Hold onto your seats, friends, because this Ramblin’ Anne update is about to take you 2,500 miles across 11 states and three time zones in just 15 days. Considering that it took me 6 months to get out west, this is going to be a wild ride home!
Our journey begins in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana, the day I packed up and rolled down the gravel drive of the Darby log cabin.
That sun-shiny, Rocky Mountain morning, I sat, idling, for a minute, in the dappled shade of the lodgepole pines, feeling the nag in my low lumber and gnaw in my heart over leaving this place I’d inhabited for a month. So remote, 30 minutes to the closest saloon or Dollar Store, the Darby place scared me at first. But I come to love it for the wild solitude – for the crystalline lake where I swam each evening and the craggy, lonely mountains I climbed.
This was the place where, in the sacred stillness, one morning, on my yoga mat on the porch, watching the deer watch me, I realized: I have healed myself!
On that momentous day, it became as clear as alpine blue sky that I, alone, had the power to heal.
I so wanted to hold onto that empowered feeling; so I packed in my suitcase and was taking it with me. My time here was up; the road was calling, the adrenaline excitement of the next place pulsing through my veins.
Beyond that, I suddenly had an ultimate destination in mind. I was strong enough to dance, now, so I’d bought my ticket to the Rhythm and Roots Festival and was raring to make it to the state of Rhode Island by Labor Day weekend. It was August 16th.
I adjusted my rear view mirror, catching the reflection of my giddy smile, put the Tiguan in drive, and spun out onto West Fork Road.
Next stop, Missoula, a college town a wee north, a bit of detour IF, in fact, I was at all worried about getting to my East Coast destination on time. But after my extended log cabin isolation, I was dying for some urban fun my two new Montana girlfriends. And that’s just what we happened upon – a lively bluegrass jam at Western Cidery, scrumptious Korean bowls from a food truck, followed by a cider-infused frolic, at dusk, along the river, at which time, the alpenglow of creativity flowing among us, we formed a hip-hop band called The Thimbleberries and conceived of our debut album, 'Shakey Bridge.' Though none of us was a singer or guitarist – I a rusty flutest – we were doin’ this thing!
Parting company with my bandmates was such sweet sorrow. But I had to get a move on, headed eastward to Bozeman, where I was invited to stay with a couple I’d met in Escalante, Utah while lost on a canyon trail. That was way back in March, and we’d only met that once! But Tom and Glen and their pups Cricket and Scout welcomed me to their ranch house with open arms. It’s strange and magical meeting people on the road that you feel you’ve known forever.
We grilled bison steaks the first night and drank red wine while watching the sun set over the Gallatin Valley. The second night I was Glen's plus-one a the poetry reading birthday party of an 89-year-old retired writing professor. What a hoot! I extended my stay a third night because I didn’t want to leave – because I was comfy in the day bed guest room – because Glen and Tom said stay as long as you want, and I think they meant it – because I'd gotten to love there dogs, and I'm no dog lover, and there was a dinner party that night!
Alas, the next morning, I packed-up my overnight bag and bid a bittersweet farewell to my Bozeman family and hit the road, again. This time, I was crossing the Continental Divide, a literal and symbolic journey moment, then landing not far, in Livingston, to visit with the former partner of my montainman cousin Mark. I'd always liked Janice, having met at several family reunions over the years; but I didn’t really know her. In a whirlwind 24 hours - hiking to the crest, making dinner, practicing yoga together – I realized this woman and I were birds of a feather – her shelves were lined with the same books – mystics and Buddhists – the two of us were traveling the same healing journey.
As you can see, I wasn't making much progress on my trip home. Time was ticking. I hadn’t even made it out of the state of Montana. So I rose early, bid farewell to my spiritual friend, and gunned it outa Livingston. I had a 300-mile day ahead. But I couldn’t exit the Big Sky State without a stop at the site of Custer’s – or shall I say Sitting Bull’s – Last Stand - The Battle of Little Bighorn.
I had to feel, rising off the sweltering plains, the energy of self-determination and the sorrow of the near-annihilation of our native ancestors. I would take this feeling with me as I passed through Wyoming, then into South Dakota, driving through the Black Hills at dusk and stopping, suddenly, at the sight of a dark form in the middle of my lane: a bison! Or was it a buffalo?
Of course they are one in the same thing, I, city-slicker, would come to find, and would come to encounter vast herds of these gorgeous, grounded creatures during my three-day Hot Springs, South Dakota stay. I would also encounter my first torrential thunder storm in six months, on a hike into Wind Cave Canyon, gleeful as a kid for the raindrops falling on my head.
I will pause here to mention the nomad’s dilemma: In most every place I’ve stopped, the notion has occurred to me to stay, especially certain places with particular people. Santa Fe, Durango, Escalante, Joshua Tree, San Diego, Morro Bay...the list goes on and includes almost every place. But I have moved on, and kept moving. Perhaps my desire for momentum, the will to not get stuck, was what drove me to buy that festival ticket, including campsite and shower pass and three days of music. Or maybe I just really wanted to to dance.
Well-rested after an evening soak in Moccasin Hot Springs, I was moving again, and had a lot of ground to cover. I took the more direct back route through the reservation, 60 of some of the loneliest dirt road miles of my entire journey, through several ghost towns and, bamm, landed in the BADLANDS. Something about that moon-like spare scape and absolute openness got me dancing in the streets like no one was watching, because there was no one anywhere in sight to watch!
But I could not linger; I had miles of cornfields to clock to reach Minneapolis and the home of my cousin, Muffie, by dark.
Despite her sudden case of Covid, and our need to social distance, this was a precious family connection I had to manifest; I’d stayed with her sister, Ginger, on my pass through Arizona months back. So Muffie and I and her husband and a friend visiting from Portland all managed to make this most of it, enjoying porch sit dinners beneath the much-missed maple and oak canopy as I soaked the Midwest humidity into my drought-ridden lizard skin. With a nudge and guidance from my cousin, I ventured out on Saturday to the state fair, the largest in the country – the size of a small city - taking in the grandeur of Minnesota – from fried candy bars to tom thumb donuts to the sweetest jar of honey to the largest pumpkin, 1685 pounds, in the world, to the newest newborn piglet in the Miracle of Birth tent.
I hereby declare that state fairs are magical, and going to one solo is not all that bad! (Though Caroline My Crooked Spine would prefer to rent an electric cart next time.)
Sunday morning, I awoke in a panic. I was T-minus 5 days to festival kickoff and still 1,350 miles away from my Atlantic coast destination. It was time to speed thing UP!
From Minneapolis, deftly skirting the virus, this time, I pushed my pace through a tornado, hazards flashing, until I just could not see through the gray blur to the car in front of me. I had to pull-off, just west of Chicago, and check into a blessed Motel 6. The next day, beneath clear skies, I had three big states to traverse: Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, landing in Pittsburgh, PA that evening rather road-weary.
But my good old pal, Sue, greeted me with a big hug and a brimming glass of Sav Blanc and the conversation of re-connection flowed like the fountain tinkling on her lovely backyard veranda. Highlights of my two-day stay included a tour of the city with Sue and her two lovely daughters, a chance meeting with a pair of giant perogis, and a night of Breakfast Club and popcorn in the basement recroom with the whole family.
T-minus one day until festival launch, I get a late start out of Pittsburgh and, upon Sue's insistence, and to my delight, I land in State College, home of the Nittany Lions, to rest at their campus house for a night, before heading into the thick of the mid-Atlantic fray.
A fray it sure was – from Western Pennsylvania, through New York, into Connecticut with stop and go Labor Day weekend accident traffic backups every hour for 10 squirming, harrowing hours. When I finally pulled into the festival campground, music pulsing into the air off of three stages – a cacophony of zydeco and rock and blues – my nerves were shot, dusk had set-in, and I still had to setup my tent!
If there are ever times of doubt on the nomad road, this was one - to conclude my 2,500 mile trajectory amidst the madness of a thousand festi-fools!
The solution? Dance myself into the mood, with the help of some wacky wonderful friends and a tiny red Doobie Sisters' treat.
For three days, it was non-stop – chacha, zydeco, cajun, waltz, swing, swaying blues, and just plain old ecstatic jumping up and down with my DC dance friends. What a home-coming!
Until Caroline My Blessed Crooked Spine said: Enough! Then she dragged me to the beach to cleanse myself in the Atlantic Sea of all those journey miles plus the festival dirt between my toes.
Actually, I’m still not QUITE home. I pen this post form an Airbnb in Stoningham, CT, possibly my 25th state, but who’s counting?
After 9 months orbiting the country, it’s time to hole-up for a few days of quarantine decompression, like an Apollo astronaut, before embarking on the final harried leg down I95 toward home.
Or, maybe, by now, I’ve proven to myself: home is right here, wherever I go.