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. 🙂

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. 🙂 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.


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 mother’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 can’t deny that I’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 couldn’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 – 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. It’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.

I’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 – the earth, a sense of peace, security, and authenticity. She might have to pry me off the porch to get me to leave.

Asheville, NC

After leaving Savannah at 10:30 AM, I drove five and a half hours back to Raleigh, North Carolina, to be comforted by my friend, Corey. As I told Rick this on the phone, he laughed and said “I’ve never heard of anyone going to such lengths to nurse a hangover.” Which, once I thought about it, was half-hilarious, half-pathetic, and completely necessary. I was a mess. After all that crying and all that feeling displaced, I needed to be somewhere where I felt safe, and could regroup and start again.

That drive was THE most painful experience of my life. It was never-ending, and excruciating. Everything hurt. I assumed it was a hangover, but then Kara Simpson reminded me that I was working off of about 5 hours of sleep in a 48-hour period, so that helped to explain the distinct feeling of slow death.

Finally, I reached Corey, and spent the next day recovering and trying to figure out what was next. I slept like a baby, in a bed by myself (not random Swiss guys and hot chicks), and consumed absolutely no alcohol. Thank goodness for straight-edge friends. And thank goodness for Corey. 🙂

As the title of this post infers, I am currently in Asheville, North Carolina. I drove here yesterday, and spent the night in my first hotel – not only the first hotel of my trip, but the first hotel I’ve ever experienced by myself. I felt stupid spending money to sleep somewhere, but it was nice to not feel obligated to anyone, and be completely alone.

Of course, being completely alone eventually led to me talking to myself, a lot… but it’s all good. These things happen.

Woke up this morning, not hung-over and completely alone, which was divine, and walked downtown Asheville. Lots of artsy people and stores, and it was relaxing and enjoyable. I had been communicating online with this guy, Chris, from couchsurfing.com, and he had told me where he was working, so I stopped by to say hi and make sure he wasn’t a psychopath. He was, indeed, a non-psychopath, and we ended up having a great conversation, and making plans to meet up later. And that’s where I am now – at his apartment, with the beautiful view of the mountains and the sunset, feeling comfortable and completely non-violated. 🙂

Raleigh, North Carolina

Drove into Raleigh around 11 o’clock last night, after leaving Jeanmarie’s at 10:00 AM. It was the longest day of driving I’ve ever experienced, especially by myself. However, looking back on it today, it was positively wonderful. As I mentioned earlier, I barely listened to music, and I spent my time being quiet and still, stopping occasionally to take pictures. Panda got an attitude towards the end, but the bitch didn’t have to drive so I have no idea what her issue was.

Slept like a baby last night, then woke around eleven to start the day. Corey took me to Starbucks to grab a frappachino while Laura took Gabby to the doctors (where they found she has a throat and ear infection). When they got home, we all headed over to the mall to run a couple errands (I sat in the back seat and made faces at Gabs) then afterwards we grabbed some lunch. When we got home, we relaxed, then took a walk (Gabby in the BabyBjorn) around the premises where they live. It was a nice little jaunt involving big fish and turtles and sunlight on water. A little bit ago, Corey made me some delicious (I mean yummy yummy) eggplant Parmesan. Overall, it has been a peaceful and wonderful day.

The current temptation is the Dairy Queen down the road.

Newfoundland, PA

I got into town around 5:30 yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon. Newfoundland, PA welcomed me with open arms, and breathtaking shades of light and shadow that reminded me why I had left everything behind in the first place.

The drive had been easy (only about 3 hours) and I felt… nauseous the entire time. It was a mixture of first-date butterflies and life-altering seasickness. I had left. I had actually packed my car, got behind the driver’s seat, and drove away. The “dizziness of freedom” that Kierkegaard often mentions had it’s grip on me good, and I was indeed dizzy. Dizzy with freedom, dizzy from lack of food, with possibility, and with all the other things that dizziness and freedom imply.

When I pulled into the driveway, with it’s weeping willow standing sentry and sunflower seeds tucked deep beneath the soil, preparing to breathe, I shut off the ignition and sat. There was no movement from the house, and I was surprised when a green car pulled into the drive and settled in the garage. Jeanmarie.

I really didn’t know what to expect; how can one make expectations of such things? All I could rely on were my instincts, which had failed me many times in the past and had been started to be put into question. But there she was, with her red curls and smiling face. Just like in her pictures – perhaps a bit slighter. I was surprised by her apparent resemblance to a daisy that could be carried away by a breeze, and yet assured by her eyes that she was firmly settled into the ground. No one was wisping her away.

I felt instantly comfortable in her and Brian’s house. It was small, but the floor plan was open and the walls were palpably brimming with human emotion.

I would expect no less from Jeanmarie.

Which I soon discovered to be her writer name, and I was caught between calling her that and calling her Happy, which I personally found to be a name rife with unfulfilled expectations… especially for one has complicated and authentic as she.

I met Caitlin, her beautiful baby with ethereal blue eyes and curly wisps of hair (who is quite obviously going to be as stunningly lovely as her mother). For the next 30 hours she proceeded to cry and coo and giggle and scream and eat and fuss and poop… and, overall, be ridiculously adorable. I will definitely be leaving a piece of my heart with her… that, and a moo woobie.

Yes, a moo woobie. 😛