2-month anniversary!

So yes, today marks my two months on the road. In a way, I find that hard to believe, yet at the same time, I feel like this has been my life forever now. When I think about my life before I left, it feels like another person, living that way.

And I never want to go back.

I don’t mean that I’m not willing to return to my home, in Massachusetts. But I never want to go back to life the way I knew it.

A week ago, my dad told me over the phone that he hoped that I could “come back home and return to reality.” This statement stuck in my craw then, and it has embedded itself like a sliver. At the time, I merely asked him whose reality he wanted me to return to – because my priorities and goals had changed. However, the more I thought about it, the more my mind expanded around the subject. There are a million ways to live – on this trip alone, I have met dozens of people who have taken me into their lives and showed me different ways to look at the world. I haven’t gone around fully embracing everybody else’s beliefs and ideas, but I certainly respect them. I listen to them, I learn from them, and I take what applies to me, and what helps make me become a better person. I embrace the concepts and beliefs that bring me closer to the person I want to be, every day of my life.

I told my mother today that out of all the people I’ve met so far, my cousin Lisa (whom I had never really known before this trip) has been the most influential for me. She has also been the most grounded, the most accepting, and the most spiritual of everyone I’ve met. She embraces each moment individually, and out of everyone I’ve met so far, lives with the least judgment in her heart and the least anxiety in her life. I truly believe that I will be able to use her as a model for the type of life I wish to lead – one that is peaceful, yet successful – selfless, and yet maintaining a beautiful balance of personal care of the soul.

Anyways, the point of that digression was not only to highlight Lisa, but also to highlight the fact that there are so many ways to live that can still lead me to not only live well, but also to fully thrive as a soulful human being. Never again do I want to allow myself to get caught up in the “daily grind” of materialistic, egocentric ways. Back home, it was as though everyone was merely trying to keep up with what society told them they should do and be – and I was beginning to fall for it. Beginning to believe that all that mattered was my education, and my paycheck, and the way I looked, not only physically, but also on paper.

What really matters is that when people look into my eyes, I want them to see my soul – and I want it to bring them peace, and offer them the inspiration to follow the clandestine, beautiful dreams in their heart, as well. This life is far too short for us to believe, for even a second, that power and money and possessions really plays even the most minuscule of parts. True, they allow us to survive and they allow us to move about in our society, but when they replace the parts of the soul that make us whole and authentic and beautiful, then it is not a worthwhile trade.

Anyways, the point of this entry is to herald in the third month of my trip. I have been on the road for 62 days now, and they have been 62 days that will have forever changed my life, whether or not I fully realize their impact now.


Lafayette, LA

The highlight of today was Kung Fu Panda. We all went to the movies – by “we”, I mean me, my mom… and Panda. πŸ™‚ She has a bit of a crush on Jack Black in panda form. πŸ™‚

Actually, the panda bear reminded me SO much of my brother, Joel, that it was uncanny. It made me miss him so much – he is just the funniest person I know. He always makes me crack up, and I have to say, out of anyone, I definitely miss him. But the cool thing was that a little later he called me, and we got to catch up on the phone a little.

And yes, I truly did bring Panda to the movies with me. Why not, right? Life’s too short. And I’m getting used to looking like the ‘special’ child. At least I’m happy. πŸ™‚

Haven’t written much lately. I don’t know, I just haven’t been able to put fingertips to keyboard much. Either not much to say, or too much to say and I’m not sure how I want to say it. I want to write poetry, and I want to start a book, and I enjoy writing in this blog. I guess I’m just not sure where to put my energy, so I’ve just been storing it up inside.

Been eating lots of yummy Cajun food, though. Crawfish, and boudin, and rice and gravy, and grits… yum yum. The last few days have been really fun, relaxing in Louisiana. I took a walk down the road the other night, and walked up on the side of a field of rice… it was so gorgeous out, having recently rained, and all the hues were deep and earthy. I got some nice shots. Today, Mom and I went into Lafayette to watch the movie, and also to research my new camera purchase. I haven’t decided yet, but I’m getting close. πŸ™‚

We pulled into a restaurant, considering whether we wanted to go in and eat, when suddenly there was a gigantic crack. It had been raining for about an hour or two, but suddenly there was this gigantic sound and we about jumped on each other, in the case. I turned to look where the sound had come from, and smoke was rising into the air. Lightning had struck the light post directly across the street, shutting off the power in the Auto store there. It was pretty terrifying, and there were rumors of a tornado warning.

So Mom and I went into the restaurant and had some margaritas.


Gulf Shores, Alabama

Arrived at Clay and Cori’s on Tuesday, and on Friday we all headed off to the Gulf Coast of Alabama, where we’ve spent the weekend. Clay rented a beautiful condo by the sea, with four bedrooms, for all his family to come and spend a weekend together. I’m honored to be a part of it, and it has definitely been a crash course in the Menard Family. πŸ™‚ And they are a wonderful family indeed.

The first day we got here, I branched off from the group and headed over to the beach. The Gulf of Mexico is so warm and delightful; I’ve never enjoyed swimming in the ocean so much. I usually don’t go into the water, but this time I found myself being drawn into its salty depths, laying on my back and floating over the waves. It was so peaceful. At the same time, I was dealing with a sudden onslaught of anxiety, which had been building and suddenly decided to overwhelm me. I was feeling frustrated, anxious, easily aggravated… all emotions that are uncommon to me, and most uncomfortable. I was able to talk through many of my concerns with Kara S, and then drifted some of them off into the ocean. Afterwards, I lay on the beach and listened to another chapter of Eckhart’s Power of Now, and found myself, once again, transported to another place. Since listening to that passage on Friday, I have been changed, and have been able to not only deal with my anxiety, but more fully enjoy the Present. I have a feeling that these concepts and feelings, if maintained and applied, could change my life forever… fill me up with the Present for the rest of my life.

Today I had a fantastic time with the four kids. We all went swimming, and then later on in the evening they all piled on my bed and looked at the pictures I’ve taken throughout the weekend. It was adorable. They’re all simply wonderful, and make me light up inside. I need to learn to have more patience, however, for children, since when I do take the time to simply BE with them, it’s always delightful.

Cori & Clay’s daughter, Jeanne, is really wonderful, and I’ve had some great conversations with her… I actually wish we could have gone more in-depth, for I think we could really tap into some great things. Her and her husband, Justin, are wonderful to watch… they were married last September, and they are so in love. It helps balance out the other couple (the one with the kids), for their relationship is quite strained, and when I watch them, all of my family and marriage counseling alarms go off. I feel terrible for Clay’s son, since he seems like a really great, and essentially happy, guy… and yet his light is constantly being dimmed.

Of course, marriage has always been a tender issue for me. I have never really seen a “happy, healthy” marriage, and that is a little scary and off-putting. Also, I have never really been in a relationship that improved or enrichened my life. Yesterday, Jeanne, being completely kind and not remotely condescending, said “You’ll find a good guy. They’re out there. And they’re wonderful,” and it’s apparent that Justin is proof of that.

TOMORROW MY MOMMY IS FLYING DOWN!! Cori, Clay and I are picking her up at the New Orleans Airport around 3 tomorrow afternoon. I was nervous for a while, not sure if I was ready to see any of my family members yet, but I think it will go well. It’s been hard for me to consider giving up any of my freedom, as I will have to do now that Mom is not flying home until July 16th. However, I’m learning to accept life as it happens, and stop applying anxiety to things. God always manages to take care of me, impossible ward that I am.

So much more to say, now that I’ve got myself going, but I’ll keep it to myself for now. Tonight, I posted some older photos onto Flickr. Call it homesickness, but I call it “fond remembrance,” since I truly have no desire to return home yet. It was sweet, however, to go through my old photos and give them a place on my Flickr account. I wanted to ensure that they were saved somewhere safe, and also to share them with you all.

Peace & Love

John O’Donohue: in memoriam

“To enter into the gentleness of your own soul changes the tone and quality of your life… you learn to see how wonderfully precious this one life is. You begin to see through the enchanting veils of illusion that you had taken for reality. You no longer squander yourself on things and situations that deplete your essence” ( 78 )

I couldn’t sleep last night, thinking about John O’Donohue. It is unlike me to care so excessively about the loss of someone I’ve never met, and of a sort of “celebrity”-like status. However, I can feel the loss of his presence on this earth, and it saddens me on a very selfish level that I was never able to meet him, to shake his hand, to tell him how profoundly he has affected me.

I know that it’s a beautiful thing that he has returned to the earth that he has always cherished so dearly, but as I said, selfishly I was looking forward to many years of him bestowing his wisdom to the world, and to me. I also anticipated joining him for one of his week-long retreats in Ireland, and it is hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea that this can now never happen.

As a (small) tribute to him, I want to take the time to type up a few excerpts from my favorite of his books, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace. This is a publication which has absolutely changed my life. I mentioned it briefly in my earlier post, saying it is a book of which I have been unable to read past the first 100 pages; its effect on me is that profound and brilliant. I hope you take the time to read some of this, even if only because I took the laborious (:P) effort of typing it out. Ignore the fact that I type 75+ wpm, and humor me. πŸ˜›

“The human soul is hungry for beauty; we seek it everywhere – in landscape, music, art, clothes, furniture, gardening, companionship, love, religion, and in ourselves. When we experience the Beautiful, there is a sense of homecoming. Some of our most wonderful memories are of beautiful places where we felt immediately at home. We feel most alive in the presence of the Beautiful for it meets the needs of the soul… In the experience of beauty we awaken and surrender in the same act… Without any of the usual calculation, we can slip into the Beautiful with the same ease as we slip into the seamless embrace of water; something ancient within us already trusts that this embrace will hold us.” (2)

If you notice, this passage can be located on page TWO of his book, and it is just a small glimpse into the genius that is his piece of art. I remember the day I found this book – I was with my Aunt Gin, and we were in Tatnuck Bookseller in Worcester, MA (now out of business) and I wandered over to the Spiritual section. The title caught my eye, and as soon as I opened the book and read a passage, I thought I was dreaming. I turned to another page, found myself transported again, and could barely believe my heart. Here were words that perfectly reflected the secret thoughts and dreams of my Soul. Here was a man who was unafraid to write about the great Truths and Beauty of this world. And after that glimpse, I was never the same. For a while, I would read a page or two a day, but after a bit even that became too intense for me. Now, I usually read a couple pages a month, and that is enough to carry me through, to transport and inspire me.

“Beauty is mostly forgotten and made to seem naive and romantic. (3) Sadly, whether from resentment, fear or blindness, beauty is often refused, repudiated or cut down to the size of our timid perceptions.” (4)

This following passage calls forth ideas that I am currently considering for a book of my own:

“There are secret sources of courage inside every human heart; yet courage needs to be awakened in us. The encounter with the Beautiful can bring such awakening. Courage is a spark taht can become the flame of hope, lighting new and exciting pathways in what seemed to be dead, dark landscapes.” (6)

“When we awaken to the call of beauty, we become aware of new ways of being in the world. We were created to be creators. At its deepest heart, creativity is meant to serve and evoke beauty… The wonder of the Beautiful is its ability to surprise us. With swift, sheer grace, it is like a divine breath that blows the heart open.” (7)

“Our deepest self-knowledge unfolds as we are embraced by Beauty.” (8)

A section of his book that really started to unfold secret parts of my heart was a section called ‘In Difficult Times to Keep Something Beautiful in Your Heart’. It begins like this:

“There are times when life seems little more than a matter of struggle and endurance, when difficulty and disappointment form a crust around the heart. Because it can be deeply hurt, the heart hardens. There are corners in every heart which are utterly devoid of illusion, places where we know and remember the nature of devastation. Yet though the music of the heart may grow faint, there is in each of us an unprotected place that beauty can always reach out and touch.” (16-17)

Honestly, this is taking a lot out of me to even glance back at the passages in his book which I have marked up and starred- words that have completely altered my paradigms and encouraged my soul to breathe again. I wonder if without the seeds of hope and beauty Mr. O’Donohue has planted in my heart with his words, if I would ever be where I am now – on this incredible journey. Dreaming dreams long forgotten.

John O’Donohue writes about how a single thought can alter a person’s entire life-world, and that concept has always held so true with me. He writes that “a person can dwell inside a thought. Sometimes a thought is the most intimate and sacred temple, a place where the silence of the earth is wed to the fire of heaven.” (43)

“It is everywhere, and everything has beauty; it is merely a matter of discovering it.” (49)

Oh gosh, I will stop this now. Partly because I don’t want to go on too long, and lose your attention, and partly because I may burst. I guess all I’m trying to convey is the profound effect this man and his words have had on me, and how he will continue to inspire me on my own journey to touch the world and people with my thoughts and words. We have lost a great man, but the world beyond has reclaimed something pure and beautiful, which always belonged to another dimension. I will attempt to gracefully accept that, but damn it!

Damn it.


“True poetic beauty emerges when the poet is absolutely faithful to the uniqueness of her own voice… the depth of that exposure seems to call beauty.” (81)


En Route to Eunice, LA

So I woke up around 7 AM, unable to attempt any more car-sleeping. WAY over-rated. I’ve done some car-sleeping during my Worcester State days when I was in Worcester from 8 AM to midnight, but that was in a cooler climate with the whole backseat available to me. The humid Mississippi evening and the front seat of my car offers little comfort. My legs are still sore from attempting to stretch out.

Needless to say, Panda found it hilarious.

And I apologized to her for all the times I’ve left her in the car during this trip.

My next stop was Waffle House, where I had a delicious, and gigantic breakfast, at 7 in the morning. I felt like a specimen, however, since I think all the locals were watching me. This conspiracy was verified when I went to leave, and a couple of the older men yelled out goodbye to me. Haha.

Magellan informed me that there was a petting zoo / safari extravaganza place nearby in Folsom, Louisiana, which thrilled me to no end, and by 9 o’clock I was waiting in line to get on the wagons and feed the animals, hahaha. I promise, my dorkiness has no limits.

Regardless, it was amazing and I had so much fun. I sort of attached myself to some older couple and their great-grandkids, hahahhah, cuz I’m cool like that, but they were good about it. The man even gave me a dollar so I could buy a water bottle, since it was ridiculously hot there, even so early in the morning. But the little 2-year-old boy, Jeremy, was amazingly adorable, and I enjoyed watching him squeal with delight every time a camel or deer or giraffe took some of his feed (not that I didn’t squeal or anything…) Okay, I might have squealed when the camel stuck his head right in the wagon and stole my feed cup! Hahaha (and yes, Joshua, I lied to you – I thought it was the giraffe but the proof is in the pictures). But then one of the french-speaking guys there jumped up and became my instant hero and retrieved my feed cup from the bugger’s mouth! πŸ™‚

After that, I continued over to Eunice, LA, where I am now, with Cori and Clay. They have been extremely kind and welcoming, even though I’ve been totally lame and basically slept for the past day or so… in a vain attempt to recover my from my ridiculous driving and walmart-sleeping antics!



walmart parking lots and late-night transcendentalism

Left Murfreesboro yesterday – it was really hard to say goodbye to Kelly, Tim, and Amelia. Living with them felt really natural and wonderful – I felt like part of the family. Amazing how someone I could have easily never met in person could become someone I feel I have known my entire life. πŸ™‚

Headed over to Birmingham, where I went to Vulcan Park, a large statue from the World’s Fair that now overlooks the entire city – it was a beautiful view. The woman selling tickets down by the bottom randomly asked me questions about me and my trip, and was really encouraging. She was a young black woman, but she was like “oh, honey, when I was 23… uh huh, I should have done what you are doin’ but I was too scared. You go, girl. Go with God.” It was really encouraging.

Afterwards, I headed over to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, which were simply beautiful. I’ve been to gardens now in Raleigh, Asheville, and a couple other places, but I think Birmingham might win for the most peaceful and beautiful setting. I had a wonderful time (per usual) walking around and taking pictures of the flowers. I found it slightly humorous, however, that part of the Gardens were entitled “Alabama Woodlands.” I don’t know why that was so funny, but it was.

As I was leaving, I spotted this elderly couple (and I mean elderly – mid-80’s) walking hand in hand through the rose garden. Well, obviously my heart stopped and went “awww!” I was able to snap a picture of them, but then we ended up near each other, so I said hello and before I knew it the woman was talking away. She must have been starving for some human contact, because she enjoyed talking to me so much, even without her hearing aids in, haha. Her name was Lenore, but everyone calls her “No No” which was kind of cute, even though a more positive spin would be “Yes Yes” but I suppose that really doesn’t make any sense. Hm. So we walked around parts of the gardens, Lenore, her husband, Bill, and I, and then met up with one of the groundskeepers who they know from their visits there, who then escorted Lenore and the rest of us back to the car. Lenore was talking about Father’s Day and her family and how she came from a small town in Mississippi called Picayune (I tried not to laugh at the implications of the word and the way she called it a “small town” – mostly because my humor is becoming very skewed, haha).

Afterwards, I had given up on my couchsurfing woman (who ended up having to rush to the hospital because her mother had a stroke) and then called up another couchsurfing guy named Marcos. He said I was welcome to spend the evening, so I drove to his house, but he was not there yet. As I was sitting in the car talking to Kara I realized, however, that I really wasn’t ready yet to settle down for the night. There was still about 8 hours or so to drive until I reached Eunice, and I wanted to get some of those hours down that night. So I called up Marcos, said I was hittin’ the road, and proceeded to drive into the early hours of the morning.

It was ridiculous and it was silly and it was tiring and it was wonderful. I really do enjoy those times by myself (and Panda, naturally) where it’s just me and the road and the endless expanse ahead of me. πŸ™‚ It’s very freeing, and thought-provoking, and peaceful.

The most intense part happened around 1 AM, when I decided to start playing an audiobook which Scott had given me back in Knoxville. It was Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, and… well, let’s just say life suddenly became surreal and my mind was blown out of my head for the next hour and a half. I felt as though I was driving through alien territory, in the dark of the night, on highways by myself, listening to this strangely-accented man talk about deep existential philosophies that have lain latent in my heart for years and were suddenly being thrown back at me, blowing me away.

Way intense. Way.

When I couldn’t take any more of that, well, I shut it off, and then realized it was almost 2:30 in the morning and I had no real plan on where I was going to sleep. I had considered the idea of sleeping at some random Walmart parking lot, since it was legal and most of them down here are open 24 hours. Then I look at the road sign, and I see that not only am I in Mississippi, but I’m… in Picayune, Mississippi.

Yes, sirree bob.

And right off the highway in Picayune, Mississippi is a Walmart. Where I proceeded to bunk down and sleep haphazardly for about three hours. Haha.

Just ridiculous.

And let me just tell you – the birds in the Walmart parking lot have a completely skewed perception of the world and need medical attention. Because I think they believe that it is constantly dawn, due to the parking lot lights that are always on. And, well, they just chirp away all night.

Bastards.


John O’Donohue

I just found out something that literally stopped by heart.

My most cherished writer on this world passed away, this past January, and I was completely unaware. John O’Donahue is the author of Beauty: The Invisible Embrace, which is a book of such beauty and magnitude that I have been reading it for three years and only managed the first 100 pages.

I really can’t believe this. I went to his site to see if I’d perhaps be able to meet him when I went over to Ireland this Fall… only to find that he has passed. At least it was “peacefully in his sleep,” but still… I am devastated.

At least he left a beautiful legacy behind. I hope to one day follow in his footsteps.

http://www.jodonohue.com/

Grace Center, Franklin, TN

I have let this go for far too long.

Last Sunday, I attended church with Kelly and Tim – they attend the Grace Center in Franklin, TN. It actually received the “church of the week” award on national television for the way the center helped a sister church by donating over $200,000 to them after their church burnt down. And as they said, “This isn’t a reflection of the wealth of our church, but a reflection of God’s desire for extravagance. He is an extravagant God, and he calls for us to give extravagantly of ourselves.”

It is sentiments like that which have opened my heart back up to the Lord, and completely re-awakened my heart. As the song went today – “I’m falling madly in love with you.” – it feels amazing to fall in love again, and this time with God.

Last week was simply mind-blowing, and it was fascinating to see how different last week’s service was compared to today’s. Kelly assured me that every week is different, and completely dictated by the will of God and what He wishes to accomplish, both with us and through us.

At 9 AM, before the actual church service, there is a time where people can attend the “soaking room” where… well, I’ve never experienced anything like it. It’s in a small room, which can hold about 50 people or so, tightly squeezed in there. There are about 30 seats, but beyond that some people lay on the floor, some against the wall; others stand. And what it is…. is… a place… where the Holy Spirit is allowed to come and sit with us, stir us… and create music. There are a few musicians who sit up in the front, and a couple singers, and what happens is a completely improvised music session, led by the Holy Spirit.

If you think that sounds strange, it gets better.

Some people shout out random things like “Amen” or call out to “Jesus!,” while others are moved strongly enough to dance around, or wave streamers/flags. The emotion and presence of Him in the room causes many people to cry, while others laugh out loud, or even start giggling – filled with Joy. It is really fascinating, sometimes overwhelming… always beautiful.

Last week was intense – Kelly told me that it was usually never like that. It got so loud in that room that she almost had to leave, but for me, since it was brand new and I was entering with absolutely no expectations, I was extremely moved. The room was packed, so we sat on the floor, and I was surrounded by interpretative dancers and music and people and I just sat there and my eyes were filled with tears and my heart was filled with God – a feeling I had been without for years now.

Today was more relaxed and much more calm than last week, but it was still intense and beautiful. It was Father’s Day, so some people occasionally spoke into the microphone (and even their words sounded like music) and talked about fathers. One woman came up and almost broke my heart. She started crying at one point, talking about how she was going to “give herself back to God – give herself all over again” – and that would be her gift to Him on Father’s Day. It definitely started my tears – her talking about how God has never lied to her, or taken advantage of her, or hurt her. “You are always faithful to me; you are such a good daddy.” – oh my gosh that almost destroyed me.

The woman who sings in these sessions is named Laura Rhinehart. She has a CD out entitled “The Soaking Room” so I guess she knows what she’s doing. πŸ™‚ Anyways, she has this gorgeous voice, and then the words she speaks inbetween the music are just lovely. Today she said:

“All the things that you long for… are a breath to Him.”

I could go on for hours. And I hope to one day write a beautiful story about my entire experience being part of this church for the last two weeks. But the end of the story is this: I am in love with God, again. I hope to keep this in my heart forever this time. Kelly and Tim have taken me into their home for the past ten days, and they have been like family to me; I am honored to know them. Their goodness simply emanates from them, while at the same time they exude a naturalness and a simplicity that makes them very human. Kelly knew from the beginning that she was supposed to take me into her home, and she trusted that feeling, and in doing so has given me a safe haven where I have been able to explore my faith again.

I have been on this road trip journey for over six weeks, and I am finally in a place where I can begin to handle all these questions and emotions I have.

A few weeks ago, I talked about how yoga almost caused me to have a breakdown – and eventually I did break down, in the front seat of my car at five in the morning, panda clutched desperately to my chest. Three weeks ago yoga was too much for me to handle, since I had so much pain residing in my soul and my heart… I had soul pain that took away my breath. Yet one week ago, I sat in that soaking room and was enveloped by the Holy Spirit, and yes I felt pain and yes I felt intensity, but mostly I felt peace, and joy, and completion.

Just to know how far I have come in a few weeks is so encouraging to me. This trip truly is restoring my spirit – and more than that, it is opening up doors for me that I can walk through for the rest of my life.

And as Laura said today:

“Jesus came to take us to the Father.

Jesus is the door.

Thank you, Jesus, for being the door.”

http://gracecenter.us/index.php#home

Franklin, Tennessee

So the craziest thing that’s happened to me this entire trip happened the other day, in Franklin, Tennessee. Franklin is a quaint, artsy, economically flourishing town about an hour outside of Nashville. I went into town with Kelly, to have lunch with her husband on their 21st wedding anniversary (woot woot for staying together!). So we had this amazing picnic that Kelly made, sitting on the grass at Forth Granger, an old army fort that was used during the civil war.

Afterwards, Kelly and I went to The Factory, which is an old factory building that was fixed up and now houses lots of local artists’ work, as well as cute artsy stores and restaurants. It’s a pretty amazing place, and there were so many things I wanted. We went to visit a friend of Kelly’s who is a painter/artist there, but her old location was now being vacated by Native American artists with some beautiful pieces of jewelry, etc. So as Kelly talked with her friend at her new store location, I wandered back to the Native American work, where I was drawn eventually to the flutes they had there (ever since I almost bought that flute in Cherokee, I’ve wondered whether I made the right choice by passing it up).

Well, I was looking at the flute, and noticed a familiar symbol – the wolf’s paw located at the towards the end of the flute. I look at the woman, and ask if the flute was one of Mr. Barfoot’s, to which she replied, “Yeah, Mark’s just down the hall making a phone call.”

He was there. I turned and saw a row of other flutes on a stand, and there she was: my mulberry flute with sleeping beauty turquoise. I couldn’t believe it.

I had traveled for two weeks and hundreds of miles since Cherokee, North Carolina, and yet here was the flute I had left behind and thought about every day since. In a random town in central Tennessee.

Needless to say, the flute is now mine. πŸ™‚


The Grand Ole Opry

It’s really something interesting to drive (and walk) around the country by yourself. Every step is new, each rock is completely yours to touch, every bird yours to notice, and the sound of the water is yours alone to hear. I can stop when I want, take pictures of what I want, eat when I want, and find myself hilarious whenever I want.

I’m really a fantastic traveling companion. Haha. πŸ™‚

Panda might tell you otherwise. But don’t listen to her. I mean really, she’s a panda.

Went to the Grand Ole Opry Saturday night. Couldn’t believe I was actually there. While I was outside in the park, listening to the outdoor band and sitting on a bench, I realized how strange it can be to be alone in moments like that. Literally everyone has people they are talking to and laughing with and discussing things with. Occasionally, conversations can happen with strangers, but they’re often over-rated and sometimes even annoying. And I wasn’t feeling lonely or left out, it was simply an awareness of being by myself whereas everyone else was together.

Walking into the Opry House was beyond thrilling. You could feel the history and the music in the air. It’s a gorgeous building; I wish it was still located in The Ryman, but you can’t have everything.

Dwight Yoakam was the main performer, and I was beyond excited to finally see him in person. It was his first performance at the Grand Ole Opry in over 16 years! Furthermore, his latest album is “Dwight Sings Buck Owens” – Buck being my favorite all-time singer, so I was basically in heaven. Dwight, dancing around with his skin-tight pants and ridiculous moves, twangy voice and tan cowboy hat. He was excellent, as was the entire evening. I admit it – I teared up at one point, overwhelmed by the fact that I was where I was, when I was, feeling how I was… just everything was perfect.

I also want to mention that on my way to the Opry House, my Magellan GPS system was telling me what to do, like the bitch that she is, and I had to laugh out loud when she said “Turn right onto Grand Olee Road” – stressing the long ‘e’- almost making an olΓ© out of it. Hehehe.

See, these are the things that entertain me when I’m by myself.



Ozone Falls, TN

I haven’t told you about Ozone Falls! It was a place off of Interstate 40 that Scott told me I should check out on my way over to Nashville. It’s right off the highway; however, it’s tucked away in some foliage and sandstone, so it makes you feel like you’re far away from reality. The crazy thing is you can walk directly up to the falls. As in, you are standing at the point where the stream falls 110 feet over the rock into a deep blue, rock-strewn pool. A ‘rugged ΒΎ-mile trail begins along the bluff near the falls and then descends into the gorge passing a small rock house called Gamblers Den. The trail follows Fall Creek to the confluence with Renfro Creek where hikers must backtrack to return to the trailhead’. That sound fancy, but I copied it from a website.

‘Ozone Falls is situated on the eastern edge of the Crab Orchard Mountains on the Cumberland Plateau. Legend has it that the area was named β€œOzone” because of the β€œstimulating quality of the air” created by the mist that is generated after the long plunge of the water. In the 1800’s, grist and sawmills had been built above the falls. The last one was washed over the falls during a spring flood in 1900.’

Haha, that’s kind of hilarious – the stimulating quality of the air, not sawmills being washed over the falls. That’s scary. Sort of like how I was literally laying over the edge of the falls, staring over a hundred feet down to my death.

But that wasn’t the point of this story – to just share the scary-ass part of it. What was crazy was the moment I shared, by myself. I lay there, shaking with anxiety, and I forced myself to lay upon the sandstone, with it’s slightly downwards tilt, and stare out over the falls. The water was falling over the rocks about an arms length away from me, on my left. And I was part of the landscape; it was almost impossible to believe that I wasn’t going to slide right off the cliff like the water was, and it took all my strength to force myself to stay there for a while.

It seemed like minutes, but it was probably about 45 seconds before I allowed myself to move away from the edge. The way I saw it, who knew when I was going to have an opportunity like that again – to be hanging on a precipice, safe but somehow in such an extreme position, completely alone, and enveloped by the landscape.

It was basically a spiritual experience. And it rocked. πŸ™‚

CMA Music Festival, Nashville

Never thought I’d hear myself say this, but in this case, Keith Urban says it all:

“The sun is shinin’
And this road’s still windin’
Through the prettiest country
From Georgia to Tennessee
And I got the one I love beside me
My troubles behind me
I’m alive and I’m free
Who wouldn’t wanna be me.”

I was sitting in the stands of LP Stadium this past Friday night when I heard Keith Urban sing these lyrics. It was about my millionth time hearing them, but never directly from his mouth, and never with such meaning behind them.

Keith Urban was the surprise performer for the Friday night concert of the CMA Music Festival (formerly known as FanFare). And I was there, in the stadium, after dreaming of such a thing for over ten years. And the funniest part was that I had no idea the CMA Festival was even going on this weekend. And after dreaming about something for so long, here I was, right in the midst of it.

Life has certainly been good to me these past few weeks.

However, if we take another look at the lyrics, we can begin to understand why they had such an impact on me this time. “Through the prettiest country / from Georgia to Tennessee” – Never before had the roads leading from Georgia to Tennessee ever really meant anything to me, but having driven a two-lane highway between those two places just the other day, and experiencing the beauty of it, those lyrics suddenly held a universe of meaning within them.

And then it says “I’ve got the one I love beside me” – before, listening to this, I would say no I don’t and therefore life is lame, but you know who I had beside me?? I had Panda there, sitting beside me on those winding roads, and that makes me smile – “I’m alive and I’m free.”

And then the final line – “Who wouldn’t want to me be?” Never before have I heard those lines and really believed them to apply to myself. However, in the past month I have heard from more people who are envious of me, who say they would give anything to be me. I am living a dream that the majority of people keep right there- in the world of dreams, and never fully realize. Never bring to reality.

These days, life is almost so real I can barely believe it.

Knoxville, Tennessee

There is more to say than I could possibly share with you.

The past few days have been just wonderful, filled with music and conversation and everything inspiring and true.

Knoxville was great; Scott and Laura were so much fun. There were the four dogs, who were just ridiculous- Po (white trash), Billie, Miles, and … I forgot the last one’s name. Miles was the licker. He licked and licked and would probably lick until his tongue came off. For an OCD-tendency individual like myself, this was hard to handle. However, Miles ended up being my favorite of the four, with his black hair and adorable face. His licking was atrocious, though, and although he eventually learned that it freaked me out and left me alone a bit more, he still managed to learn the art of the drive-by lick, where he would casually, happily trot on by, and surreptitiously lick my leg. Hahahah, drive-by lickings. Too ridiculous.

The other day I met up with this guy, Zach, from couch-surfing, who ended up being a really great guy. He showed me around the University of Tennessee campus, talked a lot about sports and 80’s music, haha, and it was nice to spend the day walking and talking with him.

The night before I had to leave, we all went to a sushi bar where Scott was playing with his buddy, Dave. So Laura and I had yummy sushi (my second time ever) and listened to the band play until late into the night. It was fantastic to watch Scott perform – it was a completely different, yet just as authentic and real, side of him, and he was really quite charming and dynamic. He played the harmonica and the saxophone, and sang wonderfully. His buddy, Dave, was the acoustic guitarist… and he was incredible. Let me tell you, he sang a Tom Waits song called “Picture in a Frame” that basically had me on the floor. Which reminds me, I was able to “borrow” a bunch of awesome music from Scott’s external hard drive, and pass a lot of great stuff back along to him. I have more music than I possibly know what to do with now – over 11,000 songs on my ITunes.

So, all in all, my stay in Knoxville with Scott and Laura was absolutely wonderful. It was so hard to believe that these people would have remained strangers for the entirety of my life, had I not been open to the whole couch-surfing experience. I thank my friends who encouraged me to look into it, and I thank everything good in this world that all has gone well on this crazy trip of mine. It truly has been magical.

There is no way I can begin to share everything with you. I almost feel like giving up, just because I’m overwhelmed with the concept of writing all that needs to be written.

After Knoxville, I headed to Nashville. Oh, Nashville.

Nashville Nashville Nashville.

But that’s a whole other story, and I’ll save that for the morning. πŸ™‚

The Charms of East Tennessee

Today was just wonderful wonderful wonderful. πŸ™‚ I woke up, in a strange house, after numerous strange, trippy dreams, and I was slightly concerned that it was a bad omen for things to come. So when I finally emerged from my bedroom, I was a little wary, but before I knew it I was chatting away with Scott, eating cheerios with soy milk, and planning our day.

An hour later, we were all (Scott, Laura and I) on our way out the door to take a boat ride. We drove about 10 minutes away, put the boat in the lake, and took a delightful trip. The first thing we did was rescue a a guy on his dead skeedo, which was fun, and he was very much a redneck. I even got called “a damn yankee” for the first time in my life, so that was fun.

The boat ride was amazing, and wonderfully relaxing. We went down a side river that never gets any traffic for some reason, and saw turtles and birds and old civil war bridges, and life was ridiculously good. I adored the feeling of my hand trailing in the water, my eyes closed, and the wind against my face and body. Yum yum.

Afterwards, we relaxed at home for a while, then went over to Scott’s friends’ property, about 45 minutes away in the mountains. There, I got to take pictures, and we took a walk around the mountain property, with it’s random cabin and outhouse and porch. We had brought the four little dogs they own with us, and they were ridiculously cute. Afterwards, two of Scott’s friends showed up, and we all sat around on the porch of the little cabin they had built with their own hands, had a few beers, and talked about everything and nothing. It was ridiculously simple, and absolutely amazing. If I could explain it, I guess it would only take away it’s beauty, but let me tell you… all in all, one of the best days I’ve ever had. πŸ™‚

Smoky Mountain National Park

Today was a wonderful driving day. Occasionally it became haphazard and awkward, but overall I really enjoyed my time by myself, in my car. It had been a while (about 9 days) since I had been on the road, so it was long enough that I could appreciate it again.

I said my goodbyes to Doug and Lisa this morning (okay fine early afternoon) and it was really bittersweet, because on one hand I was really happy and honored to have gotten to know them so well, but on the other hand I literally had to tear myself away. But it was time – time to move on, time to meet new people and see new things.

So in the spirit of seeing new things, apparently, I drove directly back the way I had came a week earlier, heading back to Cherokee. Haha – oh well, it was still a beautiful drive. I was actually really happy to drive it again. In fact, my favorite part of the day was very unexpected, and completely based on a whim. I was driving all the curvy roads, when I saw this abandoned farm-like place on the side of the road. I remember seeing it on my way to Georgia, and wishing I had stopped to take a picture. Well, this time I did exactly that, in abundance. I pulled over on a side street, walked down into the property, and took about 300 pictures (in fact, in total today I took around 800 photos!). The location was just so inspiring – everything was deserted, there was broken glass and boxes in one building, and bird’s nests and farm equipment in another… it was really a photography heaven. I’m hoping to get the chance to edit some of the pictures tomorrow and post them; I’m really excited about that.

Of course, that threw me off course by about an hour, so by the time I arrive in Cherokee, I was well behind schedule. I entered the Smoky Mountain National Forest, and before I knew it I had to start pulling over to take pictures, since everything was breath-takingly gorgeous. I stopped at the old Mill, and at a couple of the lookouts, and then did the hike up to Clingman’s Dome, where I stayed until the sun set.

Which, naturally, threw me more off course (that, and the adorable baby bear that was on the side of the road), and all that made me even later to arrive at my final destination .

Which is where I am now – in Knoxville, Tennessee.

On my way here, I drove through Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, which were ghastly, haha. But more than that – it was the unbelievable way you enter into Gatlinburg. One moment I’m driving through beautiful bendy roads of light and trees and tunnels, and the next I’m bombarded with neon lights and fast-food restaurants. It was the STRANGEST thing – at first I was sure I was hallucinating, but alas, it was real. It was a like a mini, hick-filled Vegas. Oddest thing. And the worst part is I felt this incredible, morbid fascination with the entire place. In fact, I almost pulled over and decided to spend the night, but I kept myself strong and kept driving. But I’m telling you, I want to go back – the perversion of it all, the bright lights and tacky storefronts… oh man, it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t believe that this was Tennessee.

But here I am now, in Knoxville, with Scott and his wife. I arrived later than anticipated (around 10:30), but Scott welcomed me so kindly; in fact, they both did, and we instantly started having fantastic conversation. Scott and I spent the last couple hours talking, about this and that, and it was great. I think, so far, my favorite part of this trip has been the fantastic conversations. How I have longed for profound, intelligent, humorous conversation -with people who are passionate and inspired and open-minded, and poets at heart. πŸ™‚ It’s been wonderful. And I’ve had a beautiful fill of such conversations, and such people lately.

Which reminds me – as I was driving the last stretch of road into Knoxville, I had serious heart-pangs about leaving Ellijay. More than anything, I wanted to be sitting in my bed there, on my computer, listening to doo-wop and drinking sweet tea, and knowing in the morning Lisa and Doug and the deer would be there… but alas, I had to move forward. Regardless, it was bittersweet to miss something so acutely. It’s been a long time since something was that wonderful enough to miss.

Tomorrow? Well, I guess it involves a little boat, and traveling to the Gulf of Mexico.

But Scott might have been joking about that.


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