The Stranger

Here, in Plymouth, I am not a stranger.

On the road, its unavoidable, I will be ‘the stranger.’

Every home I walk by, every county I pass through, on every hillside where I put up my tent the word will go out, ‘there’s a stranger in town.” That will be the challenge, to find the right words, the right smile, the right tone of voice to put people immediately at ease.

What questions do I ask to get right to heart of the matter, the heart of community?
–Do you feel connected to your community? Do you consider this your ‘hometown?’ Do people in this community take care of each other? When you first saw me, what did you think?

I remember the reaction of a store clerk during my mini-walk last fall. I was in his convenience store less than a minute, getting a bottle of water from the back but, as I walked back towards the register I paused at a rack of newspapers.

Within seconds I felt the slap of his voice.

“Can I help you with something?”

What did he assume?

I remember seeing hand-made signs on the restrooms of Dunkin Donuts, “Out of Order,” but noticing that they were being used by the workers.

I remember being amazed that in the classic New England towns that I passed through there were so few public spaces.

I need to find a way to connect.

Imagine walking 3,500 miles and not talking to anyone along the way.

I certainly don’t see my way home lined with smiling people, reaching to slap me on the back, reaching out to welcome the stranger to their towns.

Still I am remarkably hopeful, optimistic, insane?

I plan to leave, following my route home in reverse, on Sunday morning, around 9 a.m., Nov. 4, driving northwest to Savoy, where my friend Salvy lives.

Maybe I’ll leave from the Plantation, the place where for me this all began? Maybe I’ll have a penant that you can sign?

I am going to meander a bit, taking at least ten days to reach the west coast so that I can get at least a rudimentary understanding of the challenges I will face walking back, the roads I want to avoid, the towns I want to walk through.

Please look at my route and do one of several things: advise me about a particularly lovely town, connect me to a friendly face, remark on a special pie, or festival, or scenic overlook you remember.

I don’t want to be a stranger, who does?

I’m walking… in the July 4 parade.

7,392,000 steps: that’s the main title on the banner I had made up for the July 4 parade. A friend suggested that I needed a big number, something to catch people’s attention.

In smaller print on the banner is printed “WalkingHome,” and across the entire banner is my route across the country.

Do I have your attention?

I tend to be long-winded: my motivation for taking this walk is not reducible to 128 characters. But to gain the kind of support I need I need to have a message that’s easy to understand.

That’s probably the biggest challenge of the walk: not the steps it will take, but the gap between people’s interest (which is narrowing to tweet-sized) and the many experiences that have motivated me to take this long walk.

Yes, I hope to raise a lot of money for the Task Force and for their effort to build a permanent shelter for the homeless of the area.

But I am equally inspired by the hundreds of community organizations that exist, just beneath the surface and so often out of sight, of the public.

And not just the Rotary clubs and the Lions and the Moose and the Masons and the Kiwanis, but the many community health non-profits, and the dozens of youth sports organizations and food banks and the church groups and the environmental non-profits and on and on and on.

I feel a real commitment to spreading that gospel, to countering the divisiveness that seems to be spreading like a dark shadow over our country by showing how community-spirit is a thread you can follow back and forth across the country.

I’m pulling on that thread and, I believe, its a hundred times longer than the measly few million steps I will take following it. Community is the fabric our country is composed of. Community is the hammock I will sleep in every night.

And oh yeah, I am walking in the July 4 parade.

Look for the banner that says, “7,392,000 steps.”

Diary: June 17, 2018

Walking Home Diary
June 17, 2019

A friend lent me a kayak and accompanied me on a short paddle along the shoreline of Boot Pond this morning.
I was a little wide for this particular kayak, but even wedged in to this little green bean of a boat it was a pleasure to waddle through the water, to squint into the bright, reflected morning sun looking for snappers with their heads up out of the water, red bellied turtles sunning themselves on logs and dock steps, locals casting their lures.
The conversation was off and on, at first, as my friend was more nimble and quick in her ‘fitted’ craft and was often a good 50 yards ahead of me but then a third voice chimed in though from what direction it was not clear at first.
It was Jeanne, a friend too, and resident of Das Boot, and she was actually sitting on her deck, well up a hill on the side of the pond , listening to our conversation as if we were seated across from her, sipping that first cup of coffee.
Her words were startling in their clarity.
A momentary flush of embarrassment tinged my cheeks as I realized that she had likely heard every word I had spoken for the last several minutes, the conversation that I had tried to toss my friend’s way, and that I had asked if this were where Jeanne lived.
What else had I said, I wondered at that moment?
That’s a lesson that despite 30 years in Plymouth I have yet to fully learn: that this is a small town. That, like the voices on a pond, our words travel far beyond our little dimple on the water and are overheard in surprising places.
What a gift.
When I took my trial walk, from Charlton to Plymouth, this past spring – testing equipment and philosophical assumptions – I was startled at how successful we as a society have been at producing isolation.
The roads I trudged over were not meant to be walked upon.
The newer developments were all but unreachable, except by car.
Where the highway passed overhead roads and rivers and trails and neighbors were deliberately severed whatever the consequences to wetland or neighborhood.
On that week-long sojourn I came to exult at the sight of a sidewalk, a seat at a Dunkin Donuts (the only community gathering place in most of the towns I walked through), or a road shoulder that was wide enough to walk within without risking life and limb.
That week I can number on one hand the conversations that I had.
All of Plymouth is not like Boot Pond, circled by dirt roads, bisected by forest paths, teeming with wildlife and filled with families that have lived in the same houses for generations and note with interest every coming and going.
All of Plymouth is not as close and familiar as it should be but much of it is.
It’s a wonderful place to live. It will be very difficult to leave.

Diary: June 15, 2018

Walking Home Diary
June 15, 2019

I’m looking for more ‘Days,’ my name for the individuals and organizations that I will carry with me as I walk across the country.
I have about 50 now, but I need 365.
If you’re new to WalkingHome a brief explanation.
I am walking across the country to celebrate community.
I am gathering ‘Days,’ the people and the organizations that I know are already working hard to build and maintain a sense of community in their hometown.
I want one for every day of my walk, my year-long walk.
I know you’re out there.
I’d love to have your support but that’s not a requirement.
I simply want to be able to say, every day, if someone asks me why I am walking, ‘because of Dorie Stolley,’ or because of the Sunrise Rotary, the Fragment Society, Glorianna Davenport…
Of course the Plymouth Task Force to End Homelessness is on that list as well.
I could easily fill up that year – between Nov. 23, 2018 and Nov. 28, 2019 – with the names of people and organizations that I know but I need you to agree to it.
And then, when you do, I’d like you to write me a brief commentary (one or two paragraphs, or a picture or video) that explains why you love your community or what you love about, or even what you’re doing to make it better.
I’ve asked for this before but now it’s more critical. I am less than six months away from the start.
Here’s a partial list of my ‘Days,’ so you’ll know that, if you select a day, you’ll be in good company.
Brian and Barbara Alosi, The Muratore family, Betsy Hall, Ginnie Davis, Melissa Arrighi, Bill Vickstrom, Bill and Diane Harting NAMI, Sharl Heller, Evelyn Strawn and Diane Sanford.
There’s still plenty of room, and if you don’t want your name on the list you can still support the walk in a number of ways now, and when I am on the road.

Diary: June 14, 2018

You either get it, or you would get it if you thought about it, or you don’t get it but it doesn’t matter because I get it for you.
Why you should have a day of your own.
One of my days, from my walk, my year-long walk.
From the first I have been asking people to take a day, and to give me something (a written description, a picture, video, etc.) that I can talk about on that day as I walk across the country.
Something that will give others, across the country, a sense of what motivates me.
My motivation for walking, you should know, began here: it began with the realization that Plymouth was my hometown. It began with the epiphany that there was such a thing as a hometown, a revelation to a service brat who had learned to adapt to constant moves.
But after I moved here, and especially after I began to work here for the Old Colony and got to know the town I fell in love with it.
What did I love? Certainly its beauty. Definitely its history. But mostly its people and their engagement with that same community.
I’ve used many metaphors to describe my motivation. One is the backyard. When a child is confident that he or she is loved, that they have a home, that they can take risks and someone will be there to catch them when they fall, then they are willing to venture out beyond the cut grass and barbeque grill where the trees rise up and the brambles protest your leaving.
Plymouth’s backyard is America.
Have I’ve gone astray a bit, wandered off myself? In any case the point of this diary entry is you, and how you have given me that confidence, and that as I walk across the country I want to point to you (and what you love about your home, hometown, community) when I am talking to others about my motivation.
I know there are at least 365 of you (people like Nancy Carroll and organizations like the Task Force to End Homelessness). I know that I can fill each day of my walk with one of you and be able to think about you on that day and tell others about you.
I know that if I do have my year-long walk filled up with you than I won’t need metaphors or explanations to explain to others why I am walking.
Take a day. Tell me what you love about your house, your home, your hometown, your community and then, on that day, tell others about my walk.
That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Diary entry: June 13, 2018

June 13, 2018

The big numbers – and the little numbers – got to me a little last night.
Lying in bed, thinking about my finances: the little numbers that is.
I don’t owe that much. I am, if not in the black, in a kind of dark, dried-blood, scabby red.
I have a car payment, a few loans to pay back, rent, and then an absurdly long list of little monthly obligations that are slowly draining my bank account.
I pay for the cloud. It’s a big cardboard box in the sky. In my case a few hundred cardboard boxes filled with pictures and videos, unpublished novels, and the like.
It goes with the job. That is, as a writer I have more words than I have basement. So I pay for the cloud.
Netflix.
A variety of apps, again mostly for the job.
All told though it adds up.
I am going to have to shed most of those to be able to walk.
I’m not worried.
I may have to sell my car – when I get to California.
I won’t be paying rent.
But I think I can get my debts down low enough to free me to walk a little lighter.
I won’t need much money, once I am on the road.
I’ll be staying in my tent.
I’ll be eating out every day, out of my backpack (trail mix, power bars, water.)
I’ll be depending on the kindness of strangers.
Then again there are some big numbers out there. Some long stretches where there are no towns, no kind strangers, lions and tigers and bears oh my.
The desert is one thing. The plains are another. What got to me last night, lying in my bed imagining the road ahead, was the idea of upstate New York, west to east.
I once drove to Cooperstown, from southern Vermont. It had its own kind of desolation. There were very long stretches of nothing but woods and heaving hills and wide, empty highway.
Part of the cure may be finding a route, a road, the old way before the highway that knits small towns and farms and such together.
In those places I’ll become a familiar sight to those who live in the area: they’ll see me every day for a week or so as I slowly walk through their county.
7, 392,000 steps.
Can’t wait to get started.

Diary entry: June 12, 2018

Don’t you want a day, a day of your own, or at least to share a day with me, one of my days, one of my 365 days on the road from California to Plymouth?
It’s a reverse gold rush. I am shedding all wealth, disgorging myself of all possessions, likely losing friends and lovers and everything on my long walk home…
Ooh, that’s a bit morose, but it’s that kind of day, of morning: cool and dry and promising more of the same, promising temperatures that the brain seems to love. My brain has put its toe into the water and felt nothing. The air is the temperature of my brain.
Don’t you want a day? Your own day, on my walk? A day when I will reflect on those back in my adopted hometown, reflect not so much on what they are doing, may be doing, but what they have done, how they have lived, how they have managed to moderate the temperature of the town so that it is the same temperature as my brain so that my brain would come up with this idea of going away and then walking home.
WalkingHome.
Walking home.
WalkingHome.US
I spoke with Nancy Carroll yesterday. Hmmm? I am not sure that she has a day, yet? She deserves a day for all that she has done for the town, for me, for anyone who comes within earshot of her laughter.
We got together to talk about the July 4 parade. I am going to walk, or march in it: I will not float. As Nancy said, if you are going to walk across the country I don’t think it would look right for you to be transported down Court Street atop a large float.
Maybe when you get back you can float.
Nancy had a lot of good advice about how I might ‘walk’ in the parade including statistics.
People love big numbers she said. Big numbers are like mountains that suddenly appear on the horizon as you are driving. You want to get to them as soon as possible. Or whales. Big numbers are like whales, rolling over in the water, spraying the air.
So we took the number of miles I will walk crossing the country, multiplied that by the number of feet in a mile, divided that by the length of my stride and came up with 7, 392,000.
Write it out, Nancy said: Seven million three hundred and ninety-two thousand.
That’s how many steps you will take crossing the country: put that on a banner and march with it.
Nancy is so smart.
She deserves a day of her own.

My first flyer!

Feel free to download these jpgs and print them out: note that there are a variety of ways listed that you can support this effort including Crowdrise, direct checks to the non-profit I am raising money for and, on the second page, a sign-up sheet for donating per mile of my walk. If you use this form send me the finished form so that I have a record.