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

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

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.

Open wide and say wow

Bug Light from Long Beach, Christmas morning, 2013.

I’M WALKING HOME. TAKING A YEAR TO WALK ACROSS THE COUNTRY. BRINGING YOU WITH ME OR MEETING YOU ALONG THE WAY… I am not feeling too well this morning. Though I woke at five, something telling me it was time, in time to run,  instead I sat down on the couch and looked at my phone in the dark. Outside, the distant rumble of thunder, and closer, raindrops on the leaves. I tweeted a poem of sorts. Reflection of the past weeks slightly greater awareness. Creatures that I dismissed with a wave of my hand I watched instead. Another world glimpsed. Are we, as a species, glimpsed, as fascinating, as colorful: do we come in as many flavors, colors, camouflaged against the forest floor?  My instinct is to rush out and embrace the world. Though a thousand times I have been brushed away. Though a thousand times I have tumbled over and over in the turbulent wake of dismissive hands there is always that small glowing coal, that instinct to embrace, that if nurtured in the smallest way becomes a fire, a passion, a hunger…

Not as far as Pluto, but…

Pluto1I’M WALKING HOME. TAKING A YEAR TO WALK ACROSS THE COUNTRY. BRINGING YOU WITH ME OR MEETING YOU ALONG THE WAY. I’m walking almost as far, in a way. A light year. Nine years ago I consciously tried to forge a closer relationship with my younger son Patrick, by sharing the adventure of New Horizons. He was just seven then, and I tried to make him understand, or at least contemplate, how long it would take, how far it would be. For a while I took note of the communications from NASA, shared news of the mileposts New Horizon attained: the inner planets, the outer planets, the dark desert-like expanse after Uranus. But after a year or two I stopped telling him when I received the emails. On the wall between the kitchen and hallway, where we marked off his personal ascent – five feet tall, six feet tall, six feet three the last time – I should have sketched the planets that he and I were, in a way, passing. In fifth grade he passed Mars. In his sophomore year he dodged the ice and stone and emotional hazards of the Kuiper Belt. But on the day that New Horizons was expected to make its closest approach as I left the house, and he popped his head out over Marys in the doorway as I left for work, I offered him a tantalizing mystery. “This is a special day for you and I,” I told him, then asked: “Do you know why.” I drove off then, and did not return until late that evening. I found him on the couch, in a position that I would need physical therapy to recover from, a wad of tissue protruding from one nostril (he still suffers from frequent nosebleeds), his thick hair tousled into waves and horns and humps of brown, the TV on but his eyes fixed on the screen of his phone. He looked up sheepishly, smiling though, so I put it to him. “Did you figure it out?” I asked. “Do you know why this day is special for the two of us?” “Pluto?” he asked, without confidence. Yes. It was a failed experiment but, at least we tried.

If I start now, and I prepare for three years…

I’M WALKING HOME. TAKING A YEAR TO WALK ACROSS THE COUNTRY. BRINGING YOU WITH ME OR MEETING YOU ALONG THE WAY. My friend Sharl has advised me to start putting in the time it takes to prepare, to find sponsors, develop a specific route: there are a thousand things to do to prepare for this adventure. She thinks I need to get moving. But when I’m asked by those who have heard, but have only a vague idea of what I have in mind, as soon as I mention that the actual walk won’t begin for three years (2018-2019) they begin to nod their heads involuntarily, their eyes unable to remain focused. Unless its their adventure they have a hard time imagining it, believing in it. I understand. I’m guilty of that as well, that inability to imagine beyond a day or two: it’s something we have cultivated as a culture. But in doing so we are ruling out so much. Not all experience can be prepared for by a visit to an airline website and a month’s membership at the gym. I wonder if there is a special rule: If an adventure of a day requires three days preparation how long should I be preparing for a year-long adventure? So I guess I’m meeting Sharl halfway: working on the details (this site), ready to interject the ‘story’ whenever I see an opportunity, but not yet breathing faster, or worrying in any way about what lies ahead.

It becomes real when…

I’M WALKING HOME. TAKING A YEAR TO WALK ACROSS AMERICA. BRINGING YOU WITH ME OR MEETING YOU ON THE WAY. The Walk is a long way off but I already have a feeling of urgency, like the first sight of the mountain you intend to climb. So, as part of a separate journey toward greater fitness I ran this morning, despite what sounded like, from the inside, a good strong and steady rain. On the outside though, in the rain, I realized that what I had heard as I dressed was just the breeze trying to sound tough. When the raindrops put on their leathers, that’s when you need to be worried. So I ran, and it was not much different than other days. You can only get so wet. But I also began to think of how different it might be, will be, on the road, in the desert.through the mountains, and all alone. I looked around and saw that, despite the rain, most of the homes had their sprinklers going. There is well-water where I live, well-water only, but it still seems a waste. I do need to get in shape, a little better shape before the walk but I also need to get in shape mentally, for the walk – need to open up my mind to the differences and similarities, the shared values, the shared hopes, dreams, disappointments: both of those I will meet on the way, and those I am leaving behind. Sent from my iPhone

Show me what you love about your hometown…

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