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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Check me out today over at my MFA program’s Heartwood blog: Road Writing. Thanks!
You guys, I got to see otters!! It was so exciting! I walked down to the dock and lifted my binoculars to my eyes and in that very moment, in their frame, were two otters swimming. It was truly unbelievable, that instant. They swam and played and ate fish – crunch, crunch, crunch – while I watched for a full 15 minutes before they turned a bend in the river out of sight. I saw them climb out onto fallen trees a few times. It was magical. It was one of the best things that has happened to me on this trip.
(I’m sorry, no pictures. What the binoculars catch the iPhone absolutely does not.)
All this, on a very fine day. I started early in the morning with speaker-phone remote yoga with a dear friend back in Texas, who was once my yoga teacher. I had a quiet day working, and then the otters at dusk. I had good conversations with both my dad and my good buddy Liz, and in the dark there were fireflies and also fireworks out my front door (don’t ask me why). It was a lovely time, aside from Hops’s fireworks-related trauma.
But lest you count your chickens: that night there was rain, and Foxy started dripping more water than usual and from more places, and there I was at 1 and 2 AM crawling around in the rain in the dark with a tiny folding screwdriver on my multitool, trying to take the van apart to see where the water was coming in. That was a dark time, counterpoint to the day.
Next day, in dry and light, I was able to take my van-dismantling a step or two further, see how she’s put together a little better than before, and put some parts back and discard others. I still don’t know where the water comes in, but I have a plan for the next effort. And I observe that problems look very different in the dark versus in the light. There’s a powerful metaphor at work here. At 2 AM, I despaired. At 4 PM, I felt again like Foxy and Hops and I will take on anything: slowly and limping, maybe, but moving on down the road.
In lieu of otters, please enjoy these scenes from the last day or two.
Post-script: I also just ID’d my first bird from its birdsong alone. It’s a brown-headed cowbird. I had been noticing this distinctive, two-note, liquid burble. I just Googled “liquid birdsong” and came up with a few offerings; the cowbird was unmistakable. I checked its range map, just to be sure (thank you as usual to Cornell), and have added it to my list!