Wednesday, September 24, 2008

home again

I was nervous to see Iseminger Street in all its narrow and dirty glory upon returning home. I fretted over the right homecoming song all the way down the Schuylkill. And then I saw the city skyline rise over the horizon and I was so glad to be here. I'll always be in love with the open road and the wooded mountains, but I know where home is in the end.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Ever since I took an interest in Lincoln and the Civil War, maybe ever since that first day in William Gillette's American History survey class when he gave that impassioned lecture on Lincoln, I have maintained that the war was not fought over slavery. And I don't need any more proof after today, visiting the McLean house at Appomattox. No one ever mentions in the accounts of the surrender the slaves living in Wilbur McLean's backyard. I never knew until today. And I wondered idly, looking through the doors of the slave quarters, whether any member of General Grant's staff laid eyes on those slaves, maybe even looked at them. And I wondered if those slaves had a party after Lee left in defeat. And it suddenly occurred to me that the Union soldiers didn't fight and die to free the slaves, and the Confederate soldiers didn't fight and die to keep them in bondage. Because if they had, surely there would exist historical documentation of the slaves present at the defeat. And my eyes filled up with tears and I had to walk away. I know it sounds dramatic, but what a lie this country has thrived on. The price of democracy defended. What a terrible thing we do as a nation.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, TN

I got an honest-to-god campfire tonight, and on my very first try. I think I have it down now. I also think it doesn't help that the first two nights I didn't have very good wood. First night it was all big thick logs and second night, skinny little sticks. I guess I know now what camp axes are for. Probably more all-around useful than a camp saw anyway.

So I discovered today that I hate the Great Smoky Mountains. I got myself stuck on a scenic loop and good god! are there a lot of cars. Everyone driving five fucking miles an hour in a great long line. Who knew I could get road rage in the middle of nature like that? Oh but I did. And then the ranger lady was so stern and unpleasant, and the camp sites are stacked one on top of the next with no grass and just skinny sticks of trees scattered around in between. Lucky enough I got a campsite that, although it's right next to the parking lot and so besot with car traffic, I have no neighbors. All of the campsites adjacent and even caddy-corner to mine are vacant for the night. For now, anyway, though it's already after eight and I can't imagine too many people are yet to come.

And then this morning. I went to the reenactment, though I didn't stay for the actual battle. But I'll let the pictures of that speak for themselves.

Cloud Canyon, morning

Set my alarm for six am and for the first time in three days, I actually got up when it went off. When I emerged from the tent 15 minutes later, I had to check the time again, on my phone and on my watch, because the sky was barely a shade lighter than it had been when I went to sleep, and the moon was fully shining overhead. And no birds sang. It wasn't until just before I opened this book to write that I realized I'm on the far end of the time zone. The sun rises later a few hundred miles west of home.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Cloud Canyon State Park, GA

After this morning's treacherous hike up from the bottom of the gully back to the car, I was wary of tonight's campsite, being my second hike-in. But it's only a walk-in which means a flat and easy path from the car, no more than thirty or so yards away. Last night I think that must be what they call back-country camping. After I let the fire go out I couldn't see more than a few feet in front of me, even with the lantern. And tonight I even got my fire started on the first try, though I still can't figure out how to make it big like a real campfire. I just need enough heat to cook my dinner and enough light to keep me company. Though I do keep trying, don't I?

Today I passed out of South Carolina. It made me sad because I liked South Carolina, though I don't know that South Carolina liked me very much. Gas shortage along Route 11 terrified me. All the pumps had plastic bags on the handles to indicate they were dry. At somewhere well below a quarter tank I found a station that was rationing and would sell me twenty bucks worth.

And so I made it to Georgia. I decided to veer off my itinerary today. I wanted to pass through Commerce, the town Cold Sassy Tree was based on. I was shocked no one there could tell me anything about it. I tried the gift-shop, the antique store, and the library. From the website I remembered the Civic Center was Grandpa Blakeslee's store, so I took a picture of it, and fell in love with the ladies in the antique store, but that was all I got out of that stop. That and the half-thought-out idea I should take back roads the rest of the way to Chickamauga. Needless to say I didn't make it to Chickamauga today. I didn't get lost either, but meandering along back roads sure does pass time. In Georgia, I've found, at every curve in the road there's a Baptist Church. I have never in my life seen so many Baptist churches. There are also yard sales at every house on the highway, countless autobody shops and fireworks emporiums. And pickup trucks. I don't mean to sound cliché but I'd venture to guess two out of every three cars I've seen today have been either pickups or SUVs.

I wish I had something insightful or profound to say but I don't. Poppy keeps asking if I'm having fun, and I keep telling him yes, but I'm not really. Though fun wasn't what I came down here looking for. Neither was profound or insightful for that matter. So many people are so interested in this trip of mine, and I don't want to let them down, but I don't think I'm coming home with much to say. I've found peace and quiet and that's what I was looking for. I've found a lack of fear and I've found endless roads, and I've found that I'm worthless at starting fires. And I haven't washed my hair in four days and I stink to high heaven of Deet and sweat and campfire, and I'm so content to find there is so very little I need.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Caesar's Head State Park, South Carolina

Funny how out here alone in the woods, dark feels like bedtime, even if it's only eight at night. A little family passed me on the trail back when it was still fully light and I was only just starting to try to build my fire. It took so long to build it tonight that I stopped to cry for a little while. Tonight would have been too scary without a fire. It's a treacherous hike back to the car. Tomorrow morning is going to suck. It'll be all uphill and with all that shit on my back. Then too the promise of wild animals. The park ranger lady there are bears but they've never had trouble with them. She said to hang the food though to keep it from the raccoons and skunks. And so I was afraid that if I didn't get my fire going by dark, I'd have wild animals everywhere. I did get it started though, small as it is, and I cooked my soup in it, so I had my first hot meal. The fire didn't keep the creepy crawlers away though, so I'm in the tent now. And I feel surprisingly safe tonight. I keep remembering Borge Ousland: Ghosts are in the city, not in nature. The one place I should be afraid, in all of this, and I'm not.

Alamance County Rest Stop, North Carolina

I just saw a man in an Obama t-shirt, so I thought I'd go ask him how it's looking down here. He said he's from Virginia, and Obama has decent support there. He said he knows it's much stronger in the Carolinas.

Driving is exhausting. I'm glad I went this way. I've only been on the road two and a half or so hours yet today and already I am freaking exhausted. Can't imagine if I'd have tried to do this at the end.

This morning I got gas at a station run by two middle-aged or so women, well coiffed for gas station attendants. Gossiping with a customer. Didn't say "boo" to me. Of course, I didn't say boo to them either because I'm suddenly terrified of Southerners. And I passed a small shack of a store on Beach Road in Virginia, the sign outside of which read, "Cigarettes. Ice Cream. Computer Repair Diagnostics." No lie.