Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What I've learned part three.

I arrived home this past Saturday evening. It feels like I've been gone for a long time and no time at all. It's going to take some time before I can fully understand the impact of what I've experienced but people's questions are helping me to process everything.

The main change I notice in my outlook on life is the way I think about my future. I have anxiety and used to constantly get worked up asking myself, what do I want to do with my life? That was the big question and the most pressing one I had before deciding to go on the road. I now realize, and I mean truly understand, that it's a question with an impossible answer. The question for me now is what do I want to do next? Traveling and having to live day to day, in the moment, taught me to make more short term goals. Right now I can only plan the next four months of my life. In the past I would have found it incredibly stressful to have such a vague plan for my future but now I find it liberating. I have short term deadlines and goals and all I can do is work towards them. If they don't work out things will be re-evaluated then. So far I feel no anxiety about where I will be in four months. My van may rust out and fall apart and my exhibition may bomb making my goal of heading back out on the road in June an impossibility. Any number of things can happen to change my planned trajectory and I have no control over any of it. This new acceptance doesn't make me feel helpless. It gives me power, knowing I can only put my best foot forward and the rest will happen as it will. I do, however, realize this way of living is a luxury because I only have myself to think about and plan for.

A close friend of of mine asked me what I learned about myself. It's so much easier to talk about the bad qualities one has than to recognize the good ones. I am well aware of my faults but the one good quality I realize about myself is that people respond well to me. As someone who is consistently self-conscious about what I'm saying, whether I sound stupid or look socially awkward, I have come to realize what I see in myself is not what I project. Perfect strangers have told me I'm inspiring, brave, strong and non-judgmental. An East Indian man, who owned a motel, thanked me for taking the time to talk to him, stating most white folks don't give him the time of day. I've been thanked for not judging a neighbor at a motel and for being open-minded and accepting of people. My old boss told me she liked that I would talk to anyone and everyone the same way. Obviously I travel to see the different landscapes but I find the people I meet are what makes the journey. Everyone has a story and I think because I'm a good listener it bring people to me. I prefer to listen to other people talk than to talk about myself.

Working towards what I thought was an unattainable or crazy goal and actually making it happen has given me confidence and a more peaceful mind. I have seen what I can accomplish and with my new less anxious and more patient outlook on life I feel like I'm on the right track. Next, I move into the house in the country, set up a studio space there and get down to business making the new pieces for my exhibition in March. I'm beyond excited.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Almost home.

I knew when I woke up and saw Okie's water frozen in her dish we had to start sleeping in motels. Despite my father lending me a heater it is too cold for me to keep sleeping in my van now. My cooking fuel doesn't work under freezing temperatures (no making coffee in the morning) and the majority of campgrounds and state parks are closed for the season. It was time to give up the fight and fork out the cash.

Maybe I should have spent more time in the southern states but sometimes I just keep driving. I really do enjoy driving and I'm doing a lot of it. The last campground I stayed at was on the outskirts of Culpeper, Virginia and it was quite the place. It looked like most of the trailers there had been parked for a long time; a lot of permanent residents.  The maintenance man, Kevin, who is in charge of 16 acres all by himself (so he kept telling me) provided me with the space and lifted the rusty barrel off the power box so I could plug in. About a half hour later another burly man in a hunting jacket comes to collect my $25 and tells me if it gets too cold I can "come on up to the house and sleep on the couch". Southern hospitality hey?!

The first motel was Granny's Motel in Frackville, PA. I chose to sleep there because the statues on the outside caught my attention. In it's heyday I'm sure it was quite the place but it looks to me like it has been passed by the interstate, leaving it to fall into less than stellar condition. I like places like this though and it's cheap so it was our home for the night. You may not be able to tell but their eyes are quite vapid and the kid is holding a headless doll.

Tonight I am at a Motel 6 in Massachusetts somewhere. As I heat up my dinner of beans and rice I see my reflection in the mirror. I'm definitely looking a little worse for wear. I drove all day without taking enough breaks. Okie and I aren't as inspired to go for long walks as we used to be. She doesn't seem to like the cold any more than I do. Am I complaining? Maybe a little but I'm coming home for all great reasons and with a new goal. I'm excited about the way things are looking for the next four months. Plus, the closer I get the more excited I am to be seeing my friends and family. Let the next chapter begin.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Savannah. Two nights for $12.

The first great thing about Savannah, Georgia, is I can park my van at the Visitors Center for 48 hours to the tune of $12. The building is next door to the art college's gallery as well as 10 blocks to the historic river front downtown. I love being able to leave my van in a safe place, call it home, and go out for walks in a new city.

At one point while driving there I had to come onto the breaks, hard, sending the items stored under my bed flying through the hatch and crashing forward between the seats. I thought, 'well, this can't happen', so I stopped at an Ace Hardware to buy a hinge. What started out as a simple fix became an hour long back and forth with one of the employees. But, we did figured it out and I felt better having fixed the problem.

I also stopped at "Artistic Taxidermy Shop and Museum" to look around and take some photos. I made the mistake of getting into a conversation with the owner about hunting, consequently keeping me stuck there for 15 minutes longer than I wanted to be. I should probably learn to keep my mouth shut sometimes.

On arriving in Savannah, I parked the van and we toured the southern historic district on foot. It is similar to New Orleans' French Quarter but smaller and cleaner. You can buy a drink, daiquiris are the specialty, and take it along for the walk. The same as in New Orleans. This also produces drunk, loud puking people, however on a much smaller, more tolerable scale. It's a very pretty place and I feel quite safe everywhere I've walked. I've been very good at keeping a low budget. I've been doing as many free activities as possible. So far I've managed to spend about $10 on beverages, including the $5 coffee I treated myself to at the coffee/wi-fi spot I'm writing from. The rest of the time is spent walking, sitting in a park or window shopping.

Today we took a little road trip to Tybee Island which is toted as an artistic island with a 3.5 mile length. We took an illegal stroll a short ways on the beach; dogs aren't allowed anywhere there it seems. I meandered along the shop-lined streets but didn't feel too inspired to shop. The one place I found that I did browse in was just on the outskirts of downtown, on my way back. They had pile of stuff to go through and I was very tempted to but a an old neon sign letter but I restrained myself. It was a red letter C and it was lovely. Alas, there is no shopping for unnecessary things when you live in a van. Sigh. Back into Savannah I took Okie to the big park and sat in the sun with her tied to a long lead so she could explore and eat things. Just before we get up to go, a photo student and her friends come over and ask if they can photograph Okie. She's using a film camera and shooting black and white and developing it herself! Hallelujah!! I didn't think schools taught film anymore. I'm thrilled and of course Okie hams it up for them.

I like it here. The east coast of Georgia is full of swampy lands, island, rivers and bridges. The city is easy to navigate. Either I'm getting better at this or it's really well planned. Back on the road tomorrow. South Carolina bound.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


I have talked before about coincidences and the universe, or whatever it is, providing me with what I need, even when I don't realize what I'm asking for. Remember the cabin at the Grand Canyon I was given just when I was starting to feel a bit lost on the road? Or Okie showing up in my life after I had to give up the dog I adopted to join me for my journey? There are countless examples of this...and here's another one.

My original plan was to stay with my good friends and their family from February until I was ready to head back out on the road. Three days ago I received an email from my ex-boss asking where I was going to stay when I return home. Her house was available to rent if I needed it. I thanked her for the offer but told her I had already made arrangements. The next day Adriana, the owner of Argyle Fine Art, emailed and informed me three of my pieces at the gallery sold. Great news, I thought, knowing I could use that money during my stay. Not to mention it's always very flattering when someone likes something I've made enough to purchase it and hang it on their wall.

So, yesterday I was feeling a bit restless and decided to take Okie and I on a hike. There are tons of  bird trails here so I didn't have to go far. During our walk I reflected on what I was told about meditating recently. I have never invested much time in meditation even though I know someone like me could sure benefit from it. This person put it to me a different way which I could relate to more. Instead of sitting in silence and trying to let your mind go, she takes time during whatever she's doing, say, during a conversation, and reminds herself she is in the moment; ie, my foot is moving, the air smells flowery, I'm holding a cup of coffee, and so on. For her, it brings her into the exact moment she is living in and helps her feel more connected to the now. As I walked, I tried her technique and it works well for me. Knowing I'm leaving so soon has made me wish I had this practice earlier. I believe it helped me realize my new plan.

As I walked all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. Why hadn't I thought of this already? The money from my recent sales at the gallery could pay for renting the house. This would give me a studio space to work, so to speak, and all the quiet I could handle in order to create the type of work I want. After my exhibition opening in March I will move into my friends place for two months with a clear head and no distractions. I can simply enjoy their company and hopefully pick up some paid work. Adding to this amazing conclusion is the fact my boss' tenants were originally going to stay until March but recently decided to leave the end of January, just in time for me to arrive.

I can't begin to tell you how amazing it all is that this has come together. It's another example of how envisioning what you want and working towards it helps make it happen. I didn't know I needed a place all to myself for a couple months while putting the show together but now that it has been offered it's EXACTLY what I need. Thanks again Universe. I won't let you down.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Shrines and bikers and hooligans, oh my.

On Friday night I met a few people in the park who took a liking to me and offered to take me out the next night. We started with an old shrine built by a man in the 20s, then to a great restaurant and ended the evening with drinks at a seedy fishing shack/bar.

From Wikipedia; The story of St. Anne's Shrine goes like this: A man from Canada, (believed to be Napoleon Pelletier) came down to Florida with his very sick son. His son had been diagnosed as terminally ill. While traveling in Florida, they came upon the little lake at what is now St. Anne's. They swam and camped there and the boy's condition improved, and he was miraculously cured. His cure was attributed to the healing waters, and so the man single-handedly built a shrine to St. Anne, a popular Canadian saint associated with water, in an oak hammock next to the lake. The Catholic Church eventually demolished most of the church, leaving only the altar. Several stone walls, and the original steps of the church remain.

While there, I mentioned to them I wished I had something to leave on the altar. Janet just happened to have some Christmas ornaments in her car and amongst them were two angels. They had survived a bad car accident she and her mother were in so they had great significance to her.  Saying a prayer, they placed them on the altar. It was a lovely way to end our visit.

From Cherry Pocket's website; According to folklore Cherry Pocket was discovered in the late forties by two men, one named Mr. Cherry.  Because of the way the land lays with the canals, they thought it looked like a pocket, therefore... CHERRY POCKET. It was a place for hardy fishermen and very few women.  Rumor has it at distant times there have been cock-fighting, gambling, gator wrestling and of course lots of "Big Fish" caught in Lake Pierce and many "Big Fish Stories" to go along with that.

The Tavern started out as a small room with a front door and a back door, a few groceries and bait and tackle.  We've heard stories of men riding their horses in the front door of the tavern for a drink and out the back door.  We also heard stories of men coming in the front door and flying out the back door with a little help from someone's fist.  
Cherry Pocket is found in the middle of nowhere. The closest town is Lake Wales, where I am staying, about 20 minutes down a windy road. Their website shows a pretty place with beautifully presented food. What I saw was something completely different. When we arrived at 8:30 there was no one left but bikers and a few other stragglers. The door was opened for us by what looked like a 12 year old boy but was actually a woman. The bartender was an older bleach-blond woman with tattoos up and down her body and all the waitresses were similarly adorned. The music was provided by a 30-something country guy and his guitar who belted out old tunes by Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and Mike Ness. The beer was cheap and I bought the first round for my new friends. This was my kind of place!

I've met quite a few people in my folks community, all whom I like a lot, but I would be willing to bet these three are the hooligans in the park. I'm happy to have met them.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Preparing to go....again.

As I prepare to make the trek back to Nova Scotia I have a flood of memories from the past four months. It's been an amazing journey and it's hard to accept this part is coming to and end, but with an end there is also a new beginning.

I had originally planned to head straight home without wandering or exploring, due to dwindling funds, but I am now reconsidering. I was reminded by my step-mother that if I choose to do that my journey actually ended a month ago when I arrived in Florida.  I have had some wonderful adventures here as well, ie hanging with Larry in the Everglades, but I have mostly been working day in and day out on creating new work. My representing gallery, Argyle Fine Art, has a group exhibition every January called Pre-Shrunk. Every submitted piece measures 4x5 inches and it attracts all kinds of artists form all sorts of disciplines. I spent the better part of December creating new work to submit to the show and finally got them sent off in the mail. The new pieces for my donators are also on their way to their new homes. Thanks once again to all of you!
Adding a patina to the aluminum with Muriatic acid.

Finished pieces.
I am heading home a month earlier than I had intended so I can work on a new exhibition, opening March 22nd at Argyle, featuring images from this journey. I am excited to have the opportunity to show new stuff and have been working very diligently to make it happen while trying to ignore the fact that it's hot and sunny outside. As I keep telling myself though, there are worse things than having to stay inside to work on my art. This is all such a dream come true and I can't wait to get back in the studio, when I find one that is. The last time I put together a show I used the barter system to gain access to a studio. I traded a bike I wasn't using for the use of my friends studio space. (Maybe that's where the barter van idea originally came from) I love it when two people get something they want without having to dig into their pockets.

The time has flown but I have no regrets and am so grateful for everything I've experienced, both good and bad. I was once told a long time ago that life will flow much easier when you're not fighting against the tide. When you follow the path you truly want and not what you think you should do. Now, I'm not saying these past five months have entirely been a walk in the park but it sure seems like everything is working out fairly close to the way I imagined. I would dare to say even better than I could have hoped.

So, the van is washed and my father reattached the front bumper, which I just noticed had rusted off on the drivers side. My art supplies have been put back in the van, I've pulled out my gloves and winter hat and I have all the emergency road condition numbers written down. I have enjoyed so much spending time here this last month and while I am sad to be leaving my folks, and all their spoiling of me, I'm looking forward to seeing all the people at home who have stayed with me and supported my crazy endeavors. As much as I am a loner, I could never have done any of this without the strong support system I have.

Now I just have to mentally prepare myself for the cold weather. I can't wait to see what Okie thinks of snow!

Friday, January 4, 2013

A trail in the Everglades is not necessarily a trail.

After spending the night camping too close to other people for our liking we head to the most remote camping spot on the map. It's a free site which makes it all the more better. With a van full of provisions we head down the 25 mile dirt road to a hidden spot where we'll set up home for a few days. It's what's referred to as primitive camping without power or water hook-up.

On the way there Larry is excitedly looking for any kind of reptile he can interact with. There are alligators lining the road on both sides and birds galore but what he really wants to find are snakes. Before becoming a hobo he raised and bred reptiles. With a shout of "STOP, STOP, STOP!" I just barley break in time to avoid running over our first snake. Larry jumps out before we are even at a full stop and before I can blink he has the snake in his hand. I'm not afraid of snakes but I certainly wouldn't go picking them up without the experience of knowing how to handle one. Have you ever seen such a happy person?!

The next morning we he makes a big breakfast of oatmeal and bananas, I pack a lunch and some water and we head out on what we think will be a day hike in the Everglades. I talked to the ranger at the gate and he gave me a map of the trails and told us where to start. Now, let me just say we may not be the brightest tourists but in our defense it looked like the trails would be marked and easy to follow. I mean, there's a map of them after all. We set out at 10:30. In the beginning we are excited to notice every bug, plant, lizard and bird we see. We walk thorough tall grass, between pine trees, under palm trees and through cypress swamp all the while happily chatting about what we see.
I'm guessing we lost the trail after we walked through this area of swamp. The trail posts we found after wading up to our thighs in water had either rusted so bad the tags were gone or melted into an unrecognizable twisted mess. It was about 3:30 and we would be out of sunlight soon. After  trying to retrace our steps several times I was terribly turned around and everything looked the same. Larry looked at me and gave me two choices. We either continue to try and find the swamp we walked through and therefore get back on the trail or I follow him while he makes his own way out. "But you don't know what's out there" I say. "No, I don't" he replies. I'm calm on the outside but inside I'm convinced we are going to die out there with no ID on either one of us to identify the bodies. We didn't even have matches to start a fire! With clenched teeth I agree to follow his instincts. He excitedly starts off towards the sunset. We had the sun to our back on the way in so it made sense to have it in front of us on the way out. I follow him in silence for what seems like forever and then I ask him, "are you not panicked at all?" Picking some kind of plant, he replies, "no, I don't panic until the end" and he smiles. I have to admit his calmness and confidence helped me keep my own worries in check. The only thing I could do to help get us out was to follow in silence and not freak out at him.

Then came the sound of cars. The highway! A half hour later we reached the road, but where the heck were we? This was not anywhere near where we entered the 'trail'. Luckily there was a map where we exited as it was an entrance for wilderness camping. We would have to walk about 5 miles up the interstate and then hop a tall, barbed wire fence to get back into the preserve and then walk another 4 or 5 miles up the dirt road to our site. We were both soaked and muddy from the knees down. My rubber boots were almost filled to the top with swampy water and the air was getting colder with the disappearing sun. We set off walking anyway. There was no choice. Okie had been in the van all day and I worried about her.

We walked maybe a mile or so when I heard a vehicle pull over behind us. It was Alberto, a Road Ranger, stopping to find out why we were walking on the I-75 when it's illegal to do so. We told him our story and he wasn't surprised by it. Not long ago a Norwegian man got lost for 2 days in the Everglades.

Alberto called a Highway Patrol car to come take us back to Bear Island. While we waited he offered Larry a sweater and me some chocolate. He had a bag of bars with him because he was trying to quit smoking and thought they would help. He shared many stories with us about other people he had found along the road while we waited for the patrol officer. Jason arrived within a half hour and he drove us to the entrance of the campground, leaving us to walk the one mile or so left to get to our site. It was the longest mile I've ever walked and the happiest I've ever been to put on dry socks.

In the morning we decide we'd seen all we want to see of our current location so we drove further down the 41 and enter the Collier-Seminole State Part in Ten Thousand Islands area. Once again we are told there are no camping spots left but after talking to them for a few minutes they decide to put us in the youth group camping site all by ourselves. We were the happiest campers there I swear. We had a huge area all to ourselves with our own driveway. We are both ridiculously lucky people.
As we sat drinking and chatting over the fire that night we hear various shouts of happy new year from the campers outside our little haven. Both of us are surprised it had gotten so late. We wish each other a happy new year and I run off to bed to get away from the relentless mosquitoes. By the end of our adventure we are both bitten pretty badly up and down our limbs. We celebrate the new year the next day with a canoe trip down the canals. It's a perfect day. The sun is shining, the water is calm and we are happy to paddle our way through our hangovers.

For the second time I drop him off at the edge of town and watch him disappear into the woods. This time he heads towards his home. I beep the horn and wave good-bye while Okie barks out her own farewell. She really likes that guy. It's a hard thing coming to realize I will very likely never see him again. I am very grateful to have made such a friend and enjoyed traveling with him. I remember saying before I left home I couldn't imagine finding someone who would want to travel the way I do. Larry is that person and I enjoyed our time together. I wish him the best of luck finding his way and hope we will never lose touch completely.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The hitchhiker returns.

My thoughts were on Larry the Hitchhiker as the holidays approached.  He would be spending Christmas alone in a tent. I asked my folks if he could join our family dinner and they agreed it would be a nice thing to do. He accepted my offer but refused to let me pick him up; he is currently residing in Naples, just over 100 miles south. So, he thumbed his way back north and made it here by Christmas eve. He fit in like he was part of the family and enjoyed being fed till he burst. My step-mom said to me at one point, "this is what the spirit of Christmas is supposed to be about, giving to someone who doesn't have anything." I couldn't agree more. We all woke Christmas morning, gave each other no gifts at all and shared a wonderful breakfast complete with orange juice made from the tangerines picked off the tree out back. I have been trying for years for to get my family to do away with giving gifts, except for the kids. Was it weird waking up to no gifts? No, I think just made us focus on each other instead. For the first time in years we had a big traditional Danish Christmas dinner and invited three couples from the community to join us. The meal was wonderful and everyone enjoyed taking part in our tradition.

I pitched the idea of going down to the Everglades for New Years to Larry and he was more than up for it. He is experienced when it comes to camping and reptiles and I couldn't think of a better person to explore that area with. We left on the 27th and headed down the east coast, camping the first night near the Coast of the Atlantic ocean. In the morning we swam in 72 degree ocean water. Quite a difference from the Atlantic waters off the coast of Nova Scotia! We were the only ones in the water and obviously tourists since it's too cold at that temperature for the locals.

It took us two days to reach highway 41 which cuts from east to west with the Everglades to south and the Cypress National Preserve to the north. It's getting dark quickly so we pull over at the first camping sign we see in Gatorland. The female park ranger informs us we need to be in a self-contained unit with a bathroom to camp there. Now, I am a firm believer if you continue talking and maintain a friendly demeanor people are more likely to help you. I know when I was in retail I would go above and beyond to help someone if they were nice to me and only do the bare minimum for a person who wasn't. So, I began to explain to her that my van is equipped with a bathroom and we only need one nights accommodation. She brought out her husband to talk it over with us and said it would be $32. Well, both Larry and I expressed with a sigh how expensive that is for us and as we got into some small talk with them they seemed to have a change of heart.  They told us down the road is some free camping and if there's no spots available they would let us camp there for $10. It's not the first or last time we are somehow able to talk our way into getting a spot.

Favorite sign on the way south.

Camping at monument lake.

The real adventure begins the following day when we head to the most remote free camping site on the map. To keep this post from getting too long I'll continue the story in the next post where I'll tell you about Larry picking up snakes from the road and how we got lost in the Everglades and had to be brought back to our campsite by highway patrol.......