Silence Cure

Silence was the cure, if only temporarily, silence and geography. But of what was I being cured? I do not know, have never known. I only know the cure. Silence, and no connections except to landscape.
— Mary Cantwell, Manhattan, When I Was Young

Camping in Chicago

I never expected to camp in Chicago, but I'm so glad I had the chance. I met my friend Jess at Alt Summit in January, and gratefully accepted an invitation to stay when other plans in the area fell through. The only catch? Camping in the park. The parks system offers a couple of camp outs for families during the year, hosted by the local nature center. Families show up with a tent and help with food prep. There was fishing, a movie, cooking over a fire, and games. It was so fun and such a good way to get to know a new place in a completely different way. Definitely not something I would have managed on my own.

The next morning we hung around for a touch-the-big-trucks event for kids that was set up right down the street, then headed home for a bit before going downtown to an annual art festival and drinks on a friend's porch. 

All in all, it was a whirlwind visit and a whole lot of fun. 

Kansas City Gratitude

I went to Kansas City to meet this beautiful woman, Jess. We've been friends online for a few years, after being matched up as gratitude buddies by a photographer from whom I'd taken an online class; Jess just happened to stumble on her blog post about the project. We traded daily emails containing 3 things for which we were grateful for a little over a year. Our practice eventually fell by the wayside, but it supported both of us during some dark personal times. Sometimes Jess's email was the lightest part of my day, a thing to be grateful for all by itself. We've remained connected since, and she was on my early list of must-sees for this adventure.

I'm grateful for:

  1. Jess and Stuart, two kind, intelligent, thoughtful, funny people who welcomed me into their home and spent a long day introducing me to their city, their life, and their family.
  2.  Joe's Kansas City - the best barbecue I've ever had in my life
  3. This photo, taken super early in the morning, in between hugs as I was leaving. Jess was still asleep when I left, but came running across her front lawn as I was pulling into the street. I'm so glad I got to say goodbye.

By the way, if you're in Kansas City and are searching for a doula, consider using Jess's growing labor of love, Black Rabbit Doula

Iowa Surprise

I fell in love with Iowa, which I never expected. It wasn't that new-romance-can't-sleep-sick-to-your-stomach-roller-coaster love, more like I met a new friend with whom I instantly clicked and couldn't wait to see again. The landscape is rolling hills with trees and creeks, and yes, plenty of corn, cows, and hay bales. The sky is enormous, laced with delicate clouds that did nothing to insulate me from the sun. Wildflowers spilled from every culvert, while grain silos perched on the edge of vast fields, dwarfing the homes nearby. I stayed with my friends Tina and Jeff, had dinner with my friend Chad (all former colleagues from my previous job, and one of the great takeaways from that time in my life), drank a fig-infused cocktail that actually came with a slice of maple bacon happily bathing in it, got two tours of Des Moines, and explored the Bridges of Madison County on the way south the next day. My time in Iowa was a sweet pause in the midst of my crazy, looping traverse of the prairie; I'll be back sometime to apply proper time and attention to that place. 

The Other Shoe Dropped

Well, the thing I feared the most finally happened: I owe a big chunk of money to someone all of a sudden. On Wednesday, I bought a ticket to Altitude Summit for next February, dipping into savings, knowing it was an important thing for me to do again and that I could work hard at home to replenish my savings account. On Thursday, I learned that my health insurance premiums have not been paid since February, despite receipts from Anthem letting me know that payment was received. I owe the insurance company nearly exactly what I spent on the Alt ticket.

The beach I was enjoying around the time everything went off the rails...

I had a credit card number stolen early on in this trip and replaced it, but didn't realize that this payment was attached to that card. Never mind that I can't use the HMO I'm part of outside of Maine, I have been doing my deed as a good citizen and making sure I'm covered. Sort of. Actually, not really at all.

It turns out that the intersection between Anthem's "I'm sorry, but it's required to be a paper notice, ma'am"  antiquated communication systems related to payment issues and my travel are just deeply, irreconcilably incompatible. The people I spoke with kindly suggested that I update my address, but that would not help since I am not there. 

A good friend has made sure I received mail periodically for the last 10 months, but the notices Anthem sends are as illuminating as their entirely confusing member website, which is to say, they are as clear as mud. I don't doubt that I received them, but how did I, a person who always, always, always reviews and pays bills on time, miss this?

I have other automatic payments scheduled every month. Amazon won't send dog food if there's even a question about my credit card. Anthem sends me a "thanks for your payment" email even when I haven't actually paid in 5 months. Lesson learned: insurance companies really are completely inflexible and I am not their priority.

I had a good, long cry after getting off the phone with the company this morning. I'm furious with Anthem and their giant shoulder shrug/deep sigh response. I'm annoyed with my bank for not having a notification system that some company keeps pinging an old, stolen card. Mostly though, I'm intensely frustrated with myself for not catching this error, for not making sure that payments were going through, and for relying on a giant company to make sure things were running smoothly. 

It's almost a relief to have this fear realized. I'll move through this, shake it off, and figure out what to do next. By the time you read this I'll have 4 weeks to go on this adventure. I'll be back on the East Coast, and headed for home. Over time this will become one of the parts of the trip that I can laugh about, the Great Insurance Screw-up of 2017. 

C'est la vie!

Update: I wrote this a week ago, just after it happened, and decided to let it marinate for a few days. I rarely have a chance to do that, so this post reflects an in-the-momentness that I am rarely able to achieve. Writing it helped me jettison just about all of my frustration, and howling to my friend Christa, who patiently heard me out on our way to Madison later that morning, got rid of the rest. It's nowhere near the end of the world and is entirely fixable. This was the worst thing that's happened to me on this adventure, so in the end, the real lesson is to keep moving forward - an appropriate thing to be reminded of in Wisconsin in particular, where "Forward" is the state motto.

Green Grass & Running Water

Another long day of driving got me to Fargo, ND. First impression? Cigarettes. The whole place smelled like them and it was really weird. Other than that, though, it was a neat place to spend an afternoon. I had lunch at HoDo and then headed to Atomic Coffee for some gifts for my upcoming hosts. I went to the Hjemkomst Center to see the Viking ship and the Hopperstad Stave Church behind it. Both were super interesting, but the entrance fee felt really steep.

I ended the day at Buffalo River State Park, which was gloriously green and full of trees. The tent site was perfectly situated and quiet. I woke up early the next morning and made my way down to the river, walking along the small gravel path out onto a sandbar and then around to a big bridge that spanned the water. The park was exactly what I needed after days of feeling sunblasted and parched. The landscape was finally starting to feel like home!

I made my way to Minneapolis for the night, stopping to stay with an acquaintance who kindly offered me a couch in his shared house. The next morning I was up with the birds (so, earlier than early) and left for Des Moines and the home of my friend, Tina. 

North Dakota

I was up with the sun and longing to spend the day in air conditioning, coasting along the highway, and listening to the quiet. Unfortunately, I was completely cranky after a disjointed night of what felt like more dreams than sleep. I also decided to skip coffee, but that's never a good plan when I'm tired because I hate going into gas stations or coffee shops, or really stopping at all, when I'm tired and cranky.

I stuck to my plan to make a fairly long detour to Mt. Rushmore, arriving there around 8:00 in the morning, along with busloads of tourists, all chattering and clicking away. The monument was stunningly beautiful in its detail and simplicity. I managed a few photos before I started losing my cool. The tourists grated on my raw nerves, as did the "this is a free park, but parking is $10 and it's good for 364 more days!" part. Clearly, I needed to leave; no sense in raining on anyone else's parade.

I ended up in Dickinson, ND after a very long day of either no traffic for miles or 20-minute lines to get through road construction. Eventually, I settled into the pace of the ride, waiting for things to even out. At some point, I managed to buy coffee, which helped. I landed in a fairly sketchy hotel, comforted only by the fact that the woman who ran the place lived onsite and that the bathroom was really clean. I'm getting close to the end of this trip, so money is getting tight, and I can't afford to be choosy. In any case, it was nice to sleep in a bed again.

The next morning I set out for Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora. The park is a lot smaller than others I've visited and there weren't many people on the roads, so it was a nice, leisurely drive with easy stops to scramble up paths and look at the spectacular view or some of the crazy short, squat hoodoos that are all over the place. These are also Badlands, but they're the warmer, fuzzier version, if that's possible. There are trees and prairie wherever there is space and enough soil. Wildflowers blossom everywhere; juniper and sagebrush cover the ground, while cottonwoods coat the small creeks that meander through the valley.

If my 8th grade history classes had focused on how each president was interesting instead of rote memorization of their terms, I would have known that Theodore Roosevelt was known as the conservationist president. I'm sure I learned it somewhere along the way, but that early introduction spoiled me for having any interest in later years. I'm developing one now as I see the places that inspired so much the energy behind the movement to set up our national park system. Roosevelt was a rancher on this land in his 20s; wild horses still roam the park today and his tiny cabin is open to the public.

I felt peaceful here. The sun was still bright, and it was pretty hot, but the wind was softer, and there were trees to shelter under. I was also alone for the most part, outside in that softly rolling landscape, soaking in the color, smell, and sound.

I ate lunch in Medora at a cowboy bar that seemed to largely run off of tourist dollars these days, but had hats tacked all over the ceiling, some dating back to the 1960s. They had gluten free pizza, so I indulged, smiling to myself and thinking as I ordered that no real cowboy would ever order such a thing. The heat got into my bones after that, so I headed back to my hotel to work on some photos and bask in the air conditioning. One more night and then I was Fargo-bound.

The Badlands

I'd only ever been to the Badlands in December 20+ years ago, camping in a parking lot in my VW Vanagon on a whistle-stop tour of the US, dropping off and picking up friends around the country in the college break between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Somewhere I have a pile of black and white film negatives and contact sheets patiently waiting for the scanner I plan to buy someday. In the winter everything was white, grey, and black, with streaks of red pushing through the snow in spots. It was beautiful then, and it was beautiful on this visit, though utterly different.

I pushed north from Cheyenne across miles of rolling farmland, forced to cross Nebraska, but only a tiny corner of it, thereby avoiding the time warps I'm certain are spaced at even intervals across its highways, making every trip 17 days longer than necessary. I rolled through tiny towns on secondary roads, quickly learning that a water tower meant gas stations, but that a grain elevator did not necessarily promise the same.

Janet (my Google Maps voice) took me down a 20-mile dirt road, a "shortcut" that rattled the nerves of my faithful car. I found Carhenge along the side of the road, a place I knew of, but wasn't about to go out of my way to see. It was pretty impressive, especially when I learned that the place is as exact a replica of Stonehenge as possible. The circle is built on the site of an old family farm and was eventually donated to the town of Alliance, NE.

I arrived at Badlands National Park with plenty of time to check into the campground, pitch Yoda, and head out for a preliminary driving tour. I made my way up one side of the park loop, and then took my time returning, stopping to watch Bighorn Sheep graze along the side of the road.

The sun blasted down, relentless in its heat and light, burning everything into pale submission. I was surprised and happy to see so much green grass and scrub, and wildflowers pouring over the sides of the roads. There were prairie and pronghorns everywhere, sometimes in the road. Either I've gotten used to seeing animals everywhere, or most people don't get a chance to have that experience very often, because as I was watching some sheep graze, a man and his boys came screeching through the parking lot, hopped out of their car, pointed wildly and yelled "There's WILDLIFE over there!!!!" I said thanks and that I saw them. The family then screamed off to their next destination, quite possibly not hearing me.

After a simple dinner back at my campsite, I spent an hour or two sheltering from the sun under the wooden roof of my picnic table. Between the truly never-ending wind and the energy I spent on avoiding the sun, I came to quickly understand how people lost their minds as homesteaders in this part of the world.

There is no quiet, no shade, no darkness; there is only the incessant wind and the pressure of the sun. This is a part of the world where you learn immediately to always travel with water on your person, where you always cover your skin, and where you always have a Plan B. It is forbidding and alluring all at once. 

I visited a prairie homestead just outside the park. The yard was riddled with prairie dog holes, their watchful eyes clocking my every move as their strange chatter filled the air. The buildings were tiny and though I was dripping sweat and drinking water like it was my job, all I could think about was how brutal a place it must have been to live during the winters. It's not the first homestead I've visited on this trip, but it was the smallest, and somehow, the most fragile. 

I hit Wall Drug, because you pretty much have to see that crazy place of you're in the neighborhood. I bought beer jelly because I couldn't help it. Someone will be getting a hopefully delightful breakfast treat.

The Yellow Mounds were among my favorite stops inside the park because of their rainbow hues. Many wildflowers and a fair amount of grass grew among them, making the stop seem like an oasis in the desert. I also loved the Door and Window trails, which allowed me to move around and see some of the formations up close, minus any snakes.

I celebrated my last night with a ridiculously long coin-op shower, planning to leave at the crack of dawn so that I could make a pit stop to see some presidents on my way to North Dakota.

Queen Viv, Her Glorious Underbite, and Her People

In Snowmass it was gloriously, blazingly sunny. It also hailed, because it was spring in Colorado and that's just how it goes.

Queen Viv, the Tiny Lady with the Glorious Underbite, brought her people, my friends Stuart and Andrea. There were tacos, mid-day margaritas, and naps-as-needed. Stuart, Viv, and I climbed up through aspens and wildflowers to a gorgeous view of the village, where we met a friend of his who was flying a super loud, annoying drone. I saw the footage afterward and it was pretty spectacular, but I wish they were a little more subtle in person. Stuart and I also went to Maroon Bells, slipping and sliding our way up to Crater Lake through the snow. I forgot my sunglasses in the car, so it was a little painful, but I did have my raincoat with me, so we took turns sliding down the treacherous, snow-covered trails on the way back, which was incredibly fun. Stuart got his 2nd #travelingunicornhat photo at the lake. 

We managed to find our high school friend Caleb in the middle of a giant soccer tournament nearby and spent an hour or two reminiscing. It was so good to hang out with those guys together after 25 years!

After a long weekend it was time to continue on to the Badlands, so I took off through Independence Pass, an impossibly windy, drop dead gorgeous pass that dumped me out on the eastern side of the Rockies. I traveled north through the Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forests until I reached Cheyenne, where I checked in and promptly passed out after hours on the road.

The Best, Most Ridiculous Detour Ever

When I was in Washington, my friend Andrea sent me a casual text along the lines of "Hey, we'll be in Snowmass in a few days, why don't you join us?" A great invitation, two great friends, and a teensy, weensy 20-hour detour to Colorado on the way to the Badlands. I had time to kill since I'd just pretty much given up on planning anything at all and was wondering what in the heck I was going to do with 3 wide open weeks. So, I sat in Jackson and planned a route that made my friend Andy look visibly ill, though he did help me with it, so I ended up going through some country I might otherwise have missed. The route wasn't exactly a picnic, but it got me to all of the places on my list and I got a LOT of time to think as I drove hundreds and hundreds of miles to see people and places I just couldn't miss.

I spent my first night out in Vernal, UT. The landscapes I drove through before and after that place had me screeching over to the side of the road and whipping out my camera regularly. I just love Utah and it was so good to see those red rocks again, never mind great huge swaths of water, sagebrush, and wildflowers. I drove through Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area on the way in, and along the edge of Dinosaur National Monument on the way out the next morning.

Grand Teton

You must search for the loveliness of America; it is not obvious; it is scattered; but when you find it, it touches you and binds you to it like a great secret oath taken in silence.
— Struthers Burt, Jackson Hole Dude Rancher, 1934

While I stayed in Jackson, on of the minor sub-plots was Ruby and her search and destroy mission related to my bare feet. It's challenging to stay somewhere when the whole time it's a "the floor is hot lava/swarming with rabid cats" sort of scenario. I'm sure you can figure out which one she is - she's got that Very Intense look. Andy has a voice for Ruby that left me in floods of helpless laughter, tears streaming down my face. If he ever starts a YouTube channel for that cat, I will be its number one fan, no question.

I ventured out on Wednesday to explore Grand Teton National Park on my own, armed with direction from Andy on must-sees. I stopped at the visitor center first and spent a long time admiring animal skulls and native bead work, which is so intricate and beautifully done that it always stops me in my tracks. I also encountered my first ledger art, which was pretty exciting.

I stopped in front of the quote I posted above, unexpectedly tearing up and spending a few minutes contemplating questions I've been turning over in my mind this year. What does it mean to me to be a patriot? Am I one? Am I proud of this country in which I live? Where do I fit? In that moment I gained more clarity. I love the land I've been through. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to see it, spend time on it, and understand it from a personal perspective; it's given me a context I never had before. I feel as though I've taken that secret, silent oath. Mr. Burt articulated something I have not yet been able to put into words.

I spent part of the morning at Jenny Lake, walking along the shore in the blazing sun, admiring the green water and keeping a close eye out for bears. I desperately want to see a bear, but I'm also afraid of them, though maybe not as much as snakes. Maybe. I'll let you know after I see one. 

Jackson Lake Dam provided an unobstructed view of the mountains and also, apparently, excellent fishing, based on the couple of very happy guys below the dam. The trees and shrubs in the area were all golden yellow, rusty red, and pale green - a soft watercolor against the bright blue sky.

Jackson Lake Lodge is an imposing building, but from the inside, not the outside. Two-story floor-to-ceiling windows frame a gorgeous view of the mountains, while soft leather couches welcome you to sink into for a long, contemplative coffee. I found a sun hat there for my small noggin. Ridiculously expensive, but I'm pretty sure it's paid for itself by now, so I'm grateful.

Toward the end of the day I made my way back toward the National Elk Refuge; on the way I spent some time wandering around the Mormon Row Historic District before making my way back into town.

It's hard for me to see the change in myself from these past few months on the road, but I can tell you for sure that nobody would have gotten me to happily smile for a photo while sitting on a saddle in a touristy cowboy bar last autumn. 

Three days, two national parks, miles and miles and miles, and I couldn't have been happier. Next up? A completely senseless 20-hour detour that was one of the best decisions I've made on this adventure to date.

Yellowstone South

After coffee and a quick breakfast, Andy and I headed out to tackle the southern end of Yellowstone. We managed to hit most of the stops south of Madison, which included many brilliantly colored geyser basins, and also made it to West Thumb Geyser Basin. We saw Old Faithful, wandering along the boardwalks to see smaller pools and geysers for an hour or so before it finally erupted. We visited the iconic Old Faithful Inn, climbing up its steep plank stairs to check out the ancient timbers holding the whole place together.

I'm sure I'm forgetting to mention half of what we saw and did on that marathon day, but it was good to be with an old friend, catching up on years worth of news, laughing at practically everything (Andy is seriously funny), listening to music, watching bison and elk roam around, and hopping out of the car frequently to explore a new place, especially with the added bonus of actually being able to point and say how amazing something was to another person. After hours of exploring we finally left the park and drove down the other side of the Grand Tetons to a small town just across the pass from Jackson, where we had some super good tacos in Victor, ID before calling it a day and heading for home.

Yellowstone North

After Bozeman I had a very, very long day on the way to Jackson, WY to stay with my college friend, Andy. Since Yellowstone is so huge, Andy made some suggestions about what I should try to see and do on the way south. I'm so glad I took his advice, because every single stop was well worth my time. This national park is a singular mashup of Mars and Eden that is really difficult to absorb. There were geysers, steaming sulfur waterfalls, enormous craggy mountains, snowbanks higher than my car, evergreens, sagebrush, cacti, bison, elk, and rabbits. I specifically made time for Mammoth Hot Springs and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, both of which were spectacular in completely different ways. There were a lot of tourists and some construction delays on the roads, so I was glad to be there in mid-May; I can't imagine navigating it in peak season, since I'm now spoiled by months of visiting national parks in the off-season. I stopped at Old Faithful and wandered around, but it wasn't set to go off for another couple of hours, and I needed to make tracks to Jackson, so I left it for the following day.

Oh, Montana

I've been to some beautiful places on this adventure, but Montana! I forgot all about Montana. I don't know what trick of light or scale or color of blue makes the sky larger there than anywhere else, including the desert, where you can see forever. It's drop dead gorgeous, as far as the eye can see. It doesn't matter that it takes 45 minutes to get to the place you can see straight ahead because there's plenty of mountain ogling to accomplish along the way.

I stayed with my friend Andy and his family - Andrea, Stella Blue, and Soren. The family is in the process of relocating to Portland, OR, so my visit was a chance to reminisce and see places they may not get back to for a while. We went to Lewis & Clark Caverns and to a tiny town with an ancient saloon. Stella and I made dinner for friends one night, including her very first cold blueberry pie. It snowed in the canyon on my first night, pretty normal for May. Soren gave me stickers for good behavior at dinner. I threw a ball for Rosie over and over, missing my own dogs and feeling my heart turn over toward home.

Spokane

After nearly a month in Leavenworth, I traded in my quiet, largely solitary life there for the chaos and noise of a large family in Spokane. On the way, I stopped at Dry Falls State Park, which I'd like to get back to someday when I have more time. The park is the site of Ice Age-era floods, which left behind a dramatic and beautiful landscape in the Grand Coulee. 

In Spokane, I stayed with my friend Steve, his wife, Nikki, and their 4 full-time rambunctious kids for 4 days. Within 15 minutes of arriving I found myself on the back of a motorcycle for the first time in 25 years and it was non-stop catching up, day trips to Idaho, watching the first season of Fargo, visiting the local botanical gardens, and seeing Spokane after that. It's good to have friends who will do absolutely anything for you. I still don't think the brass knuckles were a necessary addition to my gear, but the camping hammock will get used at some point soon.

The Ski Hill

My favorite place to hike in Leavenworth most days turned out to be the Ski Hill, especially after I found a trail that was rarely used so that Bailee to run off-leash. Wildflowers exploded to life over the few weeks I was there, puddles provided mud bath relief for my small, fuzzy friend, and the views of the orchard-covered valley were always stunning. 

Hiking in Leavenworth

When Jill and Finn came to visit, we hiked Sauer Mountain on Saturday and walked to Hidden Lake on Sunday. With bluebird skies, incredible views, plenty of snacks, and two happy dogs, it was hiking at its very best. Bailee was pretty sad when Finn left; she spent the afternoon alternately sighing under the bed and gazing out the window toward Seattle.

Sweet Little Lady

This sweet little lady, Bailee, was my reason for being in Leavenworth. While her folks were off exploring Spain and Portugal, Bailee and I walked all over Leavenworth, watching Spring happen.

She has a solid internal radar for mud puddles and loves to eat and roll in things that are dead. Happily, she also has an iron stomach and loves to swim, so we managed to make it all work. She hates riding in the car, but I did see her sneaking her nose out the window to catch a breeze or two a few times. 

I've fallen in love with just about very dog I've taken care of, and Bailee was no exception. I photographed her a lot more because her people were first-time house sit clients and I posted a photo for them daily on Instagram. She was the perfect companion for a long set of sunny, quiet days in the woods.

Walking Meditation

How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives.
— Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Leavenworth, WA is a small town with a giant, Bavarian-themed personality, nestled in the craggy central Cascades. So complete is Leavenworth's dedication to its theme, you could be excused for believing that you had been dropped into the Alps somewhere. Leavenworth is a former timber town that managed to reinvent itself in the 1960s, when two enterprising Seattle businessmen lobbied the town to adopt a theme. The town responded in go-big-or-go-home fashion; today even the local Napa falls in line. I landed here for a house sit and promptly fell in love with the entire place.

Nearly every view from town includes a view of the Icicle, the top of which was still covered in snow when I left in the 2nd week of May. Even the home in which I spent nearly a month had views of snow-capped peaks in the distance and great big evergreen-coated cliffs rising up out of the valley bottom. The valleys for miles around are covered with pear and apple trees, which exploded into bloom during my stay.

If how we spend our days is truly how we spend our lives, then my time in Leavenworth reflects a way of life that I can get behind long term. I slowed down, walked miles and miles every day, rediscovered actual cooking, made time for yoga, slept hard almost every night, mowed the lawn, and watched dozens of birds negotiate the feeders. Coyotes loped across the backyard toward a deer carcass they were feeding on, sat in the neighbors field at dusk, and watched us from on high as we climbed through the woods.

Spring was imminent when I arrived and unfurled in a carpet of bright yellow Balsamroot, followed by purple Lupines, dark purple Trillium, Mountain Sweet Cicely, blue and purple Vetch, Blue Stickseed, the tiny flowers of Star Solomon's Seal, Barestem Desert Parsley, Oregon Windflower, Pokeweed, and Snowberry. The air was suddenly filled with the scent of freshly mowed grass, while tulips pushed their way toward the sun.

After a week I had a few favorite spots to walk: the Fish Hatchery, Waterfront Park (perfect for rinsing muddy dogs and finding deer peeking out through the trees), Leavenworth Ski Hill, and the National Forest roads near the house I stayed in. I walked so much that I revved up the plantar fasciitis I thought I'd left behind, but the act of walking felt so good that I countered 5 or 6 miles with a lot of yoga at night, and managed to keep myself moving. I listened to podcasts as I moved along the trails, walking until I reached the end of the trail or the story, and then starting on something new.

Walking became a meditation over those short weeks, one which I have since lost as a daily practice. It feels as though there's a great big hole in my days, but it's so easy to let the crazy pace of travel (or real life) get in the way. Yoga is on the back seat too, which I'm planning to pick up again as soon as I have more than 2 days strung together in one particular place. I could do it now, but there's something about the cadence of a more daily life that helps to anchor the habit.

I've been asked many, many times if I have found a place in which I could live outside of Maine. Leavenworth is that place for me. There was something magnetic there that kept pulling me back into the woods, pulling in breath after breath of clear mountain air, talking idly to the dog, and watching the water rush over rocks or around a lazy bend. Part of what captivated me was that in a funny way, it felt so much like home. Everything is on a larger scale, but there's a similar feel to western Maine in particular.

Even the small town, where cheesy souvenir shops and local artisans sit side-by-side with wineries, coffee shops, and beer gardens reminded me of home. Maybe it's the reliance on tourists that was so familiar, but more than once I imagined myself there, part of the place, with trails out my back door in every direction. 

Tulips for Days

Look, if tulips are not your thing, back away slowly. This unapologetic photographic love letter to Roozengaarde and the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is not for you. Easily half of these shots were taken with my phone since I had a charged camera battery, but it was all the way back at my car and I wanted more time with the flowers, so I opted not to trudge all the way back.

I did put in a photo of my new hopping lederhosen from Archie McPhee at the very end if you want to skip ahead and see those instead of ll the flowers. They're pretty awesome.