wedding, and we talked about the trip, our decision, and their life in Florida. Jeannette and Jimmy are wonderful people and have raised four children, my cousins, and at one point helped raise me as well! I loved visiting with them.

That evening we made it to Delray Beach and had dinner with Michelle’s Uncle Franklin, his wife Ruth, and his sister Lenore. We spent the night with Michelle’s aunt, at her condo on the beach. Lenore has pictures from around the world and many great stories to tell. In the morning, I went out to the water and waited for the sun to rise over the ocean, capturing one of my favorite photos from our trip.

We drove through Florida, stopping at Saint Augustine, and then continued through Georgia on our way to Charleston. We stayed for three nights with Michelle’s friend Janine and her family. John, Janine, and baby Isabella shared their home and allowed us to relax and recoup. One restaurant we went to sits along an Ocean inlet and we saw dolphins cruise beneath a bridge in a pod of three. Janine loves Charleston and shared many stories of this old Southern city, taking us on drives alongside the oldest houses and most interesting parks. I would love to return to Charleston one day.

Our trip was officially over at this point. We did not want to continue for the five days that we had originally planned, because we no longer had our hearts in seeing places we might live in. We needed to get back to Virginia and jump into our decision and find a house. Even so, we stayed our final night on the road in Wilmington, North Carolina, and had our final big “what if” discussion, as was most typical for this trip, over dinner. In the morning we went shopping for work clothes, got our hair cut, and confirmed plans to meet with our former employers. We drove home that evening.

Now we are in the middle of returning to work and are making an offer on a home in Hampton, Virginia, twenty minutes from Michelle’s parents. Once you make a decision, things seem to happen quickly. We chose this course of action only two weeks ago, in Florida, but the momentum of two and a half months of conversations and insights propels us forward. We’ve had a second honeymoon, or more accurately thirty or forty of them: seeing sunrise together over the Grand Canyon, being one of thousands of couples making a romantic getaway to Niagara Falls, spending five amazing days on a resort in Albuquerque, and visiting together many more places on our list of Must Sees than I’d ever thought we’d reach in twenty years. We picked apples together, rode roller coasters, had picnics at the ocean, and hiked through deserts, forests, and sand dunes. This has been a trip made together. And together we have talked and learned to communicate better than I would have dreamed possible. This trip was a success!

Thank you for reading. We have not always posted on time, so thank you for your patience as well. I hope that you have an amazing holiday season and that you get to make all of the journeys that you need to make.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A few thoughts, then I'm Going to Disney World

On our way through Little Rock we saw signs for a museum at Central High School, where in 1957 the Arkansas governor attempted to block African American students from entering, and President Eisenhower sent federal troops to facilitate integration. We didn’t stop but learned more about the story in Memphis, at the National Museum of the Civil Rights Movement. This museum was built at and around the site of the Lorraine Hotel, a place of terrible significance but one where you can experience the past and feel tensions mount and erupt. James Earl Ray assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr. there as he came onto the balcony of room 306 on April 4, 1968. A visit to this museum presents the lives of individuals who would not tolerate continued discriminations and who forged from events across dozens of American cities a case and formed a voice that was finally heard by the American government. However, Martin Luther King, Jr. said that executing a law was easy but enforcing it was difficult. Many of the exhibits depict violent opposition, trickery, and intimidation tactics, all used to suppress a gathering consensus and a growing demand for equality. Perhaps James Earl Ray intended to end the Movement along with Reverend King’s life, but this did not happen. The museum does an excellent job of showing how nonviolent protest effectively uses the violence of its opposition to vilify and make untenable continued resistance to change. Martin Luther King, Jr. advocated nonviolent protest after studying the life and struggles of Mahatma Gandhi.

My brother Michel and his family live north of Nashville, near the Kentucky border. We spent two nights and a full day with them and shared stories, ate together, and caught up. Michel, his wife Tammy, and daughters Shelby and Paige live at the top of a hill surrounded by a couple of acres of forest, where their two dogs go nuts and the girls can play. It was great to see them so happy.

We drove through Alabama and reached Tallahassee, Florida, on the day of their annual winter holiday celebration. Little girls sang and danced while musicians presented collections of handbell music, choral versions of Christmas classics, and Rock and Roll. Fake snow flurried from roof tops as we walked through vaulting lights and listened to carols while sipping hot chocolate. We picked a good day to come to town!

Now we are in Orlando and will go in a few minutes to the Magic Kingdom. We have spent the last two days at Animal Kingdom, MGM, and Epcot. I love Epcot Center because it allows you to walk around the world in less than two miles. Pretty cool. Well, have a great day!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Leaving Oklahoma

Happy late Thanksgiving, everyone! I apologize that I have once again failed to post any news in a reasonable time. Doing this has proven difficult with our schedule, available internet connections, and sometimes, to admit it, our energy and motivation after a day of travel. We have been very busy and have had some great adventures. Michelle says hi, as well, and we have both gotten homesick. Well, here goes.

We left San Francisco and passed through Sacramento on our way to Lake Tahoe. The Californian capitol makes a nice small size city and has many nice parks, and we both put it on our list of places to consider for the future. The lake amazed me. Michelle and I, still tired from sightseeing (and our colds or whatever they were) in San Francisco, woke up and braved the weather, as it had just apparently turned bitter, frost already on the ground. On a small walk along a nature path we saw Lake Tahoe, and I took about twenty pictures. Mountains ring it and its shape and color create reflections in every direction. Very beautiful (we’ll get pictures uploaded someday!).

On to Yosemite and Mono Lake, where we had two days to hike a little, observe many awesome animals, and use two or three rolls of film. I think that I have begun to see things through my camera, my eyes replaced and my memory selective only of great shots, but already that is changing to the point where I recognize a photo I want to take and enjoy everything else without using my camera. But I have taken about eighteen rolls of film worth of photos! El Capitan, Half Dome, and Elk in Yosemite. The strange colors and rock like formations jutting from Mono Lake. A dry riverbed in Yosemite, leaving its mammoth boulders visible hundreds of feet below where the tiniest trickle of water emerges, now that the torrents that shifted and deposited giant rocks have slowed for the winter. Ansel Adams found much inspiration in the area, and Yosemite Park had a small show of his work. I also enjoyed learning more about John Muir and other people who have been captured by the beauty and natural significance of the area.

To reach Las Vegas from Yosemite, we journeyed through Death Valley. What a lousy name! The Timbash Shoshone thought that the gold miners who named it thus missed the point too, as these earlier inhabitants found it to be a beautiful place and a great home. The valley area turns dozens of shades of red, brown, and yellow, natural ores and minerals glowing from the ground up the side of serrated buttes and jagged mountains of the Sierra Nevada chain. An abundance of small but life giving plants dots the wide, wide valley and ends in a few places that become true desert, sand dunes climbing twenty, fifty, a hundred feet. The variations of light, clouds, soil, rock, shadow, and well adapted vegetation make this place, still home to the Shoshone, a subtly dramatic and constantly shifting treasure.

In Las Vegas we visited with Michelle’s cousin Glenn and his wife Stephanie. We had a great conversation over lunch and talked about the greater area. They mentioned that we would probably enjoy the surrounding towns more, as opposed to Las Vegas. Still for kitsch and man made wonder, Las Vegas has an appeal, offering in one long row pyramids, sky scrapers, castles, laser shows, and the Eiffel Tower. We walked a lot, gambled a little, and even saw a Cirque Du Soleil show. I enjoyed our two days there, but did, like predicted, find the area beyond the big city much prettier. Boulder, the town that houses Hoover Damn, has a lake and far reaching vistas to mesa that has giant families of Cacti and succulent plants, bearers of water in a dry environment. We couldn’t believe that Las Vegas, with all its sprawl and glitz, lay only twenty minutes north.

A slow, all day drive brought us to Phoenix by nightfall. We both slept very well, exhausted again, even after our two day rest in Nevada. Michelle’s cough got worse, and I had no energy. We did very little in Phoenix, preferring instead to rest. However, we chose our activities carefully and made it to the Heard Museum of Southwestern Native Americans. What a great way to enter the Southwest, just days before we would drive across Hopi and Navajo country and then reach New Mexico and its nineteen pueblos, each with a different people and history. The museum does an amazing job of stripping stereotypical images of Native Americans and presenting them in their own words, arts, and voices. You realize that, as a European American, you and Native Americans are linked in a common bond formed from the country, the land, water, and life that sustains us both. Although we practice a different philosophy towards land and ownership, living in the places we live, simply by being here, we are affected and changed by the land and environment, and have in the past been able to learn invaluable lessons from Native Americans about the place where we call home. The museum engenders respect and encourages understanding in more than historical or anthropological terms, to the point of embracing individuals rather than vaguely understood concepts of culture; so that we can continue to share this country in awareness of one another and realize how many different but equally valid ways a person may choose and need to live life, even within the same country.

Reaching the Grand Canyon took all day from Phoenix as we stopped often and had several great meals and didn’t make Grand Canyon village until dark. When the sun rose the next morning we had walked from our hotel at the Southern Rim and could at last see a fantastic place, one that cannot be easily described because the rock has so many variations of color, shape, and depth. Parts of the canyon plummet into shadow and hide in the vast river gorge while others rise in turrets, arches, leanings, thin spikes, colossal monuments of boulders and carved stone, still attached or free standing, formed over ten million years ago into countless twists and turns that imagination can recast as a castle, a sword, beasts of burden descending into the river valley, or cascades of stone rather than water; only to have the light or clouds shift and change your perspective immediately. To all the millions of people who have visited the canyon, and to the Havasupi People who still live within it, the Grand Canyon has probably appeared in a different combination of light and stone, leaping from brain to brain as a different revelation of enormity and magnificence.

“Are you looking for crafts?” a Hopi woman asked us in the village of Oraibi (pronounced Oh Rye Be). We had traveled east from the Grand Canyon through Hopi land so that we could see some art and visit this town, the oldest continuously inhabited place in America. The woman invited us into her pueblo style home, taking a break from cleaning her house and yard, and telling us a little about herself. “I have always lived here. This is the oldest village or town in the country. We do not have electricity or running water but I have never wanted to leave. We still follow a traditional way of doing things here. This is Piki bread, made with blue corn flour. I mash the kernels sometimes all day and then add water and roll out the flour to make the bread. We are dry farmers and corn is our most important crop. We need rain but it does not always come. We had a very bad harvest this year, almost no rain. Last year we had thirteen crops because of so many storms. I went to school in a one room schoolhouse, here, but my children went to the Indian School in Phoenix. My three sons live in the villages where their wives are from. My daughter and her husband live here. I have lots of grandchildren. See, this is a toy for children. You whirl it over your head and it makes a whistling sound. See the design. It involves the rain and clouds and the earth. Many of our designs do.”

We visited with this woman and her husband for a while, bought a basket she had woven from yucca fronds, and then went into the store that operates at the very front of the old village, and left with several more items, presents for Christmas. I thought about Oraibi for the rest of the day. We reached Albuquerque late that day, having driven several hundred miles from the Grand Canyon and stopping often, caught up in the beauty of the land and the people who live there.

I was born in Albuquerque and have lived there three different times, and it felt like coming home. Michelle seemed to enjoy the valley and the mountains all around it, but I enjoyed it more as a familiar place that had changed since I’d seen it last but still burned with the same essence, still welcomed me and felt good inside. Native Americans, Hispanics, and Anglos have stirred cultures together to create the look and feel of modern Albuquerque. Pueblo style homes sit next to Hacienda’s and transposed Victorians. New Mexican food fuses everything from Native recipes for bread, meat, and corn to Mexican food that changes even more once it crosses the border, to rancher influenced, no nonsense portions and hearty meals that prepare a person for vast stretches of open mesa and steadily climbing mountains. The air is clean and the weather a temperate mellowness (more in Albuquerque than in mountain towns like Santa Fe or Taos), with a steep plunge at night, when it can get thirty degrees cooler. We went up the aerial tramway to Sandia Peak and looked down at the Albuquerque valley. I could see the three dormant volcanoes where I used to play as a kid, and the snake line of the Rio Grande where I used to swim.

We stayed at a resort called the Tamaya (pronounced Ta Maw Yaw), owned by people of the same name who live on what Spaniards named the Santa Ana Pueblo. This was a great experience. I took several walks to the Rio Grande and saw coyote tracks across every path, often following the tracks I’ll never forget from my youth, the three toed sprawl of a quickly moving roadrunner. Coyotes really chase roadrunners, even without an Acme rocket pack and a pair of roller skates. A member of the staff, and of the reservation, told us that her people had lived there many centuries ago and then went on a several generation search for other lands and ultimately settled back in this area near the Sandia Mountains and the Rio Grande and Jemez Rivers and created a new pueblo village and once again took up agriculture and some hunting for rabbits and small game.

The Sangre De Cristo Mountains lie to the north of Albuquerque and stretch all the way into Colorado. We traveled through them as far as Taos and then turned back to Santa Fe for a late dinner. Another day we explored Albuquerque and Santa Fe on another. The fourth day we got to spend on the Tamaya Resort we stayed home and took walks, visited the cultural center for the Tamayame People, and made an adobe brick. The resort gave us easy access to everything and transported us to a different time. To even get to the hotel you have to travel about a mile down a winding road that effectively cleaves the brighter lights and urban development of Bernallio County. Then you are in a large pueblo style compound with traditional viga and latilla support structures of wooden beams, and hear flute music and smell cedar and spruce in all of the common areas.

Now we are in Oklahoma City, about to leave actually. We have just spent Thanksgiving with Michelle’s aunt and uncle and cousin. We had a great meal and talked about our trip and watched a few good movies together. It was a great time. Now on to Little Rock, a stop on the way to Memphis. After that we may get to see my brother north of Nashville. Bye for now! We will figure out something with the many, MANY pictures we still have to post.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Leap Forward

We have reached San Francisco! I will try to touch on all the places we’ve visited and the things that we’ve seen and done up until now, but we have obviously gotten caught up in the trip and behind on this journal. Michelle and I have both been fighting colds but she might have bronchitis and need to see a doctor before long. I think it is easier to get sick when traveling, as we never know what we will eat and we don’t keep to any firm sleeping or other schedule. Anyway, here is a quick summary of the last couple of weeks, followed by photographs.

After leaving Colorado Springs, we drove north to Denver to see Michelle’s friend Maureen, whom she has known since preschool. Before we reached Maureen and her husband Stephen’s house, we went to Red Rocks amphitheater on the west of the city. Awesome place. The amphitheater blends in with the astounding rock formations all around it, and from the stage you get an acoustic quality that many bands, musicians, and fans can find no where else.

We talked into the evening with Maureen and Stephen and then traveled the eighty-seven miles to Cheyenne. The next three days showed us the biggest part of Wyoming, as we drove across a surreal, serrated landscape that grew steeper and more jagged until we had reached Jackson Hole. In our visit to the Yellowstone area, we saw moose, elk, clots and clots of bison—always in the middle of the road, making a driving trip a chance to stop and enjoy, offering no other choice, really—mule deer, falcons, hawks, and even a lone, playfully zigzagging coyote, as well as a number of thermal pools, mud pots, and geysers, including a well predicted eruption of Old Faithful. We enjoyed ourselves a little too much given the chilly air and occasional snow flurries, once pushing ourselves and hiking around a blue, green, purple, red, and orange thermal lake, both of us coughing like crazy but taking photographs. Road closures meant that we saw more of Idaho than we would have, as the only way into Yellowstone was through the western entrance, taking us through Sun Valley and a gorgeous reservoir area with wooded islands and sudden mists.

To get from Yellowstone to Anacortes, Washington, to see my mother, we could have taken Interstate Ninety and made good time. Instead we spent the night in Spokane and then took Highway Two all the way to the coast north of Seattle. That was an awesome drive. Washington has scrub desert, thick evergreen forests, buttes, canyons, crystal clear lakes carved by volcanic activity, and countless mountains; and our route brought us through much of this diversity. We had lunch in Leavenworth, a town that sits along a mountain pass and is modeled after a Bavarian village. We reached Anacortes and had a great visit with my mother, grandmother, baby niece, sisters Blair, Brianna, and Erin, as well as Erin’s fiancé Dan.

We left Anacortes after a day and a half of visiting family and then took the ferry to Victoria, British Columbia. I think the Royal B.C. museum is one of the best museums I’ve visited. It educates on the geological, ecological, and anthropological history of the area, and ties the three into one story of adaptation and interconnectivity. The Haida, Kwakiutl, Saamish, and other coastal and inland Peoples represent the first wave of human migration to this continent, and the museum tells many stories in authentic voices, offering dwellings, masks, totem poles, tools for hunting and gathering, as well as documentaries made by modern day descendents. Moving from the First Peoples to European colonization, to the Gold Rush, to the lumber industry and today’s forests, and then portraying a web of animal life and the geological and natural occurrences that have supported such diversity—the B.C. museum zooms in to depict the threads that compose British Columbia. And I think that by showing interconnectivity and telling this story so well, the museum does an amazing job of helping the visitor to consider other relationships between land, animals, and people.

Other Victoria experiences included afternoon tea at the Empress Hotel, a neat hike right behind our hotel, a visit to Buchart Gardens and its dozen zones of flowers and plants cultivated in what used to serve as a rock quarry, as well as a trip to the movie theater to see Marie Antoinette, a great movie. Part of the plan was to rest in Canada as we had reached our western most point and would soon drive south to California. We left feeling refreshed and ready for the rest of our journey.

We stopped in Redmond, outside of Seattle, and visited Michelle’s cousin Dave and spent the night catching up with him and playing a crazy board game called Robot Rally that takes your capacity for spatial reasoning into new territory. Portland has a lot of qualities that interest us, being of a manageable size but offering many city activities, while preserving great parks, views of the foothills, and a nice riverfront. I liked that city very much. Next we drove to San Francisco via highways 101 and 1 in Oregon and California. The drive becomes the destination for these roads, especially since you have to maintain absolute vigilance as driver, steering around almost 180 degree turns on cliff sides, momentarily breathless from view of clinging fog over the ocean and its piercing shore line of rocks and crags, and then plunged back to a torturous turn into a tree lined tunnel that grows taller and taller, some of the red woods outgrowing the National Monument. We reached San Francisco two days ago in near shell shock from the steep road and dramatic cliffs that end only ten miles north of the city.

I celebrated my birthday here, going somewhere I’ve been thinking about since we started on this trip, Chinatown. This is the biggest one in the country and it really has much to offer. I’ve read stories that take place here, as well as a few biographies and fictional biographies (Jack Kerouac’s stories with Jack Duloutz filling in for the author) that pass through a place that is both very American and foreign at the same time. We left Chinatown for a small tour of the city, ending at Fisherman’s Wharf. Crowds gathered around the marina and took pictures of a hundred California Sea Lions hauled on the slips, arping, playing, showing off, or sleeping in piles of bodies, oblivious to the tourists. We sampled a local specialty, soup in a sourdough bread bowl and then made our way back to the hotel via cable car. I had a great birthday!

Well, today we check out of our hotel and head for Lake Tahoe and then Yosemite Park. I will try to post again within the next week, by the time we reach Phoenix. Because our internet connections have as a whole been weak at the hotels we stay at, we might need to post our digital pictures some place other than our blog. Thank you for reading and thank you for your patience. Bye for now!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Kansas City to Colorado Springs

In Kansas City we visited the American Jazz Museum and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum which are connected in the 18th and Vine Historic District. We weren't allowed to take pictures in the museum... But the exhibits here are amazing.

We then had a 12-hour driving day. Taking short shifts made the miles go by much faster. The fields and farms in Kansas are beautiful and interesting...at first. After six to seven hours, they get a little repetetive. Good thing we had our trusty i-pod to keep us going.

There was a huge storm as soon as we reached the Colorado border, so we didn't see the Rocky Mountains until we got up the next morning. What a sight!!! Rugged snow-capped peaks rising from the horizon...Plus, there was snow on the ground so we got a double whammy.

We spent an amazing afternoon at the Garden of the Gods. We arrived just in time to catch a guided nature walk through the park. Then we went to a cliff dwelling used by the Anasazi, ancestors of the modern day Pueblo peoples.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

St. Louis

We spent a wonderful day in St. Louis chauffeured by my (Michelle's) brother, Greg. He took us all around town. Highlights of our time included the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, fireworks after the Cardinals won game 5, listening to Blues at BB's, and the City Museum.

At the Arch

A different perspective

At the top

View from the top

Inside the "egg" elevator

Me and my bro

Frank and his friend, the Griffin

Monkey-ing around

A swinging good time

Can you find Frank?

Anxiously awaiting Halloween...

Monday, October 16, 2006

Pictures are here

Our photos from the last week or so...

First, butterflies from the Dancing Wings Butterfly Garden at the Strong National Museum of Play.

Now a couple of pictures from Canada.

In front of Horseshoe Falls.

Frank contemplating the falls.

A trip down memory lane at the Public Museum in Grand Rapids.

Michelle with Mark Lewis, her acting professor from Wheaton College.

Andy Mangin, a scene partner from my college days,
is now the Technical Director for Arena Theater.

Darcie and Geoff's house in Bloomington where we spent a couple of relaxing days.