WhiteCrow Walking

My solo walk across America began in Maine. I walked for nearly 3 years carrying a backpack and facing countless dangers, as well as met wonderful people I could have never made it without. From bullets to bears I moved through mountains of snow and across burning desert country. The end result will be a book, and the fruition of a childhood dream. This is a blog from the field with rough stories about my steps along the way.

23 February 2006

This Is Only A Test

Although this is a book in progress, I think now is a good time to relate that this is not the book. For every page of this type you see on the screen, I have pages and pages of notes I haven't touched or reread. I try to pick out the dirt as I write. I pull out the large floating leaves. Alot of words are spelled wrong. Alot of what I write is entirely in the now...still thinking onto screen. This is not an excuse for anything I have written, rather it is a promise that a cleaning will come where thoughts will ease into words, and details not here will round off events.
Fantastic souls that I have blessed to have touch my life in these miles will have more form in yours... throughout this walk. Yes,it is a crazy world. Alot is broken. Even in this broken landscape I have seen good works that have all the faces above the clouds smiling down at what is still alive. Homes have been opened to me, money given, groceries have been already paid for at ther checkout desk. I have eaten with the poor until I remembered that I came from the poor, and I fasted at ten degrees for a day and a half as snow held me in my tent, finally eating old dry corn to stay warm while I slept. Through this all I have put my words in a book that brought me comfort. Writing, I became less alone.
If I have not told you already, I am from the land of misfit toys. Yet, I have learned that people DO want a 'Charlie IN The Box". We are all slightly broken, imperfect, lonely. The only thing different about me, not better, is that this is the one dream that wouldn't go to sleep. This Walk wouldn't let me go. I started to wonder. Just maybe this is the magic, the beauty in me that has yet to come out. Maybe it is just a walk before I grow old. Maybe this is some grand plan, a healing that could have come through no other means. I do know that when I go to sleep by a river that is telling me the name of every rock, I feel better about my life. I feel better about the man I'm becoming. Thanks for walking with me.

Jesse WhiteCrow

Woodberry Inn, Floyd VA.....Still

Walking the Blue Ridge Parkway away from Floyd, I am removed from the world. It is a day of roller coaster hills. Three cars pass, one truck. My pack is swollen with food to see me through miles of no gas stations with sour coffee. No stores pull at my wallet to buy stale donuts, and the fig newtons I prize. If there are seven names for different kinds of snow, there are ten words for different kinds of being alone. At any time of day I hold at least two of these words in my hand, in my throat. I try to remember what a kiss feels like as if it is a food I used to eat. I am not too far from trying my arm, but I remember that hugging myself never made me less alone. I talk to an old man at Rock Castle Gorge overlook, as if he is the mailman and no letters have come since fall. He is in a truck with the window down. He doesn't know my story, or care to. He does not want to have his ears warmed with my words. He does not want to tell me about his wife at home, or the eagle that chirped as I arrived. He eats a Oreo quickly like only grown ups do. He turns the keys to his truck, turning the wheel until the belts squeal. Turning back from setting my pack down has me watching wheels pull away. I watch till I remember that I don't know him. I look for the eagle that is too far away to talk to.
Here the farm houses have returned to the land, creeks and bears wander out of the trees but never look up at me. Deer run in front of me because deer run, not because they are heavy with caring. My pack is an old rocker buckled to my back. With each step taken I am rocking over old boards on a porch that won't let me rest. At a campground where nobody comes except a rare hopeful bear looking for an easy fix, I make a sandwich on bread that has become unrelated to the warm loaf I pushed into my pack half a day ago. Now on cold dry bread that breaks and crumbles in the cold mountain air, I keep gathering the bits of meat, pepper cheese, and alvocado back to center while trying to hear the families that once sat here warm as soup. There is no hiss of lanterns now. Nobody's dog brushs at my leg for a hand out. My ears rub the air as if it is the bark of an old tree oiled by many hands. I hear nothing but my own memories sitting down beside me.

Early evening finds me at the Woodbury Inn. Nancy is expecting somebody else so she calls for me to enter as I drum her door gently, wondering if I took too long getting here. In minutes Nancy and I are already on the porch of knowing each other. Nancy is excited by the walk. This always recharges me. New friend Eric, from Cafe' del Sol, called days ago telling Nancy about my journey. Eric inquired if Nancy and her husband would consider setting me up for a night. A few days later finds me in a hot tub with more great faces sharing their lives and dreams with me as we nurse a couple of Seirra Nevada beers. We flinch ever so slightly as the cold rain falls down fom a dark sky.
My room is on a pond that bubbles with blue gills nudging underwater reeds while they wait to talk to the evening deer. It messes with the mind to go from having so little to having everything. Even though I don't think I miss television, I find I turn it on as I unpack my gear. While washing my pants in the sink, ice skaters race for gold metals, round and round as the water goes down the drain. Sitting on the large comfortable bed I feel the worn smooth sole of my boots wondering how many miles I can squeak out of the thin rubber that separates me from the road. I am happy with my Vasque boots, even though they begin to talk of the big sleep. With somewhere between two and three thousand miles under me, I have only worn out two pairs of boots--that includes New England.
Night passes too fast in a good bed. I sleep lightly because it awakens me to not be on the forest floor. It is alarming to not hear the coming and going of assorted little lives. In the woods when it is quiet something is not right.
Nancy makes waffles that fill my plate three times. My thoughts are all about the hot logan berry homemade jam, combined with whipped butter overflowing crater after crater. I now eat for the walk. It is embarssing the ammount that I can eat. Nancy smiles warmly as I say I am an eating machine in a voice that correctly implies that I am sorry. Nancy anchors another set of magic waffles on my jelly streaked plate while she talks about my favorite subject. Food.
It is more than beautiful here. Looking around at this life Nancy and her husband Greg have carved out in these mountains makes me look at my pack and journal like a homeless man pushing leaves in his shirt to get warm, while he stares at a great oak. My days have become a montra about this dream being lived so that new dreams can have wings pinned on. There is no room in my pack for all my wants, fears, hopes. I can only carry now. It is all I can handle living on the bridge that I'm crossing witout worring about how I'd never be able to paddle the rapids below. I can not waste energy on things that may never be. New hands are winding their fingers in mine to strenthen me without my asking. Often I have only to open my hands so that a stranger's hand can slide in.

20 February 2006

Magic Bus, Floyd, VA

The smell of wood smoke is set deep in my clothes. Leaning forward into my shirt as I type words into a computer at Cafe' del Sol, I am back in the woods at the fire circle in the hills. Two days ago I met Heather, and Bowels, through a mutual friend named Tiger that works here at the cafe'. It was 10 degrees when we left the vehicle that brought us to Alum Ridge from the cafe'. We were all soldiers now, winter ants carrying our stash of gear and supplies up the forest trail to the vintage schoolbus home where the forest falls flat. When we could stand without leaning, we looked up at the sky. The trees, thinned a little, allowed us to enjoy the cold stars that gathered just for us.
I was in awe instantly over this new stage in my walk. I saw my old Airsteams from years past. I saw my old dodge van squatting in a wood marsh that I called home for a few years after the army and college years. Everywhere that I looked I was met with flash cards frow lives I'd known. Yet everywhere I looked was brand new. In my ears came voices that I was still tying to new faces and mannerisms. Before me stood the home of Heather Walker and Chris Bowels, and baby Ocean on the way. They knew what the forest sounded like without the hum of stimulants riding wires into their home. They knew the weight of water. Here firewood breaks to the bite of the splitting maul while morning is still easy, just above the rim of the coffee cups. The bus puffed like a train going nowhere fast...happily tied to a station it will never leave. I spent hours on the couch carving animals from knotless firewood, while my eyes moved over the heavy curves if the schoolbus. Like an airstream, the old bus moves in the eye motherly in the hip, round in the thigh. I wanted to leave something besides footprints. Always I am taking more than pictures. We gave each other stories that hinted at whom we were. We made enough coffee so that nobody complained when it was reduced to wet grounds under a screen. Without closing our eyes we walked in Heather's native Alaska. Our feet stayed clean as Tiger acted out getting all her friends stuck in their cars by the river, and the joy of snowboarding down the hill from the bus until ice balls hung from the cuffs of her pants. Heather's baby swelled in her belly until we were all having children in the woods, and hearing first steps walking in our futures while little hands wrapped around our index fingers, damp, warm and tight. I watched Bowels alot, putting wood in the fire boxes, the way he placed each log down like a phrase from a song. He looked too much like my father, except that he smiled alot through bright blue water eyes. When he stood he held not heaviness in his bones. Bowels was all ready holding baby Ocean in his arms. There was nothing that we could say that could make him set the unborn child down, nor would we want to. It was liked seeing my father in theatre light, beautiful youth caught in his face. Bowels helped me forgive, understanding weight without lifting, being afraid without running. I carved a bear for the baby on the way. I carved a bear so that I wouldn't have to leave.
With every step the walk appears to be taking me back in time instead of into the future. Towns wet their tongues before they speak to me. Here words are slower so I'll listen. Here words regain their power, and my respect. When I came to Floyd I knew that I was not going to be introduced with a nod, as the last call came across the coffee shop at five p.m.. In Floyd, coffee and conversation flow far past the point of day meeting night. If you can remain a stranger in Flyod, then you are trying hard to do so with tape keeping your eyes closed.
The curse of Floyd is leaving. Floyd is dancing with a pretty girl just before everyone begins to call it a night, and leave the gym. Standing in the music I could weave like this forever under a disco ball of stars in the sky. I want to dance here all night until a have her name, and the kind of soap in her hair is on my coat, dancing until I say it is morning. Hand ironing my smokey shirt, I am ready to shake these five pound boots some more. Leaving Floyd is sitting in the movie house after the movie is done, and the credits are reduced to information nobody reads. I just want to hear the music a bit longer, trying to remember why the film made me feel the way I do,
Leaving for this walk was not the one time exodus that I told myself it would be. Walking across America is falling in love a thousand times, and still having the strength to stuff my sleeping bag into a bright yellow bag while kneeling in the snow, smiling with a squint at the sky to inquire the pros or cons of a coat or sweater, writing names in the back of my journal, and then leaving all over again, believing that this tug will ease after a dozen miles of remembering. Walking is believing that the little tugs will smooth the sheet of heart. So far I just feel the tightness. Drumming my chest unconsciously with the flat of my hand, moving boots sole thick with memory, I fill my water bottle knowing that sadly I will never see many of these souls ever again.

18 February 2006

Floyd,VA Dancing Feet

The snow is common everywhere here today. Weightless white sand of ice is on everyones hair. We all finally look touched by winter. I am healthy, and giddy about the frosting that has settled on everything. Outside of the sound of rain on the tent at night, nothing comes close to the comforting swoshing brush of snow falling through the night onto the stretch cloth a tent. All of mans ordeals are removed of their sharp edges. Hurry is stolen from every task...even when we hurry.
I slept on a hill down behind The Floyd Country Store. A slope of land that made me cling to my mat all night was my perch. I stuffed my unworn clothing under one side of my padding so I held ground for the most part. Snow came in the morning. I listened for an hour without getting dressed. My sleeping bag already compressed in a sack did not call to me.. Outside of extremes, the cold is noticed like a bright song bird, then dismissed. Listening to the brushing of canvas, I was in twenty winters, then back.
A new town mades me put my boots on eagerly even when I am lazy, so I danced about in somebody's field at 8a.m. on a Saturday on one foot, trying not to wet my socks or fall in a pile. The dog that complained last night as I set camp just watched. Snow came down fast. I am now carring the winter look of snow board shoulders, and hat in less than a couple of minutes.
At Cafe'del Sol I listened to harp, guitar and vocals last night. After a few songs I was back at Floyd's Country Store smacking my feet as young and old rumbled the roof boards in dance. As soon as it was out about my journey, I was grabbed for a dance. I said my legs were no good. The older woman just laughed as she tugged me through the croud. Dancing was an order. She was right though. Wordlessly I was shown that this was how I had to see Floyd. Any fool could watch. When a spin came I tried to be there. When she reached for me in a smile as our feet kicked out at each other I tried to be alert in her eyes. My legs moved well, but from the waist up I was still afraid that if I moved too much my pack would take the lead, throwing me down. Silently to myself I explained that I had stashed my gear at Del Soul. My back was still welded in concern. I was young Frankenstien doing the cha cha.
So many faces wanted to know the journey that had brought me here. So many names came into my ears I just kept nodding.The warm air outside was easing down the valley as cold rallied a chase. Everyone just stomped their boots with steel tapped toes and heals a little harder. I was given free chili dogs, and question after question. I was given pages for my journal I still have to re-read.

17 February 2006

Endicott,VA -- Where Tar Turns To Dirt

Did it wake you as it woke me? Did you reach for a blade while the thin hair on the nape of your neck rose like a cat that never knew sleep? Did your ears strain to see till they hurt? Forget about all of the screams that shout out between nine and five just outside that white picket fence of Mayberry. You heard it. This was different. This was real. Death was coming down hard over water. Down the river bed it rode the deer mercilously, deer shins batting round rocks. Stones were hitting one another in goth billards as the deer scream kept coming in one long note held in the cold air,: a rifle shot without powder. Tight in trees the sounds bit. It was this side of midnight. The cold moon was confidently high. We heard it running toward our bed that was hard on the forest floor.
Was it a cat that rode that bleeding back? Could a cat be that big as to wind choke a deer with it's own jaws, and ride? I sat in my tent feeling as defenseless as a young warrior sleeping behind a rice paper screen. The air smelled like old leaves, a cold fire, and clean earth. Bugging my eyes I could see little more than a deer running mad with a reinless rider, cantering down the riverbed in a half foot of water and rock. Skiding. Running drunk.
I am not a warrior anymore. My swords are in waxpaper and grease. My bullets are sleeping with books. If I had a cell phone what would I say? Who would I call if this hunt turns in at my camp, feet from its course? In this life there really are no calls I need to make when the lion comes to camp. I am 911 now, for better or worse. I can count the cars that passed me today. I am in God's country................no, I am in God's hand. I am awake on a forest wrapped in a silk sheet that lines my sleeping bag. If you are afraid, and still hold your course, then you are brave--I am told. I am afraid. It is like being wet, or cold. It will move on.
We will lie down now. We can't sit like this all night with all of our flesh in a tight fist. I pull my hawk close as if it will not tangle in tent cloth and flesh if I am called to fight from here, from this open door, and a river that has already forgotten. I pull the hawk close because it is my teeth. It is my claws. I pull the hawk close because it is comfort even when cold.
As I stumble back to sleep, I wonder if it was the same hairs rising on my neck at sunset when I squatted by the river, filtering water as the sun made its own camp over the Blue Ridge. I heard my stomach tell my hands to be empty then. My stomach told my tired feet to swollow and be strong--borrow, steal, cut rope ties if need be, but be ready. I opened my hands until everything fell. My eyes scanned the river's edge. The trees were watching me patiently.
While I made tea, then dinner, I kept the small fire between me in the river. My tent was at my back. I played my flute with my eyes open. It is not 2006 here. There are no plastic calenders with happy blemishless faces waving at me. Here a dying rabbit can make you pray.
Tomorrow I will be in Floyd, VA dancing in The Country Store with women loaned from their husbands arm. People will know my name for a day.

08 February 2006

Walton's Mountain

Years ago I tore out a story out of Country magazine about where the television family known as the Walton's came from. While in Harrisonburg I remembered the clipping. After a few minutes on the computer, I found out that, unbelieveably, I was on course. Walton's Mountain became the first destination on my walk that I planned. Schuyler(Sky-ler), VA became the first place I had to see. After leaving Harrisonburg, I entered the world of mountains, and rolling hills in a big way. What looked like an inch or two on the map gave no clue to height, or depth of the route I was to travel.

Now, I am in Forest, VA with something in my stomach making me give back all that I eat a few hours later. Not good, but not the first time. A rich diet is not a regular theme of the walk. It appears that I am a bit under fed--when I really get to eat I lose it. The people in Schuyler, VA were wonderful. I just need to feel a bit more in sorts before I can start putting it down from pages of notes in a respectful way. Right now I am at the home of Tom and Martha Robinson. Martha is the sister to my basecamp, Betty Dunbar in MA. Betty has done a wonderful job getting my gear here. The problem is that it is mostly warm weather gear. I also recieved a replacement knife from my second cousin Darren, that he generously gave to me and the walk. It is heavy, but serious. It seriously will not break, and I'd have to be crazy to not notice it's absence should it decide to stay late in a snow covered camp, or jump in the leaves when I am not looking. It is a knife that a bear would say,"That's a knife". I was supposed to swap out other gear for the lighter weight summer wear, enjoy great company, and eat, leaving refreshed. The tempature is falling, food barely visits and it is lost again, and it looks like I need to carry the heavy winter gear for a another month or two. I am surrounded by cold mountains with snow fat in the clouds. Before the temps fell it was a steady 20 degrees at night. Now?
My body has a way of saying back off. Yesterday was beyond hell..today I pay.

Before I was even in Schuyler, I was offered a bed for my stay by Homer and Ruth Tyler from the open window of their white honda. I flagged them down on the empty windin mountain to make sure I was in the right country. Homer was a quick smiling face telling me that he still slept in the same room he was born in seventy something years ago, after he assured me that eventually I would be in Schuyler if I just kept climbing. I asked about the Hamner family excitedly, eager to know even the smallest detail. Ruth told me that if Homer didn't know about something that happened on the mountain, probably nobody did.
The Tylers are a older couple that hum together like two loving instuments in the same song. I could just watch them cook together, or plan out details over a map, knowing that they had what I wanted after this walk was done. I had come to see Walton's Mountain, and this was part of it. To be in their company reminded my inner soul of what marriage was designed to be like. I saw two souls giving instead of taking, with smiles that rolled back into their mouths. Always there. I missed them before I left.
After two and a half days I left the mountain. Leaving was as leaving something great always is. All the roads were known, gentle, and too fast behind me. I wanted to think longer about where I was--not the next town. The Rockfish River stayed with me as long as it could, always talking, explaining, confirming...forgiving. I rested by the Rockfish before the river and I parted in a valley miles away from Schuyler. The rain went from a light tapping on my hat to a downpour. I drank the cold river water, eating homemade waffles Ruth and Homer had bundles for me, heaping with their canned apple butter. I stood by the river looking for fish, or something below the current, something inside that was raw. I had been to the Hamner home. I had been given a gift for my travels from Earl Hamner Jr's cousin when Homer and I paid Mrs. Hamner a visit at her invitation. Mrs. Susan Hamner was a joy to meet. Mrs. Hamner is in her ninties, has the voice of an angel, and dresses elegantly. With a sharp mind Mrs. hamner told me about her childhood with her cousins down the street. She gave me words combined with Homer's to all the questions I could think of. We took pictures,talking in trade, story for story. I could have stayed in her voice for a week, still leaving too soon. With addresses in my journal I at least knew we could touch each other's world from time to time. I was leaving with something dragging behind that I know will one day pull me back to the mountain again. It amazed me that these were the only mile of my walk where no trash littered the roadside. If ther was a bottle or can, it was far from the norm. It sounds like a little thing. After all the miles I have walked it is the garnish on a plate. It was not entirely 2006. Something old and priceless was still alive here.
Until I feel like myself,it will have to be enough to note that the trip to Walton's Mountain was worth every steep step. Reality and the television have edges that blur up on the mountains. There are definately more than a few places where you can hear the narrator's voice of "John Boy", Earl Hamner Jr. coming up out of the Rockfish River as the evening change of light puts timeless gilt on everything. With the warm and gentle voices of Homer, and Ruth walking with me down the mile road to the post office, it was more than clear that this was an important part of the walk. It was the beginning of family, healing, understanding. On Walton's mountain I was beyond blessed. I felt expected, and loved. It was so easy to love in return.
I have been to the 'Walton's' house. Pulling my watercolors from my pack, I put down the image I studied until the setting sun made a liar out or me. I didn't want the painting. I wanted to remember.