Wrapped In Memories: Thoughts Before Sleep

It is Memorial Day, and on this day I remember many things.

I remember the way the rain was falling this morning when I woke up, a sob caught in my throat. I remember thinking “the sky is crying with me.”

I remember the words of a dear friend, “there is no getting around grief. A person has to go through it.”

I remember warmth as I wrap myself in the wool Army blanket Grandpa gave me. The comfort I find in the blanket is the same comfort I found in the warm embrace of Grandpa’s hugs. I wrap the blanket tighter, and I feel the memory of his strong arms, as his scratchy, deep, voice said “keep your head on a swivel, Wink,” which really meant I love you in Grandpa speech. He didn’t say those words, but the wool blanket does. I remember that.

It is Memorial Day. This is a day we remember and honor all those who have been lost while fighting for our freedom. For those who have lost loved ones it seems there isn’t a day that goes by that isn’t Memorial Day.

I am new to this grief thing. I haven’t lost much before. I always appreciated this day because I understood the sacrifices made by those who have lost there lives. I understood it in a logical way, and it made me feel. Now I understand loss in an emotional way, and it still makes me feel.

Our country is made great by a great many. The wool army blanket I am holding tight is one my Grandpa got from his days serving in the military. He is counted among the Vetrans in our country, but he was a Vet of another kind as well. Doctor Norman Knispel was a Large Animal Veterinarian after his days of service in the Army. He saved a great many lives throughout his careers, and in doing so helped many people, including farmers and their families. Grandpa helped a great many in a great number of ways. He is an example of what makes this country what it is. That is something I remember on this Memorial Day.

We all have a reason to grieve. We all have a reason to remember. There isn’t a one of us that has any less of a right to grieve than the next one. There is no getting around it, there is only going through it. On Memorial Day we are given a blatant excuse to do so. A whole day to feel and to remember.

I have been wondering how to say this all day, but it is simple really, I’m sad. I have dreams about Grandpa, I see him alive. I wake up, knowing it isn’t true, and then I cry.

I feel the warmth of Grandpa’s wool blanket and it comforts me. I allow myself to go through the tears and sadness, and I remember.

Its Memorial Day. Be safe, be sad. Be free to talk, and feel, and cry. And please, please, remember.

Much love.

Playing In The Dirt.. And With Hammers.. And With Wrenches

The sun splashed itself around today, practicing its shine for the warmer days that are coming. It has been raining since I arrived in Minnesota, with only a few sunny days popping up jere and there. I have tried to take the opportunity to get outside on every nice day. When a person gets out into the garden things can get done fast, that might be the thing I love the most. Working in the garden is a joy. As of right now I am just weeding, but it is joyful nonetheless.

It hasn’t been all rain and sunshine, though. On May 18th it snowed here.

It wasn’t a real snow because it melted as it touched the warm surfaces that awaited it here on the ground, but it was a snow. Fluffy white flakes floating down in front of my picture window. The way the snowflakes fell to the ground varied throughout the day. The winds would shift and the flakes would pelt rather than float, then they would go back to meandering. I felt better about still weeding the garden rather than planting already when the snow began to fall. A cool excuse for how slow things are moving along.

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See that? That's snow.

On May 18th, while I watched the snow come down from the warm confines of my cabin, I built a shelf. I didn’t know what else to do and I knew I needed a shelf. I haven’t ever built a shelf, so this was a new, and foreign, thing for me. The dude I’m renting from has a pile of scrap wood which he has given me permission to plunder, so I utilized some of the pile in the building of said shelf. I started by knocking nails out of the some scrap plywood that had once made a cupboard. I found two nice pieces of almost equal size I would use. The pile was also home to some scrap two by fours, that’s only problem was having been excess in avery nice project. They were about two and half foot long so that was the decided height of the shelf. I chose four of these scraps, and then I dug out some various scraps to use for attaching my plywood and my legs.

I sat in my rocking chair, contemplating this pile which I had scattered out in front of me. I got up to stoke the fire many times, and I drank two cups of tea before moving forward on the shelf. Meanwhile, outside,  the snow continued to fall and melt, so there was no reason not to turn to building on the shelf. After much consideration I did just that. It was a lesson in humilty, and a good reminder of trigonometry and high school woodshop, which I had last taken in 8th grade. I was pleased when at the completion of four hours I had a finished shelf  that stood on its own. One of the most valuable lessons I learned was that the more nails a person pounds the better wood holds together, so, I did that.

The shelf was set up, and then I set to organizing my records and putting them on the shelf. The record player was put on the shelf, as was my newly acquired toolbox. My shelf was the perfect fixture for the corner.

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The shelf had a wonky leg. I wasn’t sure what I had done to make the leg so crooked, but it appeared to hold up so I ignored it, until May 19th, when I woke up to see that my records and shelf were leaning to the one side, leaning more than just the quaint lean that they had been doing before. It looked as though it was all going to collapse. I decided to prop it up with brick and wood, that didn’t work. I realized that the problem was deeper than just the leg. I looked futher, and diagnosed this curious lean on the top piece of plywood which I had nailed to the legs unevenly. I removed the record player and newly acquired toolbox off the shelf, pryed up the top piece of wood, and then renailed it. The shelf has stood straight ever since. I am very pleased.

That was my project a few days ago, I have been eyeing it up ever since, but I have moved onto other things. Like today, it was sunny. The sun showed that precipitation whats for and I got to enjoy a pleasent 65° in the garden with my gardening companion.

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Lady Gray is the dude-I'm-renting-from's cat, but I sort of like her too. She follows me everywhere, and brings ticks with her wherever she goes. I like her anyways.

I pulled weeds to my hearts content. I also removed Little Wing’s back tire in preparation for the tire changing I am going to perform Saturday with the help of my motorcycle fixing buddy, Dan. I had asked my neighbor if he would help me put the bike up on blocks so I could do the removal. I asked him last night and he had said yes. After deep consideration, though, I realized that was actually unnecessary. In fact, having help with getting the bike propped might actually have been more trouble than it was worth,  unless I had more than just one extra set of biceps. I opted instead for my wits.

I built a ramp off my front steps, got the jack out of the bed of Ol’ Smokey, set up some stable boards, amd rode Little Wing up onto the ramp. I jacked Little Wing up just enough to have the back tire hang in mid air, and then I set to taking off the tire. This was where things got tougher, though and I realized I would need help. I couldn’t get the axle nut off by myself. I needed an extra hand to hold the wrench on the other side of the axle to prevent it from turning as I broke the nut loose. I waited for my neighbor to get up and at ’em.

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When he was up and about we made short work of it. After he went off to work and stuff I set to actually taking the tire off. An easily accomplished mission, and now I am all ready for tire changing. Ready and eager. I can’t wait to ride again.

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The view out my front door until I get the new tire on Little Wing.

While working on the tire I saw my first Minnesota hummingbird of the year. I was very excited by this. I have seen many hummingbirds this year, but none here in my home state. California had soo many, and I saw hummingbirds in Oklahoma and Missouri as well, but there is nothing that says “spring in Minnesota” like the buzzing of a hummingbird. I also saw many woodticks — which is really no suprise — and three mosquitos. I was very disappointed to see mosquitoes. It froze last night so they shouldn’t be out yet. It is what it is, though. Besides which, I smacked and killed all three of them.

While working in the garden I got my first sunburn of the year. Wait, excuse me, first Minnesota sunburn of the year. I was hot today. I mean, seriously complaining hot. Like had-to-take-a-break hot, it was awesome.

After a hot day in the sun I came back to my cabin, turned on the record player, sat in my rocking chair, and contemplated my shelf.

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Home, Home Again

“Home, home again, I like to be here when I can. When I come home cold and tired, it’s good to warm my bones beside the fire.”
– Pink Floyd, Time

It was Sunday, my head hurt. My head had been aching since two days before, since I arrived back In Northern Minnesota. I harsh ache that turned into a dull pain, almost imperceptible unless I reminded myself of it. I had grown so used to this foreign pain that I barely registered it. I unstrapped the bungee straps that held my tent to the old, modified,  grill rack that served as an extension of Little Wing’s storage capacity. The rain was coming down slow and lazy, finding purchase on my sweater, and soaking into the fabric, making contact with my skin. The chill of the rain combined with the headache were leaving me a slight bit uncomfortable, but it was nothing compared to the odd feeling that kept growing as I unstrapped the chords holding my portable home to the vehicle I had called home for eight months.

“What are you doing?! What if you have to , leave fast?” My racing brain questioned my motives. It took me a second to remind myself that I wouldn’t have to leave fast, I was home. My brain remembered almost immediately, but the queasy spot in my stomach didn’t seem comforted. I got a good hold of the tent under one arm, the bungee straps dangling from my opposing hand, and I made my way to the door of the place I am parking for a bit; my new home.

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I have so much in my head. I have stories galore. I am used to being asked “where are you going to?” Now I’m asked, “where was the favorite place you went?” It is a culture shift for sure. I have thoughts, I have growth, I have the whole world running through my head, and here I am, trying to fit into the space of a one room cabin.

I got into Minnesota and stopped down in Southern Minnesota to hang out with my friend, Judy. That’s where I left off in the last blog. I entered the state tired, cold and sore, and Judy was able to help with all that. I spent two nights there, the second night she gave me the spa treatment, and I soaked in a tub filled with epsom salt. Baths have been few and far betwwen in the last many months and it was exactly what my body called for. The next day I remounted Little Wing and drove the ninety miles North to Dad’s.

It was a cool ride, forty degrees most of the way. The sky was dark with clouds, and ten miles from home I stopped to put on my banana yellow rain pants. By the time I got to Dad’s  the sky looked like it was clearing up. I had planned to have lunch with Dad. I have a great  bottle of hot sauce from my friend in Arkansas which is all I had when it came to making lunch. With that key ingredient I settled on burritos. I told Dad to get the Rice and Beans ready and I would  bring the rest. I had stopped in Cambridge, MN to pick up an onion and a bag of tortilla wraps. I packed them on the Little Wing and I made the rest of theride to Dad’s, stopping omly once more, to put on those banana yellow rain pants.

Lunch lasted three and a half hours. I missed Dad. I was so glad to see him. We had great burritos, and discussed important things over his coffee and my tea. While we stood chatting the sky only cleared up more. When I finally hopped on Little Wing I had to put my banana yellow rain pants back where the came from, strapped down on the back of the tent, strapped to the grill rack that was mounted on the back of Little Wing.

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I knew I had a purpose to where I was going,  I was headed home to Bemidji. One of my close friends was celebrating her 40th birthday and I had been invited. I saw no reason not to make that my destination for when I got home, so I did. The ride from Dad’s to Bemidji is two hours at the highest speed, more like two and a half at a sane speed. The ride seemed so short because it was so beautiful. It was home. Little Wing had been on this exact route more than once before,  an odd reality when one thinks about where else we’ve been, experienceing new places for the first time.

Life is odd. I got back to Minnesota Friday night,and Saturday morning I was greeted with the prediction of snow. I had just left my Dad’s, the place my truck was parked. The truck is the vehicle that I would need if it were to snow. I could have lived without going anywhere for the next week, but I had already made plans to meet up with three different persons about three art different jobs, and all those meetings were scheduled for the day’s with the most predicted precipitation. This meant I had to get my truck. I called around and asked anyone if they could help. I got a reply from one of my closest friends. A woman that I met only a couple years ago, but who loves to have existential discussions as much as I do. We clicked straight away. She is as off the wall as I am, and sometimes we talk so crazy that one of us will apologize,  and the other one will just respond with a smile, because we have had the same thoughts in the past  that we were just  to shy to voice. Eccentric is as eccentric does (whatever that means). Chanel is this wonderful woman’s name, and she stepped up immediately when she new I needed help. I had other friends offer to help, but Chanel was ready to get my truck that evening, so I took her up on her offer of kindness. I rode Little Wing out to her place and then she followed me to the cabin I am now making home in.

I noticed that my rear tire is practically wore through on Little Wing. It was new in California so it is about time it gets replaced. It was a good thing I made plans to get that truck because that tire looks like it could barely go another sixty miles before I would be riding on chords. My next purchase is a new tire,  until then Little Wing is parked. A weird thought.

Anyway, Chanel and I went to go get the truck. Two and a half hours to Dad’s. We arrived in style, carring gifts of transmission fluid and brake fluid, which Dad directed me to get for in Ol Smokey (that’s my trucks name, for many reasons. One – I love Smokey and the Bandit, two – my truck isn’t against smoking. In fact, sometimes it smokes like a chimney, but what do you expect? It is 1992 Ford Ranger. Don’t judge).  I knew all about checking the fluids in my truck, but since my friend Chanel was standing there I didn’t yell at Dad when he started teloing me how and what I should do. I let his patronizing go, and, as always, he didn’t even seem to notice what he was doing. I just smiled and nodded as he told me how to do the things I had done a million times.

Life was good my truck was running, Chanel and I were on our way, me and Ol Smokey taking the lead and her following in her van. We stopped at a gas station to use the facilities. We got out of our separate vehicles in high spirits, carrying on a jovial conversation. We went inside, did our bussiness, exited the restroom, laughing about some dumb joke, when Chanel went silent. I turned to look at her. She was feeling her pockets and patting her coat. “I did something dumb,” she said,”I did something real dumb.”

I would soon find out that she had locked her keys in her car. I would then drive her two and a half hours back to Bemidji. I arrived home tired. Ol Smokey joined Little Wing in the driveway, and I walk into my meager little cabin.

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A cabin with no running water, woodheat, and a composting toilet. A cabin with many windows that look out over trees and swamp. A cabin with a loft for a bed and only enough room for me. A cabin which has my home written all over it. I entered it about midnight and I decided to unpack. I turned on the radio, Saturday night tunes on my local station, Northern Community Radio, are fantastic,. I started a fire, and I set to making home look like home. I went to bed early Sunday morning, around 1:30 am or so. I woke up bright and early, around 6:30 am or so. Around 7:00 am or so I got a call from Chanel. We had agreed the night before that she would get her extra key from home and then I would drive her back to her van.  So, on very little sleep, that’s what we did.

Getting my truck was a day and a half of tedious driving, but I am happy to have it. Driving Ol Smokey while Little Wing remains parked is an odd feeling,  though. It seems unreal after eight months and five days, 23 states, and nearly 15,000 miles. Four oil changes, and, now, three tires. It is time to stop counting now. That part if the adventure is over, I’m on to to the next one.

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The conversations in my life have shifted. I am learning how to talk about things differently.  I am learning how much I have grown by the different interactions I am now having with the same people I have already known. I am walking through this life more confidently, and, as I told a friend the other day, I finally feel like the responsible adult I always thought I should be, and honestly, it wasn’t that hard.

The headache was spurred on by a combination of all these changes, I believe. A good day of rearranging my cabin, and exploring this new adventure that is my latest residence, left my head feeling clear. Yesterday I drove to Grand Rapids to meet with old to friends,  and load up my truck with stuff to take home. I am going to Dad’s to pick up my record player and music collection today, because that will make my cabin really feel like home.

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The Great River (Of Sadness) Rode

“Spend the afternoon. You can’t take it with you.”
-Annie Dillard

I was told recently that home will draw a person like a magnet, I believe that’s true, especially after these last few days.

I am on my way home now. I feel the adventure changing into something else. I’m not sure what, but that doesn’t seem to make a difference.

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I’m not sure if it is a magnet that’s drawing me home or grief that’s chasing me there. Over the last few of days I have pondered that often. I left my family in St. Louis on May 5th, and had a whirlwind ride to Hannibal, Missouri where I enjoyed the Mark Twain museum and the various historic buildings they have preserved in his honor. Norman Rockwell had a part in Mark Twain’s celebrity when he did the illustrations for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, so I got to see the art of two my favorite people in Hannibal. Norman and Mark both hold special places in my heart.

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The day before I left for Hannibal was May The Fourth, an important day in every nerds life. I remember learning about the day from my best friend back in high school. She is a fellow Nerd,  who believed the sun revolved around Yoda, and set on Han Solo. Actually I’m not entirely sure that’s true (Amanda, were you in love with Han Solo too?)

I was witness to my young cousins finding out about the holiday for the first time. I was also witness to them playing badminton for the first time just the day before, when a friend of their’s showed up with two sets of rackets and a couple of shuttlecocks, which I, instead, called birdies. After their homework was done on May 4th we went outside and played another game of badminton. My cousins are nine and ten, very bright and very athletic. They enjoy sports like basketbal, and baseball; you know, all the games that involve running and hand eye coordination, two things I try to avoid doing at the same time. As I have come to learn in my short life, little boys have a lot of excess energy to run off. My cousins are constantly inviting me to join them in running or playing off this energy, which I have to refuse inorder to avoid those two aforementioned things, as well as any unwanted embarrassment that would undoubtedly befall me. I do not want to risk losing the title of ‘cool’ that has been silently bestowed upon me by my ownership of Little Wing, my abecedarian knowledge of engines, and my handiwork with  a pen and a paintbrush. Badminton though, that’s a different story. Give me a racket and a feathered bouncing ball any day. I can make those two things work, and if I can’t I will at least have fun trying.

The boys and I had a blast, and we were joined by their dad — my uncle — which only added to the fun. He was full of good tips on how to play better because he actually gets sports, and so he was able to direct all us whipper snappers on how to up our game.

After Badminton we had a wonderful dinner of Kuku Wa Kupaka, which is the Swahili way of saying coconut chicken. My aunt is originally from Zanzibar and so she knows these things. She has a head full of wonderful recipes and words, both of which the boys and I got a sample of that evening.

Later on that evening I found out that while I was out playing badminton with my cousins, my other aunt was back in South Dakota holding my Grandpa’s hand as he passed away. May The Fourth now holds a totally different meaning for me.

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I planned to leave on May 5th before I had even found out about Grandpa Norm. After finding out I was uncertain of what to do, so I just carried on with the already formed plans. My GPS had broken in St. Louis on the day I had went to see the free art museum. This is the third or fourth time I have had a broken Garmin on my hands, and my plan was just to live with it. How lost could I get on the way back to Minnesota? When I repeated those words to my aunt and uncle they decided that I should get a new one. They looked into deals and found one at the local mall. They decided that before I took off on May 5th they would get it for me. So on May 5th my aunt had Little Wing and I follow her and her van to the mall so she could treat me to a GPS. The mall opened at 10:00 am, and so did the electronics store we were going to, purportedly. In all actuality, it didn’t.

My aunt and I walked around the mall for an hour before the electronics store finally turned on its lights and opened its gate. We had purchased refreshments while we waited — Aunt Brenda a hot chocolate and me a hot tea —  and talked a bit. When the store opened up we were pleased to find that they still had the GPS they had posted online. I wasn’t pleased, however, to find it wouldn’t fit the mount that was already superglued to Little Wing’s windshield. Serendipty, the Universe, or maybe just the electronics store had our back though, because they had a used Garmin in their box of old GPS’ along with thecheap offbrandwe were looking for. It was a newer Garmin than I already had, and it would fit the standard Garmin mount Little Wing already held tight.

My aunt was kind enough to buy it for me, and I was ever so grateful. It would turn out that that gratitude would extend for the next few days as I got lost and got unlost by way of the GPS. I bid her ado with a big hug and Little Wing and I were off, on our way back home, by way off Hannibal Missouri.

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I traveled The Great River Road, my head filled with twirling, convoluted, warring emotions. Grandpa Norm weighed heavily on my mind, as he has sinvce I learned thay he was dying in February. During my ride back to Minnesota I felt frustrated and uncertain, as though there wasn’t an answer in the universe that would suffice. My mind felt stable enough to be capped of with a helmet and brought along as a passenger for the ride on Little Wing, but I may have been wrong. Every bug that found its end spattered mercilessly on my visor warranted a gutteral utterance of curse words. The frustration was neatly buried beneath my wide eyes that were being filled with the surrounding  beauty,  but it wasn’t buried deep enough. I thought if I just rode faster through the views of blooming wildflowers, and buding trees, if I just looked at the river more and observed the flying spring birds that the frustration would cease, but it didn’t. I would find that the frustration was misdiagnosed sadness, and I was treating it wrong.

That day, after seeing Hannibal, I decided to ride another 140 miles to a campsite. It was 5:00 pm, I had time before the sunset. I had found a free campsite online and chose that as my destination. A long ride through varied country back roads and stretches of interstate wound me up at the place I wnated to be, with no campsite in sight. The ride had been a complicated ride chosen by my new GPS, apparently it was the fastest route, but it was akso the most confusing. It took me way East to bring me back West. It was a caused a bit of extra frustration too. The air was filled with fog, and though it didn’t rain I could see the road was damp from where it had earlier. The road where the “campsite” was supposed to be was a nice paved driveway. A driveway built at a steep incline leading to a very fancy house. I got halfway up and saw that it was not going to take me to a place to pitch my tent so I tried to turn around. The road was wet, I was on a steep incline trying to push around a a three hundred-some pound bike, so, inevitably, I dropped it. Little Wing proved a pain in the back to get righted again, but I did it. A few sore muscles later, a stop at McDonald’s to ask for directions and order dinner, and a few miles later and I was back on the road, destined for a new campsite. It was dark now. I had a place in mind that the McDonald’s employees had told me about. I entered it into my new GPS, and I was on my way.

My muscles ached from riding and picking up Little Wing on that incline. My mind ached from a long day of long thoughts. I wanted to go to sleep. It was dark, as I said, and when my GPS told me to turn I turned on the first road I saw. I realized right away it was wrong. The center of the road was old, broken up, pavement humped up in the center. Bordering it on both sides was mud and gravel, but it was lower than the pavement so when I decided to turn around it meant I had to get off the pavement. As tired as I was, and as dark as it was with trees on either side blocking the light, I shouldn’t have tried to turn around, but I wasn’t sure what was at the other end of the sketchy road so I trued anyway. Once again, Little Wing bit the dust.

I stood over the bike, utterly exhausted. The emotions were raw by this point and my body wanted to collapse. I resorted to swearing — loudly. I pushed on Little Wing to get him up, but the bike was caught on the rut on one side of the pavement. He was in a ditch of wet dirt and as such did not feel like moving, and my body did not feel like moving him. I felt the tears well up as I strained my arms and legs over and over again, trying to push him up. I took off all the gear and tossed it off to the side. I took a drink of water, I thought rationally. I looked through the trees and saw, for the first time, the lights of a home at the end of the road I was on. I questioned myself, should I have just rode up the road and turned around? I tamped those thoughts down before they brought back the tears and I straightened myself up to go ask for help. I walked up the uneven road, and over the hill,  to a big house. I saw most of the lights were on. I climbed up the porch steps. The first thing I noticed were the pallets of plants packaged and new, as though from a greenhouse. The next thing I saw were the rows of cheap beer can lined up beside the plants. A quick scan of the premises revealed more disposed cans. The Red Toyota truck in the parking spot, with its shiny front grill, seemed to turn menacing as I tried to avoid counting the cans. I looked into the house and saw that it was gutted. More cans were scattered on the floor inside, and I questioned what I was going to do next, but I did it anyway.

Knock, knock, knock. No answer.

I looked around again, “they can’t be bad people,” I thought, “look at all those plants.”

Knock. Knock. Knock. I rapped more firmly this time. I heard noises, like someone moving quickly inside the house. I felt my stomach tie in knots. I reconsidered the thought about the plants, but instead of turning tail I said, very loudly, “He-llow?” No response. I heard more muffled shuffling. Idecides it was timeto turn tail.

I turned around and practically ran back to Little Wing.

I got back to Little Wing, heart practically jumping out of my mouth.  Thump. Thump. Thump. I gave it my all and pushed Little Wing up in one fell swoop. I started packing my belonging back on the bike. I heard the door from the top of the hill bang shut and I heard a low voice say something loud in the yard. Words that sounded triumphant filled the silent space and echoched around in my helmet as I shoved it on my head. I wasn’t sure why that male-like voice sounded so pleased, but I wasn’t sticking around to find out. Jacket unzipped, gloves in pocket, I started Little Wing and took off as fast as I dared on the uneven patch of refuse that served as a road.

The campsite turned out to be only a quarter of a mile down on the opposite side of tge road. The address I typed into my new GPS must have been inaccurate. I found a good campsite that belonged to the Corp Of Engineers and payed the ten dollars to stay that night. The camp hosts were lovely people. The man, his name was Frances, even stood by, holding the flashlight, as I set up my tent. It was almost 10:30 pm when I settled into my sleeping bag, and my tired body fell asleep immediately. My mind must of continued with out my body though because it woke me up twice before morning. Once a t 1:45 am and once at 5:00 am.

I woke up in the morning knowing I was going back to Minnesota. My spirits were high, and only heightened when I recalled what I had been told the night before about the free shower that the campsite offered. Ten dollars and a free shower? That is one of the better deals I have found.

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I took The Great River Road back to Minnesota.

Turns out Highway 61 is only The Great River Road sometimes. Other wise it is just a great road that’s ten or more miles away from the river, and sometimes it’s not even a Great road it is just a road, and sometimes it’s a dumb freeway, so that is something new I now know.

The Great River Road I took brought me through Wisconsin. I started in Illinois, got on 61 in Iowa, and took an exit onto Hwy 35 which runs along the Mississippi and then up along the St Croix. It took me a lot longer than I wanted to get back to  my home state, but I did it. I got here yesterday, and the ride back was gorgeous.

Home seemed to call to me. It was a ride through rains one of the way and I rode the last hour and half soaked because I hadn’t stopped to put on my rain gear when the rain had started. I knew I had my friend Judy waiting for me though, along with a warm bed, hot meal, and nice shower. I also knew I was close enough to home to be considered home free.

I’m back in Minnesota. Little Wing is back in Minnesota. It was a long ride through 23 different states. I have come back to Minnesota with a head full of knowledge, wonder and awe. I have a head filled with questions about the universe but I also have some answers. It feels like another reality though because I don’t have my Grandpa.

I will be back to me home HOME soon, which means another adventure, which is just really a continuation of the one I have been on. It is all life,  really.

Today it was raining so Judy and I traveled around this area, which is just North of Minneapolis, in her car. We went to a sculpture park, a beautiful area store filled with gorgeous jewlery, and we had the best Pulled Pork sandwich I could ever dream of. We have also shared great conversation which is helping to answer some of the long awaited questions I have held.

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Home, it is beckoning. For what reason I’m not sure. I sobbed for the first time in years on May The Fourth, and I have heard that sound sorround me in my helmet on The Great River Road. The tears are waiting in the wings and like to make random appearances regardless of the cues from my brain. The joy is also here though. I feel the pull of the magnet as it Little Wing crawls along, and all I can think is “Northern Minnesota.”

Today I smelt the swampy smell of home. The spring rain of Minnesota carrying with it the smell of peat, leaf buds, and damp pollen. I have been a few places in the last few months, and I have not smelt the smell once. My nose has caught wiffs of scents that were similar, but I’m not sure anything truly  compares to spring in the swampland of Minnesota.

Little Wing and I are back in Minnesota.. for now.

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It’ll Beale Alright. What Do We Have To Louis? Take Off Your Boots And Stay Awhile

I left Little Rock, Arkansas in a rain storm. I was thirty miles out of the city when the rainstorm stopped and turned into overcast skies. I got to Memphis about two hours later, my feet still wet from the water that entered in at the seams. I squelched my way over to the restaurant that my hosts in Little Rock had arranged for me to have lunch at.

Fred, the Pepper Smoker, and his wife Toni are owners of a piece of land,  and a smoke shack where Fred smokes peppers. Smoking peppers is an ancient tradition in other cultures, it is a way of drying, qukckly, peppers that might otherwise mold if left to dry in the sun. The process leaves the peppers smelling smoky and with a smoky taste that is hard to beat. They are not to be ate raw, but they can be used in cooking, or as potpourri if a person wants a delicious smoke aroma filling their guests olfactory senses. It can also be used in the making of hot sauce, which is another of Fred’s specialties. Fred’s peppers are very good, and he finds a good market with restaurants. The place that I went for lunch In Memphis was one from the list of customers he has.

McEwans in Memphis is a great little restaurant that isn’t too far of Intersate 40. I parked in a parking garage (parking in Memphis is hard to find and expensive), and attempted to get my fingers unthawed enought to unzip my jacket. My tank bag and helmet in tow I  made my way out of the parking ramp and down to the restaurant, which was right around the corner. I entered into a hip looking place, brick visible on the inside, and ornate woodwork giving the impression of an original Memphis building, which it very well might have been. The walls were displaying bright paintings that lit up the place with their color. I stopped in front of the matredee podium and looked around at the varying customers. Most of them were dressed in suits or suit like equivalents for the working ladies. It is a lunch place, only open 11:00 to 2:00, so I figured that the other customers had come for their lunch break. If I had been a less confident person I may have felt out of place in my jeans, tshirt, and squelching rugged boots.  The matredee came forward and greeted me, and I gave him the secret message that Fred told me to give. The matredee told me thay had been waiting for me, he showed me my table. It was mere seconds before a server came to help me.

The service was fast, the food was great, and I loved the atmosphere. I felt quite posh sitting in the joint, even despite my wet wool socks that were bunching. I made my way to the bathroom were I used the facilities and adjusted my feet a bit. It had been a long day already and I hadn’t even started. My gratitude for the hot food set before me was aimed at my previous hosts, and after a good look around Memphis I knew I would be thanking them again for the room I would be sleeping in which they had treated me to.

Memphis was, in my very humble opinion, a bust. I expected much more than I got, which was just a few postcards, and expensive parking spots. I went to Beale Street where the best stuff is at, and I found it unwelcoming. I left McEwans after drinking quite a few liquids so by the time I got to Beale Street I needed a bathroom. I parked in the parking garage and made my way down to the street in search of some sort of facility in which to find relief. I approached a man who stood in front of a bar, another matredee of sorts. I asked him if I could use the bathroom and he replied “not unless you are buying something, hunny.”

I smiled real sweet and asked “really?” The man was not budging on his position. He told me no and called me hunny again, so I moved along, a giddy in my step. I stopped at a neat shop with records and postcards and asked an older lady behind the counter if she knew of a place I could go. She gave me a smile and a great response, telling me I couldn’t go there but if I moved down a couple storefronts there would be a place. I hustled along, making a mental note to come back to that shop to buy my postcards from that kind lady.

The kind demonor of the lady at the record store seemed to be a rarity on Beale Street. People who worked there worked there, and they weren’t all that friendly. The people visiting were tourists with enough money to buy the expensive drinks being sold at the bars, and they weren’t all about smiling at the strange girl walking around. As I expected, music was everywhere. There was a blues band playing loudly in the courtyard of a bar which I could watch from the gate, but when I walked two bussinesses down, my ears were met by the pop music coming from another bar. I could hear blues here and there, but the majority was new pop. I believe if music doesn’t have music behind it, if it is all about words covering an unoriginal beat, then it ain’t music. Thats why I love the blues so much. Blues, jazz, and good ‘ol jam music are all about the instruments, and if a vocal is tossed in it is absolutely fantastic. Now all that being said, I felt as though Beale Street was leaning on its Blues heritage to draw a crowd, but drowning it out in order to keep the crowd. The young people coming out of this pop-playing bar didn’t seem to mind the tunage at all. I walked on.

I was sad to find that this place of music, and art, a place that had a hand in the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement, didn’t have any art. I saw one mural.

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It was in the middle of a central gathering place that had a group of African American musicians setting up for a show later in the day. There was a lot of space for art all over the blank brick walls, but from what I saw there was only one mural.  There was a Civil Rights museum right nearby, and had I checked it out I may have felt differently, but I left feeling like a place of black empowerment had become a white persons drinking dream.

I went back to that smiling lady at the record store and bought postcards from her. I walked towards the park that runs along the Mississippi at the end of Beale Street. I was met by a man who introduced himself as Kevin. He was African American, and he was friendly, asking me how I was and then asking where I was going. I had no reason to lie to the man so I gave him a vague answer about going to the park. He told me that he and his two daughters loved the park and he told me what he thought I should check out. I spoke with him about this and when there was a short break in the conversation he asked me if I had any change to spare. I did. I reached into my pocket and pulled out two quartes and handed them to him. He told me he had to feed his two daughters, and, didn’t I, “Diamond, have a little more?” I told him no. And Kevin told me, “I’m looking for two dollars.” Again I told him no. He smiled I wished him a a good day and continued my walk to the park. I got there to find it was closed off, probably for construction.

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The parking garage I parked in is down the street, you can make it out in this image. This is on of the famous joints on Beale Street, and it is the same place I was turned down for the restroom.

I walked by Kevin again on my way back to the parking garage and Little Wing. I asked him if he had any more luck and he told me “No Diamond, I haven’t.”

I could relate.

I left Memphis with a bad taste in my mouth. One day I will probably go back, and one day I will see the cool bits, but the best part was my stop at McEwans and then meeting the lady at the record store, and then Kevin.

My next step after that was to go to Clarkdale, Mississippi. A place that was an old birthplace of the blues and was filled with it to this day.. according to the internet. This was where my hosts in Little Rock had set me up with a room at. It was 70 miles south of Memphis so it wouldn’t take long to get there. I was looking forward to touring a town that had BLUES Blues and maybe even listening to some before hitting the sack. I rode Highway 61 down to Clarkesdale without bit of a an odd feeling in my stomach. I attributed it to the Memphis visit and rode on. I took the exit in to Clarksdale and the feeling only increased.

61 had taken me through lots of farmland. There weren’t many houses, but there were some. Entering Clarksdale I got to see the start of residential area, and I was met by ramshackle. The city was full of graffiti. I figured downtown must be better because that’s where I was staying, and the internet had advertised it so well. Downtown did not live up to my expectations, it did a great job at disappointing. The buildings that had once looked like nice businesses had windows broken out. Half finished graffiti was everywhere. The place was a dump. I got to the Blues club that my room was supposed to be situated over and noticed that it looked closed. I parked beside two nice limos on a cracked up parking lot. The fancy, clean limos looked out of place beside the club with its graffiti, and the uncared for parking lot. The feeling in the pit of my stomach had grown immensely.

I ended up leaving Clarkesdale and going to a sweet little Bed and Breakfast in Tunica, Mississippi that my frinds in Little Rock found after I called them. Tunica is halfway between Clarksdale and Memphis. Clarksdale, I found out, was a town filled with violence, a place a person doesn’t want to hang out when night comes around; or at least that’s what the kind couple that owned the B&B in Tunica told me. Tunica, on the other hand, was a place of peace and wealth. Something that had become a reality in the 1990’s after the development of the casinos that surrounded the little burb.

In driving through Clarksdale had observed only the faces of African Americans, it appeared that I was the only Caucasian.

It has been hard to figure out how to articulate what has been going through my head since the ride in and out of Memphis, that’s why I haven’t wrote about it yet. This is a heavy topic and something I know of a bit from living around reservations in Minnesota, but something I feel I know nothing of when driving through the Delta.

Here in St. Louis, where I am now staying with my Aunt, Uncle, and two sweet cousins, I got the opportunity to see Ferguson, Missouri. Unless a person has been living under a rock we all know about the small area to the North of the infamous St. Louis Arch. Right before I took off on Little Wing in September news was filled with images, and words, about the whole thing. As I made my way across the country I would stop at varying places and get an update on the happenings by way of the news. This racial strife thing is always an issue, it seems.

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Some graffiti in Ferguson.

My aunt took me on a tour through Ferguson in her van after we dropped the boys off at school. I saw a nice looking neighborhood that looked like a lot like the rest of the St. Louis neighborhoods I had seen. The difference was the fenced off sites that contained burned rubble, and the graffiti covered plywood that patched up the windows of empty looking businesses. Meanwhile, as I sat in the passenger seat ogling the destruction, people went around their daily lives, carrying shopping bags, and walking with their children. I even saw people fueling up their nice, 2015, vehicles at gas stations, while the sun shone down and glistened off the nice lawns that graced the front of sweet brick homes. It was a normal place, with normal people, something I hadn’t seen on the news.

What do I make of all this? Good question, I don’t know. I took off on this trip searching for answers as to what the world was all about. What is the world all about? Good friggin’ question.

I rode through the Mississippi and I felt out of place. I don’t feel out of place often. Around really nice neighborhoods filled with lots of money I get that feeling, but not in poor neighborhoods. Apparently there is a difference between poor and poverty.

How does the world justify the extreme dichotomy between the people who made Beale Street what it was and the privileged people who now attend it? Why is Clarksdale — an old home of the blues, only 70 miles south of Memphis — filled with violence and negativity while Tunica has been saved by the casinos? Before the 1990’s, when Tunica was rescued from itself, it “was one of the most impoverished places in the United States, semi-famous for the particularly deprived neighborhood known as Sugar Ditch Alley, named for the open sewer located there.” (Source: Wikipedia)

I have no clue what to make of this, but in my humble opinion Ferguson, Missouri is not the only place with problems. The problem, I feel, is racial strife. Even in Clarksdale wher the populayion is a majority black, why is that? Why is this impoverished town so segregated? It felt ignored. It felt like white people rode in on motorcycles, saw the population, and decided to leave the town without spending a nickel. I could leave. I had the means to get out of the town. I was being treated by two wonderfiul indviduals to a nice place to sleep that night, I had options. What do the young people, who grew up in the town, who might feel out of place there, what do they do when night comes around?  What are their options?

This exploration may have lead to more questions than answers, to be honest. Even so, I’m glad I have done it. The questions will nag on my mind like the squelching boot, that holds up my sopping wool sock, bothers my foot.  I would rather have the wet boot making me uncomfortable in the cool rain than no boot at all. I am happy to have my mind racing with uncomfortable questions and thoughts. I don’t mind that it is constantly being bombarded with new observations that lead to new ponderances. I would rather be out riding in the uncomfortable climate, than staying at home, feet comfortably propped, waiting for the news to tell me their answers. Eventually my boot will dry, and my sock will be only a stiff reminder of the rain I faced earlier. I can take off the boot and change the sock.

I arrived in Tunica, Mississippi, ready to rest and have a quiet night to myself. The owners were very nice, and it turns out they are art lovers, so we had a great discussion. I called Fred and Toni in Little Rock and thanked them for everything. I knew the next day I would be in St. Louis, visiting my family, but that evening I was ready to soak in a nice tub, to warm my bones and my racing mind.

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