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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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

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 โ€ฆ I forgot the last oneโ€™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. ๐Ÿ™‚

The Charms of East Tennessee

Today was just wonderful wonderful wonderful. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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.


Cherokee, NC & Ellijay, GA

Panda is extremely happy about our new location. She is currently reclining like a queen in our king size bed, listening to the sounds of the Cartecay River outside our third story cabin window, occasionally mumbling to herself about how she wants to feed the deer in the morning.

This evening we are in Ellijay, nestled in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia.

We were welcomed here a few hours ago by my cousin, Lisa. She is actually a second cousin of my motherโ€™s, and they grew up together. Mommy is very happy to know I am safely ensconced here with family, not gallivanting about couchsurfing. It is absolutely gorgeous here, so I canโ€™t deny that Iโ€™m content to be here, as well. First of all, the drive alone was majestic, traveling through the mountain ranges. My straight and wide recollection of highways could barely handle the curvy turns and twists of the narrow roads here; nevertheless they are termed as highways, and are the only way to get from point A to B. As I drove, I couldnโ€™t help but to think how even a hundred years ago, a mile was a mountain, both figuratively and literally. No wonder people settled into the curves of the hills and never left; there were little options beyond that existence. There is something both tranquil and terribly isolating in that thought.

Before the Blue Ridge Mountains welcomed us, Panda and I briefly visited the Great Smoky Mountain Range, as well. I was thrilled to attend my very first Native American Powwow, right on the Cherokee Indian Reservation in Cherokee, North Carolina. I woke up, relatively early (for me), said goodbye to Chris as he left for work, then headed over to Cherokee for the Memorial Day Weekend Powwow. As I drove deeper into the mountains, I could barely contain my joy โ€“ I could smell the husky smell of wood smoke, and almost drove off cliffs a couple times due to my absolute awe of all that was around me. I was tempted to pull off to the side of the road, and simply refuse to leave. For the rest of my life.

Nevertheless, I made it to the powwow, and gratefully so, for it was a wonderful experience. I sat next to a nice woman named Pat, who was also traveling alone, and we both enjoyed taking lots of pictures of the singers and dancers. As soon as the singers began drumming, I felt that burgeoning feeling in my chest again. I have felt so much energy, deep within my chest – first with yoga, then the mountains, now the music. Itโ€™s as though the air is pressing down upon my heart, and it is a perfect mixture of yin and yang, pleasure and pain. As the drumbeats started, and the players mixed their voices into the beat, tears formed in my eyes, and I could barely swallow. Again I was overwhelmed with profound emotions, spilling up from my soul. It is not only an awareness of joy and of life, but also of a deep soul pain, probably in a war between feeling and healing.

Iโ€™ve only been with Lisa for a few hours, and already we have had incredible conversations. She is a great representation of the kind of person I hope to be, and has accomplished many of the things for which I strive. At the very least, she owns this cabin, which is a perfect symbol for me of everything I dream of โ€“ the earth, a sense of peace, security, and authenticity. She might have to pry me off the porch to get me to leave.

Charlotte St, Asheville, NC

My time in Asheville has been time well spent – nothing too involved or busy, simply good conversation and good people.

I’m glad I reached out through the couchsurfing site again, since Chris is a great guy, and it’s been wonderful to get to know him a little. I was ridiculously grateful to spend hours talking with him last night, about everything and nothing, until 3 in the morning. It was everything I needed, and more. I had been about at the point where I would have paid someone to have an intellectually stimulating conversation with me.

I spent today tagging along, eating Chris’ delicious veggie burgers and brewing beer. You know, the usual Friday afternoon. ๐Ÿ˜›


Still in Hilton Head, SC

The last two days have involved gorgeous walks around Shipyard, thanks to the suggestion of Hollar, who has been trying to help me see my first alligator. Needless to say, it took me a WEEK to finally find one, but it was well worth the wait. You’ll have to see the video to really understand what I’m saying (yes there’s a video and no it’s not a dirty video)

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However, the walks (even sans the alligator) have been simply amazing. Today I realized that more than anything else, I’ve been walking. Not doing anything really special, anything too touristy, anything even very exciting. Yet almost every day since I drove away from Massachusetts has involved a long, long walk through woods and on trails. I have taken more gorgeous pictures in the last two weeks than I have in my lifetime, and there really isn’t a way for me to describe to you how satisfying that is for me.

It happened these past two days – I’ve wanted to cry from the beauty of the earth. I know that sounds ridiculously holistic, but it’s true. I felt this incredible swelling in my heart, much like love. But it was for the moment, for the light and the birds and the trees and the earth.

Last night I met two sets of interesting people. The first incident was at the Tiki Hut, where I walked to sit, have a cold soda, listen to some acoustic music, and read my book. Right when I walked in, this woman gave me the kindest smile, which although is very unique for me, is not an odd thing to have happen in South Carolina. So I smiled in return, sat at one of the back tables on the sand, and read for a while. However, one time that I looked up, she caught my eye, and beckoned me over to sit with her and her husband. I obliged, and before I knew it I was engaged with intelligent, spiritual, and slightly slurred conversation with Bonnie, while her husband, Donny (yes, Bonnie and Donnie) sardonically ignored as much as he could.

I figure that the fateful alignment of this meeting mostly involved the fact that Bonnie was an independent, almost 60-year-old woman. However, she was vibrant and lovely and very intelligent. She had her PhD., was accomplished in every area of her life, and I could BE her in 40 years. What she told me during that conversation was to “do it now” – to live my life, go after my dreams, and do it all now before it’s too late. She insisted that I was intelligent, I was beautiful, and I was responsible – and therefore I could not go wrong. But I had to keep doing exactly what I had started, and that she regretted not doing that herself.

It definitely inspired me, and was exactly the conversation I needed.

The second pair involved a 40-something truck driving/construction working guy named Frankie, and a younger, gregarious black guy named… fine, i forgot his name. The beautiful part of this story is the humor involving the fact that these were the guys I happened to attract at the bar, haha. Which was fine with me – I would much rather have a jovial conversation lacking in sexual awkwardness, than I would an intimate conversation lacking in intellectual stimulation. So Frankie and I talked, and it was wonderful, his friend there joined and started telling me who he’d “never been with a white woman” and shared with me how sexy I looked when a piece of my hair fell just like that over my eye…

And although i appreciated the participle of poetry located within that sentiment, I was still annoyed that he was corrupting my innocent moment with crudity.

The funny part was that I started writing this story here earlier today, and then this evening I walked over to the Tiki Hut, on my way to find something to eat for dinner, and randomly this guy beckons me over to smell his “jasmine.” Yes, that was a new one for me, but while I was telling him my name, Frankie overheard and made a joke. I was shocked to see him sitting there, outside at the bar, sipping a beer. But I was very happy to see him, especially since it gave me an excuse to gracefully run way from the jasmine guy. Funny how people come into our lives – Frankie is the nicest guy, very pleasant, intelligent, down-to-earth, and reminds me of a teddy bear. ๐Ÿ™‚ My favorite kind of guy. Anybody that reminds me of my grandpa gets an A+ in my book… not that he was old enough to be my grandpa, but he held that air to him… that presence that makes me smile. And I hate how interactions are instantly labeled as either being picked up or not interested. I don’t understand why people can’t interact and learn about each other, care about each other… be with each other, in a moment, and have no expectations beyond that. Perhaps that’s too much to ask, but I’m going to keep valiantly trying for it.

Tomorrow I need to start planning the next leg of my journey. I definitely want to head back down to Savannah, and I’m waiting to hear back from Chas about whether or not I can annoy him and his wife for a bit, haha. ๐Ÿ™‚ Stupidest birthday present he could have asked for! ๐Ÿ˜›