Gulf Coast: vol 2 – The Big Easy through Big Country

Talking with the old folks by the wall
Dreaming ā€˜bout New Orleans in the Fall…
-David Gray, “Gossamer Thread”

French Quarter, New Orleans

Yes, I know it’s been a while since I posted. I am back in New Mexico now, and the frantic pace of “normal” life has caught up with me, pushing me in this and that direction. So now I find the time to write about the last two legs of my journey home. Fortunately, I took notes. šŸ™‚

For those of you who have not been to New Orleans: go. It is a gem of the South, a surprising burst of color and culture in the swamp lands. I arrived in the evening to the house of my CouchSurfing host, Hope. I’ve been a CouchSurfing member for over 7 years; I have surfed all over the western hemisphere, and hosted some amazing travelers from around the world. So when I am scheduled to visit an unfamiliar place and have an interest in exploring said locale in an authentic way, CouchSurfing is the first place I turn. Continue reading

Gulf Coast: vol. 1

But when a southern anthem rings,
she will buckle to that sound.
When that southern anthem sings,
it will lay her burdens down.
-Iron & Wine

I will gladly brave the Gulf Coast seafood. Doing my part to support local industry. Ha. Yum – oysters!

It is difficult to believe that the Deep South is part of the same country I have called home for most of my life. Sure, there are Home Depots and Wal-Marts and McDonald’s and Starbucks, but the Gulf Coast feels so… foreign. So strange. So much different than the world I inhabit in the Southwest, or that in which I was raised in Oregon. I feel my hackles raise and I am on edge, like I am when traversing foreign countries, in anticipation of the inevitable swindler, hustler, or Ā criminal waiting for opportunity. I feel entirely out of place here; a feeling not unwelcome.

From Savannah, I drove straight around Jacksonville and began my trek through northern Florida. I joined Interstate 10 on the beginnings of its long journey to the Pacific, but then our paths diverged as I took a detour through the piney woods. I find the most interesting sights, people, and places are to be found away from the interstates and their thundering semi trucks, long haul pit stops, and endless fast food establishments. Plus, I wanted to avoid at all costs traffic in any major city, and I was rapidly approaching Tallahassee. So off I went, toward St. Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge and the Gulf Coast. Continue reading

Peachy!

Names beneath the lichen
On these cemetery stones.
There are carnivals of silverfish
Waiting to dance upon our bones.

-David Gray, Draw the Line

After 4 days spent in Nashville catching up with Alesha, it was time to move on again. Next stop: Atlanta, Georgia.

Me, at the top of the hill.

The last time I was in Atlanta was just over 4 years ago, and under much less pleasant circumstances. Having traveled there for medical reasons, I hardly got to see any of the city. Fortunately, this visit was much more lighthearted. My good friend and coworker from Maine Media, Alex, lives in Atlanta and I was happy to be briefly reunited with him to explore this southern metropolis. Atlanta, I learned, is the 9th largest city in the U.S., with an area population of over 5 million people. Its 6-lane freeways snake through densely forested hills, the lines of cars like blood cells in arteries, endlessly pumped in and out of the city’s heart. Though it is deeply entrenched in the Deep South, Atlanta’s size and metropolitan vibe place it firmly in the realm of “big city” atmosphere; its character is forced to peek through its cumbersome strip malls, skyscrapers, and big box stores.

View from the top of Blood Mountain

But there is more to Atlanta than urban sprawl and traffic. On Wednesday, Alex took me in his beat-up 1991 convertible to the hills on the border between Georgia and Tennessee. It’s hard for me to call them mountains, though that is what the locals call them. Being from the West, I am accustomed to the stately peaks of the Cascades, Sierra Nevada, and the Rockies. It just doesn’t seem like a mountain if you can’t get above the tree line. But let’s not be snobbish, and call them by their local moniker: mountains. The steep forested folds of the landscape are quite pretty indeed, and stretch on for miles in theĀ ChattahoocheeĀ National Forest just south of Smokey Mountains National Park. The narrow roads twist and curl around hairpin curves through forests of oak, pine, andĀ rhododendron, and small mining towns spring up intermittently. We hiked up 4,200-foot Blood Mountain, and were rewarded for our effort with a fabulous view of the rolling mountain range stretched out before us. Continue reading

Red River Gorge and Kentucky backroads

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.
-John MuirĀ 

Sunrise at the Red
Sunrise at the Red

After two and a half weeks in the big cities of the East Coast, I was more than ready for some peace and quiet. Being a rock climber provides a ready-made excuse for exploring the woods and mountains, as well as a community of people with whom to do so. There are, as I’ve been told, only a few top climbing destinations in the Eastern states: The Gunks in New York, New River Gorge in West Virginia, Red River Gorge in Kentucky, and somewhere in North Carolina. Since I’ve not had much opportunity to climb this summer (I only went a couple times in Maine), I decided to take a detour to Kentucky’s Red River Gorge en route to Nashville. Continue reading

Philly and D.C.

Try everything that can be done. Be deliberate. Be spontaneous. Be thoughtful and painstaking. Be abandoned and impulsive. Learn your own possibilities.
-George Bellows, 1920

Washington Monument, the National Mall, D.C.

My time on the East Coast is drawing to a close. Tomorrow I strike west for Kentucky.

After leaving New York, I spent 3 days in Philadelphia (in Media, actually, but close enough). I stayed with a friend from my days in Eugene, and as always it was wonderful to catch up. Jodi is one of those friends you can go years without seeing, but once reunited it’s like no time has passed at all. I went into downtown Philadelphia only twice; once to visit the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and once to work on my project (or try to, anyway). The Museum was fabulous. It has been so entertaining to see up close the works I have studied in school. For example, Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 was there, in all its exploding shingle factory glory. You’d think after the Met and the MFA in Boston, I might have been sick of looking at art? Nah…

I have to say that I was a little underwhelmed by Philly. It struck me as very industrial, rather gloomy, and irritatingly congested. Parking is a nightmare, and trying to do a session for my project in one of the public squares involved 30 minutes of circling for parking, followed by 15 minutes of hauling my cumbersome and heavy equipment a half mile in the sweltering humidity. Awesome. And I didn’t even get a cheese-steak (I don’t eat dairy).

So off I went to D.C. And what do I do when I get there? Look at more art! šŸ˜‰ Continue reading

US Open and the Big Apple

City life is millions of people being lonesome together.
~ Henry David Thoreau

Times Square craziness

After a whirlwind weekend in New York City, I am grateful to be back to the quietude of the Hudson River Valley. Although I was raised in a city, my tolerance for the human madness of big cities has diminished over time. I find myself exhausted after 4 days in Manhattan; the level of energy required to keep up with the pace of city life is not something I am accustomed to anymore. I feel like if I stop for two seconds on the street to catch my breath or regain my bearings, I might be swept away by the masses, carried along in the unstoppable current of humanity. I’ll admit I’m a little on edge when in the city. Call me a country girl. I don’t mind. Continue reading

Goodbye Maine, hello NYC

ā€œThere is no moment of delight in any pilgrimage like the beginning of it.ā€
-Charles Dudley Warner

And so it has begun. A 4,200-mile road trip has cast its troll line; the stern of the summer steadfastly in Maine, my compass aligned roughly southwest. I am so ready for this journey.

My last night in Hope. Will miss this peaceful spot!

I left Maine on Monday with a packed car and a fond farewell to the North (and to summer). Avoiding the ambitious 12-hour drives I endured to reach Maine in May, my route home takes a more leisurely route and pace. I made it only as far as Boston on Monday, and stayed with a student from MMW in Winchester (20 minutes outside the city center). Tuesday brought us to the Museum of Fine Art in Boston, which currently has a really wonderful exhibit by Ori GershtĀ that addresses the uneasy relationship between beauty and violence, specifically in the context of the Middle East conflict and Holocaust history. The body of work was a mesmerizing combination of high-speed video and still photography. We also perused the historical English photography exhibit, and by the end of the contemporary art collection we had whiled away 3 hours. Yay art! Continue reading