I left our Wyoming camping community with a warm glow of wonder in my heart. The eclipse experience lingered, and a fresh and hopeful outlook welled up in its wake. As Max and I drove through Yellowstone I turned inward, reflecting about what I’d seen and felt. We went to six campgrounds before we found a spot we could park Wanda for the night- in the corner of a back parking lot of the last campground before Cody, near a rushing river. We thought we’d be able to pull off in the National Forest, as we had near Jackson, but there were strict bear regulations and Wanda is considered to be a soft-sider because of her canvas sides when we pop up the camper top. No soft-siders allowed!! Instead of being attacked by a bear, we were attacked by mosquitoes as soon as we turned off the engine. We quickly closed the doors and screens, where the insects waited for any possible entry into our warm blood-filled hovel. Quarters were cramped inside without putting half of our kitchen outdoors (as we’d been doing when we weren’t sleeping and wanted the open space), but I managed to make a delicious dinner of sautéed veggies with leftover quinoa tabouli. I practiced yoga while I cooked, contorting slowly into different shapes in order to maneuver around Wanda’s “kitchen” while Max was sous chef and Riley watched for spills from the bench seat. Going to bed early was no problem at all!
The next day we decided to go out for breakfast in Cody to avoid the hassle of cooking while swatting mosquitoes, as well as moving all our things around again, but when we opened the door there was not a mosquito to be heard. Breakfast out sounded so good, that we kept our plan and I did a google search for healthy breakfasts in Cody. What a find!! At The Local we were greeted by one of the friendliest and uplifting waitresses I’ve ever seen. We shared stories of our trip, the incredible eclipse, and the evolution of humanity. I felt as if I’d made a best friend in just a few minutes. The feedback she gave me about what I was doing seemed to come from some higher source- a loving gift of encouragement, and my soul was singing by the time we left. Max discovered a natural foods store in the back of the restaurant, so I wandered around to see what was available. I found many of the products I was used to when shopping in Santa Cruz, plus many more interesting herbal, organic, gluten-free, and whole-foods products. I felt like I was home again! As I paid for my items, the clerk showed me a greeting card that was my message for the day: “The quieter you become, the more you can hear” (Ram Dass). I thought about my tendency to share what I know about things, sometimes without being willing to listen to where the other person is coming from. I have to admit, I do like to be right about things I feel passionate about and that can be to the detriment of my relationships. I decided to ponder this more later because we struck up an engaging conversation that lasted about twenty minutes- we were both teachers, wanting to retire, and yearning to live a life with more balance, creativity, time for connecting with nature and others, and we no longer wanted to leave our dogs behind five days a week. Here we were, connecting deeply because I wasn’t in a hurry to run off to the next thing I needed to do. A little window of joy opened up for me, and I danced out of the restaurant, saying goodbye and thank you repeatedly to these two women. I’m amazed at how many people I am meeting that have similar priorities and yearnings as I do. Is there an evolutionary shift happening for humanity? I think of the Pachamama Alliance I’ve been involved with and their goal of changing the dream of the modern world toward one of a more just and sustainable human presence on this earth. Maybe it’s beginning to work (in addition to so many other things people are doing)!!
Driving across Wyoming was an unexpected delight. The open farmland morphed into steep, rugged mountains as we climbed into the Bighorn Mountain National Wilderness area, en route to the Medicine Wheel that the natural food store clerk encouraged us to
see. As I approached the 80 foot diameter circle, lined with colorful offerings tied onto the surrounding fence, I became overwhelmed with emotion. I was thinking about the indigenous people of this country: the lives they lived before European settlers arrived, the devastation of their populations from disease and slaughter, and the despair and sorrow as they were pushed into unfamiliar
and barren lands, their lifestyles and family values forced away, and the lack of respect and dishonesty they have received from our government and culture. The tears rolled down my cheeks as I slowly circumscribed the wheel, letting the prayers and wishes of all those offerings wash through me. The Medicine Wheel is known to be at least 250 years old, but is more likely close to 2000 years old. That’s a lot of prayers!! May I be of service in righting these wrongs, or at least in inspiring a turning toward a new direction of connection, awareness of interdependence, and respect of all life, including future lives. I like the idea of making each decision based on the impact it will have seven generations down the line. How different things would be if that was the basis of our government! Whenever I drive across the country (this is my fifth trip from California to Illinois and back) I always think of the Native Americans who once were the only people here, and what it must have been like to be alive during that time. As a kid, I wished I was part Native American, and thought surely there was some ancestor in my past who was, which would explain why I felt such a strong connection and interest in traditional lifestyles and cultures. I was told my great grandma never knew her father, so maybe there is something there….
We continued on to Hot Springs, South Dakota to visit my Uncle Stu and Aunt Karen. This phase of the trip was about connecting with my own roots, as my great grandparents homesteaded in South Dakota in the beginning of the 1900s. My grandma grew up there
and my mom, too, for a couple of her earlier years. Uncle Stu is one of my favorite people ever, partly because of his gentle, Midwestern sense of humor, but also because he fit the role of the big brother I wished for when I was a kid- and I know he accepts me fully for who I am. I love visiting the Black Hills and hearing the stories of the Old West. I think if I’d been alive then I would have run a place for visitors to stay, similar to the air bnb business I’ve had for the past 3 1/2 years. I often fantasize about that time period when I drive across, and wonder what it must have taken to leave everything you know behind and set off for an unknown land to see what possibilities unfold. I don’t have even a quarter of what those early settlers had, but in some ways I’m doing a similar thing by taking this year off from life-as-I’ve-known-it.
The first thing I noticed about being at Stu’s (after the big genuine hugs and laughter
and catching up on the most recent news), was how weird it felt to be indoors so much. Sleeping in a real bed again was so comfy, but I missed hearing all the outdoor sounds, feeling the temperature and wind on my skin, snuggling in shortly after it got dark, and waking to the sun peeking through Wanda’s curtains. And then there was scrambling down the steep wooded slope to find a good toilet spot first thing, with the birds and chipmunks alerting their neighbors to Riley’s and my presence, and feeling a part of the natural environment. Being outdoors most of the time felt so comfortable and so right for me. The physical activity kept me limber and woke up my muscles gently each day. Though it was
delightful to be with family again, and we had some fun and interesting adventures, including visiting the Crazy Horse Monument and touring the biggest mammoth dig in the world. Both were fascinating experiences!
After Stu and Karen’s, we drove across South Dakota, with it’s endless flat prairies, interrupted by the occasional creek and the aptly named Badlands, where earth has been eroded away to leave behind tall, craggy peaks layered with various colored deposits of minerals. You’re driving along a green, grassy landscape, and then suddenly the edge drops off into a
maze of steep hills and valleys that look the same in every direction, and seem to go on forever. How would anyone not get lost?! We heard a rattler buzzing its tail at us underneath the boardwalk trail, which reminded me of the little box of Grandma T’s that’s filled with rattlesnake rattles she’d saved from the snakes she shot while homesteading. I used to keep it next to my bed for protection- there’s a lot of power in that box when I open it up due to my intense snake phobia!
Later, the hot weather faded and the wind picked up so strong we had to slow down to keep from being buffeted across the interstate. A dense fog appeared and everything became white. It was snowing in mid-August! The road was covered in slush and the shoulders were all white. Within a half hour the dark gray clouds revealed a glow on the horizon as a double rainbow emerged.
Lightening and thunder were our companions all the way to Sioux Falls, Iowa, where we broke down and got a hotel, rather than try to find camping in the rain. It was 2 am. We found it harder to find the kind of campsites we liked as we crossed into the Midwest, which was dominated by corn, soybean, and sunflower fields and not so many natural areas for camping. As Max went to turn off the headlights, he discovered he couldn’t. The headlight switch had somehow melted inside, so we had to either disconnect the battery or remove the dashboard and switch in order to not run down the battery. I remembered Peter, the mechanic at Van Cafe in Santa Cruz where I take Wanda for repairs, telling me that I’d better take his card so I could order parts as I traveled. I smiled, enjoying that I would be reaching back home to a friend for a helping hand.
Next stop was Normal, Illinois, where we arrived in the rain again, just as it was getting dark. Without headlights. I hadn’t thought about that when I made plans to meet my sister’s family for dinner as we drove into town. We were able to follow them home after dinner without incident and I ordered my part in the morning. Going back to Illinois for a visit is always a rich experience for me! My favorite thing is to walk barefoot in the
soft, fertile grass at my dad’s 6 1/2 acre property. It was here where my love of the natural world was born and nurtured by endless hours of exploring by horseback or bicycle or barefoot the forest, creek, and pasture in this rural paradise. I was often left alone while parents were at work and my grandma, who lived next door, was in charge. She let me do whatever I wanted, which was mostly being outdoors. As I wandered around the old homesite I was filled with sadness. It is so familiar to me, but so different: no grandparents, no grandparents’ house, and the scraggly little overgrown creek I loved to jump over and tried to make waterfalls in is now a beautiful pond. And no horses. I looked up at the tall oak by their old driveway
and saw that big limb, way up high, where I used to straddle after climbing the rope swing, scaring my grandma so that she’d clasp at her heart and yell for me to come down. I’m amazed I never gave her a heart attack, but I’m sure I contributed to her heart problems later in life with all the risks I took! I loved trees, and the thrill of playing around them on the swings at Grandpa’s. I’d push off the trunk with my feet to stay in
perpetual motion of swinging and spinning, hair flying out in all directions. Jumping into piles of leaves in fall, and laying under them to see what shapes the clouds made that day. These memories are significant to me because they brought back into clear focus my roots, that part of me that was most alive and happy as a kid, and may hold a key for where to focus my energies now as I turn 60.
My dad’s bright blue eyes sparkled as we shared lunch and talked about dogs and health and politics and life. I didn’t remember how long and thick his lashes were, and I noticed what a handsome
man he still is as he rounds his 78th cycle around the sun. I was so glad to be sharing these moments with him! And the rest of my family, too! In fact I savored every moment I had with each one, as if seeing them for the first time with fresh eyes. It was especially delightful to have lots of one-on-one time with my sister, Terri, who had been my closest buddy until I left home at age 14. I come from some very sweet, thoughtful, funny, loving,
and beautiful people who always welcome me, the wayward California liberal hippie, into their homes. Now that I’d filled up on that loveliness and reconnected deeply to my roots, it was time to hit the road again and head back to the west coast where I will begin the part of my trip that I intended to take from the beginning. I’m looking forward to spending many days at a time in one place and just being. Practicing my morning rituals without distractions or needing to pack up and get ready to move on to the next place. This year for me is mostly about being quiet so I can hear myself better, being in nature to develop my listening and intuitive skills, and challenging myself to live the simplest life possible so I can decide what parts are most essential to keep, and which ones I’d rather leave behind.