still on the horse farm

It’s quiet and easy here. I may accompany my hosts on an errand or two, or help out with some gardening, but mostly I loaf around, reading and writing, and I’ve watched a few movies. The place is rich in birds: mostly common ones (bluejay, cardinal, robin, house sparrow, common grackle), but so plentiful and active and vociferous: I am awakened each morning by birdsong. I especially like the barn swallows, which swoop quite aggressively, and although they are small, they are an easy ID, with their red throat, blue back, pale chest, and split tail. I also spotted a red-headed woodpecker – or possibly pileated, it’s hard to tell. (My host says red-headed, and I agree that looks more likely from pictures, but the pileated is more common in this area.)

On a Sunday morning I took a short audio recording of the Amish singing at their home worship, accompanied by birdsong. It was lovely, I think. I’ve decided not to post it here, because that feels a little intrusive. But if you drop me a line, I’ll send it to you, how’s that?

I have not bothered the horses too much, having no expertise there, but I’ve helped walk them to and from pastures and feed them a little. I had forgotten how big horses are! I think my hosts are probably a little disappointed that I can’t appreciate more what they are trying to show me. Oh well.

On my last night here, I’m going to see a play, and that will be a real treat – it’s the kind of thing I’d do more of if I had better accommodations for Hops. Stay tuned for that review, eventually.

I have taken precious few pictures, for which I apologize. I think I left tourist mode when I got so relaxed and settled here. It’s a beautiful place…

on the horse farm in Amish country

I’ve stayed for just about a week now in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, which Wikipedia says has the largest Amish population in the world (though at 37,000 just 7% of the local population). Where I’m staying, the Amish are very visible. Mennonites, another of the “Plain” people, make up another distinct group, although it sometimes takes a trained eye to see the difference. I am very curious, of course, but I’d think it rude to start quizzing people I meet on the street. My hosts were able to loan me this book, which has helped some, along with all the questions my hosts have generously answered for me.

The horse farm I’m staying on is owned by medium-distant family, who are of course “English” (as Amish call the rest of us), and they have been kind in letting me – practically a stranger – park and use facilities and hang around. They’ve also taken me out and shown me the world, more than I’d expect your average host to do: we spent a day running errands and visiting Amish businesses, including a tack shop, a grocery store, a dry goods store, a hardware store, a produce & baked goods stand, and then a Mennonite restaurant for lunch. It was very interesting to me to see how they live under certain strictures: kerosene lamps light their businesses, and the hardware store had a very long PVC pipe running from the register to some back area, that they speak to each other through (and through which they honk a bicycle horn, to get one another’s attention). They take cash or checks, no cards. They don’t use rubber on their buggy wheels – those are metal – and they won’t ride bicycles, but their push-scooters do have rubber tires; hmm. They do not use gas-powered locomotion, getting around by horse-and-buggy or scooter, but they will use gas-powered engines for farming – pulled by teams of horses or mules. (This is a fascinating distinction, to me.) They will also take rides in gas-powered vehicles, which has birthed a small local business of “friendly” taxis. My hosts are also sometimes asked for rides, for which they generally turn down the offer of gas money.

I got to meet a few Amish – staff who help out here on the farm – and one lapsed Amish, whose privacy I’ve respected by not asking too much, but boy am I curious. Another day, we drove into another town to buy hay at an auction, and we stepped into the livestock auction for a few minutes. An older Amish man stopped me because Hops reminded him of a good dog he once had; we then stood for some time as he told me about all the dogs he’s ever owned, going back sixty years to the best one. I appreciated that interaction very much.

It’s beautiful here.

into Pennsylvania

State #11 gave me no welcome-to-Pennsylvania sign, because I was on such a back road I suppose, but it was the loveliest back road. I’m settling into a little stay here on a horse farm. May be a few days until my next post, so here’s Hops and Foxy in Maryland, at the Chesapeake City bridge over Back Creek.

Dogfish Head & beyond

You may recall my friend Barrett, who I saw in Big Bend and also in Port Arthur – he flew out a few days after my birthday and a few weeks before his, for a sort of double-birthday celebration, at a brewery that has been important to me for a long time. I believe I first met Sam Calagione, founder and president of Delaware’s Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, in 2002. I was already a fan, and read his book Brewing Up A Business promptly upon its publication. I’ve been trying to make it out to Dogfish for nearly twenty years now. And the day I arrived in Delaware, Sam and Dogfish announced their merger with Boston Beer Company, maker of Sam Adams beer. (I don’t understand why it’s a “merger” when one company bought the other.) Well, this is not the forum to vent my frustrations and disillusionment, but it cast a shadow over my visit.

Barrett arrived with a friend of his, Tyler, and the three of us had a lovely day and a half – mergers notwithstanding – sampling the local brews. After Tyler’s departure, Barrett and I spent a total of five days together in Delaware (and a touch of Maryland). I seem to have not taken enough pictures. We had a very nice AirBnb in historic Milton (I still slept in the van!), and visited Dogfish locations in both Milton and Rehoboth Beach, as well as driving by the Dogfish Inn in Lewes. We found other bars and breweries as well – several of them – and walked some gorgeous parks. On a little dog walk in town, Hops and I passed by house with a plaque marking it as an “undocumented stop” on the Underground Railroad. (Isn’t it documented, now?) We had plans to go kayaking, but got rained out. It rained for several days, in fact, and I’m reluctant to even type these words, but so far my latest leak prevention job on Foxy is holding up. We had perfect weather for Barrett’s final day, and spent some good time on the beach – I think Hops is near-dead with exhaustion.

We found most of the eleven observation towers on the Delaware and Maryland coasts that were established during WWII to watch for enemy ships and assist in targeting them. We walked around one of the abandoned ones, and climbed the stairs in (I think) the only renovated one, in Cape Henlopen State Park. We saw barracks, huge guns, and some cool lizards. I prefer lizards to guns.

It was really great to spend some time with friends. But I’m very tired, and it will be nice to slow back down for a day or two here, and drink a little less beer. I’ll be working on my complicated reaction to corporate mergers; or, I’ll be working on lessening my attachments to corporations. My bad, that.

Hops sends a contented snore and I second.

VA to MD to DE: a few notes

I’m driving north to meet my buddy Barrett, who is flying up from Texas to meet me in Delaware for an item of tourism that is long, long awaited. On my way, in the final moments in Virginia, I saw a tiny brown bird that I think might be a field sparrow. Foxy crossed the Chesapeake Bay! via a long bridge that occasionally dipped down into a tunnel (and up again, and down and up, diving and surfacing like a submarine), which cost us $14 but saved us an hour and fifteen minutes of drive time and gave us beautiful views of the ocean all the way. We stopped at the entrance to eastern Virginia and then drove up through Maryland, seeing laughing gulls, brown pelicans and another bald eagle. Then we pulled into a state forest campground in Delaware that was free and lovely, and filled with beautiful blue-and-black butterflies, among other things. We took a short walk that gave up an eastern fence lizard and lady’s slippers, and I picked nine ticks off Hops and one off me, so beware those short hikes in the Delaware woods in May, folks.

the big day

woke up to this

For my birthday, I slept in; had jerk chicken for breakfast, courtesy of Beasa; and went for a bike ride. I saw two beavers! (separately) – the first one was in the road, reluctant to decide I was a threat, although he eventually did, and trundled over a few feet and astonished me by disappearing down a hole I did not see (indeed, I went to check it out and didn’t see it til I was on top of it). The second took cover a bit quicker, but only into the ditch, where he sat up and watched me until I was pretty close before ducking down into (I think) a culvert. My growing observation about beavers is that they are rather cautious, but also curious, and can’t stand to go underground until they’ve checked me out.

I also saw a great blue heron in flight harassed by a red-tailed hawk who dived at it several times before they flew off in different directions. I felt lucky to see this (mouth open, not looking where the bike was going), but I don’t understand why the conflict!

Then I got back to the Airbnb property and did my yoga under a big coniferous tree of some sort… This past week I’ve been working to recover my yoga practice which I lost some years ago. I’d practiced for most of 10 years, and losing this has been truly a loss, but this last week has been encouraging: it comes back more quickly than I’d thought, and much of it remains intuitive. My body still has a ways to go, but I find this practice returns my body to me generously. That’s a birthday gift I’m giving myself; and it’s also a gift from my dear friend Susan, who for years was my yoga teacher. She’s joined me a few days on speaker phone to help me get back into things. Thanks, friend.

Jerk chicken for lunch again, and then I spent the rest of the afternoon continuing to sweat: I applied three tubes of silicone caulk to Foxy, still trying to fix her leak. And I cleaned her windows. Then I mostly lay around and drank a few All Day IPAs and went to bed… happy day, y’all.

a day in lovely Richmond, Virginia

It was a long day – 12 hours round-trip – but it was worth it.

Hops and I got up early for some yoga and then headed into the city. I had errands to run: fuel for the stove, dog food, oil for the van, boring things like that. I accomplished everything pretty easily in the outskirts, and then into the city center via Monument Avenue, which reminded me very much of Houston’s Heights Boulevard, with its width and broad esplanade, its old stately houses, and its public art and statuary. Several intersections felt so familiar that I felt a little disoriented. I walked around (the outside of) the Holocaust Museum and Edgar Allen Poe Museum, and a bit of the floodwall at the James River, including the site of Libby Prison, where Union prisoners of war were held during the Civil War in apparently horrendous conditions. The prison is gone – moved to Chicago where it served as a war museum until it had to give way to a coliseum – but there remains a plaque, “re-erected 1980 by Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War.” One wonders about the motivations of the two groups.

Then I made my way to the state capitol grounds for the Virginia Civil Rights Monument, which was my main goal.

For a destination, this is a diminutive thing, and one of 8 monuments and statues on the capitol grounds. I made a walk of it, seeing these beautiful grounds and all 8 monuments. You should go read more of the story here, but the monument honors Barbara Johns, who at 16 led a student walkout from a criminally underfunded Black high school in Farmville, Virginia, as well as the other students, activists and lawyers involved. While the civil rights monument is well done, I was left with a sour feeling, the feeling of tokenry: there’s the civil rights monument, a monument to women and one to Native Americans; the rest are old white men, including George Washington, several Confederate “heroes,” a doctor, and Edgar Allan Poe. Martin Luther King, Jr. gets a tree. It all feels a bit out of proportion, as if white men have done 85% of the work of Virginia and women, Native Americans and Blacks added a little bit here and there. I do appreciate the civil rights monument.

And I want to pull out the women’s and “Indian tribute” pieces as well.

Mantle is an earthwork monument by Mohawk artist Alan Michelson, based on the deerskin mantle in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, catalogued as follows in 1656: Pohatan, King of Virginia’s habit all embroidered with shells, or Roanoke. Historians believe the 34 embroidered shell disks, each sewn in a spiral pattern from which the shape of the tribute derives, may represent the nations of the Powhatan Confederacy, whose traditional homelands, Tsenacommacah, include this site.

One of nature’s fundamental forms, spirals are present not only in shells but also in the growth pattern of plants and trees. The tribute’s terraced design and elemental materials, including indigenous stone and plants, honors the land now known as Virginia and its original inhabitants and keepers of the land – the Indian nations – and celebrates their active presence and enduring culture.

Visitors are invited to follow the winding path to the fountain at the center, inscribed with the original names of Virginia waters.

Echoing the indigenous spiral sense of time, from which one may look backward to the past and forward to the future, Mantle is a welcoming space inviting contemplation of the four “r’s” of the indigenous worldview – respect, relationship, reciprocity, and responsibility.

And here’s the rest of the stuff.

From there I went on to see my buddy Beasa from my MFA program and their partner Diane. It was a great visit! We hung out in Foxy and had wonderful Jamaican food for dinner, and Beasa and I sat and talked and I could have done it for hours and hours more because they are wonderful, but Hops and I had to make the drive back to our riverside oasis.

I love these people so much. Foxy never looked so good!