My Imaginary (and Real) Friends

Because of family dynamics and the fact that I was very shy, I spent a lot of time alone when I was growing up. But life is about adaptability and I came to enjoy my own company. I always found things to do, to see , to ponder. When my life became too overwhelming I would ride my bike through my neighbor’s orchard, across a wide field and visit an old friend, a tall maple tree that for some reason was left standing in the acres that had been cleared so long ago for crops. Like me the the tree was alone but it was so much more, beautiful and majestic in its solitude, happy to just be. It became known as my “thinking tree” where I sat under its sturdiness and tried to find peace and some of my own strength.

There was also a woods near my home. My parents used fear to keep us safe and told us that terrible things would happen to us if we wondered there. I remember that when I was about six or seven I wished that I could own a gun, a very strange thing for a little girl to want in the 1950’s. I wanted to know the trees that lived in the cool darkness. I’m proud to say with determination and no gun, I eventually came to know them and added them to my group of acquaintances.

I am no longer shy and I have evolved into quite a people person but I still enjoy my own company and the company of trees. Last week, I returned from a camping trip near Lake Placid in my beloved Adirondack Mountains. I spent six days tenting. A friend who loves creature comforts wanted to know what I could possibly do for six days without a hotel bed and with only a gas camp stove to cook on. Here is my answer.

I set up a well organized, cozy campsite. It takes awhile but I made myself a very comfortable home on my site at the KOA in Lake Placid. I always have flowers on the tablecloth that covers the picnic table provided.

I caught up on my reading. In 2020, I’m taking an 80 day solo road trip through the southern states, going as far as New Orleans, and writing about it on my blog. Every morning at the campsite, I made coffee, build a fire and delved into two American history books, These Truths by Jill Lepore and The Half has Never Been Told by Edward Baptist. I was brought to tears as I read about the horrors of slavery in our country.

I visited the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge and Rehab Center in Wilmington. One of my sorority sister’s who lives in the area told me about this place which was not far from my campgrounds. I was thrilled to see so many animals that I had come to know and love, especially a red tailed hawk which I have chosen as my totem.

I listened to the whisper of the pines. They make their own mysterious sound and seemed to inspire me. As I looked up into their lacey beauty, the clutter of my thoughts and feelings seemed to sort themselves out into words and ideas that I might be able to write about in my blog.

I figured out a way to go for ice cream even though it was the day of the Iron Man races and all south bound lanes were closed near my campgrounds. Because of a good sense of direction and a little luck, I got my treat and was able to get back to my site by taking back roads.

I had the same bird visit me each day. I soon learned that it didn’t like bits of hot dog rolls but loved whole wheat crackers.

I thought of my dad and how he had instilled in me the love of trees and nature. He took my family to Canada to show us where he liked to fish and he bought us to Wilmington Notch Campground long ago when the white birches there were still alive.When we moved to a new house, one of the first things he did was plant trees all over our property.

Decades later, I realized that, through his example, he also taught me to take an interest in people and seek out their stories. He had a great sense of humor and loved “shooting the breeze” with anyone who wished to converse.

I drove to Keene Valley I remembered when I had passed through this valley on the Saturday after the Twin Towers had collapsed after the attack on September 11. I wondered then how something so beautiful and peaceful could exist when the rest of our world was falling apart

I stopped at Noon Mark Diner named after Noonmark Mountain. An elderly lady was looking for a table as she proclaimed to some people that her usual lunch spot wasn’t serving peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that day. Like my dad would have done, I started a conversation with her by commenting on her “Adirondack Women, Forever Wild”. I had a t-shirt that said the same thing. I asked her if she wanted to join me for lunch since the waitress hadn’t come yet and I thought that maybe two of us would be easier for her to notice.

We compared our Adirondack experiences. I had climbed eight of the High Peaks and she had climbed twenty-seven of them. Her name was Elizabeth Clark Eldridge, “Betty” for short, and her family had founded The North Country School, a prestigious progressive private boarding school attended by kids from all over world. In fact, she had become friends with one of its famous alumni, Peter Wilcox, the Greenpeace captain and environmental activist. She sailed with him on several excursions and was the ship’s cook. She was proud to say that Peter always corrected her by calling her “The Greenpeace Chef”. Betty was joyous, kind, and a very interesting person.. We are going to be pen pals and it all started with a passing word about her T-shirt.

I went swimming in The Ausable River! In Jay, by the old covered bridge, are lovely grey rocks that allow the Ausable River to jump and laugh and dance. I went there, hair tied back wearing my ugly black cover up and swam in my bathing suit in a quiet pool, unashamed of what I looked like as the younger swimmers dove and slid with daredevil enthusiasm. I’m sure I got as much joy out of the experience as them, maybe even more.

I finally visited the John Brown historic site. In my fireside readings about slavery, of course, this famous abolitionist was mentioned. Like a lot of Americans who are inadequately taught history, I had not paid attention to this man’s homestead and eventual resting place in Lake Placid. He was an quite a person, a man who wouldn’t support the injustices of his time and tried to do something about it.

I was carrying my copy of The Half has Never Been Told, the book about American slavery as I walked around the grounds. A woman stopped to talk to me. I think she heard me tell the site ranger that I would be touring The South and writing about it on my blog. Her name was Marsha Southgate and I later found out she was a published author. But what was important to her was that I knew about her mom who in 2002 walked through Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Canada to retrace the steps of history. I have since ordered the book her mom wrote, In Their Path: A Grandmother’s 519-Mile Underground Railroad Walk. Mrs. Joan Southgate also helped establish Restore Cleveland Hope, an education center dedicated to the anti-slavery and Underground Railroad history of the area. What a wonderful coincidence to become connected to these two women.

I stopped at the iron bridge to remember Sharon. Sharon taught Bonnie and I how to fly fish on the Ausable River. The two of us came to the iron bridge after Sharon died to recognize her spirit, to thank her for all she had taught us, and to say “goodbye”.

I observed the first goldenrod of the summer. For my children and I, these yellow flowers always seemed to announce that school would be starting soon and summer was almost done. I’m retired from teaching now and my kids are grown. The message of the goldenrod is now different but in many ways more intense. These flowers seemed to be telling me to live these days of sunshine and warmth to the fullest, warning me not take them for granted.

So that’s some of what I did for six days without a hotel bed and only a camp stove to cook on. I connected with my friends the trees and the rest of nature. How could I be alone when I am a part of them and they are a part of me? They have taught me to look around and see the significance of even the smallest parts of our existence. They have opened my heart and mind to other human beings showing me that I’m connected to them, too. Thank you, trees. Thanks, Dad.

Copyright 2019@ theautonomoustraveler.com All right reserved.

Another Apology to My Readers-September 2018

My apologies to my readers because I am interrupting the flow of my 70/7000  saga but this autonomous traveler needed to get away alone this  week.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a wonderful summer with camping, friends, home improvements, fly fishing, grandkids, and my first endeavor as a blogger.  But whoa, it got way too busy and  I needed some time to slow down and reflect. As Henry David  Thoreau said “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” And so following his example, I got myself a cabin among the trees at KOA in Westfield, NY for six days and vowed to live life as “deliberately as nature”.

 

 

They know me here, I’m a return customer.  Dennis, the owner, greeted me when I arrived. He knows I  walk the beach in nearby Barcelona, NY on Lake Erie to collect beach glass and said the shore had been waiting for me.

My friend, Thoreau, said, “A lake is a landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.”

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I walked this segment of the”earth’s eye” everyday and with each day I walked farther and farther as my body welcomed more steps and my spirit freed itself from the details of everyday life.  And things became simple and wonderful; the rhythm of waves, and the sound of the pebbles under my feet, and the colorful bits of glass that chose to reveal themselves to me.

My high school friend, Pat, who shares my birthday, joined me for a day.  We walked the shore and engaged in great conversation.  To our delight, we both found rare pieces of red glass.  Stopping in nearby Fredonia, we went to The Lady of The Lake Shop. It is owned by  another Pat who goes to Alaska, works with the crew from “The Deadliest Catch” and brings back Alaskan sea glass to sell at reasonable prices. I couldn’t resist buying two pendants and a pair of earrings.

 

Again I apologize for taking a break from my blog but as Thoreau said,  “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.”

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70 Days, 7000 Miles, Day 23

July 17, 2001

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Today I crossed The Crow Indian Reservation. I drove 44 miles through a vast, dry western landscape with no towns or houses. It frightened me because I didn’t see any vehicles either. I rode out the fear because I knew God was with me. I was very much alone and very much in His hands. I willed myself to be alright and I made it.  Thankfully, it was His will, too.

I remember one time, my mom who had a strong, faith told me not to mention God so much.  My dad, a WWII vet, used to say that there were no atheists in foxholes.  I have people in my life who would find my reliance on a supernatural presence very weird. “Live and let live” is my mantra. I expect the same. I am steadfast in my beliefs and they have served me well.

I took a citified day in Billings, Montana. I got my oil changed, my hair cut and shopped for a long time in a Super Walmart. After driving through small towns with little stores, going to Walmart was like visiting a very interesting museum. I walked down the aisles admiring the colorful packaging and the variety of spending possibilities.  It made me realize what years of American consumerism had done to me.

 

I stayed in a KOA campsite that evening.  I felt like a vagrant with my tent among the large RV’s. They were the size of buses and had dragged behind them expensive vehicles which were way more classier than my used Dodge minivan. Needless to say, I didn’t feel as comfortable in this campgrounds as I had at the Cottonwood.