Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.
- Inigo Montoya, "The Princess Bride"
After Atlanta, everything changes.
Oh, the lush greens and rolling terrain of the Southeast in early summer remain constant as I ricochet through Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and back again in reverse order. But the journey has a different kind of momentum on the way west; the pendulum has swung to the end of its arc and reversed. I'm headed back toward home.
|Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve, Birmingham|
The communities I visit in Memphis, Atlanta, Birmingham, New Orleans, and Austin are all worthy of many words, but everything's moving faster now, too fast to blog about everywhere I've been, almost (but not quite) too fast to keep the journal going. And always now, beneath my joy in each new place, I feel that westward tug.
|Rural Texas royalty, McDade Watermelon Festival|
Every place I visit fascinates me in new ways. This country blindsides me with beauty: the bayous and backwaters of coastal Louisiana, the phantasmagorical skies of Texas, the red cliffsides of New Mexico. And the people are beautiful, too. I am hosted and helped by many wonderful folks along the way, gentle souls and colorful characters, family and friends old and new; I sleep on couches and air mattresses and abundantly pillowed guest beds and my own little camping mat. I eat some of the best food of my life, and also quite a bit of crappy fast food. It's all awesome and exciting and, yes, exhausting. I would probably enjoy all this more if I were traveling more slowly, but if I did, the money wouldn't hold out. And also: home.
|New Orleans grafitti|
Northeastern New Mexico reminds me of central Washington: row upon row of mountains, real mountains, bristling with pines and firs and studded with alpine lakes. I ease my car down the heavily rutted drive of Hummingbird Community's campground, approach the sign-in table, and receive a huge hug from the friendly registrar. I'm here for Visitor Weekend, an event Hummingbird hosts rarely; the timing of this event is yet another reason I hurried through the South.
|Hummingbird Community visitors at Mediation Point|
I've been hoping and praying that the thunderstorm forecast for today will hold off until I'm able to get my tent set up. The raindrops start falling just as I'm getting finished. As I join other visitors and "Hummers" huddled under the pavilion, the sky cracks open over our heads, collapsing to earth in sheets and buckets of water and little round chunks of ice. Welcome to monsoon season. Exhilarated and soggy, we retreat to the aptly-named Sanctuary Yurt for palak paneer, chana masala, dal, and hot chai (dairy and non-dairy).
|Sanctuary Yurt, Hummingbird Community|
As the rain hammers the roof of the yurt, I wonder how my tent is doing. This is the first real weather I've put it through. Will it leak? Rainwater is carving terraces into the bare earth outside the kitchen. Will it wash my tent into the stream that runs along the campsites? When our stomachs are full of delicious food, we introduce ourselves and express our intentions for the weekend, leaning forward to catch each other's voices over the noise of the storm.
|Hummingbird members (and visitors) make their own sunshine|
The rain lets up at dusk, and I slip out to see how my tent has fared. It's spattered with dirt and fir needles, but plenty dry inside. The mild, clear-running little stream I pitched it near is now a torrent of chocolate milk, but it's keeping its distance from my campsite. I'll sleep warm and dry tonight, my first night back in the West.
* * *
I'm writing this from Santa Fe, where I've taken a couple of days to sleep in a real bed and do some writing and travel planning. I've been lucky enough to stay next door to a studio where gorgeous leather books and bags are assembled by hand. The workspace is mesmerizing, full of gadgets and machines, fine paper, shiny buckles, and piles and piles of luscious, soft leather. It smells heavenly. If I were settling in Santa Fe, I'd be applying for work here, you bet. But I gotta keep movin'. Home calls.
|Scrap leather, Renaissance Art|
You can find the products of this studio at Renaissance Art. Look and drool, ye bibliophiles!