Saturday, October 31, 2009

Gaps, Hollers, and the Occasional Notch

When I was growing up and reading some of the popular tales like The Legend of Sleepy Hollow that scared the pants off me with the Headless Horseman, I was always curious about what the heck a hollow was. Being from California, I was blissfully unaware that things like Hollows, Gaps, or the occasional Notch even existed. Now as I travel through the East and South, I find that they are everywhere! To me they look surprisingly like Canyons and Passes, but apparently there are subtle differences perhaps not visible to the untrained eye. But the real difference is the magical images the words invoke. I mean just imagine if Ichabod Crane had been pursued by the Headless Horseman through Sleepy Canyon. It just doesn’t have the same ring to it, and the story would have flopped.

When I was a kid, my Dad used to take us on long hikes,and when we got tired he always reassured us that we were almost there by saying “it’s right through that notch”, so I sometimes cringe when I hear that word. But now as we head into the fourth month of our journey I keep thinking to myself “it’s right through that notch”. Thanks Dad.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Bluegills and Bluegrass

After meeting Ronnie, I took a little walk around the backwater lake by which we are camped and will spend the next couple of nights in preparation for a show in nearby Lexington. This little park is operated by the city of Shelbysville and is a favorite fishing spot for the locals who began to filter in around 4 o’clock and take up their positions at the various docks and benches that dot the shore of this tiny deep green lake. Ronnie had wet my appetite for fishing and I was wondering what they were catching and what they were using for bait.

As I wandered around the lake in the gathering dusk, watching the fisherman cast their lines, I stumbled across a large green fruit with a convoluted skin that looked something like a human brain. I picked one up and found that it had a strong but not unpleasant odor similar to a slightly sour orange. I had never seen one before and took it with me as I continued along the trail that ran along the bank.

Still curious about the fishing, I approached a black couple who had parked their chairs by the side of the lake and were quickly filling their bucket with fish. “Evening” I said, “Catching anything?” “Got some nice Blue Gill and a few Crappies” the man answered as his companion kept up her serious fishing without so much as a glance in my direction. “Watcha using for bait” I queried as I had never actually fished for either one. “Red wigglers” he replied and held up a can that had small red worms busting from the rich dark soil it contained. As worms are easy to come by, I was already planning the next evenings’ possible fishing trip and asked him how he cooks them. “Just cut the heads off and fry em’ up good” he laughed. I could just imagine the look on Kate’s face as the smell of fish filled the Airstream. “Works for me” I replied with a slight grin at the image in my head.

Seeing as I had a local here, I held out the fruit I had dragged along with me “What the heck is this?” I asked. “Bodark” he drawled. “Least that’s what we call em’. Technical name is Hedge Apples.” “Never seem or heard of em’. Odd looking things, are they edible?” I wondered. “Nope, but they do a hell of job getting rid a bugs. Just quarter em’ up and stick em’ in the corners. No more bugs!” he exclaimed with a sparkle in his dark brown eyes as a smile spread across his face. “An they’s walnuts in them trees over by the outhouse and hickory nuts just down the road” he offered. I thanked him for the tips on the fishing and bringing me up to speed on the local fruit and nuts. “Names Johnny” he offered as I began to wander off and stuck out his calloused hand. “John” I said and he laughed. “Can’t be all bad then.”

Later I would find out that these fruits are also known as an Osage Orange and that they were used to grow hedge rows all over Kentucky before the advent of modern fencing. Prized for being “Horse High. Bull Strong, and Hog Tight” they were tall enough that a horse could not jump it, stout enough that a bull could not push through it, and woven so tightly that even a determined hog could not find its way through. Still an odd looking thing though.

Tomorrow I think I’ll grab my fishing pole and a bag for some nuts, and see what I can come home with. Perhaps there will be walnut crusted pan-fried blue gill on the menu at the Airstream Hotel!

Welcome to Kentucky

As I set up camp tonight in Shelbysville KY, I was approached by a young man out riding his motorbike. He stared at our license plates and asked “Y'all from Oregon?” I answered yes, and that we were a long way from home. He pointed to the house down the road and let me know he lived "over yonder” and then wondered “So, did you hear that us people from Kentucky don’t wear no shoes and stuff?” I told him we have been traveling all over the country and that people are just people and we don’t pay much mind to what other people say about them. “Uh-huh, I ain’t never been outside of Kentucky” he mumbled hanging his head down ever so slightly. “They’s hickory nuts in them trees next to your trailer if you wan’ em, and we go fishing down in the lake most every day. Not today though, I got band practice, I’m learning to play guitar” “Good for you, keep it up” I encouraged him.

“My name’s John by the way” I offered. “Ronnie” he said and looked back toward his house where a pickup truck was pulling in as the sun settled over the lake behind us. “That’s my Pa, I gotta’ go. How long you gonna be here?” he asked. “Until Friday, see ya around?” “Yea, see ya” he said as he kicked over the reluctant motor on his bike and searched for first gear. “Can’t never find first” he complained and drove off down the road. I suspect I might see a little more of Ronnie over the next few days. Maybe he will take me fishing, and maybe I can teach him about solar power.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Blue Ridge Mountains

We spent two gorgeous days in Virginia winding down the spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains along a meandering route known as Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Here the riotous colors of fall that we have followed down the eastern seaboard from Vermont were stealing across the verdant landscape. I learned that rather than “turning” colors in the fall, each day as the chlorophyll drains from the leaves, the vibrant shades of red, yellow and gold emerge from the leaves where they have lay hidden under the cover of green. For almost 225 miles we traveled along this narrow winding ribbon of road and marveled at the unspoiled beauty that spread before us.

The only commercial enterprises in the entire length of this drive are operated by the National Park Service, and are quietly placed there with only a small park style sign to mark their presence. Other than these few discreet interruptions, there are no fast food joints, no tourist traps, no billboards, and very little else to distract your eye from the natural beauty of the area. In many areas, the deep dark forests roll over the hills for as far as the eye can see, and it is easy to imagine this magical place as it was when only the early inhabitants wandered through here to hunt and gather. Deer are abundant, and although it is strictly illegal to feed them so that they will remain as wild as possible, they have little or no fear of man as they cannot be hunted here either. Walking through the forest on the first day, I came across two bucks grazing on a luxurious patch of grass. As I emerged from the woods, these two large animals with their imposing rack of antlers were less than ten feet away from me and at first I believe I was more surprised by them than they were by me. They nonchalantly looked up at me, then dropped their heads to the grass and resumed their quiet chewing.

When we returned at last to a small city on the edge of the park, I was dragged kicking and screaming back into civilization and reminded once again of the impact we have on this planet. Like an island in the sea, this small oasis is a treasure and a reminder that “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children”.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Frank & Barbara's-Sabillasville Maryland

Before he died in 1985, my Dad was married to Barbara. Although we had only met her a few times, she is a intelligent and charming woman and along with her husband Frank they opened their home just south of Gettysburg to us. We felt a little guilty about showing up when we did as Frank was recovering from surgery, but they assured us that it was OK, and indeed we felt very welcome there.

Frank, in spite of his surgery was a firecracker and regaled us with stories and jokes while Barbara plied us with wonderful food. The setting was spectacular, and we found out that we were literally just over the hill from Camp David where the Presidents of the United States enjoy their holidays. Luckily Mr. Obama was not in residence, or I might have been tempted to drop by and give him my two cents worth. My feeling is however he would probably have told me to keep the change. As I was still attempting to get caught up on my writing I took advantage of the solitude of their rural Maryland home to do so.

On Saturday we took the train into Washington D.C. and spent a great day at the Green Festival where we got to see our friend Summer from Envirotextiles, and run in to Ed Begley Jr. whose TV Show “Living With Ed” I had done a guest appearance a while back. The highlight of the day however was Summer’s “Green Fashion Show” which featured a variety of hip hemp clothing. For more about the Green Festival, go to (Washington DC Green Festival).

Sunday we took a drive past Camp David and through the Catoctin Mountains where we stumbled across an Antique Car Show. While antique cars are not particularly "green", they are a form of recycling, and hold a place in my heart next to antique Airstreams.

The next morning as we headed off for the Blue Mountains, Frank and Barbara wished us well and sent us down the road with a nice bag of new potatoes, one of the other perks of visiting friends and family!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Green Festival-Washington D.C.

Our timing was perfect to attend the Washington D.C. Green Festival. One of five festivals, they are held in San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Chicago, and D.C. We took a train into D.C., (an experience in itself and only $4.70 round trip!) and arrived at the train station strategically located just beneath the Convention Center right on time. Our friend Summer from Envirotextiles and Vice-President of the Hemp Industry Association (HIA) was going to be there and the HIA had a new Hemp Pavilion inside the show. Summer also let me know that she would be doing a “Hemp Fashion Show”, but that in no way influenced my decision to attend!

The new Hemp Pavilion occupied a large section of the floor and was a showcase for a wide variety of hemp products including clothing, food, soaps, cosmetics, pet products, and building materials. It was very well done and throughout the day speakers and vendors from the HIA gave short presentations to the crowd. On the whole, the presentations were entertaining and well done and Adam from Capitol Hemp in D.C. kept the crowd laughing while he educated us on the benefits of Industrial Hemp. All in all, I thought that the Hemp Pavilion was the highlight of the show, and quite frankly was a bit underwhelmed by the rest of the displays. It sort of had your typical Home Show feel with a little dash of green.

The show was fairly busy from the start and the crowds continued to grow throughout the day. I ran into Ed Begley Jr. whose television show “Living With Ed” (click here to visit)I had appeared on a while back. Ed was very gracious and thanked me for helping his wife Rachelle with the project she was working on. We also got a chance to rub elbows with Ralph Nader when he paid a visit to the Hemp Pavilion. We only had the day in Washington, so we had to work the floor fairly quickly. Other than a pretty cool solar oven, a self-contained bio-diesel distillery, and some innovative vehicles, nothing really struck me as setting the world on fire.

The fashion show was a blast however. Summer had rounded up a ragtag group of volunteers, and without exception they put their heart and soul into the show. Summer narrated while the wanna-be models hammed it up and paraded around the stage in the latest in hemp fashions.

We soon jumped back on the train and headed back to Maryland to prepare for our next adventure.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Gettysburg Pennsylvania

Gettysburg as we all know from our history class was the scene of one of the most horrific battles of the Civil War. The town itself is full of beautiful historic buildings but is largely overrun with tourist traps of every description. The battlefield is a solemn place where you can feel the ghosts of the more than 50,000 men who were killed or wounded there in just three days. The Civil War is infamous for these huge casualties due in part to the advances in weaponry, and in part to the lack of advances in medicine at the time.

As I stood upon the fields with familiar names like Gettysburg and Antietam where another battle that claimed more than 23,000 victims in just twelve hours raged, I reflected on the incredible waste of war and the sad fact that more Americans died killing each other than in all the other wars we have ever fought combined. Now almost 150 years later as we enter the eighth year of war in Afghanistan I wonder if it will ever end. I’m not sure why we feel compelled to visit places like this. It didn’t make me proud to be an American, it made me sad.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Andy & Beth's-Philadelphia Pennsylvania

Off to Philadelphia and the City of Brotherly Love where we caught up with my friend Andy. Andy and I were inseparable during Jr. High and High School and Andy actually lived in our home after his parents moved from California to Philadelphia. He wasn’t happy there at first and amazingly my parents agreed to take him into our home. After a life full of adventure and a million hours playing drums, he eventually returned to Philadelphia and now resides there with his wife Beth and their son Michael.

Beth whom we had never met welcomed us into her home and wined and dined us like old friends. Their son Michael who has a degree in Environmental Science was very interesting to talk with, and once again I took hope in the next generations ability to take on the mess they are being given and help solve our looming environmental problems.

We did a quick tour of the city with them and I was thrilled to see the buildings, sit in the chairs, and walk on the steps where people like Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and many more hammered out remarkable documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights. The city just oozes history and makes it come alive.

Andy is an incredible drummer and also has the most amazing collection of music I have ever seen. That evening we shared a few songs and some old memories over a few glasses of wine. All too soon we were on the road again and headed toward Maryland by way of Gettysburg.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Alex & Shirley's-Bethlehem Pennsylvania

Kate’s Aunt Shirley and Uncle Alex live just outside Bethlehem, PA where we were scheduled to do a show at Home & Planet, an eclectic home furnishings and art gallery in an up and coming section of the old downtown. Bethlehem is an iconic symbol of the destruction of jobs and the disruption of lives that has occurred here in the heart of the Rust-Belt. While the industries that were destroyed here were anything but green, they represented both the ingenuity and work ethic of the American worker, and the arrogance and greed of the companies owners and executives that eventually caused their destruction. To me it also represents the opportunity we have to rebuild our industries with a new ecologically sound model and bring jobs back to the American people who are willing and able to work again.

Alex worked for Bethlehem Steel for almost 20 years when he lost his job as the company began the long slide from the largest steel producer in the world to its ultimate bankruptcy and eventual closing. During our conversations, Alex shed some light on the “glory days” of the American Steel industry and some of the causes of its demise. As one of the company’s top engineers, Alex helped manage the maintenance and logistics of the massive infrastructure that supported its operations. As we drove by the now empty shell of the 34 story building that used to house its headquarters, Alex shook his head and began to describe some of the perks and privileges that the same executives that had failed to see the handwriting on the wall received. This symbol of excess was actually built at a time when the industry was probably already in serious trouble, and while this same privileged group of executives completely failed to realize it, they continued to be rewarded for their incompetence. Alex described in detail the perks these executives were given. The private jets, golf memberships, and maintenance and upgrades on their homes at the company’s expense were just a few of the things they took for granted. They continued to stumble forward while their business dissolved around them, and the jobs that had once made this area a good place to live and raise a family were shipped overseas.

Unlike some of the cities we have been through that look almost like the bombed out remains of Europe after the war, Bethlehem has struggled but managed to remain as vibrant as possible under the circumstances. Although there are depressing rows of dilapidated houses in some areas, they are doing their best to reinvent themselves and create new jobs to keep their young from leaving. For the most part, these are people with a very strong work ethic, and while the Unions can also be blamed for many of the problems that led to their downfall, these are people who want to work and are willing to work hard. If only some of the billions of dollars we spent to prop up some of the worthless scum on Wall Street that got us into this mess had been spent to create new green industries in these hard hit areas, then perhaps there would have been real job creation in this country. I firmly believe that America can be a leader in creating these new green jobs, and these are the people who can do them.

Our show at Home & Planet( a huge success as the people of Bethlehem poured into the streets for this formerly run down business districts "First Friday” celebration. The crowd was predominately younger, but there was a good mix of all ages. At many points throughout the evening there was a line of people waiting on the sidewalk to view the Airstream. Up and down the boulevard people were playing music, eating food and getting pretty mellow on the wine that was being served in some of the shops. We stayed open until 10pm and really enjoyed our visit with the gracious people of this great American city.

We spent a couple of more days at Alex and Shirley’s while I did some maintenance on the Airstream. Their daughter Miranda graced us with a visit, and Shirley who is a Pillsbury Bake-Off prize winner and an excellent cook kept us well-fed. Alex helped me with the trailer and a few martinis to help ease the pain.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Jim, Jean and Marilyn-Andover New Hampshire

After Vermont we headed to New Hampshire which according to New Hampshirites is not very “fah” from Vermont. We had arranged to meet my Mother who was there to do some “leafing”. She was staying at the home of her travel companion Marilyn’s brother in law Jim who lives in a historic 200 year old farmhouse in the New Hampshire countryside. Although we were complete strangers, and possibly in the eyes of this conservative New Englander, complete whackos, he welcomed us with open arms.

We spent an interesting evening discussing a broad range of subjects, on many of which we certainly disagreed, but Jim is a sharp, engaging and open minded individual, and his staunch conservative upbringing has not prevented him from listening to what we had to say and learning some things in the process. It was a learning experience for us to hear his ideas and opinions as well, and I think we all came away with a broader perspective. This process of sharing with people from all walks of life has become an important part of this trip and and a special part of making new friends. All in all it was a delight to see my Mom and meet her friends in the land where people either "Live Free or Die"!