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.

25 April 2006

Lawrenceburg, TN Empty Pockets

Betty Dunbar has just shown up as planned, to exchange alot of gear, also to take me to lunch, and to REI so I can buy all the toys needed to walk into the sun. My pockets have been empty for a long time physically as well as mentally. I noticed with my feet still moving. I noticed when the dogs came to bite. When face after face ask me if I have been robbed yet, have I been beaten yet, has anyone tried to take My Life yet, I began to sleep lighter in the trees at night. My boots worry every truck past. For weeks I have been pushing my hands into my pockets to try to put my fingers around all the reasons that I keep walking...I have been finding less and less to put my hands on. Stowic faces have begun to wash over faces that were light.
Rare has become the voice that asks me to describe water coming through the trees at night as snow comes into the mountains. Nobody asks me to tell them where breathing is the easiest, or people are the nicest. It would be impossible to recall the last state resident that lifted me up with stories about how southern souls will take me home, and share their world with me. In the evening I am told to put my head down and hide well. People are always talking about quick guns, crossing property lines make blood shine, and how my last breath will be spent here if I am just a little less than careful.

I swallow hard, careful that nobody sees. For days into weeks I held my jaw firm as my mind spoke about bears I've met that left me with the living. Winter has come and gone with my feet in snow for weeks without a break. Still , I have my toes and fingers. It is true though, the dripping of water on my skull will drive me mad eventually. There has been no one voice above all the others that hammer my feet to a stop. I am slowed by the drip of the hammer that has nothing good to say when I walk into a diner with the sun a red hot torch on my face. The walk is a relationship. A relationship is an account of sorts. Withdrawals can only be made when deposits are also being made, i.e. a hug at the coffe shop is a good trade for a day of rain combined with a dog that ALMOST bit me. I was born to trade. It is my very nature.

It is beyond good to see an old friend drive into the Davy Crockett State Park with hands waving. All of my new gear leans against the backseat window eager to see the walker. The heat is already in the south. Tasks that I knew how to do when it was colder/and warmer I have to learn to do all over again. Now I do not hand out my walkcard as soon as I begin talking to a stranger. I listen to words said, unsaid. When I pass a creek I go down to the water and stay until someone younger in me is ready to leave.

19 April 2006

Fayetteville, TN

The cry of a cat came in the night. It wasn't a house cat. This is not my land. I step into water that is filled with unknowns. Large snappers fall purposely from logs. I stay in the shallows of the swamps when the water is dark tea. Where there are fish, there are creatures that feed on fish. Wish I researched how far north the big gators travel. Already I have seen foot long lizards running up the trees like black squirrels in the evening.

The sun is a hot fly that wants nothing more than to zip under the brim of my large hat and eat more of my lips. The tar of the flat roads is a mirror. I see the white line in my sleep. Blisters on my cheeks from days ago begin to turn away, leaving new skin. I may have to look like a bandit to save any face as westerly I walk.

Bears have made attacks in TN somewhere back in the direction I came from. I see clips from papers, but details are still being sorted. Some days, and in some ways it is 1880 all over again. Roads of tar become gravel through towns that broke their clocks years ago. Half a mile up a turn in the river away from the sound of cars and the big rigs, and I remember to pray at night. To walk America is to be forever a child just learning. I have no knowledge beyond the now, this piece of road is my whole world. The people down the road in front of me don't exist yet. I know yesterday, yet not the existance of the market around the bend that will heal a tongue that is glued to the bottom of my mouth. If I will get to eat tonight from something not made from powder, I do not know. My imagination is based on things I have seen, and what strangers tell me is all that I aim my feet toward in hope and faith. I was told recently how lucky I was to have so few worries. Yes, I am blessed. Still, the few worries I do have are life points boiled down. If I get an "F" in Life Sciences 101, I don't get to go home--ever.

Two days ago I was half surrounded by four large dogs extremely intent on taking me down. They did not want to just bite me. I was the fawn in the grass. They did not care if I yelled or flailed my sticks, (which I did to a very large degree). If I was a child I would have been killed. If I was without my sticks I would have been a simple exercise of destroying the intruder--me. Yet, I was not an intruder. I was walking down Rt. 64 and the four dogs came out of a yard that had a broken fence that never held them in. One dog was already head covered in blood. All of their eyes were dead and emotionless. Walking into traffic, I survived although I was a fright for hours, scared of what could have been, mad. Today, a police officer stopped me and inquired about my having trouble with dogs. We talked for ten minutes by the side of the road. He rubbed his arm where a dog attacked him.
In the backwoods man's best friend might not be your friend--or mine.

16 April 2006

Leaving A Trail Of Tears

(Location while writing--Winchester, TN Easter Sunday.)

14 April Smartt, TN

It is in the high 80's. I am not ready. The heavy winter coat that I have carried since the beginning is put in a box that I found on the side of the road. A few miles later my friend is delivered to the post. I do a happy dance inside. I expect my pack to float now. It doesn't. In two miles I have forgotten that I have reduced my burden. That is the nature of a house on your back.

On a flat that offered nothing but a saloon, I emptied a cold bottle of beer at the bar. Beer was cheaper than water. Silently I gave thanks to again know what cold was like rolling against my throat. Bars were never my medium. I say little, then wander back into a sun that is so bright I can hear nothing else.
This is how love comes sometimes. I was putting pace to sticks and boots with the beer happy in my head fumbling my progress. There she was reaching for my eyes. After a greeting I kept walking, but still there she was. She was beautiful. Was she alone. I looked all around. We were alone, except for the road that continues with the sound of a large hive until the sun calms the troops.
Maybe she was maybe two years old. She looked to be a pure bred spaniel, yellow and white. This is how I dreamed it would be. Having no time to train a dog, I believed the walk would give me a dog from the bounty of the homeless population this country holds. Already I had encountered many dogs. None had this look in their eyes. Ginger wanted to be with me from the instant we met. Ginger needed me too. She was always in my eyes, making me melt for her while she smiled and watched. Miles passed quickly as I talked to her. Ginger kept at me with those eyes like she believed in every word I was saying. She was a bee that found me to be a flower she couldn't surrender. My pace is sound at close to four miles an hour. There were no complaints. As I plodded on, Ginger checked out pipe-drains, bumps in the grass, and any bags that were thrown from moving cars that might hold a treat. It appeared trash was her main staple. This was ho my new love was used to feeding herself. Ginger was also as hungry as I was to be needed, and wanted. As soon as I spoke to her in a kind voice she was teathered to my leg.
As we moved into the day that nolonger seemed too hot, or too bright, I thought of camp. Where would she sleep. "Alright, I'll share my dinner. She looks like she'd enjoy rice. No, No. I have that tuna in a pouch I've carried for a week." On and on I moved over thoughts that were just as beautiful as the last to my darling friend. If my words moved to a small pause, Ginger would amble ahead ten or twenty feet, explore until the record began again. As soon as I started to rattle on I had ears that were kind.
Sometimes traffic would stall. For a minute or two you could march a band across the road. For a minute or two. Ginger knew the drill. It seemed to be her life before me. When a pause came in the roar of cars, my new friend would check the for side for treats, or treasures. I hated this, and yelled at her. Though she sat squarely in my eyes when I talked to her, my yells were feathers falling in a forest she couldn't see. Safely returned, life returned to normal until a few hours passed and she thought of the other side again. This time I yelled at her until I hurt my own ears after she ran out directly in front of a state trooper that was heading a line of cars at 65 mph. Great. I don't want police attention for a dog that loves me, but I have no legal right to. The swarm of cars continue on, to include the police. Thankfully.
This is when I let my mouth say things, if heard by another, can't be taken back. I was scared for Ginger, and furious. I didn't want to feel this worry about losing anything. As I thought about how I could bandana tie a lead to her, I told her how she was going to get me in trouble. " You know, you would not have been my first pick." I hurt when I said it for I had mis-used those words before.
As I hit myself inside for misfiring my mouth, traffic opened next to us. Ginger was off because a dog across four lanes barked at us. I was still mostly inside my head. I knew that Ginger was gone again but I didn't want to drive myself crazy because of a dog that just arrived in my life today. "I will make a lead. I will see...maybe that is her real home with that dog. I can't believe I am so caught up in.................................."
The horn came first removing all the fog of conversation in my head, then the sound of heavy brakes hopping desperate to hold road turned me around. I watched the tractor trailer take her, as my own death came up in me. When the first set of duals went over her, she was still getting her forend up with that "I love life" grin still on her face. Then the other sets of tires took all of her days, and was Ginger was gone. There were cars still. I do not remember them, or how I kept my life as I ran to her. There I stood above her with no air in me. By the scruff of the neck I pulled her to the grass for I dare not lift her, while still believing still that she would remain as one. Having no shovel, or even a place to bury her, being house to house as far as I could see, I left her to the grass. A man that owned the dog that drew her across the road saw me look up. He dropped his head mercifully, and continued to drag his silent dog to the leash that dangled from the barn. My hands went to her head and neck now. My words came down to her to ease any lingering that may be between flesh and dust. "Please, remember her," is all that I could pray.
I was across the road again. Twenty feet later I was sitting against a fence with all of my world pouring through my hands that clawed at my face. I'd blow hard bresths. Harder. It is no use. My guts are punching my heart. There is no breathing. Feet in my head are kicking out their hurt. Divorce. Words. Lose. Leaving. Death pouring out as a bruise.


Miles and hours later I am still blowing out my breaths. Noone will carry me into the woods where I am certain I will see too much again in dream. I write more words to you. To a silly book I keep running, wringing my hands so as not to wet paper. What have I learned? Is this sting in the air all for me?

My earlier thoughts about dreams to come, come true. I even wake and look for Ginger, the quick way you do when you forget that your guest changed her mind and went home just before bed. I dream about Alexcia then, and words. There are feathers falling everywhere, and I am hearing old words for the first time.

I leave the Trail Of Tears knowing loss in leaving.

11 April 2006

Trail of Tears, Spencer, TN

The storms that have taken so many lives have passed. I have been spared. The first night of the twisters I was in my tent as the walls popped, and lunghed at the sky. Rain and hail hit like rocks. Located feet from a deep creek bed, I was never too far from abandoning everything to lie belly down in the four inches of water as the storm ravished on. It did not come to that thankfully. Just as the worst winds I have ever experienced found my location in the woods, the storm stopped, thought, then headed north. Twenty three died that night.

When I got into Dayton, Polly filled my cup with coffee at the Smith's Crossroads, her and her family's antique and coffee shop. Polly Brooks pointed me in the direction of the library, giving me my special blend of espresso and coffee on the house. It was too soon to know that Polly and her family would grow close over the coming week. At the library as I fought to make some sence of my thoughts on the computer, Mary Mac Brook's came up to me and asked me home to dinner with a huge grin, and pig tails. I smiled a yes. Mary Mac and I are from the same earth and close enough in age to reach from the same history of music whenever we started singing. It was unnerving how often we would both break out in song at the same time, in the same key--for no reason except to highlight part of a joke or story someone else was saying. It was normal to us.
Each day I joined the family for breakfast, planning to leave. We'd all wander to the weather channel on the television. After a few minutes of storm sensationalism, we gleaned the fact that something not good was headed our way...eventually. Before breakfast was over the idea of leaving was scraped. Over the next few days, gear was sorted or repaired, and I rebuilt my slingshot into a real tool. Mary Mac and I went for walks with her moving island of dogs. We made party hats for gathering of children with ribbons and the whole rainbow of stars. In the afternoon we drank coffee, or a beer and planned outings, and adventures.
In five days I was back on The Trail Of Tears. It is hard to relate how a family can take you in so that your their world becomes yours, on a library computer with a time limit.
I think that two days have passed sence I have left the Brook's home, and farm. Sometimes the only thing that keeps me walking is so that I can complete the trail that will then allow me to once again see the wonderful people that I have grown to love without a calender and seasons tied to my lapel. I have been asked often about southern hospitality. I only know that in New England I was squeezed apples through cracks in car windows with the greatest of intentions. Strangers called the police if I looked too cold sitting to rest in the snow. In TN, people have taken me home knowing only my name. I have been given me keys to their houses, and fed me until I forgot what walking was. Always their love appeared natural, and I was proud to be allowed to know them.

05 April 2006

Into The Earth

Heading west on a road that is too hurried, I leave tar for woods to search for water. After over half a year of walking I have become a bird that can find a puddle in a land where there was no storm. I hope that I can hold onto this gift when the earth gets flat and dry. Always I hear, and smell water before I see the ribbon of silver and stone wandering through a stand of trees. Trees are cows that are always thirsty. They love to linger at the water's edge talking about summers past, the craziness of man, and the cute young cedar that lives down in the valley that smells of a heady oil that stumble the heart.
When I step out of the thorn and fallen snags, the trees become quiet. They can't help themselves though. In a moment, if I listen, I can hear the highest branches talk about snow that will come in the night. They talk about the wonder of rain, and the flavor of wind. I see their sky roots rake the sky in worry. Their concern falls on me like leaves. More snow.
Following the creek upstream I am brought to the entrance of a cave. I smile till I can feel it in my ears. An adventure. The mouth of the cavern is twelve feet tall, and eight feet wide. As I venture in the height dwindles a little. The width of the passage becomes four to six feet. The creek comes out of the cave in no particular hurry before it wanders off into the woods, barely talking at all. It is a tired rabbit that has no care if it is late.
After I set my gear in the cave on one of the many boulders left eons ago just for that purpose, I am off to gather fire wood before the small fallen limbs that are my main-stay for cooking are all wet and covered in white. I don't burn anything more than a inch in circumfrance, so gathering woods is a stroll more of looking and talking to any critter that shows itself, than a masculine labor to be dreaded. When my hands are full the task is done. Often I wander until the coming of evening can be heard in the roosting song of birds. It is then that I have to part with the antler shed, or bobcat skull that smells like moss, and head to the task of setting up my lodge.
Harley, an older man up the roadside a ways, gave me enough over ripe strawberries to fill my titanium cup. Pancakes tonight. Harley is a georgous soul that I wanted to know the moment he waved to me from his strawberry stand on the back of a red horse trailer. Harley was on the other side of a busy four lane. He could have easily avoided my eyes that are always searching for life, but Harley was searching too. Harley was grandfathers lost, a brother found, and the beauty of a patiently told story all in one man. Along with his grown son, and wife, they went to Florida to fill their trailer with strawberries. After driving back to Tenn., Harley and family would sell flats until the berries were sold out or the fruit insisted on returning to the earth. We talked for hours about living on the road. We talked about Montana. We talked about living before you die. Had I not already known alot of Harley's words, they would have been stones in my belly. Instead, talking to Harley was like praying, only we kept our eyes open so we could remember. It was putting on my glasses to answer the phone.
I hated to leave my new cowboy friend with the sweat stained hat, and sterling buckle on the side. Leaving Harley and his endearing family would never be easy even if we talked till summer. If a cave is lonely, Harley's family was salt on the wound.
With a stomach wrapped tight around twig tea and pancakes; pancakes that are still moving flavor in my mouth, I take off my boots and socks. The water is cold. No. The water is more than that. As the tendons in my feet ratchet their movement under the gentle current that is barely liquid, I must be elsewhere. Closetland. In my head I go to where the water is not. The sun is in my hair. A woman I remember is moving her hand along my face until I am dizzy. Warm sand is melting around my feet on a beach with no name. As I walk in the calf deep water I must go to my feet from step to step just for an instant to feel for razor rock, or glass, and then flee again. My headlamp is mounted to my forehead with a strap so my hands are free. White crayfish rear tail sprint under the water surface. Pale crickets walk the wall on long legs I have never seen before. A rare bat peeks at me, blinks, shudders, and then pulls its body tighter into wing. On I walk, exploring. The cave goes on for a couple of blocks or more. I think Indiania Jones trained here. Someone spray painted 'hell' with an arrow on the wall, pointing deeper into the hollow of stone. When there is a patch of gravel that I can stand on until I can beg the blood back into my screaming feet, I rest. Even as I punish myself in this marvel of creation, I want to go deeper in myself. Off goes the headlamp. There is nothing. Never have I know such liquid dark that saturates pore of matter. A minute moves by. Has it been a hour. Just a little longer I think out loud. I have to say it or it will be lost. Lights on.
My feet that stare at me like angry kids, have taken me to the depth of the cave until I had to crawl, and the back. When I tell my feet that we are going back in to set up sleeping camp on a inner cliff shelf we passed, they twinge and burn, then sulk.

My feet and I do go back deep into the cave. Pot-heads wander in late in the night to get stoned, and can't believe that a man would live in a cave this deep into the earth, even for a night. They pass by me an hour later and fall completely into the water, stand and fall again, barely able to walk back out to the world outside. Snow and rain do come in the night--and the little creek becomes a torrent that I have to walk out through with all of my gear when dawn comes. I am glad for the adventure. All in all, it is good to be top-side again even though it storms on for another day. It is good to learn that a man can still miss a candle in a cave on a winter night, the sound of a flute going into the earth, and water...water always drawing me on.

04 April 2006

Dayton, TN

He put the three dollars in my hand. I looked into his wallet, although I tried not to. Chuck was in a car. Looking down was normal, though not exactly polite. I looked away. It was all he had in his billfold. The words "No thank you", came out of my mouth. I know that they did because they were still in my ears. Chuck's beat up sedan had pulled away after stalling once. He was gone, back into the sea of strangers.
The blue payphone I was using was now behind me getting smaller,as my feet moved as mindlessly as cattle down the roadside. Three folded dollars coiled over themselves became damp in the sweat of my fingers. I still wanted to give them back. I always did. Chuck wanted to touch what I was doing. How do I refuse an offering without insulting the giver?
"What your doing is so great," he had said with a smile as he squinted up into the sun. It was unseasonably hot already. I was overtired, and had posion ivy where a hiker would rather not. Smiling was not something that I wanted to do as I listened to his untimed engine beg for more gas. Watching Chuck pick up the walk for the first time reminded me about the dream I was living. The walk was a woman I used to look at like like that. Bad days, bad moments, came but nothing to make me want to leave her had crossed my path. Still. It was refreshing to have a man I had never met look into my face and tell me how lucky I was to have 'someone' like that in my life. A town later before I settled in to finding a camp, Chuck's money bought the lady a gatorade, and a snickers.....and a smile.