Walking the hump?

The colonel, when he was a cadet, somewhere in the California desert.

The colonel, when he was a cadet, somewhere in the California desert.

I’M WALKING HOME. TAKING A YEAR TO WALK ACROSS THE COUNTRY. BRINGING YOU WITH ME OR MEETING YOU ALONG THE WAY

I think he was 19 when this was taken, somewhere in the California desert, where he was learning how to fly in a Curtis bi-plane. That was 1942. He left the University of Maryland where he was in an engineering program, enlisted in the Army Air Corp and spent the next 35 years in the Air Force. He flew the ‘Hump’ in India, piloted an F86 ‘Shooting Star’ in Korea, was a navigator in the Berlin Airlift, was in a B52 circling the arctic during the Cuban Missile Crisis and volunteered to go to Vietnam in 1973. No wonder he was so annoyed, at times, with my brother and I and our inability to see beyond the present moment. There is so much more to tell. So much more to live up to. He was, is, so human, after all. I have no patience for fabricated holidays. I don’t send cards. The everyday, the slowly unraveling skein of life is so much grander than the petty, calculated way we celebrate the incalculable. A father yes, but so much more.

Keystone species

I’M WALKING HOME. TAKING A YEAR TO WALK ACROSS THE COUNTRY. BRINGING YOU WITH ME OR MEETING YOU ALONG THE WAY

My idea of home is evolving, even as I sit here on my butt going nowhere. Lately I have been thinking a lot about the environment I live in, the woods and the shore, the ponds and the streams, the flora and the faubarkna.

I’m headed off this Thursday for a four-day program called The Keystone Project, after which I will officially be a “Keystone Cooperator.”

According to its website,

“In ecology, a keystone species is one whose impacts on its environment are larger and greater than would be expected from one species.

The Keystone Project invests education and reference materials in important, keystone people. These Keystone Cooperators make a significant conservation difference at the local level by transferring information and ideas to landowners and decision-makers.”

I’m both excited and nervous. As the day approaches – for this four-day training – I am realizing the responsibility that I am taking on, the challenge of being a “keystone” person.

Then again, isn’t that what we all want to be: if not a key player, at least someone who plays a part in making the world around us a little better.

I have to admit I have a kind of hero complex: its probably a vestige of having lived for nearly 20 years with a real hero, my father. He was ‘the man with the flaming broom’ (torching a Chinese city to destroy materials as the invading Japanese army was on the outskirts),  he flew ‘the hump’ in India in WWII, he was part of the Berlin Airlift, circled the arctic in a B52 during the Cuban Missile Crisis and, yadda yadda yadda.

He always downplayed those experiences, hardly ever talked about them… I know that’s part of the reason I am so restless, and so eager to have adventures.

WalkingHome, of course, will be an adventure worthy of my father, but just the idea of taking on this challenge has allowed me to focus on what I am leaving behind, what has inspired me: this amazing place.

I am coming to realize that Plymouth is amazing for so much more than its history. There are 430 ponds in Plymouth, miles of coastline, 52 “natural communities,” an amazing amount of native species including many rare and endangered animals and plants, and the second largest Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens remaining in the world.

Even if I can’t become a true keystone species I think I might be able to learn enough to be able to effectively express my growing belief that this community is in and of itself a keystone community.

My idea of home is evolving or, perhaps it might be more accurate to say, it is deepening. Every day I find something I else that I want to carry with me. My pack is getting heavy but, I couldn’t leave home without them.

The Village of Oak Creek, Arizona

I’M WALKING HOME. TAKING A YEAR TO WALK ACROSS THE COUNTRY. BRINGING YOU WITH ME OR MEETING YOU ALONG THE WAY

I’ve put my first two pins on the map of my walk: The Village of Oak Creek, Arizona, and Espanola, New Mexico. I’ll start somewhere in Southern California, and so it should take me…

Let me know if you live along the way, what I should see, where I should go.

I need you to…

I’M WALKING HOME. TAKING A YEAR TO WALK ACROSS THE COUNTRY. BRINGING YOU WITH ME OR MEETING YOU ALONG THE WAY… Here’s how you can help.1006516049 MA_OC_yirgreen05_1230

  1. 365. I need 365 special supporters, mainly from Plymouth, but also from my life, each representing one day of the walk. I hope that they spread the word.
  2. I need to know what events are taking place in Plymouth, during my year away. Every day that I am on the road I am going to remark on what is going on ‘back home’ – the pancake breakfasts, rotary auction, garden club events, charity runs, fundraisers, town meeting, local election, weddings. I am going to be the town crier, just do my crying from a distance.
  3. I need 20 people willing to host a potluck supper at their homes. They’ll invite a dozen or so people to come (hopefully those who are part of the 365), so that I can talk with them about home, and record those conversations.
  4. I need to sell 365 Cicada pins. The symbol of my walk is the cicada: a creature that appears as if it should be able to fly but actually just leaps, from tree to tree, singing as if it doesn’t have a care in the world. I could tell you a story about cicadas, their symbolism, but lets just say I feel a connection to them.
  5. I need to find individuals, organizations, companies and others willing to give me money (ooh, that’s direct). There will be two ways of doing this. Direct donations of support before I begin, and a charitable component when I am underway.
  6. IMPORTANT NOTE: I am being sponsored by the 501C3 charity, the Plymouth Task Force to End Homelessness. It’s a great fit. All donations will go through them, be fully tax deductible and, after I have enough to support the walk itself, any donations thereafter (and, likely, during the year-long walk, will go to the Task Force and their efforts to fund transitional homes, house people overnight during the fall and winter, and end homelessness in Plymouth.
  7. I also would like in-kind support from those individuals or businesses in the community that I already rely on – plumbers, electricians, ‘the well guy,’ someone to plow my 200 foot driveway when I am away. I would hope that these businesses would commit to a certain dollar value over the year for services, for which they could claim to be an ‘official WalkingHome Hometown Supporter.’
  8. I need letters of support that I can show to potential large donors or, if you know of an organization that might support me, that you make the contact for me.
  9. I need a variety of other in-kind support: advice, technical assistance, photographers and videographers, mentions on your Facebook page, followers on Twitter (@HeWentThataway). I hope that outdoor equipment companies will donate most if not all of the specialized equipment I might need.
  10. I need you to go to WalkingHome.US and comment.
  11. I need people to walk with me. I will reserve Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for walking alone, but on the other four days of the week I would welcome company and conversation.

I need a lot. For some reason not altogether rational, I believe it will all work out.

1000 days

One of the most treasured, and under-appreciated ecological treasures of my hometown Plymouth, are the Pine Barrens. The second largest example of the "Atlantic Coastal Pine Barrens" ecosystem is found in Plymouth, and stretches east on to Cape Cod and the Islands.My limited computational skills suggest that Wednesday, March 2 will mark 1000 days before I step out of the Pacific and begin “WalkingHome.”

I am going to mark that occasion with, fittingly, a little walk.

I estimate that to achieve my goal of taking an entire year to walk across the country I will need to average about 12 miles a day for 365 days (my path across the continent will meander from south to north in a kind of wave pattern). So, to mark this date I plan to walk about 12 miles – from my home in the woods of south-central Plymouth, to Pilgrim Hall in downtown Plymouth.

Once at Pilgrim Hall, I will set up my tent and spend the night, right there on Court Street (formerly the King’s Highway).

I am also working with Pilgrim Hall’s new director, Dr. Donna Curtin, to have a little get together at the Hall where, hopefully, friends and supporters can drop by and share their thoughts about their concept of home (is it where they live now, where they lived as a child, where they hope to be at some point in their lives?)

I also hope that some of you will walk with me, as I walk to Pilgrim Hall that day, and share your thoughts, offer your advice…

Yes, the start of WalkingHome is a long way off but I have a lot of work to do, a lot of preparation, a lot of thinking and talking and walking to do before then. I hope you’ll join me.

Making a list

2013-07-23

Odds and ends in the water as I walked along the shore of Cape Cod Bay on a cold, damp morning a few years back.

I’M WALKING HOME. TAKING A YEAR TO WALK ACROSS THE COUNTRY. BRINGING YOU WITH ME OR MEETING YOU ALONG THE WAY… I’m making a list. When I am out on the road I will look at my list and say, ‘hey, today’s the Sampe Fest at the Grist Mill,’ or the Antiquarian Society’s annual fair, the town clean-up day, or the beginning of Balloon Wrangler Weekend (I made that last one up, though I’ve always thought balloon wrangling deserved greater attention). Plymouth is just big enough to have something going on every weekend, most every day. This weekend, to prove my point, there’s the Tidmarsh harvest, the Sampe Fest, a traditional succotash feast at the Harlow House. It’s not that being busy is special, in and of itself: it is that Plymouth is bursting with the real, with the authentic, with the kinds of activities and events that from the inside create a feeling of community and from the outside, well yes, it’s cliche. Several people have told me that they don’t want me to go away for a year, that I add something to the community that will be missed, perhaps especially the perspective I bring to the local news (If you’re not from Plymouth you should know that I write for the local ‘mackerel wrapper,’ a nearly 200-year old newspaper named, solemnly enough, The Old Colony Memorial). Of course that’s flattering, and though I am sure that there are a number of people that could quickly, and with little effort, take up my duties at the paper, those comments also drove home the point – to me – that I didn’t need to leave Plymouth behind on this walk. Actually that was always part of my master plan (fiendish laughter), to take the town with me, literally on my back, as I walked. My intention of course is not to take artifacts of the town with me, tucked away in my backpack, but to fill my head and each day on the road with the people of Plymouth (1 for each day of my year-long walk). To have a person, a friend or family member of important person from my life representing each day of the walk was one of the first ideas that came to me when I was seized with this feverish idea a year or so ago. And so when I heard first from Sharl, and then from others, that my absence would be felt, it did not take me long to realize that I could take not only the memories and visages and wisdom of people from my life, and largely from Plymouth, with me, but I could take the town itself as well. The list I am talking about is like the list of events, the ‘briefs,’ birth announcements, event listings and the like that take up much of the space in the Old Colony each week and fill up – like a stack of pancakes at a church breakfast – the soul of Plymoutheans (or, Pilgrims, as I like to call town residents). I could make a list – I am making that list – of what goes on in town throughout the year. And as I walk across the country I will at least reflect, and perhaps take note in some fashion, on what is going on that day in my hometown while I am far away. I may be on the outskirts of Tonopah, New Mexico on December 5, 2018, packing up from a night spent under the desert sky and before I leave I will note that ‘today, in my hometown, they’re having the annual tree lighting in Town Square.’ As the sun comes up over the mesa (is there actually a mesa in Tonopah, I don’t know, yet) I will reflect on the caroling and the horse-drawn wagons and, in the past few years, the Jingle Bells 5K that goes rolling through the downtown, the hot chocolate at the Phil headquarters, the beauty of the new common in front of the restored 1820 Courthouse. Perhaps I might even talk with friends back home, friends who will tell me ‘the news.’ So I’m making a list. I’m leaving nothing behind. I’m bringing everything with me, tucked into a metaphorical backpack, as I walk through your town and reflect, with you I hope, about all the things you love about your town.

Thanks for reminding me

nothing

Autumn can offer a trumpeting, or a nuanced suggestion, of the changes to come. Just off the Eel River, off Long Pond Road.

I’M WALKING HOME. TAKING A YEAR TO WALK ACROSS THE COUNTRY. BRINGING YOU WITH ME OR MEETING YOU ALONG THE WAY… Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about this walk but for now, for a while, there are other things on my mind. I’m pretty excited, for example, about the things I am still learning about my home town: the creatures, the flowers, the forest. There’s so much here, in Plymouth, it’s a wonder there is anything left over for the rest, the rest of the country, that place that I insist on calling ‘my backyard.’  In my front yard though, there is still work to do. And so I am, odd to say, distracted. My attention is not focused on my walk. My day is not taken up with planning. My life is, I hate to admit it, normal. Thank god for friends. Friends who remind me. I sat down to talk to some folks attending a meeting the other day and a woman who I see occasionally came up to me and – after asking my how my plans for the walk were going – began describing her vision of me on the walk in cosmic terms, as a sphere moving through the universe gathering particles from everything I brushed against, growing larger and brighter and… she was so excited about what I was planning on doing. I was so excited after talking with her. I wanted to say to those around me, ‘did you see that?’ It was difficult, after that encounter, to go back to my table and take notes. I wanted to run off and start walking. Two weeks later I was at a breakfast meeting with three of my favorite people in town, meeting to discuss a very serious issue and, one of those people suddenly interrupted the meeting to say, ‘Hey, what’s going on with the walk: I haven’t see any updates on your website for a while?’ I stammered a bit, offered a few excuses but, honestly, I was excited. Something is happening on its own, without me, I thought. People are excited about what I am going to do. People are anticipating my walk, as if they were planning to do it themselves and, in a real sense, they are. I am taking them, the whole town, with me. That’s the plan, and the plan is coming together on its own. It is so much like that 365th sunrise, when I simply said, ‘if you love this town, show up (in the snow, in the dark) and celebrate the year with me. And 500 did! Don’t be fooled. Just because I am still here, just because it is still 3 years away, I am in a real sense already walking. I am gathering speed or, at least, I am attempting to build enough momentum to be able to shed the chains of the everyday and… well, in a sense, I will be weightless on my walk. With no place to go, except home, and no daily schedule, save for getting an early start in the morning and a good night’s sleep at day’s end. Weightless. Moving at the speed of conversation. Now though, here still, my work requires me to speak rapidly, write even faster: process my experiences into journalistic biscuits. And to do so I can’t be weightless. And to do so I can’t move slowly. That’s an irony of sorts: I am trying to build sufficient momentum to allow myself to slow down. It is, I tell myself, happening. It may be hard to see, but as frenetic as my movements are, as hyperactive as I seem to be, I am slowly slowing down. The walk is beginning. No, I am already walking. Thanks for reminding me. Frank

 

 

Sweet corn on Long Beach

After making Romany Bacon appetizers, courtesy of Paula Marcoux, I placed un-husked corn on the coals, covered with sand and, voila!

I placed un-husked corn on the coals, covered with sand and, voila!

I tend to get an idea, jump in the car, then figure out what I should have brought along. I’m not sure, but I expect that’s not going to work this time – on my walk home. I didn’t do too badly in this case, but it was just one night on the beach – Long Beach in Plymouth. The end of Long Beach, which is just a few miles long and just 20 minutes by car from the historic center of town, is an amazing place: an oasis of shore birds, sea clams, and quiet – but is usually accessible only by foot, and they don’t allow overnight stays, save for one 6-day period every year. They hold a lottery to choose 36 people (usually 4 to a car) to camp for two days during August. I was given special permission to camp out on my own to write a story for the local paper. But I only got word that it would happen a week before. So I scrambled about, and on that Wednesday drove our Outback through the knee-high sand to the end of the beach. As beautiful as it was, I couldn’t help but think how unprepared I am, now, for my walk across the country. How I will have to get in shape, toughen myself up for nights sleeping on the ground, start walking around barefoot to toughen up my feet, start getting to bed early so I can get up early and be done for the day early. It’s overwhelming, even frightening. But when the day comes, no matter how prepared I appear to be, it will still feel (I am sure) no different.

What am I building?

I’M WALKING HOME. TAKING A YEAR TO WALK ACROSS THE COUNTRY. BRINGING YOU WITH ME OR MEETING YOU ALONG THE WAY. Tonight someone I couldn’t remember having told about my walk, began talking about my walk, excitedly talking about it, wanting to know how far I had progressed, whether I had set a date – oh yes – and then she began to tell me how she thought about it, how she envisioned the walk, the ideas I had expressed to her, sometime, somewhere, as a sphere. I imagined at first a large soap bubble, but she meant something self-contained, a capsule in which my ideas, my passion for this idea, a map of the route I would take, were contained within. She was so excited. I started to get excited. I said, for the first time, that the walk was a poem I was writing and that, on the first day, with that first step I would begin to recite.. the finished piece. I can’t wait. But I have to wait.

Understanding my desire

At Palisades Park in Illinois, looking over the Mississippi into Iowa.

At Palisades Park in Illinois, looking over the Mississippi into Iowa.

I am so fat they have to hoist me
into my overalls. Pulleys, not clasps,
keep my pants up. In the spring my head
is covered with soy. Later, like corn,

I row the swells, longing clouds, grazing sheep
Pasted on to the pale horizon.
The other farmers have gone fishing.
Under the beech trees by the ferry

they spend midsummer swapping silences.

I think of you out here. Imagine
What it is I imagine you to be.
A game of scrabble. County roads in
Wisconsin named for consonants.

On J I cross I then W
Into New Diggings, Scales Mound,
Illinois, 15 into Schapville,
Across the Apple River.

So many ways to spell your name.