I'll be posting soon about Minneapolis, Fargo, and Standing Rock, but right now I'm in Glendive, Montana, where I've been for the last five days. On Friday, as I was driving up a long slope, my dashboard informed me that I now had reduced engine power, and I slowed to a crawl on I-94. There followed an ordeal of incompetence and confusion with the people at Good Sam roadside service that lasted for four hours and resulted in my truck being taken to a garage that only works on semis, because the dispatcher stubbornly insisted to the towing company that this was the closest "willing and able" mechanic, even though they don't work on pickup trucks at all and everyone told them so.
But at last the kind crew from Gibbs Towing dropped my trailer at the Glendive Campground, a small campground behind a big hotel, and across a field from the Yellowstone River. It was when I was checking in that a bright eyed old man asked me how I came to build my house. I said I'd tel him all about it after I signed in and by the time I walked back to my trailer, he and his wife Omi had pulled Big Red, the super van, into the spot next to me and came toward me with big, welcoming smiles. Over the next 24 hours we talked a lot, they told me they were on their way to Standing Rock, and invited me to come speak in their hom town, and they also drove me to fetch firewood and groceries, and then Bob used my mini-chainsaw to cut up all my wood for me. Did I mention they're both 80 years old?
Many of the the people in the campground were there longish term, working temporary jobs in the area. Three white men were oil pipeline workers, assuring me that pipelines hardly ever leak, that more is spilled at the gas pump, that the computers detect any drop in pressure right away. The company line. They probably don't know that 30,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the Yellowstone River, just a field away, in January of last year. Like everyone else, they were curious about the Canoa and also about the hitch, and then thy fixed my broken light for me. They told me they came from the northwest corner of Montana, and that the bottom had fallen out of the economy, so they were down here, replacing 60 year old pipe. At the far end of the lot I was told there were sugar beet workers who worked nights, so the owner avoided using power tools near where they slept. I did meet two of them, both white, who were quick to explain they didn't do manual labor, but rather, ran the machines. I wondered if there were indigenous Mexican and Central American workers asleep in the tiny trailers behind us.
The most unexpected thing about Glendive was how kind and helpful people were to me. The fact that white people tend to read me as white in places without Puerto Ricans surely was a factor, but people stopped to help me with the truck and the trailer multiple times, solved problems for me, lent me tools and at the garage that fixed my truck, one of the mechanics spent a good 20 minutes going over possible routes that would let me avoid steep uphills and snow. An the camp's owner
There's a story I missed that I would have loved to explore. One afternoon I went into the office to ask a question and met Max, ___'s friend, and the two fossil's they had just found. It emerged that Max finds lots of things, so many that their house is a museum visited by hundreds of people, and includes, if I heard right, artifacts from an entire settlement. Then Max mentions that there's also a war bonnet their great-great I don't know how many greats grandfather wore at the battle of Little Bighorn, with golden eagle feathers, and a knife belonging to a many greats grandmother who was a girl of nine, also at the battle. I ask what nation, and Max says Sioux. We make a date to go see the collection the next day, but Max has to work late and I have to get an oil change, unhook and re-hook my hitch at both ends, and record myself reading pieces for Letters from Earth and Sins Invalid, and there's no time left. But I'm filled with curiosity about this Lakota hunter of artifacts across Lakota land.
This morning when I left Glendive after five days, I was ready to go, but I arrived in a state of frustration over the necessary delay, sure i'd be bored, an I left full of gratitude for human kindness.
My Favorite Food Discoveries
The First Five Days
Day One: Bug Hill Farm to Oneida Pines, Blosvale, NY
I got a very late start, pulling out of Ashfield close to 5pm, and chose to take the interstate instead of risking a shorter and more mountainous road. I made sure my first stop was a pull through site--no backing up! Oneida Pines, at the east end of Lake Oneida, was lovely.
Day Two: Oneida Pines to The Cedars, Hamilton, Ontario
I had hoped to get to Oneida in time to have dinner with Minnie Bruce Pratt on my first night out, but it was very late by the time I got there, and instead we met for lunch at a Denny's in Syracuse. When I decided to go to graduate school in 1991, I called Minnie Bruce, whose work I knew and loved, and told her I'd only apply to Union Institute if she agreed to be my core faculty person. It was the beginning of a warm friendship and she was exactly the right person for me to work with. I hadn't seen her in quite a few years, and it was special to sit with her for that hour. She bestowed upon me a beautiful Mexican ceramic menorah.
I had really hoped to stop at the Seneca Art and Culture Center at Ganondagan, south of Rochester. I wanted to go to pay my respects to Jigonsaseh, Mother of Nations, who helped to broker the peace that led to the formation of the Five Nations Confederacy.. I learned about her years ago, when I picked up a pamphlet at a retreat center in Colorado, and I wrote about her in my book Remedios. Alas, it was closed that day.
It was in the town of Tonawanda, nearly at the Canadian border, that traffic quite suddenly slowed from 50 mph to zero and I watched the back of a small car come inexorably closer. I hit the brakes and downshifted, and gave thanks for the extra braking power of my Automated Safety Hitch, and the crunch, when it came, was relatively light. Cosmetic dents and mild whiplash. But what with waiting for the police and for the EMTs to check us out, it was dark as I crossed the border into Ontario, and nearly 10pm when I pulled into an open field at The Cedars, an LGBTQ campground that is practically a small town, with 250 seasonal residents and room for 1000 campers. I slept under a canopy of stars and woke at dawn to a gorgeous morning sky.
I was welcomed by a lovely man named Dennis, who took me on a golf cart tour of the whole site and told me to lave my trash bags by the road and he'd take care of them for me. The Cedars has pristine cedar lined bathrooms--the cleanest public bathrooms I've ever seen.
Day Three: Hamilton to Detroit
This was the longest, hardest day. I expected to be in Detroit by 2pm to meet with a group of healer activists, but the accident in Tonawanda had dislodged many stowed objects and I had a big mess to tidy up, and was in considerable pain from whiplash, soI did't get on the road until 10:30, and as I drove across a fairly uninteresting Ontario landscape, watched the arrival time estimate on my GPS creep later and later. Lesson: traveling in an RV is MUCH slower than in a car. There are much more frequent fuel stops ( 8 miles per gallon!) and some of them involve a lot of acrobatic maneuvering to get the truck near the pump without damaging the RV roof. And stuff always happens. My truck suddenly informed me it needed exhaust fluid, of which I had never heard, and chasing that down took a while.
Then I got to the border into the US. I had not yet programmed my Garmin GPS, specially designed for RVs, and my cell phone kept insisting on sending me to the tunnel instead of the bridge. when I surrendered and went, I set off alarms because of the height of my Vehicle, and had to turn around in a tight spot (which meant backing up a lot) under the annoyed gaze of the customs agent. Then she pointed me to the bridge, where I sat motionless in traffic for a long time. And when the road divided--cars one way, trucks and buses the other, I decided I'd better follow the big rigs, which was wrong. I ended up in the customs line for commercial vehicles. The customs agent asked me a bunch of questions and then made me open up the Vehicle so she could search it. She was worried about my house plants, but I assured her they were from the US and had not been consorting with Canadian plants. and THEN I had to navigate Detroit and avoid the many low railroad bridges. By this time I was many hours late, and had to cancel my planned dinner in Ann Arbor, at the last minute, not having had cell access in Canada.
Lesson: Allow a LOT more time than Google maps says it will take. Google maps doesn't know s**t.
But finally I pulled up in front of the home of my hosts, Angela and Greg, and we decided that the side yard they thought I could park in wasn't going to be easy to get out of, so I pulled up onto the wide strip of ground between sidewalk and fence, under large leafy trees, and took a deep breath. And after I rested, a couple of the people who had planned to meet me earlier, Reshounn Foster and Marcia Lee came by and that's when things really took off. We'd just met, but we ended up talking about ancestors and healing and our big passions, with me reading aloud from Remedios, until 1 am!
Day Four: Detroit to Chicago
And then in the morning, the fabulous Adrienne Maree Brown came to breakfast and we talked about all kinds of knowing and creating, and had a great time. Our first meeting. But once again, I had mess to deal with and a lot of pain, and was unable to meet a dear friend who had to get back to work before I could reach our rendezvous. I had called the McCormick Place convention center where I had planned to spend the night and discovered there was no room for me. But my new friend Marcia, who had dropped by to give me some things to take to Standing Rock, and the gift of a BuBee thermos (more on that later) said she had connections with a friary in Chicago and her monk friends would likely let me stay in their school parking lot. And they did! Though they were astonished at the actual size of my house, having imagined a little camper van.
Day Five: Chicago
Much needed rest, much needed chiropractic care and much needed time with old friends.
An unexpected delight was the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art, a block from the suburban office of the chiropractor. This little gem of a museum had me gasping and exclaiming "wow!" for the entire time we were there. It's rock heaven. The collection includes a breathtaking array of intricately carved precious and semiprecious stones of all kinds. There are utterly charming dioramas of natural scenes with gemstone wildlife, including a family of birds with the such minute detail that you could see the feathers on their heads; case upon case of exquisitely intricate Chinese jade carvings and ivory nesting balls, snuff bottles, belt buckles, and an astonishing set of bowls. One of them, the size of a small salad bowl, had been carved from a large cluster of amethysts, and the polished cross sections of crystal points created a breathtaking starburst design in the bowl. There was also a display of Roman mosaics that were so detailed and flawless I thought they were paintings, massive chunks of petrified wood, and a basement exhibit on gemstones. Plus a display of "meals" made of carved stone. This place is well worth going out of your way for if you're in Chicago.
Next: Best Meals and best and worst signs.
Bug Hill Farm
Bug Hill Farm, Ashfield, Massachusetts
Host: Kate Kerivan
Bug Hill Farm is my first real stopping place. I met Kate in the spring and we hit it off, so we stayed in touch as construction lagged over the summer, and on August 25th I drove the Canoa from Greenfield, where PV Squared had just finished installing my solar power system, to Kate's farm. I have been parked among wildflowers and pines for nearly three weeks, using Bug Hill as my base, as I travel between various storage units, and back and forth to get final items to fit out my vehicle.
Kate grows a delicious variety of berries on her land, in greenhouses and along paths in the open air: raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, red and black currants, gooseberries, elder berries, and anti-oxidant powerhouse aronia berries. She also makes jams and shrub, an amazing sweetened vinegar-preserved juice used to flavor drinks.
One long day of trying to work online with minimal reception and deal with multiple bureaucracies, I turned off the electronics and went to find Kate and beg her to let me pick berries. With buckets slung round my neck on string, I set off in the late afternoon to work my way down a long aisle of ripening fall raspberries. All around me bees worked the late flowers, while dragonflies and hummingbirds glittered and whirred around me. In minutes my agitated spirits had settled and I sank into a fruit scented trance, my body falling into the rhythm of reach, pluck, release into the bucket, reach again. I spent a peaceful hour among the berries and winged life, grateful for the chance.
During these weeks, I've gotten to know the life support systems of my vessel: how to read the various control screens of my solar power array and get to know how much power different appliances use, and how much power I generate on a cloudy day. How many showers and dishwasher loads one tank of fresh water provides. How to keep my composting toilet in odorless order. How to light and maintain a fire in my Kimberly stove. And a lot of time sorting and stowing and rearranging, figuring out how to live with way fewer possessions in a much smaller space than before.
I've also gotten to know local roads and nearby towns, especially Greenfield. I've spent a lot of time at the Green Fields Food Co-op, eating from their lunch buffet, buying healthy food, and using the town's free wifi--between trips to hardware stores, the Greenfield Farmer's Cooperative Exchange--a glorious general store--and the self-storage unit where I sort through paper, artwork, ritual and decorative objects and household odds and ends. Greenfield boats some great eateries, and before my stove was up and running, I dined on lamb burgers and cilantro-lime sodas at Hope & Olive, and a variety of truly delicious dishes at The Clay Oven, a Main Street Indian restaurant with fabulous food and haphazard service. I love a town where Main Street traffic stops for jay walkers!
In about a week I will be pulling out of Kate's drive and heading west toward Albany and beyond, but will never forget my first safe harbor, where I got to really starting living in my new home.
Aurora Levins Morales
This is my travel blog, the ship's log of my travels in my land boat, which, now that I live in it, I am calling Canoa.
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