Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Years Eve Blue Moon Over Georgia

The blue moon rises over the south Georgia landscape on this auspicious New Years Eve. There will not  be another blue moon for 28 years, so now is the time to seize the moment and take it in.

As the clock strikes twelve, fireworks dot the dark landscape. In the distance, coyotes and dogs howl.

We welcome the new year, and with it an opportunity for improved health, connection with community, and a renewed sense of joy and wonder.

Processing Pecans at Koinonia

Here are some photos of the pecan sorting process. Growing, harvesting and selling pecans is Koinonia's most important cash crop.

The only time I have ever worked on an assembly line was when I was employed in a fish processing shop in New Jersey as a teenager. I toiled at the end of a smelly conveyor belt and skinned flat fish like flounder and fluke, frequently cutting my hands and fingers with the incredibly sharp knives.

Spending a few hours today sorting pecans brought me back to that experience, and also connected me with the many millions of people who spend their lives in noisy, dirty, smelly and unhealthy factories in order to produce the food and consumer goods that we take for granted.

Here at Koinonia, everyone helps with the cottage industries and chores that need to be done, and when pecan season is in high gear, I'm told that many hands make lighter work for all.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Koinonia Farm

Following our visit to Fort Benning, our GPS (affectionately named "Hilda") led us on a lovely route through the Georgia countryside to the town of Americus, and we have happily landed at the Koinonia Farm community where we were warmly welcomed and befriended.

Koinonia (from the ancient Greek, meaning fellowship or community) was founded in 1942 by two couples who were committed to demonstrating the teachings of Jesus in their everyday lives. They worked with local sharecroppers, broke racial and socioeconomic barriers by worshiping with people of any race or background, and committed themselves wholeheartedly to a life of pacifism and nonviolence. Koinonia paid black and white workers equal wages, and created a community where people of all races lived a life of equality and mutual respect.

The mission and work of Koinonia did not sit well with many residents of the surrounding area, bringing years of threats, boycotts, sabotage, bombings and shootings that became part and parcel of the early years of this dedicated community. The Ku Klux Klan was heavily involved in the fight to break the spirit of Clarence Jordan and the other residents of Koinonia, and bullets, bombs and burning crosses were all used as tools in the fight. And although the nation's eyes were focused on Selma, Montgomery, and other hotbeds in the fight for racial equality, the struggle at Koinonia was seen by many as equally important in the wider movement.

Now, with the fires of racism and the struggle for racial equality safely in the past, the people of Koinonia have been able to focus on their spiritual activism, small businesses, and various ministries of good will and service.

Some of the stewards/residents here at Koinonia are involved in several cottage industries, including an online bakery store that sells home-grown pecans, handmade chocolate pecan bark, coffee, and other delicious goodies, and an online bookstore offering books which detail the writings and teachings of their founder, Clarence Jordan. There is also a very nice print catalog available by mail for those who prefer to shop the old-fashioned way. (Perhaps you can consider their products for next year's holiday season and other special occasions!)

Aside from these projects, residents busy themselves with animal husbandry, organic gardening and various ministries which build bridges to the surrounding community in myriad ways, including peace and justice work, home repair for those in need, Bible study classes, and other forms of outreach. Known as the birthplace of Habitat for Humanity, Koinonia has been a progressive and forward-thinking Christian community for more than 60 years

We are just beginning to develop a basic understanding of the community's structure and governance, and you can imagine that it has been through many iterations since the early 1940's. Consensus certainly plays a part in how decisions are made, and non-profit status provides another structure upon which the community can hang its collective hat. There appears to be a long and thoughtful process for interns and others who would like to explore membership (full members are known as "stewards"), and we hope to glean more from our conversations as we experience life at Koinonia for a few days.

Tomorrow, we will do some volunteer work sorting pecans or helping in the bakery, and then lead some Laughter Yoga and improv games at the community New Years Eve party. We will post more photos and news from Koinonia over the next few days before we head for the Florida panhandle and the Gulf of Mexico!


Under the blue moon...

With all the sentimentality and surprisingly deep feelings I am experiencing by visiting a few of my early childhood homes, just thought I'd share a little silliness.

Meanwhile, enjoy the New Year blue moon! It won't be back for another 28 years. I'll be 78. How old will you be? ;-)



Grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway,
The good fortune to run into the ones I do, and
The eyesight to tell the difference.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Journey Continues....With Alligators

Having left my kind and generous family behind in Atlanta after a week-long stay, we have now resumed our travels south, enveloped in a post-holiday glow (and perhaps an extra pound around the middle).

At any rate, we successfully made it to Fort Benning, Georgia, an army base where Mary and her family lived while her father was in Viet Nam for two tours. Fort Benning is an interesting place which is home to the controversial School of the Americas, currently known as The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), where many notorious Latin American dictators and soldiers have apparently received a rather unsavory education.

Controversy aside, we took photos and videos of several of Mary's former homes on the base, and Mary was able to reminisce about a special and poignant period of her childhood, and perhaps she will grace this blog with some of those photos and reminiscences in the days to come.

For tonight, we are cozily ensconced in an army campground in Fort Mitchell, Alabama, not five miles from Fort Benning.

The above photograph depicts a sign posted on a dock by the river where we took Tina for a sunset stroll as an almost Blue Moon rose in a crystal-clear sky over the silent river. (New Years Eve will indeed be a blue moon---the 2nd full moon of the month.) We did not see any alligators, but pictured them lurking lazily in the muddy waters below our feet. Creepy but exciting!

Stay tuned for more updates, and perhaps an eloquent word from Mary about her return to this landmark of her itinerant and remarkable childhood.


Canine Cousins

Here's a photo of Tina and her canine cousin, Scottie, who lives a relaxing life here in the Atlanta area. Although Scottie teases Tina about her New England accent (she was born in Holyoke, Massachusetts, after all), they tolerate each other well enough, especially considering that Tina is almost as deaf as a doornail and Scottie is nearly legaly blind.

For Tina's part, she likes to sleep in Scottie's little beds, steal his food, and otherwise take advantage of the little guy's southern hospitality. For Scottie's part, he's polite but inconvenienced---like a true southern gentledog---and an aloofly generous and indifferent host. (Please note their cleverly distinguished disguises).

This post was co-written by, co-produced, co-directed and brought to you by the Christmas crew at Norcross, Georgia. My name is Mary Rives and with Scottie and Tina's prior agreement,
I approve this message.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Good to Go

So, after another day of the mobile mechanic working his magic, we are ready to be back on the road tomorrow. This time here in Atlanta with family has been priceless, and although these needed repairs have taxed our wallet, we are blessed that the radiator leak was detected here in the safety of my sister's driveway rather than on the cold, open highway.

I have to admit that my understanding of engines, machines and the physical world is negligible, and I indeed experience some level of helplessness and despair when faced with things gone awry. Give me a sentence to edit, a blood pressure to check, a patient to assess, and I can take care of things in a jiffy. But when it comes to a handyman's world, I'm Homer Simpson on a bad day.

In his infinite wisdom, my compassionate (and skilled) brother-in-law has tried to instill in me a new mantra: "Fixing is fun, fixing is fun, fixing is fun". Whether or not this mantra becomes part and parcel of my being remains to be seen, but for now I will consider what it can mean for me, and try to face future mechanical problems with aplomb and calm. I have no aspirations to become a master mechanic, but if I can raise my mechanical self-esteem a few notches, it might help as we continue our journey. 

Anyway, with this chapter coming to a close, we give thanks for family, for kind mechanics who do their work with a friendly demeanor, and for the way in which things continue to come together, even when things seem dark and foreboding.

After a final night with family here in Atlanta, we'll set out again into the wilderness of America, and open our arms to what presents itself at the next bend in the road. Maary adds, in the meanwhile y'all come back now, ya heah?


Our Letter to Communities

Here is a copy of the introductory letter that we send to communities that we would like to visit. Does anyone out there have suggestions on how to make the letter even more inviting, interesting or informative? Thanks! 
 Seasons Greetings!
As a married couple in search of intentional community, we are sending this letter of introduction and a link to our travel blog. We are planning to arrive in your area quite soon, and would love to arrange a visit with your community, if this would be good timing for you.
As long-term communitarians, we long to live in intentional community again. We lived and were married on an IC in the late 80s---Woodburn Hill Farm in Mechanicsville, Maryland. We’ve also enjoyed 17 years of friendship with Sirius Community in Shutesbury, MA and River Valley Cohousing in Amherst, MA, and have a very good understanding and appreciation of community life. We are sensitive to the fact that some communities receive hundreds of visitors per year, and we aspire to be visitors who give much, take little, and leave something of ourselves behind in the form of good energy, volunteer service, and sharing.
We recently reduced our carbon footprint and altered our lifestyle in significant ways: we sold our home, let go of most of our possessions, and left our jobs as a nurse and social worker.  Our life in New England came to a close to embark on a journey around the country to visit intentional communities.  We are two months into our trip, traveling in a biodiesel RV outfitted with twin solar panels, and we are planning to convert our rig to veggie oil. Since we are in a self-contained mobile home, we are relatively self-sufficient guests, and need little in terms of accommodations. 
Valuing honesty and good communication, we want to be up-front about the fact that we are traveling with a very sweet, small, deaf and quiet 14-year-old dog. Her name is Tina and she’s a hypoallergenic, mellow, child-friendly old girl, easily pleased and very well behaved. We understand that many communities do not allow canine guests, and we very much appreciate that. Thus, we are willing to stay off-site and visit one at a time, keep her at our side on a leash, or be able to find dog care for her while we visit. There are many options, and we hope that we can find an arrangement that works for the good of the whole, as we already have at a number of communities.
As you all know, living in community can be hard work and/or complex on many levels, and we’d love to help lighten the load by lending our helping hands and listening hearts. We are certified Laughter Yoga leaders and if your community would welcome a get together, we’d be happy to offer a complimentary session of Laughter Yoga for community residents and/or lead some fun improv games.
Please feel free to learn more about us by visiting our travel blog, aptly entitled “Mary and Keith’s Excellent Adventure”: Thank you so much, and we look forward to hearing from you!
Mary Rives and Keith Carlson

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Best Laid Plans.....

Well, friends and readers, after a wonderful five nights of holiday cheer with family here in the Atlanta area, we were packed up and ready to depart on the next leg of our journey just after today's lunch. But as we warmed up the rig and began our preparations for launch, a tell-tale leak of antifreeze from under the hood (and the growing puddle of shimmering green fluid on the driveway macadam) made it clear that our imminent departure would indeed be thwarted.

Just yesterday, a mobile RV mechanic came to the house, (supposedly) fixed the antifreeze leak, sealed a few troublesome areas in need of silicone sealant, and repaired several other irksome issues in need of attention. In addition, my brilliant brother-in-law also led the charge in repairing some areas on the wheel wells that were simply screaming for attention.


Today, when all was indeed in readiness, we were summarily reminded that the best laid plans of even the most conscientious road warriors can be turned on their head, and we simply need to roll with the punches and deal with what's on our plate.

On Monday morning, we'll see if our itinerant RV mechanic can remedy our situation in short order. If so, we'll head out on Interstate 75 South and visit Fort Benning, a Georgian army base where Mary spent a portion of her formative years. If a more complicated fix is needed, we'll cross that bridge with grace. Then, we'll visit Fort Benning before we head to Florida, where we'll see a few good friends, celebrate the New Year, and visit some intriguing intentional communities. 

Tune in tomorrow for the next chapter of Mary and Keith's Excellent Adventure.

Christmas Photos

Keith and his sister Janice

Our wonderful hosts: Our niece Caroline, Keith's brother-in-law Bob, and Keith's sister

All of us at the Christmas Eve church service with Keith's mother Barbara

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas in Atlanta

We've now been in the Atlanta area for three days, visiting with Keith's family, celebrating Christmas and enjoying relaxing times with loved ones. We attended a beautiful Christmas Eve church service with full band and lots of joyous singing, and today---Christmas Day---was simply a feast of good food, cheer and excellent company. 

With the rig parked in the driveway, we have the entire house to relax in, do laundry, stretch out, and relish the expansiveness of a cozy home. It's a novel experience for which we're very grateful. Tina is especially enjoying the luxury of being in a house, not to mention the turkey and treats that come her way! 

We are blessed to have family with whom to spend the holidays, and we don't take that blessing for granted. We acknowledge that there are so many people who are sick, lonely, bereft, or otherwise suffering, and Christmas is a very good time to recognize one's gifts and give thanks for the abundance in one's life. We are lucky and blessed indeed, and time with family is irreplaceable. 

And before we forget, today marks 8 weeks on the road! 

Happy Holidays to all, and to all a good night! 

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Reading Bryson Aloud

Here's a pair of lovely sunset photos of Mary, sitting on the shore of Lake Gunterville, reading Bill Bryson's "A Walk in the Woods" aloud to Keith, who subsequently fell asleep with his mouth hanging open in a most unattractive manner (but there's no photo to prove it).

By the way, we highly recommend "A Walk in the Woods", our favorite laugh-out-loud book of all time!

Abandoned Gas Station

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Talladega National Forest

On our way to Georgia, we completed our visit to Alabama with a wonderful, sun-dappled hike through the Talladega National Forest.

Although we didn't make it to the top of Cheaha Mountain (the highest peak in the state) due to the approaching sunset and Tina's relative stamina, the hike was incredibly satisfying and beautiful, with natural springs, brilliant green moss, and deep forest silence.

Stopping at a scenic overlook, we met a friendly trucker (who goes by the handle "Deerslayer" on CB radio) who advised on local topography, driving directions, and use of the CB. Yet another kind southern soul with a gift for gab.

We left Alabama satisfied that we had experienced a lovely slice of its natural beauty, and duly impressed with the friendliness and kindness of its residents.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The back hills of Alabama

Winter Solstice
December 21, 2009

Disclaimer: In the second half of this missive a conversation is relayed that may be upsetting to animal lovers.

From our camper nestled in the friendly southern forest of tall pines trees, I walked along the edge of this magnificent lake. My dog, Tina, and I were en route to the campground office to pay for another day and night of state park camping in these here mountains of Northern Alabama where many beautiful white tailed deer roam freely, seemingly unphased by noisy humans--and even kind of friendly.

The sudden squawking of a great blue heron startles me as it takes flight across the water from its perch on the frosty pier that we approach, maybe even annoyed by our sudden presence. Last night Keith and I heard the sound of loons and this morning for the first time we watched a whole flock of pileated woodpeckers. Some were pecking so laboriously on one particular pine tree that they sent hand-sized chunks of pine tree bark flying. These birds depend on dead trees for their livelihood, both for food and nesting. The park rangers were busy at work felling dead trees while admiring the birds with me. Go figure. One ranger told me he’d seen a bald eagle today and I told him that Keith saw one dip into the lake and return to flight with a fish in its beak.

I asked the ranger about the duck-like birds that hang in large flocks on the water and rarely fly. He told me they’re Kooches. At first I thought he was pulling my leg, and then he said, “If you see them look like they’re huddling together and flapping their wings, you can bet it was an eagle. Eagles will swoop right down and take one off for dinner”. (Must be a local name for those birds speckled on the lake’s horizon, ‘cus I could not find ‘em online!)

At the camp office, I looked for a pot scrubber, found a basic green one, and browsed over the various sundry camping supplies, picking out a little souvenir for my niece whom we will see this week. Back outside, the office lady came out to smoke a cigarette with a tall, plump young man who makes smoking look downright good. Tina, as she so often is, was the catalyst for friendly conversation.

“That’s a real pretty dog,” the lady said as she extinguished her cigarette with her fingers.

“Thank you. She’s a good girl, a real trooper for an old gal of 14 years. Made it up the mountain and back yesterday”, I volunteered.

“Mine is 16 and got attacked by a German Sheppard on Thanksgiving Day. She was hurt real bad. The dog had her whole head in her mouth and wouldn’t let go.”

“Oh my God, how awful. Is she okay?”

“Well, she sits by the fire and I have to carry her in and out of the house. And she drools all out the side of her mouth when she eats and drinks.” she said, gesturing towards her mouth with her hands.

“How traumatic for both of you.”

“Yeah, then I had to shoot the Shepherd—and I am an animal lover, mind you. But she had pups and killed two of ‘em and then tried to kill ‘em all. So after she near killed Beauty, I grabbed my daddy’s gun and went out back. It took a few bullets to bring her down and she just wouldn’t die, so my daughter brought her gun and shot a full round in her. I swear that dog had the devil in her. She just wouldn’t die! That was really hard. And I am an animal lover".

“Of course it was hard. I am so sorry. You did what you had to do.”

The young man interjected, “If she woulda told me, I woulda done it. She was my dog after all, but she weren’t right, that dog had somethin’ seriously wrong with it alright.”

This is when I told the woman about Rescue Remedy for both her and Beauty, pulling the little vial out of my purse to show her, explaining how it works the best I could. She was determined to get some from a health food store and try it. I talked a little about post partum depression and psychosis in people and how some dogs can get that too, but she still swore it was the devil in that dog.

I walked away imagining that poor beast’s pitiful death and her old dog’s stapled up head which just made me feel plum sad. I also left our chat with an odd respect for how some people take such life and death matters into their own hands. Too bad the lady didn’t think it through better and call on one of her park ranger buddies to handle the dog in a more humane way. Makes me wonder if it is legal to shoot your pets in this state 'cus you sure can't pull an "Old Yeller" in Massachusetts.

Nothing like a good mountain hike with cascading falls, a cave to explore and rocky streams to cross to clear my head of this memory that I put aside for this evening’s blog post. This shortest day of the year ends with a gorgeous sunset over Lake Gunterville and the fragrant smells of Keith’s cooking. As for Alabama, I knew the place had character and a dark past, but I had not known there was such beauty to behold. I should have known better—and now I do.

Speaking of the former, some fellow campers just drove in, circling our camper in a frenzy of loud jeeps and trucks, brandishing confederate flags, and making me grateful for the fair color of my skin. But as the campers settle in and their benevolent sounding laughter rises up with their camp fire, they play guitars, sing Led Zepplin songs, and thankfully not Lynyrd Synyrd, so I reckon I'll let 'em stay. ;) Now, that's the Christmas spirit, eh? Never-the-less, I am feeling particularly grateful for Neil Young and Martin Luther King, Jr. down here in Alabama. Here's an apropos song which I played for my sanity after the hunters rallied in with their flags:

May we all enjoy the returning of the light and the many longer days to come!


Some Thoughts on Intentional Community

Now that it's Solstice---the shortest day of the year and the first day of winter---we are approaching a restful sojourn of spending Christmas week with Keith's sister and her family in Norcross, Georgia. Thus our search for intentional community (IC) is temporarily on hold in terms of actual visits. We plan to use some of our time in Georgia as an opportunity to research communities that we'd like to visit,  emailing them inquiry/introduction letters in advance of our arrival to Florida, Louisiana and Texas.

So far, we've visited thirteen communities: several cohousing communities, a few eco-villages, an ashram, two income-sharing communities, and several others that use some sort of land trust, church or corporate structure to provide the legal underpinnings to their existence. (Please see the list of visited communities--with live links---on the right column of our blog's home page.)

Each IC has its own character and form of governance, reflecting its core values and principles that guide decisions and the essence of the culture within that community. We've found that most rely on, if not embrace, consensus decision making, an inclusive democratic process based on collaboration. One forming community we visited felt that consensus can be painstaking and too time-consuming, so they are currently adopting sociocracy, a form of governance we admittedly know little about but is said to eliminate some of the tedium of consensus while retaining the positive dynamics of the group process. Still others have a structure in which members become shareholders over time in a corporation or land trust, gaining voting power as they remain in the community for an extended period.

How the decision-making process is structured can have a major impact on the level of connectivity and interdependence that is fostered among community members. We have witnessed some of the disparities that exist when a handful of established members hold the majority of the power while newer members are left without a voice. Some communities seem less able to retain long-term members for reasons we suspect are related to unequal distribution of power. Subterranean rumblings of discontent can develop without an open forum for expression, easily undermining a community's cohesiveness. We've caught wind of such a tendency in more than one IC where there appears to be resistance to change, barriers to the implementation of new ideas, and the lack of safe, open and authentic communication. Hopefully, these communities can overcome this lack of cohesiveness and emerge stronger from that process of growth.

So far, we have visited two income-sharing communities---Acorn and Twin Oaks. These two IC's are members of the Federation of Egalitarian Communities (FEC), an organization in which (currently only six) member communities agree to adopt income-sharing and equal distribution of power and decision-making, among other required practices. Income-sharing is attractive in that one simply takes part in the life of the community, working a required number of hours per week in exchange for a modest monthly stipend (usually about $70) and the freedom of having no rent, utilities or other bills to pay. Some egalitarian communities allow their members to earn a limited amount of money outside of the community, but the general idea is that a level playing field allows everyone to be economic equals. Some might call it communism. The FEC calls it egalitarianism and equal distribution of wealth that takes into consideration the good of the whole.

Back in the 1970s, many ICs were formed in reaction to the growing consumerism of the American mainstream in which every family owned their little half-acre of manicured land with a two-car garage, lawnmower, and all of the other trappings of middle-class life. Early communes like The Farm in Tennessee, Black Bear Ranch in California and The Renaissance Community in Massachusetts offered an alternative to this lifestyle, and thousands of people flocked to these islands of communal living as the country underwent a massive cultural shift that was instigated by the Beats during the 1950s and exploded during the 1960s.

Now, the IC movement has matured, so to speak, and thousands of people in numerous countries around the world live in intentional community. For many, cohousing is the model that's most comfortable and economically sustainable, with each family unit owning their own home and taking part in the life of the wider community as they see fit. Some cohousing communities now being planned and built are using permaculture, green building, solar energy and other technologies in order to be a green as possible, and some cohousing groups are seeking ways to adopt aspects of ecovillage design to their plans.

In terms of physical layout and structure, IC's can be greatly different from one another. Whereas our search has so far centered on relatively rural communities, IC's exist in urban and suburban areas as well. Cohousing is one form of intentional community that is quickly infiltrating American suburbs and urban areas. While cohousing design can mimic suburbia in certain ways, the interdependence that can be fostered within these communities drives home the fact that there are many ways to live in community, eschewing the mainstream tunnel vision that can keep us separated, lonely and dreaming of something better.

In rural IC's, physical structure can vary widely. Some rural IC's prefer to be very spread out, with small clusters of homes separated by large areas of forest or open land. Others keep housing areas close together in order to give the community the feeling of a pedestrian village. At The Farm, the community is considerably spread out, so members seem to drive their cars around the community---especially in the winter---but we are told that there is a fleet of twenty golf carts that is quite active in summer, and we assume that many members use bicycles as well. At Twin Oaks, the community is quite walkable, but even still there is a squadron of communal bicycles that appear to receive heavy use by many residents.

When it comes to different age groups, we have found that the age distribution within IC's ebbs and flows, as might be expected. For children who grow up on IC's, it can often be a natural tendency to return to the nest and rejoin the community as an adult after going to college and seeing the wider world. In fact, some of these IC progeny find life in mainstream culture too shockingly splintered and driven by consumerism, and they eventually return to intentional community with a sigh of relief. Some IC's are hungry for families with young children as their populations age and people move away, whereas we encountered one community that has a preponderance of people in their 20s and 30s but lacks a core group of older members. Age distribution within IC's is different wherever we go, and some IC's are better than others at attracting and retaining a diverse range of members.

Speaking of diversity, we must readily admit that all of the IC's that we have visited so far are predominantly populated by white people, and the lack of people of color does indeed give us pause. This subject has come up in conversation during several of our visits, and some IC residents with whom we spoke bemoaned this lack of diversity but were uncertain how to remedy the situation. We have also discussed the diversity of sexual orientation at several communities, and our research has revealed that there are a number of GLBTQ communities scattered around the country. The diversity issue---whether it be in relation to race or sexual orientation---is food for thought, and an issue that we will continue to explore.

At this point in our journey, there is no absolute certainty that we will---or won't---live in an IC again. The only certainty is that we intend to visit as many IC's as we reasonably can, exploring which communities can most benefit from what we have to offer them, and where we can live a symbiotically fulfilling and satisfying life with like-minded people. We are taking into consideration so many factors: climate, governing structure, people, community economic structure, local economic conditions, etc.

So, following a "Christmas vacation", so to speak, we will resume our active community search and continue to blog about our experiences and findings, as well as about all of the wonderful new friends and acquaintances that we make along our merry way.

---Mary and Keith

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunset on Lake Gunterville

Here's a photo of an amazing sunset over Lake Gunterville, Alabama. The sunset was our reward after we climbed the nearby mountain, snuck Tina into the lodge and sat by an enormous fireplace, taking advantage of the complimentary coffee in the hotel lobby.

Mary at Play

Tina on the Road

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Lake Guntersville, Alabama

We are now ensconced at Lake Guntersville State Park near Guntersville, Alabama, holding true to our promise to inch our way towards Atlanta. In fact, if you look at our National Geographic road atlas, we have indeed moved ourselves approximately two inches east.

 Relatively short distances notwithstanding, the change of scenery is welcome. Although our last campground was lovely---with deodorizer-free bathrooms and friendly hosts---we now have an expansive view of Lake Guntersville from our dinette and our bedroom, and the negative ions from the wind blowing across the water are indeed refreshing.

We're aware that more than twenty inches of snow have fallen on Washington, DC, and my parents' homes in New Jersey are also blanketed in snow. Here in Guntersville, it's 39 degrees and very windy, and the temperature is expected to dip down to right around the freezing mark overnight. We feel deep compassion for our shivering friends and family in New England, and although they may envy our balmy 39 degrees, they certainly wouldn't envy how I had to thaw our sewer outlet pipe with a hairdryer last week at a North Carolina campground. Still, we're happy that so many people we love will enjoy a white Christmas and Solstice, as well as a wintry end to Hannukah!

Sewers and snow aside, I spied a great blue heron on the shores of the lake just after we arrived, and Mary was able to snap a lovely shot of some significantly tame deer as we entered the park. Also, I'm convinced that I saw a bald eagle snatch a fish from the lake as I walked along the shore just after we landed.

 As I write, we are listening to "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" on the local NPR station, laughing along with Carl Kasell and Peter Sagal as the wind shakes our rig and the temperature drops.

Life on the road is treating us well, and we are indeed looking forward to Christmas with family following a relaxing weekend here in northeastern Alabama.  We send our love and the greetings of the holiday season to all!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Thoughts on a Rainy Southern Morning

Here in Northern Alabama, it's 39 degrees at 9am, and the rain pelts the roof of our rig as we cozily relax inside. We realize that today is our seven-week anniversary since we left Western Massachusetts.

Taking Tina outside to pee around 3am, I did indeed hear coyotes in the distance. Our campfire was mostly extinguished by the light rain, but some smoke was still making its way skyward. The night was very still, and I could feel the presence of the stars despite the fact that they were obscured by clouds.

In just five days or so, we will make our way to Atlanta in order to enjoy the company of family and the celebration of Christmas. My sister and her family will welcome us with open arms, my mother will arrive from New Jersey to partake in the festivities, and we will rest for a few days in the comfort of family. Traveling is in many ways delightful, but there is a sense of calm in knowing that we will soon be parked in my sister's driveway, with free and unfettered access to a warm and cozy home decorated for the holidays and teeming with laughter, good company, and plentiful food. When those celebrations are over and we once again feel the itch to move on, we will continue south to Florida and join a few friends from Massachusetts who are spending the winter on an organic farm near Naples.

I am finding that the proverbial sayings about southern hospitality are indeed true. While I have experienced this in the past, it is much more apparent to me now. As we have traveled south, people have become friendlier, more forthcoming and more helpful, and this stereotypical southern characteristic shines through in many of our experiences. I do not mean to disparage our northern friends and family in any way, but it is widely recognized that, here in the southern US, people wave when you drive by, they chat with you amiably in stores, go out of their way to be helpful, and simply seem to be more ready to engage in idle and friendly banter. Having been born and raised in the northeast, I have noted this difference during many trips to the south, and it is something that I do not take for granted. For Mary, it's like coming home. For me, it's like remembering something that I've forgotten.

Today we have the luxury of not knowing where to go or what to do. We could press on in the rain and inch our way closer to Atlanta, stopping in one of Alabama's many state parks. We could also stay put, do some writing, play a game, write holiday cards, organize the rig, and have a rainy indoor day. While we have no cell phone service here (T-Mobile strikes again!), we happily have free and fast WiFi. It's also very quiet at this campground, and there's even bathrooms and hot showers without toxic air fresheners or deodorizers, so it's tempting to simply not move at all and make the most of a day of rest and relaxation.

We are thinking of our friends and family today, hoping that everyone is happy and well, and we are feeling especially grateful for the privilege of doing what we're doing. This lifestyle can't last forever, but for now we give thanks for the opportunity and take advantage of the open road that continues to present itself to us. America is a big place, and as we progress further in our travels, we consistently observe the diversity, the natural beauty, and the good people that make the American landscape what it is. We are so pleased with this traveling life, and appreciate the fact that we can undertake such an endeavor with no worries for our safety or well-being (aside from other drivers and the usual physical maladies of middle age). Sigh.

It truly is a wonderful life---even if I sometimes forget that fact---and there's nothing like the freedom of the open road to remind one over and over again just how lucky and blessed one truly is.


Scenes From an Abandoned House

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Life IS good!

Today has been an easy transition from Central Tennessee to North Alabama, taking back roads, having no regrets, and taking our sweet time. Truly happy campers are we and this life on the road often feels really free. Tonight by our first fire in a while, we heard coyotes in the distance and imagined the wild hogs we were told live nearby! We were also warned not to let our little dog wander off, so as always, Tina is safely by our side, perpetual dependent that she is. She's attached to me here by her leash but leaning on Keith's leg as he took this picture:

I 'reckon' you can say we've made it to the deep South cus here we are in the back woods of Alabama. I reckon' you can also say that I am enjoying most all of this---the lifestyle, the freedom that goes along with it, the open road, the mountains, the pastures and meadows, the bare trees, the small things, the delightful surprises of the roads less taken, the changing scenery and cultures, the birds, the kind people, the soothing sounds of rushing streams, camping at the edge of an open field or in a forest, the many happy hugs, the relief of returning to friendly people and the gradually warming weather. I am so blessed and at the end of this day, we both can say we are content, grateful and at peace...