Living The Dream: chapter two

JUNE: MEETING THE NEIGHBORS

“Maybe walking to town wasn’t such a great idea.”

We huddled in the shade of a half dead tree. Mark’s nose was lobster red. My tongue stuck to my lips. The heat was relentless. I’d not slept well. Mark had a hangover. What a perfect first day in New Mexico, eh?

We’d spent the morning making plans, what to buy, what we needed, where to set up the tent – that kind of thing. Oh, and ice, we needed ice. I’d suggested walking to Oliver.

It hadn’t seemed that far in the truck, going as slow and steady as we’d driven, I’d figured a few miles at most. Now though was a whole different perspective.

We passed the dead dog again. For some reason, we both walked up close and examined the body closely.

“A boy,” said Mark with authority. He poked the body with a stick of dried cactus. I’d kept back in case it stank. It didn’t. My curiosity drove me nearer. I noticed the tuxedo style of white chest and black body. White paws on three feet. Thick dense fur and a long scrawny tail, the dog was pretty odd looking I have to say. I nodded wisely.

“Yep, a boy.”

We carried on walking for another ten minutes before taking a break. The water bottle was empty by then. I noticed that Mark’s navy blue shirt had large wet rings under his armpits. Mark looked at me strangely when he noticed me staring. “I hear something.”
“Uh huh.” I rolled my eyes.
“No, seriously. I can hear a car or a truck or something. Come on.” He stepped back out into the full day sun. June at midday was not going to be my favorite time of year, I decided. I followed my boyfriend and we started walking once more. The thought of a beer at the tavern kept me going, sort of. The trees no longer seemed as dead and useless as yesterday, I saw them as potential time-outs and craved sitting under each and every one. I noticed the range of colors but had no words to describe them. I’d need to get a thesaurus for the eighteen shades of brown.

A beat up old diesel truck pulled up behind us but I stayed under a juniper tree. Mark chatted away and within minutes I found myself sitting between him and the driver. Danny. Danny the Dieselhead, he told us to call him.

“So you two bought old Pete’s place, did you?”
He took me by surprise. “Yeah, how did you know?”
“Well, you’re not locals for one. Why else would someone be stupid enough to walk down here in the middle of the day? It’s fucking hot out there.” Danny laughed harshly and spat out of his window. “Smoke anyone?” He offered a roll-up.

I shook my head. I’d stopped smoking tobacco eight months and three weeks ago. Mark’s hand shot out and took it from him with a thanks. He lit it. It didn’t smell like tobacco to me. I sat back to get out of the way of the smoke. My boyfriend was getting high with someone we’d just met and I wasn’t too happy about this. I kept my mouth shut though. For now.

They started talking about Oliver. Danny drove slowly, swerving this way and that to miss the rocks and boulders that we’d simply driven over the day before. He told us that even though Oliver, NM claims only three hundred residents, there are some four hundred locals in the hills and valleys surrounding the place.

“Like us.” I piped up.

Danny stopped talking. He looked over at me in my jean shorts and new red tee shirt with the Zia symbol. My sunglasses were high on my forehead and my short bleached blond hair stuck to my ears.
“Yep, like you, right.” He turned back to Mark. “Do you have any guns?”
Mark hiccupped, “Yes.”

“No.” I said just as quickly.

Danny looked between us, raising his glasses. “You might want to say yes, if any one else asks you. It keeps the riff raff away.”
I coughed. Mark knew what that meant; Danny was not exactly an emblem of the thriving middle class by any means. Bailing wire and duct tape held the truck together. The seats were worn through and covered by old blankets, themselves held together by dog fur. Dog fur.
“Are you missing a dog?”
“You mean that black and white boy back there?”
I nodded.

“Yep, that was mine. He never did listen. The coyotes got him last week.”
“How?” I couldn’t help but ask. He seemed so nonchalant about it all.

“Well, every night they’d come a calling, howling in the arroyos and picking off the hares and the critters near by. Old dumb dog of mine wanted to run with them for the last three years, but I’d get him in the kennel by nightfall. Until last week. I was in the city. Santa, that is. I got home late. The damn dog was gone. Poor bastard never learned, did he?”
I stared out the window. Note to self: keep dogs in at night.

Mark asked where Danny lived, was it nearby? Danny slowed down to a crawl even my Grandma could have kept up with and he pointed out behind us. Into the barren blank land that I was to call home.

“Yep, there, there she is. My home. Built it myself I did. Took me some twenty years, but she’s done now. Well, not quite but almost. Brick by brick, I made them myself.”

It took him that long? Not us, Mark wasn’t going to be some slacker. A year at most, that’s what I figured. I looked hard, I did, but I didn’t see a home out there. Mark kept trying to find it, is that it? Is that it? Danny finally stopped the truck and made us get out. He stood on a rock and pointed back towards our place.

“There. See that twisted juniper tree, hugging a pinion, with a huge boulder to the right?”
He waited patiently as we stared and stared, as if I could make out which tree but then Mark found it. He described it to me, “Straight ahead, thirty degrees north, down four inches, there is dark grey rectangle. See it? That’s the roof, I think.”
Danny slapped him on the back. “Well done. Not bad for a tourist.”
“We’re neighbors,” I exclaimed excitedly.

Danny sighed. “Yeah, but don’t come over asking for a cup of sugar. I’m not that kind of neighbor. I don’t like visitors, not generally. The dogs don’t like it neither.”
“Dogs? You’ve got more?”
“Oh yeah, they keep on having pups, you know how it is.”
I bit my tongue. Danny was our new neighbor. Anyway, we needed the ride to town. Damned if I was walking any more today.

Danny dropped us off at my Subaru in the parking lot of the general store. Mark wanted to get the shopping done, coffee, bacon and eggs, two bags of ice and all of that. I pointed out that it’d all go off by the time we got home.

“Oh, right. So beer first and after that shopping?”
I gave him a hug; he was so smart sometimes. I opened up the car and sat down. Then back up. Fast. The seat burnt my thighs. The water bottle on the back shelf had drooped. The M&M’s were slime. We cranked open all four windows and stood back.

“Walk to the tavern?” Mark suggested.

“Yep, let’s leave it like this. Oh, and add it to the list that we need the window shades.”
Mark took out his notebook and wrote it on page three of the things we needed. I took my bag and off we walked. It’s a half-mile from one end of town to the other. The sun shone. Tourists passed us and smiled. Kids biked down the road with dogs chasing at full speed.

Life was great but for these facts: My head hurt. My skin burnt. My knees wobbled. My new Nikes pinched my feet. I needed a cold drink, preferably alcoholic.

On either side of the two-lane highway were small old wooden houses made into galleries and stores. A thrift store. Rugs. Art. Art. Art. More art. Cowboy boots. Art. Stone work. Art. And one coffee shop. I craved beer not coffee after our little adventure. We kept on walking.
“How’s the hangover?”
Mark laughed easily. “Not bad actually. I don’t know why I felt so crap. I used drink much more than three glasses of wine in Washington. It must be because I was tired from driving or something. How are you feeling today?”
“Apart from hot and tired? Pretty good. I can’t wait to sit down with the locals and talk to them about living out here. I wonder if anyone knows we’re new here?”
Mark shook his head. “Well, I don’t reckon they’ll take to us that quickly, you know. They don’t know us from Adam, or the rest of the tourists. Hey, isn’t it July the Fourth next weekend? I wonder what they do to celebrate here.”
We crossed the road with two yellow and orange local mutts and followed them up the steps and into the tavern. Yes, the dogs went inside too.

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Time Out In Marfa, Texas

First published: http://www.fempotential.com/marfa-texas/http://www.fempotential.com/marfa-texas/

January was a good time to take a road trip, the holidays are over and nothing’s going on. Although, I’ll be honest, having been land-locked in Madrid NM for four months with only a couple of weekends away, town was feeling claustrophobic. It was driving me crazy. Winter so far in New Mexico has been pretty gentle with little snow and mild temperatures, nothing to challenge or keep me engaged. My home was finally finished enough to stay warm and comfortable, and with that in mind, I rented it for a week on Airbnb, packed the camper van, and took off south. I needed a break. I needed a plan of action. What next? How can I make a living as a travel writer? Or as a traveling writer? What’s the big deal about Marfa? Why go there?

Marfa, TX is a small town of 2,000 in far western Texas near the Davis Mountains. Big Bend National Parkis 135 miles due south.  Would I head that far south? Who knew.

The night before I left town, it snowed. A good few inches covered the roads and Ortiz Mountains and in a 2wd van, the worries got to me and I didn’t sleep so well. Should I take the interstate instead of a country highway? Which would be safer? Highway 285 was shorter but would there be enough traffic to be safe? Ah, to hell with it, I needed an adventure. Highway 285 from Santa Fe was mostly clear but for some slush and a few snow banks, the traffic was light, and my pets cranky. Rosie, a lab mix, couldn’t settle down. She’d sit in the passenger seat, bounce down, push Harold off the bed in the back. Repeat. For nine hours. Stevie, the cat, hid under the bed, sulking. Poor Harold, a big baby of an Akita mix, shrugged at Rosie’s pacing energy. I drank cold coffee and kept on driving. I needed a time-out. Just like Rosie.

So, yes, why did I head to Marfa? Probably because the forecast was for it to be warm enough for tee shirts in the afternoons, plus some good friends of mine love the place. Suzie is an artist and she’d told me some of the history of Marfa. In the 1970’s, a famous New York artist, Donald Judd moved out to Marfa and created an outdoor sculpture garden of his works in concrete. The Chinati Foundation has become one of the major draws to the town, with celebrities, artists of all mediums, and tourists who all flock to the compound on the edge of town. There is also her favorite place, the Hotel Paisano, where James Dean last acted in a movie before his death. Marfa is now known for its history, the Hotel Paisano, the art galleries, the Public Radio station, and even the Marfa Music Festival in March. It has a lot to live up to.

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We arrived late that weekend night and set up camp at Tumble In RV campground on the eastern side of town. I’d picked it deliberately for the proximity to town, its claim to having a walkable path into the downtown district (it didn’t), and a space for tents and campers not just RVs. Late at night, a sub-freezing night, after nine hours driving through snow half of that time, I was depleted and yes, as cranky as my critters. Tumble In was not as I’d hoped. The tent camping area is a bare patch of cut tumbleweeds with strips of gravel to show where to park. No shelter, no picnic tables, no grills or firepits. It was basically a parking lot. I hated it. So did the dogs and Little Stevie, my cat. Too many burrs, no shade, nowhere to walk as we were fenced in by barbwire and three-foot tall weeds. The shower in the morning made up for it. That and a cup of coffee.  Then once refreshed and in a better mood, I looked for a camp host but no, there wasn’t one, just a self-check in booth within a vintage travel trailer. Walking the pups around the RV park, I noticed the overflow area to the rear of the land, closer to the railway but away from the highway and parking lot. With no one to tell me otherwise, I set up camp back there and with Stevie locked in the camper, the dogs and I walked along the path to town. We had to scramble quite a bit so don’t expect a clear pathway to follow, we crossed an arroyo and down a sandy bank to get to a paved street.

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It was a Sunday morning, the church bells were ringing, and having drunk a good cup of coffee at the van, my mood improved with the sunshine and clear skies. The railway was surprisingly busy with three trains shipping containers and vehicles eastward all morning, yet I was still able to let the dogs run free along the track for a while. Until the rabbits tempted them onto the highway to the south of us and my tensions grew again. Damn it. I came here to relax, right? Putting them on leashes is never an easy accomplishment –  they’re country dogs and I’m lazy. Oh well. You do what you have to.

Judd’s minimalist aesthetic really has taken a hold of town; it was a quirky mix of old adobe structures, with rusted iron window frames and clean lines of new concrete. I liked the juxtaposition of old and new but how was it for the long-term residents to see their homes and town be so gentrified? The streets were empty though, that sleepy Sunday feeling perhaps? No, the rest of the week there, it was rare to see anyone walking around. There were few options for hanging out or talking to locals. There were few options for distractions from other people at all. I was alone with my thoughts as usual.

Walking down Austin Street, I came across a laundromat with a handful of folks sitting outside sipping coffees. Frama café didn’t exactly advertise itself but word of mouth and being the only café to be found, it stayed busy enough I guess. I got to chat a little to the others sitting outside, one fella brought Harold and Rosie a bowl of water, and we talked art, travels, and Texas.

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Most of them were new to town with a newcomer’s energy for the place. I still hoped to find a local who’d grown up in Marfa but never did. The latte was great though but a bagel or something to eat would have helped. Ice cream was the only option, and although it was tempting I didn’t get any. Another time perhaps? Nope, I stuck to coffee there for the next few days. It became our routine to walk to town mid-morning, exploring the four corners of town, and finishing up at Frama. Where was the breakfast place? I lived off the odds and ends in the cooler at the van instead. Oh well. My expectations were nicely lowered after a few days and I began to enjoy town for what it offered. Even the Tumble In campground grew on me for being bare bones, with hot water, little interaction and no one watching over my critters running free.

With a full moon, the Marfa Lights were not to be seen. Have you heard of them? First noticed in the 1880s by a cowboy, there is still no solid explanation for these colored lights that dance in the dark nights outside on Highway 90. My timing once again was against me; it was too bright for me to see anything. Next time? I’d better do some research before I head on another trip as this one to Marfa was the most disorganized possible. My timing sucked constantly. The best part for me in Marfa was that we walked everywhere for a week. The rest of my days I filled my notebook with web addresses and contact info for freelance writers. Researching different tangential ideas kept me busy and the sketch book let me switch off the word-brain in the evenings. As there were few businesses open at the start of the week, and little to see with high-end stores offering treats for the wealthy, but still I got to relax. I enjoyed wandering the wide empty western streets. Trucks slowed down for the pups and I, waved at us, and carried on slowly out of town. Wherever I wandered, I’d see the Presidio Courthouse. It’s an incredibly beautiful old three-story building that fills the town plaza with all roads bringing you back to the spires. It dates back to 1886 and I walked inside one afternoon, curious to see if I could climb the tower to look out the windows facing each direction. It was closed for cleaning but still worth climbing the wooden stairs that opened onto lawyer’s offices on each level based around a central rotunda. I was alone and the peace of the extensive views impressed me deeply, a sense of history and wonder.

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Hotel Paisano was just around the corner and it quickly became my afternoon choice. The Trost building dates to 1929, and opened only just before the Great Depression. It became a place for ranchers and tourists to stay as they crossed Texas. In 1955 Warner Bros came to town to film Giant with Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, and Rock Hudson. Jett’s Bar is named after Dean’s character and the walls are covered with old photographs from that era. I sat at the bar one day, eating a salad from their limited menu, and chatted to Herb who was visiting. He came from Las Cruces, NM, and was a pilot for a wealthy family who’d come to Marfa for hunting but he didn’t specify what or where.  With a beer in hand, I then sat outside and that’s where I recommend fully. The building is Spanish style with a main courtyard with a fountain and tables in sun and shade. Perfect. I sat and read and listened into the conversations around me. I came back two other afternoons. Now that made me feel like I was truly on holiday. Finally.

The small-town logistics could be challenging for some city folk but since I live in Madrid, NM with a population of 350, this wasn’t a big impact on me. There were limited options for eating out, I didn’t find a decent grocery store, nor ATMs but then again, I’d come with a wallet of cash and a cooler of food in the camper van. I have a feeling my timing really was off, and that in spring and summer, town wakes back up. I’m okay with that though. I like low-key artsy towns. With no traffic lights, Marfa lulled me into a slower pace of life. It worked its magic on me. Afternoons, I’d sit outside the van in the sun and draw out quirky characters or I’d brainstorm on how to keep traveling and writing for a living. I came up with some ideas but it’s hard to make it freelance. I figured out that it’s worth me faking it until I make it. That’s the best I can do for myself.

The Chinati Foundation finally drew me in on the last day in the area. I put down my notebook and we drove over there early one morning. I’d not been too keen to be honest, as a field of concrete sculptures didn’t appeal. It was free so why not, right? I’m glad I went though. With the critters set up in the camper parked in the shade of a huge Cottonwood, I wandered into the main building and asked for the self-guided tour of the gardens. The young woman behind the counter waved me over to the path and asked me not to climb the structures. Nothing more than that, no stories, no information, just “Stay off”.

Okay, okay, so walking down past the other buildings, I strode down the slight hill to the open land with a stripe of fifteen groups of concrete slabs. From north to south, there are Judd’s famous works in concrete, a very minimalistic contemporary feel that reminds me of inner cities in the seventies. Unprepared for the magical energy, I stood and stared at the first group. Three structures made of upright walls of concrete with another identically sized slab across the top. An open-ended room in a sense. Walking to the next group, it occurred to me that I was alone on this kilometer-long pathway. In the field nearby, a small herd of Pronghorn antelope watched me nervously. Slowly as I wandered around these works, a peace settled on me, reminiscent of living at a Buddhist retreat in the UK years ago. A calmness came from the simplicity of how Judd played with one size of solid cleanly poured concrete slabs, putting them together in different figurations. There was nothing to explain why it appealed to me so much but an hour later, I walked out of Chinati with a relaxed smile and feeling expansive. Yep, I’d go back. First though, it was time to head north to Madrid, NM, to set up my home for another vacation rental. Yes, Marfa. I get it now. And I had a plan.

 

Travel can help people in so many ways. One woman took a time out type of trip to Marfa, Texas, and was inspired with a plan for her future as a travel writer.

Disturbed by the Women’s March 2016

The snowstorm raged outside as I sat by the wood stove, sipping my second mug of coffee. The wind slammed and rocked against the tin roof and gutters. The dogs lay on their beds, not keen for a walk. The cat however ran outside, did his business, and flew back through the doggy door. A freezing January morning in New Mexico, nothing surprising really, and instead of it putting me off driving to Santa Fe for the Women’s March on Washington, I was more determined than ever. Grinning, I prepped myself for a cold hour’s drive.

With a shovel, extra clothes, another mug of coffee, I headed out down the dirt road in four wheel drive, taking it slowly, and wondering just how bad it would be on the highway. I couldn’t stop grinning though. Today. This was the day we’d show up, stand up, and be counted. Trump was the new president. We were the force of opposition. We had to show up. We had to show up at the marches all over the world. And we did. Oh, we did.

Santa Fe has never seen such a crowd, such numbers at any protest or parade. And not one person disturbed the peace according to the police. Even more amazing is that with over 2.4 million at world-wide marches there were no riots, no fights, nothing to turn this peaceful  movement into a negative news story. I’m proud of us. I’m proud of our town, Santa Fe, and all those who drove down from Taos, Questa, Las Vegas, and all the other small rural communities. Incredible it was to walk around the plaza with thousands of women, men, kids, all walking and talking in this magical march. So heart-warming for me. I met so many friends there. 


Where were the media though? I saw no cameras, no film crews, and didn’t hear of a single interview. With some thirteen thousand marchers in Santa Fe, this was news. Huge news. Silence though from the media at the time although I did see some coverage in the newspaper the next day. Instagram was filled though, another place for us all to come together and share the experience. Who needs mainstream media, right? We got our photographs, stories and experiences out to those who couldn’t be there with us. I had friends from the UK sending me photos of the marches in London and Manchester, sending me their support for the years ahead. Stay Strong. We’re with you.

Trump has unified people more than you’d think considering his divisive language, despite his “alternative facts” about the showing for his inauguration as compared to the Women’s March the day after. Poor boy, we didn’t go to his party, we threw our own.

But why? How will this help? We all have different answers to this. For me, voting, being part of this community, a resident in this country, it’s so much more than how the next president can help me and mine. The bigger picture is much more important than what effect or threat Trump’s policies have on me personally. How can it not be? How can you think of yourself at times like this? I had to stand up, and show up. My friends are affected, the Muslims community, the comments Trump makes about Mexicans, Syrians, and immigrants in general. The number of legal cases against him for his attitude and actions towards women, recorded, videoed, quoted, this appalls me. Character counts. This election was for me about values not just political policies.


 It’s hard to define how this march makes a difference in my life but it does. I was there. I drove through a snow storm to get there. I had to be there. I really did. My silence, any kind of sitting back with the “get over it” attitude I hear expressed, that’s not an option. I am part of this. We all are. I’m provoked, disturbed, and inspired.

Yes, I’m disturbed. The signs and photographs at the marches all over the world affected me, some were hilarious, others so true as not to be not funny, and others simply provocative. One that stopped me stated that 53% of white women voted for Trump. Really? Really? My stomach turned and I couldn’t get that number out of my head, bugging me as I took in the whole experience, as a white woman, queer, and an immigrant, I was truly upset that this could be true.


The day after the march, I took to the computer, partly to research the numbers on the marches all over the world, as well as the voter exit polls to see what had happened. A few sources repeated the fact that 53% white women voted for Trump. It’s true in a sense but that’s a misleading use of percentages, of facts and data. I’m not great at maths for sure, I’m a story-teller, a photographer and illustrator, not scientist or statistician. Here though is a summary of what I found and yes it’s still disturbing.

  • In 2016, 24% of the population voted for Trump.
  • Of that 24%, women made up 42% of the votes for T.
  • Therefore, 10.8% of the population/ women voted for T.
  • Of that 10.8%, 53% were white women who voted for T.
  • Therefore, almost 6% of the US population voted for T who are white women.

So 53% of the women who voted for Trump are white, which is quite different from 53% white women voted for him. Am I missing something here? Is my logic faulty? I honestly don’t know, but this is how I was able to break it down and seriously if you see where I messed up, let me know.


These numbers disturb me, they still do. But what is more uncomfortable for me is that of the women who voted for Trump, if 53% were white, then the other 47% were non-white, and from what I can tell is that a surprising number were Asian and Hispanic women voters. That upsets me even more than the white women to be honest. I can kind of see that the mostly uneducated white women who voted for Trump saw a rich white man who offered to help them. It’s part of the culture, isn’t it? Rich White Man is in charge. Those who haven’t been taught to think for themselves, critical thinking as being the core of a decent education, they’d follow what their local media tells them, right? I didn’t realize that so many non-white voters would still chose Trump. That’s the most provocative statistic for me.

Where do we go from here? There is so much under threat immediately. It’s hard to know. I have to pick my battles, one day at a time. Take care of my close community. Look beyond my own comfort levels and see who else is affected. Women’s Health? Queer rights? The environment? What? Looking at the numbers above, it’s given me a focus. On education specifically. I don’t have kids. My friends do. My neighbors do. My brother does. 


Education matters but it’s not a case of standardized tests. It’s teaching kids about other cultures and races, religions, and lifestyles. It’s about critical thinking, considering the facts and deciding for yourself. It’s learning to think beyond your own experiences and to develop an open mind and heart. Education needs well-paid teachers, resources, and encouragement. The anti-intellectual culture in much of America needs to be challenged. Educated. How I’ll be a part of this, I don’t know for sure but the focus is clear for me: Addressing the poor voter turn out and the lack of education plaguing this country.

In the meantime, I drove home after the March so inspired by this small town of mine in New Mexico. I was part of something bigger and that matters. Silence is not an option.

 

Sources included:

Living The Dream. Chapter 1.

JUNE: FIRST IMPRESSIONS

“Are we there yet?”
Mark hung tightly onto the steering wheel, and pumped the brakes nervously. “I hope so, Jenny, I hope so.” He downshifted just to be on the safe side.
The mountain dropped down steeply in front of us. The road practically melted away in the midday sun. Rocks slipped out from under the U-Haul. Stones and the gravel skidded away with a lurch. Mark swore under his breath. The dirt road was barely one car wide. Boulders blocked the path. I climbed out to move the biggest ones. The sun beat down and the air conditioner cranked out as best it could but it barely kept up. We drove downhill at two miles an hour. Gringo Gulch appeared before us, a steep empty canyon with only one homestead half-hidden in the distance. The gravel slid from under us again. The brakes started to smell. Mark’s curly hair lay flat against his forehead and his arm glowed with sunburn.

“I knew we should’ve come out at least once more. This is crazy, Mark, crazy.” I pulled out my camera and started clicking away.

“Are you getting cold feet?” He asked, patience worn thin. “This was your idea to start with. Let’s move to Santa Fe, she said, let’s buy that land we saw – only the once, mind you – and just move, she said.”

I opened the window and took in the desert heat, the pinions and the junipers, and the wildlife. My cowgirl denim shirt stuck to my back.

“It’s not like we can go back, is it? The school will have replaced me already and you were just…” I put my camera down. “Sorry. I’m tired. I didn’t mean it, okay?”
Mark sighed. “I was just a musician? Is that it? Thanks.” He reached for his cigarettes.

“What’s that?” I threw my apple at a snake crossing in front of us. “A rattlesnake?” I missed as it slithered onwards and upwards, glancing across as we crawled past. I shivered. We didn’t have snakes in Olympia.

“I’m glad we only got the twenty footer. Can you imagine driving anything longer down here?” Mark lit up and drew in deeply. The brakes squealed one last time as we reached the bottom of the valley. Not one person in sight. Deserted. Desert.
“Are you sure this is the right way?”

Mark flicked ash out the window. “Well, when I looked on Google this was the shortest route. We came a different road last time, I guess. But remember that the realtor said your Subaru would do fine out there, right?”

“But I’m not driving this way, that’s for sure, I’d hit every rock. Didn’t he take us down a long flat smooth road, that’s what I kinda remember? There were miles and miles of slow curves and lots of homes in the distance, right? What was it called?”
“Harold’s Way, I think.” Mark kept driving steadily as he checked the maps again and said, “Yep, this is the short cut, the direct route. I don’t know, Jen. We might want to bring your car the other way tomorrow. I’m glad we left it in town.”

We kept on slowly driving, desperately searching the landscape for the driveway, or a sign of some kind. It’s not like there was anyone to ask for directions. We drove on in silence. Beside us, a dried up riverbed followed the lowest point, and we ended up crossing rocky sandstone ledges every few hundred yards. Dead cacti lined the path. Dead pinion trees. Dead dogs.

“Is that really what I think it is?” Mark had noticed it too. We both stared at the swollen black furry body in the middle of the tracks. “I wonder what killed it?” he continued as he steered around it with a slight bump.
“And whose was it? Should we put up a sign at the store?” I looked back out the window uneasily.
Mark rolled his eyes. “Are you going to get out and check its tags? Do you really think it has a city license on a nice leather collar? This is the Wild West, remember, Jenny? We’re not in Kansas any more.”
“We never were in Kansas, you dope. No, drive on. I just want to get home.”
Blue sky beat down on us as we crawled along Gringo Gulch at four miles an hour. With not one cloud in the sky, the canyon was painfully bright and barren. The rise and fall of the hills and creek beds obscured any homes or signs of life. It was bright, too bright for my blue eyes. Where were my sunglasses? The junipers bunched together in clumps with dead straw-like grass scattered over the dirt. I didn’t see a single flower. How weirdly beautiful it all was to me though. I looked all over, my head spinning around and around, noticing branches full of crows and ravens, the incredible silence, and then we rounded yet one more corner.

“I recognize it. This is it, right?”
Mark stopped the truck. He threw his cigarette butt out his window and looked around.

“I think so. I think so. Let’s go see, shall we?”
In front of us, the road split north and south. On the western edge, a driveway, well, a dirt track led out onto towards the mesa, the valley that is, which sprawled all the way to the mountain range far away. A For Sale sign lay flat on the mud embankment. The dirt track had a chain strung across from two wooden posts.

Mark opened his door and climbed down, stretching his six-foot skinny white boy frame, and reaching high with arms outstretched. His jeans hung low and loose, with a white tee shirt neatly tucked in, and his black boots shone. He suddenly shouted out at full volume.

“WE’RE HOME.”

He turned to me, grinning a wicked smile so huge and happy. “We did it, Jenny. We bought land. It’s ours. All ours. We’re free, Jen. We’re free.” He spun wildly round and round.

I ran to him and jumped into his arms, crashing us against the U-Haul, kissing him deeply and suddenly we’re both yelling aloud, home, we’re home. The echo came back at us, welcoming us here. A huge pitch-black crow flew up off the gatepost, crowing at us to shut the hell up.

I laughed. We’d done it. I wasn’t going to give up this time.

“Where are we going to sleep?”
I looked around at the pile of stuff we’d unloaded. The ramp to the back of the U-Haul was down, and twenty cardboard boxes were stacked neatly under a tree, next to a five-gallon container of drinking water and a cooler of food and beer.

I spread my arms wide. “I don’t see an RV, do you? We did buy 40 acres with an RV, right? Or am I missing something here?”
The heat was relentless. Where was a cowboy hat when you needed one? My face burnt up. I strode around, steaming.

Mark, however, sat on the ground on the shady north side of the truck with a small plastic bottle of water resting on the dirt between his boots. He grinned up at me. He shook his head and held out his hands to me.

“I’ve no idea where it is, but yes, there’s an RV here somewhere, that was part of it. We can look tomorrow, okay? But, hon isn’t it great? We can sleep under the stars tonight. I haven’t done that since I was a kid. I wonder if we can see the Milky Way from here?”
He passed me the water and I drank deeply. I shook my head and told him we were too far south for that. Was I thinking of the Northern Lights? I sat next to him and poked him in the thigh.

“So we’re sleeping rough tonight, are we Cowboy? You’ll make us a fire and protect me from the roaming bands of thieves?”
Mark hugged me to him. “Sure will, little Missy, I sure will. And you’ll be making me my dinner of beans and beef over the fire-pit, won’t you?”
“I was thinking of some red wine, the French loaf and that brie we have.”
Mark snorted. “Yeah, that’s probably more like it. But we can make a fire and sit on the rocks and stay up all night, can’t we? I’ll push the worst of the stones out the way and we can pull out the sleeping bags right here. What do you think?” He sounded like a ten-year-old on summer vacation with his best friend. “We can tell scary stories.” He stood up, energized and ready to go again. He brushed the sand off his nice blue jeans.
I laid down, pleading a headache, and I watched as he made us a fire-pit, placing the rocks in a circle, finding a couple of flat flagstone-like pieces for seats, and he wandered out of sight, fetching branches and kindling. I fell asleep.

We’d come with nothing practical, that’s all I can say, nothing but the bare necessities of tent, camping gear, and sleeping bags. Plus a truck full of my grandparents’ furniture I’d just inherited. Fifteen boxes of Mark’s books and his drum set and bass guitars. I’d brought my own guitar I never play, but planned to make the most of living out there, finally able to practice in peace. We had a laptop and our two cell phones. Some clothes, I admit to, but mostly they were Mark’s. I’d bought the land. Mark would build us a home. That was the plan, to live in the RV as we build a home.

The red wine flowed through me easily and freely and I discovered the joys of peeing outside.

“Look the other way.”

“I can’t see you over there. Remember? It’s pitch black from where I am. What time do you reckon it must be? My god, look at all those stars. Do you know any of the names?” Mark kept talking, to hide the splashes, or from pure wonder, I didn’t know. I walked back to the glow of the fire and squatted down opposite him.

I looked at my watch. It was only ten thirty, early for us. I poured out another beaker’s worth of wine. Trader Joe’s best three-dollar vintage was perfectly doable out here, and anyway, I couldn’t see the label, and we had no guests. That made me think.
“Do you think we’ll get visitors out here? My mom? What would she think about peeing like I just did?” I couldn’t picture it.
“Wait until morning when you need a number two,” Mark reminded me with a smile in his soft voice.
“Oh my god, that’s right. Is there an outhouse? Or did you dig us a hole or something?” My voice squeaked embarrassingly. I coughed to hide it.
Mark laughed hard, and told me about how we’d be using buckets, making a compost toilet with straw and sawdust and I tuned out, figuring he’s just teasing his city girlfriend. Then I realized something.

“If I have to shit in a bucket, I want a dog.”
“Huh?” Mark scratched his chin; the day’s stubble was itching already. “I thought you didn’t like dogs?”
“Well, I do now. And a donkey.”
Mark choked on his wine and spat it into the fire. I pulled my leather jacket closer to me as the wind had picked up.

“Forty acres and a mule.” I explained. “And a dog, a nice big hairy friendly dog.”
“For the buckets?”
“Yep, if you want a compost toilet, that’s the deal, okay?”
He stood up and reached for my hand. “Deal.”
We shook.

The night ticked way and I wobbled off into the shadows every few hours. We talked about how this all came to be, the incredulous looks our friends had given us as they waved us off last week. Mark lay down and climbed into this sleeping bag, saying so quietly I almost didn’t hear him, “damn, it’s beautiful here, isn’t it? And it’s so empty and silent, I can’t believe it.”

We listened in awe. Here the world turned on a sigh.

“No-one telling us what to do.”

“No bills.”
“No permits.”

“Nothing, no traffic, no cop cars, nothing like a damn city with its never ending noise and rules.” I pulled out my camera. “This is the life, Mark, it really is pretty magical here.”

I stumbled up hill. Falling over rocks and into cacti made for a slow progress. Finally, I stopped and I turned slowly three hundred and sixty degrees. The silhouettes of trees and shrubs filled the landscape eerily. I saw neither houses nor lights. I’d heard no traffic all night long. Only in the far distance, the interstate showed some stream of cars’ headlights as they drove north to Santa Fe and beyond. I heard nothing but for a coyote. Suddenly I laughed aloud. I’d heard a coyote. I stood stock-still and stared into the darkness, willing one to come up close to me. I’d read all about this kind of stuff on the drive across Idaho and Utah. A power animal is one that comes to you repeatedly. They have messages for us if we listen. I planned to do just that.

I waited for the coyote to come back.

“What the hell was that?” I whispered as I poked Mark with my boot. He murmured in his sleep. I poked harder. “There’s something out there.” I hissed at him. “Do something.”

“What?” he sat up fast and looked at me. “What? Oh, my head. Why does it hurt? I didn’t drink that much, did I?”
“Who cares about that, Cowboy? You’re meant to protect me. I heard something in the boxes, in our stuff. What is it?” I poked him once more and for good measure I grinned sweetly in the darkness.
Mark sat there in his brand new sleeping bag around his waist. His nice clean white tee shirt looked rumpled by sleeping on the sandy ground. So much for him trying to smarten up, damn musicians are scruffy buggers. He stood up, shedding his bag as he stretched, groaning slightly. I turned on my flashlight and passed it to him. He tucked his tee shirt back in and grabbed a fleece sweater from my pillow-pile. With another of his easy-going smiles, he told me to wish him luck. I blew him a huge wet kiss and sent him off to be the ‘man’. I watched the light flickering up and across our belongings as he looked for signs of life. He said nothing but kept moving closer. He checked the cooler and the boxes of books first. He went round back and into the U-Haul. I lost sight and sound of him. I sat huddled in my sleeping bag and cuddled my knees against my chest. I poked the fire and put on another log. I waited nervously.

“I think I know what it was.” Mark came back over to my side of the fire, bringing his bag with him. He spread out next to me and lay me down, spooning me through REI’s idea of a comfortable bed.
“What was it? A coyote? An owl? What?”
“A rat. A pack rat to be precise.”
I sat up quickly. Mark told me that he’d seen pictures of them in Mother Earth magazine.

“Oh, and they’re pretty cute by the way.”
“Cute? A rat is cute? And it’s in my stuff?”
“Our stuff. But yeah, it was cute and settled in for the night. We can do something about it in the morning okay Jen? Not now, I’m tired and it’s pitch black out here.”
“But how are we going to kill it?”
“We?” he asked, teasing from behind me, out of reach.

“Well, you, how are you going to kill it?” I giggled as he snuggled closer.

“And so spoke the vegetarian pacifist? What about your love of animals? What about those power animals? What if this is one of yours?”
“Ha, ha, very funny, just don’t let it any where near me tonight, okay?”

“Yes, ma’am, I’m on duty right now as I…” and with that he fell asleep. I lay there and listened intently. The flashlight stayed close by. I flinched at every whisper and rattle. I kept the fire bright. I finished the bottle of wine alone. Like I said, Mark slept soundly, the bastard.

Living The Dream

 

DECEMBER: NOT ALL WHO WANDER

“I know. I know. I’m lost. I don’t know where we are either.”
Nelson stared at me with those odd eyes of his, one blue and the other amber, unblinking, waiting for more. I shrugged and rearranged the cushions behind me. I propped myself up with a sigh next to him.

“It must have been last night, at that tavern in Farmington. I bet I left the map on the table or something. I didn’t see anything in the motel room when we left, did you?”
Of course he didn’t. He’d already been waiting in the 4Runner. As usual, he’d been impatient to hit the road.

I sipped my cold coffee and stared out the truck’s windows with a smile. I’d already folded the seats down and installed a memory foam mattress, cushions, and a thick pile of blankets and sleeping bags. We were living in style these days.
A blue-gray lake filled a valley’s basin, it was small by most standards but for New Mexico, not bad. Mountains surrounded us filled with ponderosas and cedar, native grasses, and shrub oaks. We’d walked the hills and explored various animal tracks earlier, picking up dead and down wood for the night’s campfire. Empty, the land felt empty yet loved and I saw no one. No one to ask for directions. All I knew was that we were somewhere in the Apache reservation, on a campsite next to a lake. I’d paid the five bucks in the envelope and settled in for the night. I still couldn’t find the damn map though. I figured we’d just drive west in the morning, sun to our backs, and follow these dirt roads through the wilderness until we came back out into the Carson National Forest.

Nelson sighed and licked my hand. His pale tongue rasped against my dried skin. I reached over and petted this friend of mine. A husky mix, I wasn’t sure what he’s mixed with, but he’s tall and rangy, shaggy caramel fur with a classic husky face. He’s not the wanderer though, more of a nervous Nellie, hence the name.

I stroked his head. “I don’t know where we are either my friend, but it’s not bad eh? Just the two of us? No more arguments with Mark, no cold school bus to wake up to, just us for a while.”

I finished the coffee and set the mug on the tailgate. I scooted out and stood in the cool evening air. I pulled the coat closer and called Nelson to me. Reluctantly my dog jumped down and stood next to me. He took a drink from the ever-present water bucket and then stared at me. I nodded. He ran to the lake and stopped, with paws only slightly wet, he drank his fill. The real deal, water from a lake, is much tastier than from a 5-gallon container a few days old.

I grabbed his bowl, filled it with kibble, and poured on some oil from the skillet. I hunkered down next to the fire pit and lay the paper, kindling and sticks in a pyramid. Lighting the flame, the fire crackled and took. The wind had luckily died down with the sun. I knew how to judge the fire risks these days. Nelson ate fast then wandered back to the water’s edge.

The campsite was barren, with not a soul in sight, and only a distant owl softly announcing the night to come for company. Clouds filtered out the last of the day’s winter sun and I shivered. Nelson stayed in sight, paddling carefully, and poking among the rocks. Like I said, he’s not the usual husky. Timid boy. Loving boy. He stays close to Mom. I sat on a boulder, enjoying the growing darkness.

I opened the cooler and pulled out a cold pilsner, one a day, that was my limit. It would be a challenge after those last few weeks with Mark, fighting, partying, and all with the background of Thanksgiving. Mom had even come and gone, oblivious of what was really happening in my happy home, well, maybe she knew. Mark announced one morning that he was leaving too. He left the next day.

Happy Holidays.

The fire flickered and embers cooked my potato. Nelson lay on the tailgate, happily watching me cooking, his own belly full, and bed warm and comfortable. That’s one thing I’ll admit to – I’ve learned how to camp in style, in comfort. Only what, six months ago was it that we moved into the bus? That I left the city life? Incredible really, I’d had no idea what I was getting myself into. How could I?

I sipped on a beer, poked the fire, pushing the potato off to the side, and using tongs, rolled it onto a plate. Nelson perked up. More food coming he knew, since I was not one to eat much these days. Nelson sighed in contentment and nudged my knees. I reached for his big head and scratched behind his ears.

“Yep, not bad eh? Not bad, this is living the dream, my friend, living the dream.”

The lake shimmered in the moonlight, clouds lingered, and the fire warmed us. Yes, not bad at all. I can do this. I can do this, with or without Mark. I hope.

Taking Mum to Ireland

Fempotential.com magazine published this story today, January 2017, on the anniversary of Mum’s passing.

Here is a copy of article following more photographs that didn’t make it into the magazine.

 

The phone call came late in the afternoon, my brother’s name popped up on the screen.

“Either you’ve been drinking or something happened!” I joked.

Pause. “Both. Mum, she’s in ICU. She fell. Brain injury. We don’t know how bad.”

In the local pub where I sat clutching a beer and huddled in front of the open fire, a friend came up. Sharon worked in the ER in Santa Fe, NM where I live. I told her the news. “How long was she unconscious?”

“She still is.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” She patted my shoulder and said nothing else. I knew then.

 

Nine months later, I strode across the cliffs along the Gower Coast in Wales. Behind me, my extended family stretched out in the twilight, chatting, laughing, and telling each other stories of my mum. Rhossilli Bay is a mile long, a broad wide and sandy beach with low rising hills to the east. My brother, Pete, came to check on me. At that moment, my cousins and their families released all those sky lanterns. Dozens of white balloons floated over the ocean and out towards Ireland to the west, the dark sky was calm and they drifted slowly out to sea. Silhouettes against a waning moon. Peaceful.

It would have been Mum’s 70th birthday. Sallie had planned for us all to get together to celebrate her birthday; she’d made us all promise the summer before, but then she died of a brain injury in January. We came here for her. Four cottages were rented, and the fridges filled with her favorite foods and not forgetting plenty of white wine in her honor. Sallie loved family gatherings more than anything. And for this, I am heartbroken because I didn’t understand. I kept my distance, even moving to the States in my twenties and yet there I was in my early forties suddenly appreciating the depth and expanse of family and her magic of bringing us together. My mum taught me, finally, the worth of family.

 

In the seventies, our old Land Rover was packed with a tall orange and green canvas tent, a folding table, cooking gear, and the clothes and toys needed for two young kids. After four hours driving along winding back roads, Mum called out, “I can see the sea! I can see the sea! I win!” She’d squeal in delight. The Welsh coast opened up in front us as Dad drove down the small highway heading out to Rhossilli. We’d stop at the store for ice, sodas and those last-minute odds and ends, like a plastic shovel and bucket for me, and a kite for Pete. Then off to Middleton, a small village before the peninsula, where we’d set up camp. Well, Mum and Dad would. I’d be off wandering around the campground, meeting other kids and their parents, inviting them back to meet my mum and dad. In the middle of trying to settle in, I’d show up with a small group behind me. Dad would stop what he was doing and pour out drinks and begin to chat. Mum and I’d pass out some snacks. The tent finally got put up with the help of my new friends. It worked out each time.

That night in August though, Pete and I took time alone, time to watch those lanterns float westward. Memories and Memorials.

“Are you okay? Do you really want to go?”
“Yep, I need time alone. You know how I am; this is too much for me. It’s okay, I’ll be back in a week or so.”

He hugged me and let me go. We walked back to the family and then we all wandered in the dark back to the cottages in Middleton. Cousins Tony, Paul and Nanette cooked up a feast and my brother’s kids made a campfire. We sat around late into the night, all of us full of stories and steaks.

Aunty Viv talked of growing up there in Wales. “During the summers after the Second World War, our dad would bring Sallie and I here for a week’s camping. Your gran would bring Les and Andy a week later. They couldn’t leave the farm alone so we split it between us. They chose this place in part because of the name; their own farm was Middleton, but far away in Worcester. The two farming families became close, and Old Mrs. Button still remembers your grandparents. You should ask her sometime. But don’t believe what she says about me and Sallie!”

The next morning, Viv hugged me tightly. The Honda motorbike was packed with gear, and it was time to leave her. My sweet aunt. Sallie and Viv spoke every day on the phone, saw each other often, they were incredibly close. I’d come across Viv down the alley that night before, sobbing her heart out, devastated at losing her big sister. I’d grabbed her to me and let her cry. “But I should be helping you,” she insisted.

“You are.”

Time to leave then, with most of my cousins and families all gone, I’d already said bye to Pete. Saying bye to Viv was the hardest. I didn’t know that it would be the last time. Cancer got her before the year was out.

“How long?”

“Four hours, Miss. The ferry takes four hours; it could be longer if the wind builds up like yesterday. But in good time, there’s no rush is there? We’ll be there by mid-day. Ireland’s only a hundred miles from Fishguard.” He took my ticket and showed me where to tie up the motorcycle on the left side of the ferry’s underbelly.

“Take everything with you, just for safety’s sake. Enjoy the trip!”

The ferry left for Rosslare at the crack of dawn, the sun barely visible on a cloudy overcast day. We’d been lucky in Wales, the sun shone plenty enough for hikes along the hills, and down to the beaches for the kids to play in the waves. Now though, the weather was turning and how appropriate it felt. I hugged Mum’s sweater to me and stood at the railings with the wind slashing slamming and fighting me for my every choked breath.

The Blarney Castle in County Cork was my first destination. The ride across N5 took me through Dungarvan and Youghal, cleansing me inside and out as rain belted down briefly, soaking deep into my boots. The highways were pretty empty and in no time I pulled up outside the Muskerry Arms on the town square. The pub and restaurant downstairs were packed on that Sunday afternoon yet the rooms upstairs were calm and peaceful. I couldn’t face people yet. I couldn’t face the inevitable question about where in the States did I come from. With twenty years in New Mexico, I’d lost much of my English accent. My wet clothes hung on the radiators and I’d emptied out the backpack, looking for John, my teddy bear, who now sat on the pillow of the king-sized bed under the windows. I stared out on the busy village below before falling asleep. With both parents gone, and a mixture of nightmares, grief, and simply being an adult kid alone in the world, no, I didn’t sleep well.

Blarney Castle is famous for the Stone Of Eloquence. The story isn’t clear, some say the stone came from Scotland and that it was a Coronation Stone, others that it dates back to the Crusades, but these days it’s the gift of the gab that it bestows upon the smoochers that is important. As a writer, it seemed like a good idea, right? I walked through the park that is set around the castle, one full of wilderness, gardens and winding paths. On average, some 300,000 visitors come here but in September I was one of a dozen if that. Admittedly, it was early in the morning as I’d had a simple hotel breakfast and walked over to explore more. I climbed the 127 steps in a narrow stone tower and came up onto an empty parapet. The Blarney Stone is set in the wall below the battlements. To get to it, I had to lean backwards, hold onto the railings, and trusting the guide, who grabbed my hips, fall backwards off the wall. The grass was some ninety feet below and I tried not to faint but to make a wish and kiss the stone. A click of a camera above me caught the moment.

Was this a mid-life crisis? To hit the road alone in my forties? To strap my belongings onto the back of an orange 650 cc motorcycle and ride into an unknown country? Yes, apparently, it is. The Huffington Post described it with an image of a grey-haired woman on a motorbike heading into the horizon. That sounds about right although at the time my hair was still brown and the horizon here was tree-lined while driving south through County Cork. With a map from Viv in the tank bag, I followed the R600 from Kinsale and then onto the smallest most winding roads along the coast. I rode through southern Ireland noting town names, Courtmacsherry, Rosscarberry, Donegal, the Beacon, but talked to no one. My mind was firmly focused on my mum and dad. The roads blurred into a list of numbers, R591, the R592, and back onto R600. Open desolate meadows dropped into the North Sea. The wind slashed across us, the bike and I, as we rode for an hour or so each morning before setting up next to a beach or a stonewall. I’d grab sandwiches and a flask of tea before wandering along rocky shorelines that reminded me of Wales. There I would sit and remember my parents.

After my dad died, Mum and I’d become closer, with my renting a car to take us back to Worms Head Hotel in Rhossilli whenever I was back in the country. We’d stay in the hotel on the peninsula, in a shared room, walking along the beaches, sitting in the hotel pub and staring across the shore towards Ireland. We didn’t talk much, it didn’t come easily, but we relaxed into each other’s company, sharing soft jokes over a coffee in the mornings or a wine in the evenings. We’d neither of us been to Ireland, I don’t know why. Dad and Mum took us in that old Land Rover to France, Spain, and Holland instead. I’d been in Guatemala when Dad died suddenly, and it had taken my brother a few days to locate me and another week for me to get back to the UK. Mum had grabbed me close and held onto me. I’d stayed longer than I’d done for over a decade. Mum and I learnt the rhythms of living together as adults but didn’t talk, not really. We didn’t know how.

Mizen Head, the signal station, the various lighthouses, all those places, as far along the many small narrow peninsulas, that’s where you could find me, alone on a cliff edge. No suicidal urges but an absence of people, of demands, or pity, I needed to surround myself with water. With memories.

As Mum lay in the hospital, in the ICU, plugged into too many machines to count, I held her hand for weeks and talked to her. I reminded her of times we’d been camping in Wales and how we’d leave Dad to carry nearly everything because we couldn’t wait to run to the beaches and how she was just as bad as us kids. Of the beach in Santander, Spain and all those hundreds of steps down to reach it. Of the days on the canal at Gran’s farm learning the names of all the flowers and trees. Running in the fields until the gong called us cousins to dinner. I described my home in Madrid, New Mexico, and the plans for making it into a cottage, a home to be proud of. I’d just finished my first novel and a publisher had written to me about taking me on and so I told Mum. I talked all afternoon long until Pete came after work and took me away. Every day for weeks I sat with Mum. Christmas Day. Boxing Day. New Year’s Day. I emptied myself of all the words I’d held back. Too late? No, she heard me. In that coma, Mum heard me and forgave me. “I know, Sarah, I know you. It’s all right. I know you.”

In Kenmare, I settled in for a few days. Time had been dragging in the sense that each day was full of silence, huge ocean vistas, and quiet evenings alone watching locals chatting in the pubs I’d stay at. I had no words for strangers. On Henry Street though, the main street in Kenmare, I parked the orange bike outside an orange building and wandered off one afternoon. The sun shone, it was a glorious September week and striding downhill towards a church, my heart softened. A one-way narrow road leads the eye to the spire, the grassy hill behind, and a craggier forest beyond that. The buildings were white, yellow, orange, burgundy, the wooden trim all colors and baskets of flowering bright annuals hung from the balconies above. The locals talked to me about the weather, asking about my trip so far, and suggesting that I stay at Foley’s Pub with the rooms above. I responded, chatting happily and easily with them. Along the main street, the Pantry sold organic foods and I stocked up on some quality cheeses, tomatoes, and good picnic food. A bottle of red wine to finish up. (Sorry, Mum, I still don’t like white wine)

After exploring the area on the bike in the mornings, and wandering in and out of the bookstores and galleries in Kenmare, I found a beachside park for a picnic. I spread out the cheeses; the Brie was for my dad and the Gorgonzola for Mum. Toms, cukesFrench bread and a glass of wine. The sun shone on us, the photos of my family were held in place with pebbles, and I toasted them. I thanked them for all that they had given me. The love of travel. The courage to explore. The stories. And the love of a good picnic.

Riding back across N5 towards Rosslare a few days later, a heavy incessant rain didn’t deter me. I’d found peace in my grief. A hotel above the ferry terminal offered a room with a television, a bath and not much else but it didn’t matter. I’d spent a week emptying myself of the painful nightmares and found the memories to refill me, to reassure me. I hadn’t been such a terrible daughter after all. I’m very much the child of my parents. The wanderings, the pubs, and telling the stories later on. Yes, thank you both. You would’ve like Ireland. Now though, it was time to go back to my brother’s home. Family matters after all.

 

Sallie Leamy August 1940 – January 2010

Thanks Alex T for publishing this travel essay.