Tuesday, November 27, 2007

En route from Marion, Massachusetts, to Bridgewater, Maine

434 statute miles
50°, dropping to 30° in the course of our journey

We took the bus today up north, up, up, heading up into the big county Karl is named for. On the trail his trail name was “Big County,” not just because of his physical stature, but also for Arookstook County, the biggest county east of the Mississippi. He has a farm up here, 120 acres and a three-bedroom house. When I first met him, I was utterly confused by a 26-year-old with his own land avec horse. How many 26-year-olds do you meet like that? Since then, the place has become a little bit of an albatross around our collective neck, but it’s still an amazing place to come back to. A reminder of what we could have if we decided to settle down.

That’s the worst part of being here, feeling torn between two places. On the one hand, I can feel how much our families want us here, how much they’ve missed us, and how much we’ve missed them. And on the other hand, I see my picture of forlorn Secret on the hard every time I boot up the computer. The picture mysteriously appeared as my computer background when we were first back in the States, and I’ve left it ever since as a reminder of what we’re going home to.

We showed up finally at Snow Road at about ten, left off by the side of the road by the bus like some kind of drifters, picked up by Karl’s dad at Bridgewater center, the post office. Snow Road doesn’t have that much snow on it yet, just a couple of inches. The beaver pond’s full of water, and the land stretched out to the horizon in all directions, featureless and empty and beautiful. The sky is huge up here above the potato fields, framed by pines. If I could only survive the cold.

We immediately booted up the computer and began showing off our pictures to Karl’s father. I feel like such a dork sometimes, like a hippie couple from the seventies: watch our slide show! I don’t know how else to get across the magnitude of what we’ve experienced, though, and even then I’m not sure it does it justice. We’ve come so far and changed so much since we’ve been here last, and here the place is, still the same.

Thanksgiving was great, too. My brother came down from Somerville for the night before Thanksgiving and the morning of, and I enjoyed being able to spend at least some time with some of my family in addition to Karl’s. After Thanksgiving, Karl’s mom began to put up Christmas decorations and play Christmas music... It’s a reminder of just how much time has passed. I’ve also been working on the article I posted here way back when. I’m finding it difficult to come to any closure, though I am proud of myself for plugging away at it at all.

I still feel so betwixt and between. I know that visiting our families is a necessity, but it’s expensive, and it’s taking time away from all these other pressing concerns. I know that’s ludicrous. Maintaining relationships with the people we love is more important than anything else we can do. I just feel a little lost in all of these other people’s houses in all this travel. I just have to keep pushing through to the light at the end of the tunnel, our little house that we pray is patiently waiting for us.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Somerville, Massachusetts

Weather: 36°F, light snow, with a windchill of 30°F

Yup, it’s winter, folks. I know it’s still allegedly fall, but if the windchill is below freezing, it’s winter in my book. I woke up this morning on Peter’s futon, and looked out onto a gray street, closed in by fog. After my rather melodramatic, sleep-deprived post of yesterday, we had an even slower and more exhausting trek on the train into Boston. The most depressing part was pulling into South Station an hour late, but still five minutes before the last commuter rail left for Middleborough, and then being stopped on the tracks just long enough to wait for the MBTA train, our train, to pass us outbound. Argh.

So after an exhausting 26-hour sojourn around the great lakes, we had to hop a red-line T to my Harvard Square, yet again, and trek the mile to my brother’s apartment, where I pray we aren’t wearing out his and his roommates’ welcome. I made French toast this morning as a palliative, and it is always great to see Peter. Even with all our exhaustion, we managed to get in two discs of The Office before we drifted off into a Steve Carell-spiced slumber. Today we head back to Marion (via two more trains and a truck) for Thanksgiving. And that gives you just a taste of our travel-weary ways over the last month.

The sad part is that we’re not even half done. We still have treks to make to Chattanooga and Maine.

South Station, Boston, Massachusetts

At the apartment this morning, Karl finally dragged himself out of bed, asked about trains, and we had a frenzied forty-minute dash including a one-mile walk through damp, messy, slippery snow and a twenty-minute T ride that was supposed to be fifteen, only to miss our train at South Station. I am consoling myself with a clementine and with free public wifi. Still, argh. It seems to sum up our travel travails in general. Travel just involved travail, I know, but it’s becoming far too exhausting.

Now we have a two-hour wait in the frigid climes of the vast public train station, surrounded by tempting, expensive coffee, magazines, and food. All of this is beginning to wear on me, and I want to go home. Home to my own French press coffee pot, my own slowly rusting RV stove, my own skillet, my own icebox, my own slow breakfast over New Yorkers and a blue-green view in hot sunshine. I love my family, I love my friends, and I hate, I absolutely hate, the cold. I hate snow, I hate slush, I hate the way wind drives through my clothes, I hate how my nose and chin turn red and my ears numb, and I hate how all of my body’s mucus gathers flows out of every bodily orifice every time I go outside. I’ll survive, I know, I always do. Probably by holing up with books, my usual method.

Monday, November 19, 2007

En route from Chicago, Illinois, to Albany, New York, currently between Rochester and Syracuse

982 statute miles
Weather: 50°F, some light snow in the trees as we pass

I’m continuing to read “The Spell of the Sensuous” as we cross upstate New York by train. Today’s chapter focused on oral cultures and their intrinsic, synaesthetic connection to the earth. He talks a lot about aboriginal Australians, members of the world’s oldest living culture, and their birth--instead of being merely conceived physically, they arise from the spirit animal tracks that criss-cross the land, from the literal footsteps of the Spirits who walked across Australia laying spirit seed that rests dormant in the earth until someone’s mother feels an awakening in her womb at the exact site where the spirit animal stepped.

When an aboriginal woman becomes pregnant, the clan elders get together and decide which footstep the baby is most closely tied to. The track is remembered by elaborate song, each set of spirit footsteps paired with a couplet of a poem. That person, when born, becomes that couplet, and that piece of land is their birthright. When they die, they return to that piece of land so that their spirit can once again meld back into the soil and become one.

I can’t imagine a connection to the land that intense. I don’t suppose any of us can. I watch the narrow trees rush past the train’s windows, and the contours of the landscape are meaningless to me. I’ve never seen them before, chances are I’ll never see them again. I’m moving too fast to understand the ground, the birds, the brush. It’s all beautiful, but it’s silent.

In front of me, behind me, next to me, people are watching computer-generated DVDs on their laptops, playing video games on their cell phones, listening to iPods. They don’t even see the silent earth we’re whizzing past. It’s invisible to them.

I suppose my connection to the earth is more tenuous than most. I don’t even have a home country, a home state, a home city. Wandering through the streets of Chicago this last week reminded me of the trails I’ve walked through the city these last ten years, each step a memory. But I don’t belong there the way an aboriginal belongs to a particular piece of earth. I don’t belong anywhere. I’ve uprooted Karl successfully, too, dragging him along in my endless wake as we wander far from his true home turf. He truly belongs in New England. Its seasons echo in his body, its landscape speaks to him in a way it doesn’t speak to me.

Maybe it’s why I’m so drawn to the sea--featureless, changing, vast, empty. A blank canvas, terrain where no human belongs. I like teh story of Ulysses, our last true story, the last story from when our culture, too, was oral, tied to the earth. Back when we meant something other than desolation. Ulysses spent ten years trying to find home. I’m trying to do that, too. The only part that doesn’t ring true is the happy ending.

I kept apologizing to my hip Chicago friends for our “homeless chic”--Karl’s raggedy hair and beard, my patched jeans and old ratty sweaters, clothes from thrift-store bins and ancient basement-mildewed cardboard boxes, holey socks and shoes, stained tee-shirts. Perhaps being somewhere that was home to me, however briefly, reinforced how thoroughly homeless I am again, my only shelter a little fiberglass house bobbing forlornly thousands of miles away. I don’t like living out of an ultralight backpack and a giant Turkish purse, never able to costume myself correctly or feel the comfortable familiarity of a local. I used to be able to do these things.

Still, though, I thrive on the existential edge that not belonging brings to my existence. Everything is uncertain, everything new, everything exciting. I can’t be an aboriginal. But maybe I’ll wander forever like Ulysses, searching for my lost couplet, my lost song. And when I finally do, I can lay my bones to rest on my lost piece of earth.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Warrenville, Illinois

I've finally posted our Crooked Island pictures, so head over to my pictures site to check them out. Make special note of my pictures of Little Maddie, our friend Maddie's doppelganger whom she sent with us on the boat. We were supposed to take her around the world: unfortunately, we only got to the Bahamas. We're staying at the Levis tonight, watching old episodes of Lost until all hours.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Oak Park, Illinois

I feel like doing my sister's gimmick tonight. Here's my subject line (taken from a Bob Dylan song, which one to be discovered by vous): "She's everything I need in life, but I can't be swayed by that..."

Hello, everyone. Long time no see. I'm feeling a little guilty about a long absence, but we've also been on the road A LOT. I spent a week with my brother in Somerville, Massachusetts, while Karl slaved in the icy cold cranberry bogs of Carver for a week and a half. Then we spent another weeks (including Halloween!) with Karl's nephews, and hopped a 24-hour Amtrak to Chicago to spend some time with my niece and sister.

We just spent a fantastic evening playing "Settlers of Cataan" with my sister and her husband. Settlers of Cataan is the best board game of all time. And I know I'm a dork for saying that, but I love board games. I've also played a lot of cribbage with Karl's mom, and taught my brother and his roommates how to play Bahamian dominoes. It may sound like nothing, but it's amazing how much we need this focused time with the people we love. I feel like I'm a plant getting rain.

The travel doesn't end here, either--we take a train back to Boston, another train to Middleboro, and a truck back to Marion for Thanksgiving, and we still have a trip to Maine to arrange. It's difficult to catch my breath. Or, more aptly, it's difficult to keep my breath caught and at the same time pay the focused attention to my family that I want to. The stress of not being with Secret is wearing on us, too. Tropical Storm Noel gave me a lot of nightmares.

Emotionally, it's weird to be wandering my old stamping grounds. I visited Oak Park for the first time probably ten years ago. It's the first place I had my own apartment, it's the first place I really felt like my own person. I've criss-crossed these roads over the last decade, with different people, in different years. It's the closest thing I've had to a home.

I feel bad for not chronicling my gut reactions to our return to this country. I guess I did to some degree. But all sorts of things have been floating around my head lately. I'm reading this amazing book entitled The Spell of the Sensuous, written by a sleight-of-hand magician who won a Fulbright to study traditional magic in Bali and Tibet. He was a philosopher, and he tries to figure out, philosophically, what's caused the modern disconnect with the physical world. It's really brought my time here into perspective. Why are we so separated animals and the birds and the plants and the earth in this country? Why am I so much more connected to all that on the boat? What caused that?

Somebody's gotta to tell the tale. I guess it must be up to me.