Left Asheville early, before anyone else was up and about. I was making my way through eastern Kentucky to Winchester, VA. The road took me from North Carolina, through western VA, then eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and finally Virginia again.
Stopped in Big Stone Gap at the visitor's center, an old President's Railroad car. This was the car used by three different presidents of the railroad company. Lavish.
Michelle, at the center, told me there have been a lot of layoff's and mine closings because of the push toward clean coal. She said it will be a tough Christmas in these parts.
A building on the main street of Appalachia, VA, the next town up from Big Stone Gap. This is the area where Mary Keene, who grew up here, told me the other day that there were no happy memories.
As I passed a coal mine I noticed a sign, "Ambulance Entrance."
Empty coal cars. Saw hundreds of these along the way through this region.
This scene reminded me of the buttes out west though didn't inspire the same feelings.
Passed Beefhide, KY. Wondered how that name came about.
West Virginia road.
The bridges in KY and WV are all named after people. I wanted to know what river I was crossing but instead only got names I had no connection with.
Had a great time driving through WV. Not a straight level stretch to be found. All curves and hills. Fun driving, but I wished I was driving a standard.
Small communities every few miles as the road ran through narrow hollows lined by steep hillsides.
Arrived in Winchester about 8:30 PM, tired. Visited with Connie, a poet I met at my reading in Winchester back in the third week of the journey. Had a good time relating with her 8 year old son, Timothy. He's just recently gotten into reading big time and showed me his collection of books.
Breakfast and good talk about poetry with Connie. My reading in Winchester in the early part of the journey was very inspiring to her and she's done a lot of writing and submitting of poetry since. Also was invited to be part of a serious writing group ad has shared some poems at readings.
While walking to the diner we passed this metal handle sticking out from the sidewalk. You could lift it up, but it was anchored by the concrete. Strange.
I explored Winchester a bit for the afternoon before heading over to Dorian's and Nate's "Remember Yourself Massage." This was where I read in Winchester on August 28. Had a wonderful time then and a great visit and stay at their place. Dorian had suggested then that I read in Charles Town, WV, which is only a half hour away. So, I booked the WV reading there and will be staying with them again tonight.
Handley Library, Winchester. A beautiful, Beaux-Arts Style building constructed from 1909-13.
Inside the library.
There are more than 20 "apples" around Winchester. This one has images of famous people connected with the area. Winchester hosts the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival in May.
Ball amidst Ginko leaves, on one of Winchester's streets. Ginko leaves pretty much change color and drop en masse.
Was wonderful to connect with Dorian and Nate again. We met for the first time when I arrived in Winchester late afternoon on the day of my reading in August. We had only emailed and talked on the phone prior to that meeting. Right after parking the car I looked down the street and someone was waving to me as if I was an old friend. That was Dorian. This time it really was returning as an old friend.
A few of us road down together to Charles Town, WV for the reading. Small, intimate and enjoyable.
Afterwards we sat around and talked, ate seafood gumbo that Nate concocted and had a pleasant final evening together. I went downstairs to sleep on a futon in the gallery, as I had before. Just before turning in Dorian and Nate came down with some gifts - a Hotei statue, incense, sage and blue corn flour. Hotei is also known as the "Laughing Buddha." He carries a cloth bag full of his belongings and is always laughing.
I again left early in the morning before seeing anyone else. I left Dorian and Nate this quote by Dogen
, a 13th Century Japanese Zen Buddhist monk, which was sent to me by my bosom buddy Rhonda, shortly after I began the journey:
But do not ask me where I am going,
As I travel in this limitless world,
Where every step I take is my home.
Most likely I'll be back at this home in Winchester again sometime down the road.
Boonsboro, MD. I stopped for breakfast at another place across the street.
Above Boonsboro I passed this bear in a field near the road. Since I had been traveling through coal country the last few days and will be ahead, I couldn't help but think of this poem by Kenneth Patchen:
The Orange Bears
The Orange bears with soft friendly eyes
Who played with me when I was ten,
Christ, before I'd left home they'd had
Their paws smashed in the rolls, their backs
Seared by hot slag, their soft trusting
Bellies kicked in, their tongues ripped
Out, and I went down through the woods
To the smelly crick with Whitman
In the Haldeman-Julius edition,
And I just sat there worrying my thumbnail
Into the cover---What did he know about
Orange bears with their coats all stunk up with soft coal
And the National Guard coming over
From Wheeling to stand in front of the millgates
With drawn bayonets jeering at the strikers?
I remember you would put daisies
On the windowsill at night and in
The morning they'd be so covered with soot
You couldn't tell what they were anymore.
A hell of a fat chance my orange bears had!
Library in Blue Ridge Summit, PA. An old railroad station. Might have to see about giving a reading there sometime.
On my way to Reading, PA and a stay with Craig Czury and Heather Thomas, I passed through Gettysburg. I've never been a war history person but took a little detour through some of the place.
Craig suggested I stop at Prudhomme's Lost Cajun Kitchen on my way to get some Mountain Oysters
for us to have at lunch. I stopped there, but they had none available as the price had gotten sky high for them. An interesting place though, so I had to stay for one beer at the bar. Good conversation with Bill Anderson, a guitar player and singer who does regular gigs there and will be heading south to New Orleans for a few weeks. We talked "shop" a bit - being artists on the road. Also met Sharon, the co-owner. She new Craig, told a story or two about him, and said to pass on her best wishes.
Poster hanging in the men's room.
The chef, Sharon's husband, is a nephew of Paul Prudhomme, the famous chef in New Orleans.
Arrived at Heather and Craig's house early afternoon. Both are poets and good friends, family actually. I've known Craig since 1986, when we released our first book, Susquehannock, A Literary Anthology of the Upper Susquehanna Watershed, co-published with Walt Franklin's Great Elm Press. Craig was one of the contributors. We have been good friends ever since and I have spent many wonderful days and nights here in Reading with them. Today was no exception. Good talk, good food, a little Bocce, sake, wine.
Bird feeder in morning mist through the kitchen window.
To continue the people connecting on this journey, this morning I got together with another friend I've known for years but hadn't seen recently, Carol. We met at a reading I gave in Reading back in 2004. We became good friends but then, as often happens, we hadn't connected as much recently. Today's her birthday, born one day earlier than me, one day older, one day more glorious. A good breakfast and talk that flowed as if there had never been a space of time since being together.
After breakfast we went over to the Sacred Oak in Oley
. This is a Yellow Oak, or Chinkapin, claimed to be the largest in the country, more than 500 years old. Once again, the old, venerable, sacred trees of the earth.
We are small in comparison.
We searched the ground for acorns but couldn't find any. A number of old puffballs though.
Back at Heather and Craig's I helped out in the tearing down of their old shed. Craig and I - Doctor Destructoes. It almost seemed like we knew what we were doing! Good to do some good physical work.
We stopped at Fairground farmer's Market, an indoor market that has scores of vendors selling meat, vegetables, fruit, seafood, candy, etc. We had a good time talking with Krystyna and Roman at their stand. I bought a bit of polish sausage to take home to the family. (I can do that now, only a day from home!)
That evening I had my penultimate reading of the tour, at Clay on Main, in Oley, PA, sponsored by Berks Bards. Liz Stanley is the driving force behind Berks Bards. I've read many times over the years for them and she has always been a great supporter of FootHills Publishing and the work that I do as a poet. We've published a number of poets from the region and it's always a treat to get down this way to connect with the members. Dolores, Director of Clay on Main, is a wonderfully kind spirit and hosts many events, classes and exhibits at the location.
Birthday cake made by Heather. Liz sits next to me.
A small tree grown from a Sacred Oak acorn. This was given to me by Laura, who led the walk when I first saw the Sacred Oak. We will try to continue this tree's growth on Wheeler Hill. I expect it will eventually be planted along the western side of our woods, where the Red Oaks grow. Maybe near the Mother Tree, our biggest Red Oak and where the boys' placentas are buried.
Me reading at Clay on Main.
(The above three pictures courtesy of Heather Thomas.)
A good reading followed by a wonderful open reading. Once again, a stimulating experience down here in Berks County.
Michael, Heather and Craig outside after the reading.
The final morning of the Poems Across America Tour. Final goodbye hugs. heading down the road to the final reading. 97 days behind me, one final one to go.
Whenever I'm on the final day of a journey I want to slow it down, savor the final miles, final minutes. US 20, approaching Newport and the vast Pacific. The final miles on the delta south of New Orleans. Approaching El Paso and the Rio Grande. Entering Everett, WA. Always this sense of accomplishment mixed with a feeling of sadness. This is the longest journey I've been on. 14 weeks, over 17,000 miles. Is it really coming to an end?
The elements slowed me down. As I made my way over the central mountains of Pennsylvania the fog lay thick on the landscape. I drove slower, kept eyes fixed on road. there was not much to see beyond the immediate surroundings. I wanted to see if I could get a picture of the smoldering underground fire in Centralia. Only a view of the thick fog.
This was totally appropriate. Slowing me down and bringing the trip full circle. There was fog along the Susquehanna valley as I drove toward Maine on that far away morning of August 12. In Maine, there was fog hunkering in from the ocean. Now fog hunkered on the hilltops, in the valleys as I drove northward, back to my starting place, back home.
After awhile the fog cleared and I had smooth driving.
Still, coal country.
I arrived in Corning, at 171 Cedar Arts Center, where the final reading was, just as the event was slated to start. I called Carolyn on the phone from the car after I parked nearby. She came out to meet me. Hello hugs. The next 30 minutes, hellos, hugs. Family, friends. My kids, grandkids. People from near and far to greet me, hear the final reading, wish me a happy 63rd birthday.
I was so into the moment that I never brought out my camera, so I have no pictures to post. (Those who were there and took pics, please email me a few.)
The food was great, the birthday pumpkin pies, made by Carolyn and Cassandra, wonderful. I blew out the candles, made a private wish. 63 years behind me, I hope a vital and vibrant many more ahead.
I gave my 48th reading of the tour. Others followed with poems during the open reading. The perfect way to end such a momentous journey, gathering with those who I am close to, hearing words of poets I know. So much was a blur, but the feeling was one of gratitude, of feeling blessed.
Yet, the journey still wasn't complete. I started from Wheeler Hill, needed to return to Wheeler Hill. So, after cleaning up, loading the cars, I drove alone the 32 miles north, through Corning, along I-86. Painted Post, Cooper's Plains, Campbell, Savona, Bath. At Kanona I turned on Route 53, headed north. Through the crossroads of Wheeler. Slowed down to 45 mph. Turned left onto County Route 8, the Wheeler-Avoca Road. Climbed uphill a little over two miles, turned right on Ridge Road. Wagner Hill Road on the left, our neighbor's house further on then turned right into our drive. Far off toward the northwest the red lights of the wind generators blinked in the dark night. My headlights lit the dirt drive as I slowly crept along the third of a mile to the house. As I pulled up to the parking place Orly, our cat, sat waiting for someone to return. Home again. Home again.
The next morning, this sunrise greeted me from the house.