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.

30 May 2006


I have read in a book at French Camp that if I apply vinager to my feet and underarms, then blot dry, I will smell fresh all day long. I buy white vinager, pouring out three quarters of the bottle onto the ground to save weight, and slip it into my pack. Great, now I'll hop through the woods smelling like an Easter egg. Guess it is better than smelling like a gym locker-room stored in a humidore.
New Orleans is heavy on my mind. I have told myself no. I have made other plans. Everywhere I go people tell me all the reasons that I should slip away and head north. My ears are eagerly open. North is a new leg. North is part one of the walk complete. The sun is an angry poker that wags "No" from the sky, making my feet ready to turn toward the Dakotas. Still. There is a voice, gentle and slow, that calls me southward. I heard alot of warning about Mississippi only to find an affectionate people I am thankful to have in my life, in our country. I am certain that cultures and mannerisms I can not begin to collect out of my own limited reasonings wait to speak to me south of Mississippi. Two days ago a woman pulled up to talk to a new friend of mine from her car. My friend Debra Collier whispered to me, "Listen to Her Speak. It is wonderful." The stranger was fresh fom New Orleans. She sped into her conversation as if she was singing. She was singing. I was perfectly drunk. I had never heard a diction move so like ballad before. There were parts of me that sprang up children to peer out of my eyes. As all the world perkulated about in their separate urgencies, I just wanted to sit in the sun that I could no longer feel and listen to her dent and folding words in colors I had never heard. New Orleans is still a dog that will not lie down in me and go to sleep.
To walk a nation is a positively slow science. There are miles of trees, tar, dirt, grasses that look no different than the miles and miles of such that came before. America is such a large onion to layer off. There is no quickness to it. This is a mind pause for the explorer. There is so much always happening when the happenings come. The long meadows framed in old pine let me think. So many strangers peer into my world, and are gone. A million names become tissues I let fall. Some faces and names are now brillant parts of me that shine through the trials of the walk.
A cotton mouth slids up beside me as I float on my back in a rare clear creek. It is cold skin beside me before it swims away, silent as a ribbon of silk on water. While I lie awake at night and listen to animals come and go from around my tent, I think about the fresh mountain lion prints down at the water three miles back. I think of the feral boar that can run over 300 pounds hunting these woods, eating anything they find. I think of the polite girl that called me sir as she asked about my adventure like I was fresh out a history book. I know that I am given just what I can handle at the time. Miles of seemingly nothing new allow me to be and to heal. They are the silence between the notes.

Kosciusko, Mississippi Natchez Trace

It is already touching 100 degrees as a norm before noon. I am the sour smell that is implied in the music of old African adventure films. As I walk my shirt billows vapors that bring me back to being a child shovel operator for my uncle's circus. Even then, I never smelled so foul so fast. Often I find I try to breath without using my nose. My white shirt is an used tea bag that never is dry. I am the horse that is ridden hard an never put away. Somehow this is agreeable to me. I am healthy and strong - but I need a warning label for those that approach me, or a week in a bath. I eat alot of garlic to help ward off the ticks. I am warding off the state.
The creeks have just recently become putrid brown bog holes that wander nowhere. There has been no rain to speak of. Creeks have become water that I can not filter without the intense labor of pouring it through sand in my sock first just to begin the cleaning process for my filter. It is water that makes me no cleaner when I splash it under my arms. When I walk through briar and the never ending shore of posion ivy to contemplate the rotten water, the brown water moves from underneath. Gators? Turtles? Snakes? I watch my limbs like a nervous deer. I have been warned that the now breeding gators have been know to attack many. I suck on a smooth stone, while I count down the miles to another town off the Trace. Today I mailed out five pounds of sweater and a sleeping bag. Five pounds of water will take its place.
I have been on the Natchez Trace for weeks, maybe even a month. Days and weeks become a long days broken only by camps I forget easily unless an armadillo tries to climb in my pack, or some other form of nature braves my small tent in the woods. I have seen alot of creatures I have never seen before. I sleep with them. I swim with them. It seems they all bite but they are self assure, and save that response until last resort. Everything is bigger than normal; bigger than photographs I have seen in books. Spiders the size of apples climb around on my tent looking for prey. They are so large that I hear them when they jump down onto the leaves. They never run from me, rather they turn and consider. I have learned to empty my boots in the morning. It is Honduras all over again except now I am alone. No other paratroopers will throw me a knife or rifle if the living water pulls me in. I bath with a long knife unsheathed in water that I can see through. Still, I comb every blade of grass. Each rock is questioned, reconsidered.
The Trace is a five hundred mile national park more than a parkway. What began as a native hunter's path hundreds of years ago has become a healing, and peaceful forested roadway from Nashville TN to Natchez, Mississippi. I have walked it for over two hundred miles since I picked it up by Summertown, TN. When my food gets low, or I just miss the company of the locals I break from the Trace and step into towns I've never seen. The people in Mississippi have been in a race to see who can give or do the most for this stranger. I have yet to pass a picnic without being invited. Trucks stop to give me bottles of water. It is refreshing to see so many faces eager to smile, laugh, and hear about the nation I am coming to know. The last town that I came through before Kosciousko, the birthplace of Oprah Winfrey, was French Camp. I stayed in the historic village of collected log cabins, military history, and great people for two nights. It was another town that was hard to leave. Keith Collier who lives at French Camp quickly became a good friend. I was given a old log cabin to sleep in that was as cozy as a tent..not much bigger. It was a great gift. During the hot evenings Keith and I sat under the porch fans talking about the Creator, love, walking, and just enjoying the moment as we rocked back in time to the sound of fan blades cutting air. Keith shared his family as he shared his food. It takes time to learn to listen. Slowly I am educated. Keith became another thread that sewed new memories into my journal. Already there are so many towns I want to reopen to. Already there are a hundred faces that rework their words as I walk. Every one of them make my pack a little a tad lighter. When I am tired I sit and listen. That is why I am under the gum tree in 102 degrees of vibrating heat smiling. A long time ago I stopped walking alone.

17 May 2006

Boonesville, Mississippi E-mail Trouble ***

Having trouble with my e-mail in Boonesville. As soon as I can I will try again. Right now I can not read messages or respond to those I see that wrote to me. Please keep writing as I am sure the problem is a temp, and I'll be able to write returns soon.
Thank you.

Naked In Tent-town

Alone and naked in my tent I have tried to memorize every freckle and mole. It's no use. Might as well study the stars on a cloudy night. I have been down to my toes, and pulled a freckle until it bled, then pulled harder. Suppose now that's one that I know. There are a few dots that are common to the flat of my stomach heading down to my groin. Just as soon as I think that I know them all, I notice one with eight legs all dancing at me. Can't begin to know how many I have short toothed pulling out, but I know that it ain't natural being naked and bent up and over around and behind yourself removing ticks from places that hair folicals are too modest to grow.
Just like the remnant of food finally freed from between my teeth that I have to bite again and again in spite, when I catch a tick hunting in my private garden the shotgun comes out. I fingernail cut the demon critter until I'm sure that my thumb nail is going to mince my index finger; my face all schrunched up the whole time.
I have already beaten all of my tick records. Well, if I had them, I would have beat them. They even have a special little demon tick down here called the seed tick. They are the smallest little monsters. They are so small in fact that they don't call on you unless they can get twenty of their friends to come along. Nice.
No. The new batteries weren't for reading.

Boonesville, Mississippi

Yesterday I left Natchez Trace Parkway for Boonesville. I played spin the map. Boonesville is where I asked more of my walk cards to be sent, so here I am re-stocked in a another town. After a week and a half on the Trace reality my has shifted. Trash on the side of the road has become interesting again. Old dogs again run at me with mouths wagging more than tails. Their teeth seem more rounded, barks less intense, smooth even. It is refreshing to exit this world, stepping onto a road where everything is like a golf course, and men scurry about in white trucks if a branch lands near a picnic table. It is sweet when all of the grass can be measured...for a while. After a few days, solitude becomes isolation. After a week and a half alone I am ready to try to bribe the warden.

The corner I planned to travel through in Alabama is already behind me. I have no ghost stories. People were friendly to a distraction...when I saw them. A line of touring bikes hurl past with a woman's voice yelling out,"Where'd you start?" Of course I yell out Maine. "Maine,"screams the line, one after the other?"
"Well, welcome to Alabama!"
"Picnic at Colbert Park, just after the Tn River bridge. Your invited. Two o'clock." These are the instructions that are compiled after all the riders have passed. "50 miles/50 years birthday party for Rosemary," trails the last of the conversation behind the peddlers as the fly off to the sound of chains and gears in flouresent yellow shirts.
Before it is 2p.m., I have met Dr. Mims family, and battled my way through the mind altering hickory smoked pulled pork the doctor smoked himself, corn, bake-beans, fruit salad, a couple of ice cold drinks, and homemade pecan pie. Dr. John Mims is a conversationalist of the highest order. While I fight to keep my paper plate clear, we travel back in time to World War II, and fly over enemy islands. The family is introduced to me by Doctor Mims one after the other as they arrive. Although the doctor id in his eighties we are from the same material, if I may compliment myself. Alot of people have mentioned that they would love to carry this staff with me. John is the first man that I believe.

Too soon, and way too fast , all of the valued guests are back in their polished SUV"s to returning to teaching, or leading in various colleges. I feel like I've dropped out. Sunglasses are through hair and over ears, engines start, then silence. The sound of Rosemary's son playing a birthday song on his guitar that he wrote for his mother still floats above the water, into my head. An old lonely man sits on a picnic bench under a drouping tree down at the shore, pining for his late wife. My watch is not wired to my day anymore, so I go down to the old man watching a stick bob in the water.
"You walked here all the way from Maine," asks the ninety one year old mouth without any teeth?
"Yes sir. Yes I did, I reply knowing it is a winding up , rather than a conclusion."
"I just can't see it. Wasting your life like that. All of the people's that wrestle, and wait. That ain't no kind of life. No sir. If I had all my years to do again I'd never sell a one to bigin the foolishness your carrying here."
My eyes were on the water. I looked enough at my counsel, so I stepped inside. In some respects, the stranger was right. We thought a long time like that, sitting there with that old wet branch keeping time as good to watch as any flicker in a fire pit.
I love old things, always have. The more I tried to fix some of them, the more I mostly broke. We talked about a young man walking across America trying to find himself. We did not talk about dead wives, or being so lonely your blood dries up like putty around an old window casing.
We got in his old rusted pick-up so I could help get the pop cans out of the surrounding garbage cans, because my friend was too stiff after sitting. Reaching into old trash barrels I smiled to myself. My walk is strong in me. It can take a good poke. For a moment I was old on that picnic bench, my heart all stiff from sitting, and a young man was given to me so that just for a moment I could forget about loss and discover I'll never really be left alone unless I want to be.

10 May 2006

Natchez Trace, Border of Alabama (Collinwood)

The visit to The Farm became a restful week and a half of strangers becoming friends, while trading my mental images from the 1970's for present day reality in my head. Some took. My bigger task was healing my bruised feet. Before I arrived at The Farm a stranger stops me on the side of the road, calling me over to his truck. "Where ya headin," asks the gruff voice from behind the wheel of his pick-up? After I bring him up to speed in a hundred words or less, he asks if I take donations. My face smiles a yes. The stranger is out of his truck faster than I thought he could move. In five minutes he returns from the mini-mart that he's parked in front of with fifty dollars for my wallet. Not sure what to say except thank you, I ask for his address so I can at least send word from my travels. Four miles to The Farm. Landmarks say I'm headed in the right direction. There are no signs. Although Betty has delivered new footwear, the damage from the Columbia boots is still healing, or at least wants to heal if i'd take the losd off. I shuffle rather than walk. Marc Hubbard pulls up in his sticker riddled sedan. "Headed for The Farm?"
"Are you from The Farm,"I ask although I can't think of where else such an anti-political car could be heading.
"Born and bred. My name is Marc. My friends call me Hubs. When you get to the gate tell Vicki that you'll be staying with Hubs. That'll get you in. I live on First Street. First house on the left. It's easy to find." We talk for a few more minutes. I shoot down the offer for a ride. My feet are furious. I shuffle the last mile or two into the gate.
There is a feeling that comes up in me as I walk up the porch steps to the gatehouse. Although before me is a great distance of untilled earth, part of me has stepped back in time. Reguardless of all I'm told or see, I look for 1973 behind evey tree, in every field.

Sitting now in a sweet library that used to be a railroad station my hands move past the rain outside, past my wet underwear, barely scratching the surface of my journal before my dime runs out. It'll take me a while again to believe that such a thing as this dry comfort exists. My stomach is too full, to the point of all seams straining from the buffet at The Shed across the street.(They'll have to rise their price from $4.99 a meal after my visit) I ate two huge plates, and I seemed to have dropped a few bisquits into my pocket. My grandmother'd be proud.
I begin to move over the three days of solitude on the native Natchez trail with words but my mouth is unpracticed. For three days all of my meals have been over fire, to include sleeping with branches by my head in the tent when the weather turned sour, just so I could be sure that I'd have a flame for my morning coffee and hotcakes. The new Light-Year tent by Sierra Design is tight spaced compared to my winter set-up, but at three pounds I don't complain. The MSR Fusion 2 that has held me for over six months is back in New England waiting on next winter's snow to call it into service again. Fantastic tent, although the seven plus pounds is a stout package outside of winter. When it pours now,I pull my huge pack inside the slim tent with me, and sleep in a curve around it until the sky is spent. By morning we can not even bear to look at each other.
The creeks have been my glourious bath with healthy fat fish running their red stripes over my feet. The water is still cold enough to make me gasp out load--even when I don't want to. Animals have been the only voices that have come to me on the Natchez Trace, except for one lonely pervert at the only rest-area with picnic tables I passed yesterday. I ate my Cliff Bar as he talked and stared at me, smiled in no direction, and walked on just wishing I had made more coffee.

The Farm is still a story writing in my head. When I first arrived at the gatehouse I was greeted by Vicki who was just opening the door to a small building that held countless newspaper clippings, magazines stories, and books about what The Farm was, and is. There was not a question that I could compose that Vicki did not have the answer for. When I asked about Peter Jenkins, and the death of his dog Cooper, I was told not to even think of asking where the dog was buried, and conversation dried. It hadn't entered my head, or heart to ask about where the dog was buried over thirty years ago. Peter is still a sore spot at The Farm with some of the remaing root people because his book is said to frown on The Farm. I don't remember that, but I read those pages over twenty years ago.
A week after meeting Vicki at the gatehouse, I met James. When James heard my story, he became a living thread that tied my life together with Peter's past. James was the good friend of Peter's during Peter's stay at The Farm, and his tent mate. Most of the early Farm lived in tents, buses, and packed hippie to hippie in shoddy houses.
James sat on the picnic table in Hub's yard as he took me back over thirty years to Peter's walk through that long ago summer on The Farm. It was a different world on The Farm then. The Farm was a farm. Everything was held in collective ownership. The Farm was still a working farm filled with beards and long hair moving together in the sun. The 'family' if you will, was still married in the seventies. The Big Change Over took place in 1983, a divorce of The Farm's way of life. Until 1983, The Farm was very much 'all for one , and one for all.' After 1983 the bottom fell out sending nearly two thousand people back into the world. Now only a couple hundred people live on The Farm.
"I told Peter that I would help him bury his dog Cooper. I'm a dog man. The picture in the book...I took that one when Cooper was buried. I loved that dog. Matter of fact, I am the only person that knows where Cooper is buried. I could take you there." We were helping Hub's put new skins on his drums in Hub's front yard. James lives off in town now. The odds of us meeting are about....well, sometimes there just isn't a chance of it and it still happens. This was one of those times.
While I tried to keep my thumbs out of the way, I wondered if it was right to go to the grave. Was I over working the walk? Yet, how could I have ever lined these things up to happen. In the 1970's there was over fifteen hundred people on The Farm. Thirty plus years go by, and the one man that helped Peter bury his lost friend just happens to sit down in the yard that I'm staying at even though he hasn't lived here in years. No. The walk has it's own plan. The more I thought about it, it appeared that this thread of Peter's walk was coming to me. When the drums could be left to Hub's hands, James and I got into Jame's truck with his two lap dogs, and drove over roads that James turned back in time with his words. "This is the road where Cooper ran up beside the water truck. The roads were alot different then. Deeper with ruts halfway up those banks. The sides were all built up so that the truck ran down a deep gully passing through in this area. Right here is where it happened. That dog was always biting at the tire."
We continued down the road to a gate. With a word, the little dogs were following their master around the gate. I tried to stay out of my head as I followed them. It was useless. We walked down the overgrown dirt road as James took away houses, and added tents with his jestures. James is a large man bearded in salt and pepper. He spoke softly. It made me listen harded, and somehow added value more to what he said. Soon, we were in the trees. We stood just like the trees over the article of earth that sank on itself where Cooper was put to rest. James talked on about things time changed. I stayed where I was in my mind for long minutes, not because I knew Cooper, or Peter, or even James. I stood looking down on all the death of what used to be, in the earth, in me. I wanted to paint, to write, to return again to feel this well rising up in me until I felt that I had given it notice, or respect. I never did come back, although I reached for it believing until the moment I left that I would bring smoke, or music or words. Returning felt like theatre for myself so I just visited the memory. After a few more words we were in the truck again, pushing present tense into memory with all of its fingers still sticking out of the box.

Time does not allow me to write about The Farm more now. More time to think will help the boiling down process.

The time at The Farm was Filled with new friends that were as straight to the heart as blood. Late in the evening we had a sweat lodge of a baker's dozen under blankets and a bamboo frame, falling naked into a river between sets of new stones. I camped in another cave until a storm soaked me and my gear until nothing would float. Mande and I road bikes through the trees time after time over paths as old as The Farm. I walked alot of roads with my eyes squinted so I could see flower children everywhere. I bit a cookie one night knowing it was a little laced. I was starved . It tasted great. Three hours after my treat I was arms and legs melting into a bed. Bad cookie. Bad. Leaving The Farm was hugs deep as old water. I recieved first kisses, and of course as I walked part of me lingered behind. My chest was full of music. My feet stepped instead of shuffling on sore soles. Leaving is cutting ourselves with knives of good-bye.

01 May 2006

Summertown, TN Heading To The The Farm

Walking through Laurenceburg, Tenn., I venture into the radio station WDXE 106.7 FM. It is weekend quiet. Inside the door I'm greeted warmly with smiles and outstretched hands. Hello's turn into an interview with Jack Cheatwood for a radio show. I forget to get nervous. The walk has become my life to the extent that I don't think about it as separate anymore. my words relax into a flow of events already lived, and of course reasons.
"Have you been to The Farm," asks Jack? "You have read Peter's book, haven't you? Well just twenty miles up route 43 you hop onto route 20, and your there. Your already so close. You have to check it out." I think of Walton's Mountain not being the picture I gathered in my head from a childhood of too much television. From pages I can barely recall in an old yellow paperback, I try to collect from my memory what The Farm will be like. It is time wasted. Over thirty years have gone by.
Twenty years ago, I sat down with Peter Jenkin's first book. So many years have folded over. Right away I know that I'll be going to The Farm. It will be my respectful nod to Peter and his walk before I head south. Although I am told that Peter lives close to Laurenceburg also, I have no intention in walking the worn path to his door. My walk has grown it's own face,