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.

28 July 2006

The Mission Bell

Freedom Mission. Logansport, LA
In minutes I will be in Texas, picture taken at the border sign, backpack over-loaded with tokens and food from the brotherhood at the Freedom Mission which I am just now leaving after three days of serious bonding, and a wagon load of memories to cook down into something that I can put into words. By now it would seem that leaving would be like sweeping the floor for new guests to arrive. It is not. Leaving is always taking out my knife and cutting free from living moments in exchange for faces and voices faith alone tells me will come. It is always cutting for the first time with hands shaking. What if I cut free someone I will never see again? What if I remove a voice or experience too soon and miss the message that was there for me to recieve for my heart, for this book? In the end, it is all faith. I know that many of these great, unreplaceable souls will shine again in my life.
Freedom Mission is a Christ-based place of healing for lives that got lost due to alcohol and/or drugs. The thirty something men and half a dozen women that I leave behind have touched my walk. It has been my sincere honor to have also been allowed to step into their world and reach out to them. When I arrived at the mission I was issued a towel, sheets and a roll of tolet-paper. Leaving, I know that I have pages of journal to boil down into words that will show how intense this particular bridge to a recovering life can be. I have walked away from alot of fine and spiritual people on this journey. In all of my steps I have never seen so many lives smiling while trying to stay afloat. For just a little while I swam with them, and some things I will never see the same way.

24 July 2006

15 Miles Till Texas

Mansfield, LA

When I pass a tractor-trailer bed covered with a new brown tarp inside a heavily fenced field that has steel eight inch spikes welded to the gate in Mad Max fashion to keep vehicles from crashing through, I am still through the fence in seconds. I know this puts me at risk with a landowner that will have little sense of humor if I'm caught inside. My last bottle of drinking water ran out last night so my choices are gleen, or walk on and pray. Towns have only been names on road signs that squint in the sun. Everything squints here. I passed two baptist churches and a firehouse yesterday. Their water was turned off. Nobody home. The temperture on my shirt reads 110 degrees. The new brown tarp over curds of old cotton in the trailer bed is a blessing. Last night's rain is ten inches deep caught in the center, tree shade cool, and perfectly clear except for the few insects that got too zealous for a drink. My five water bottles are out of my pack in a breath. Off comes my shirt to soak. My face losses it layering of salt, and I feel like the spider that waited two days for the fly to finally arrives. There are no doors to knock on. There have been no creeks that pushed anything but the dirtiest water. I am perfectly alone, and breathe through my nose to save water without thinking about it. Noone stops to ask about the world on my back. Outside of logging trucks, few cars pass at all. I am walking an abandoned movie set. Even knowing where I am walking to...I am lost to hours of insect shrills and moving toward the next water stop under a lonely tree without fire ants.
When kindness does come it is not a trinket glinting in the sun. A large John Deere tractor has left its cutting in a field, and has driven to the fence that separates us before I notice it. The farmer climbs down to hand me a bottle of the coldest water. He talks as soon as the door is open not realizing that it takes a few minutes for me to focus on words after two days with only my inner voice moving about in my cook pot of a head. We talk about the weather because the farmer and I now roast on the same stove. We talk about our skin under the sun. We talk about the egrets that follow his tractor by the hundreds to hunt out the frogs, mice, snakes, and insects suddenly homeless. Too soon he is back in his air-conditioned green and yellow heading to his field of white egrets and grass rows with the insects singing sink deeper into my head, and I take in the last of the ice water.
At an old store that I was not sure really existed, (for there was nothing before it in a day's walking, and I saw nothing in wait beyond) I quickly give my sketch when asked as if I am taking off my hat. Although the store is temperture controled it will be a few minutes before I feel it as my body releases the rays that it has stored in invisible blankets. What follows can be best described as stone soup. I buy a few cans of beans and a piece of salami. In a minute garden fresh tomatoes are brought to me, cookies, bread, two bottles of water, and some money folded for my pocket, and a Snickers bar. As I eat what has become my one meal a day I listen to the words coming from the front of the store to my lone table near the back. It is very depressed here finacially. Really, there is nothing to rub against except old railroad tracks, history, and hope. People have wander out of their hot shacks to buy a bottle, or see who the road offered up. With the new interstate 49 taking away the blood from old Rt. 1 , not much unpredictable follows this road anymore. Mostly I just listen to people being. Someone shushes another for balking out my last name out loud. "WhiteCrow?" The clerk talks about World War III just around the corner, as he asks what party I support. When I tell him I am ignorant, and work on just supporting myself. The line on his face becomes a smile. "That's about the wisest thing I think a man in your position could have said." Another unseen face pleas his case for a cold bottle today with payment in a few days.
The clerk warms up to me slowly as if he finally believes I am whom I say I am, also knowing that it is too hot to pretend walking down this road form Dante's nightmare. Although I know I'll sound cowardly or worse--"Your not from around here are you", I explain how I lower my clothes into the creeks with my poles when I need to wet them or rinse out some of the road grime. The clerk studies my face slowly. "Man up this road ride tear. He raises pigs. Had maybe fifee. Well dis old black man was sure that people were comin in and stealan his large pigs one by one. He had a pen sad up down by dat river. Well day's all got ta thinking, and talking until they ga with sum guns and went down dat river. They came out with four big gators. the biggest was fourteen foot and wait 786 pounds. Naw! You best stay ow of dem rivers."
Twenty miles back people looked at me as if the heat had gotten to me when I showed concern about wading into river water I couldn't see through. "Those gators wont bother a soul." I have to remember that alot of today's generation live in front of the television all over America, and in a synthetic air conditioned world, even down here, some people don't know their back yard. They don't know anything about these waters or what goes bump in the night. I have watched eyes five inches apart move down brown water toward the my shirt smacking the evening water.

Mansfield, LA Catching Texas

17 July 2006

Return Toward The Sun

Just outside Alexandria, I have been laying low for nearly a week at a home of new friends. Not eager to brave up to the one-hundred plus degree days, I have enjoyed the company of Ty and his wife Kat in Pineville as days repeat themselves. Kat is Lynn Wood's daughter, owner of the Birdman in Saint Francisville. For under a week I have enjoyed their company, but I can't wiggle my toes here till fall. Even fall here gives no promises out of this fire. No matter how many days that are taken away from this heat, the heat waits me out patiently until I return to my nature. Walking.
It is early Monday morning. It is time.
As it looks right now, my days will be walking hard into mornings until my head starts to swim, after that I can only steal bases from tree to a puddle of shade of an old silo until the days burns itself out into the 80's and 90's of evening. There is a fear not unlike that of skating fast on thin ice. I will walk, and then listen. This year the feeling of missing snow came early. Spring was little more than a word. Now snow, and the stiff acke of winter at dawn are a billion memories away. Texas is calling however softly. It will be a good deal of time before the miles become easy again after a rest in a/c rooms. That is the tax of a rest. In this brow beating sun I'll pay any tax for a while. In the end, only the slow unraveling of my feet through towns west and north will provide the return of cool evenings that will allow me to welcome more than a bit of sheet over one shoulder, no longer waiting hours for the heat to finish radiating off me so that I can hold a few hours of sleep. Any real rest to come is a carrot on a stick a hundred miles long. Every morning I must wear the same carrot in front of me or my feet will forget that it has not always been this hot--nor will these summer months remain as intolerable if I keep walking.

13 July 2006

We Don't Cut Ourselves Anymore

This is not something I thought I'd ever have to write. The wound is fresh, so deep in me so that I can look in and see bone before the blood of heavy thinking comes. I am so new to this mourning that my head is sill building ramps and bridges, joining what was to what is. What never will be is floating below me in angry water that hurts my ears. How we cry for those lost is also how we live. In crying there is truth. My face is wet with it. It is one a.m. Sleep does not becon me nor do I expect it to. Writing is all I have to give you. Writing is the only means through which I knew her. Decended from a Cherokee line,Kathy called me her native brother. She became my sister. I smiled the first time that she wrote to me with her native mind moving over words put down just for my eyes. Soon Kathleen was writing to me more than any one ever had on this life of walking. Kathleen was a constant. Always there was at least a little note from Kathy waiting for me as I walked in from my world of roads and strangers. I sat down beside her to calm.
We have all heard about computer predators that steal away loved ones from families for romance or worse. Kathleen brought me home through her prayers and concern. We shared our stories as our ancestors did even though many miles always separated our campfires. When I was cold in the snow, or vomiting a fever into the frozen grass for two days as my body rattled, and the mercury fell, Kathy Dennis wrote letters to my e-mail address filled with worry, love,and concern that I thankfully recieved in the next town. Often I tried harder to make contact via the computer while on the road so that I could read my sister's words and send her a note back from this solitary life of constant uncertainity. Kathy became a fire that I held my hands to when no other fire would light. Kathy asked me how the water felt deep in the cave, where the hawk fell that the young man killed with the paintball gun, and told me how the dog Ginger loved me too--even if we just had those few hours together before death came. Because of the letters sent from a woman that I never met I knew that a great soul walked with me, was one with me, and heard my heart beat out loud. It did not matter what percentage of spit my blood was. Kathy called me family. I would send her feathers the road gave me. The last feathers I sent to her were in red paper. She'd know that red is powerful and is protection. Kathy heard my words written as if it was just the two of us walking, trading clips about her family so I could know her world too.
An e-mail came today from The Wolf Lady. I knew Kathy's e-mail address at first glance. My mailbox has been on the blink these past few days, maybe a week, so no mail has gotten through to me. My heart wails to think of the words I missed from her that she may have tried to send. When I saw Kathy's name on the e-mail, I quickly opened the letter onto the screen thinking that it was from the friend I missed after a week with no note. I knew she'd be crazy with worry. We never went too long without writing. As funny as it sounds, Kathy made me feel safe with her net of loving concern stretched out below me. I'd always drop a note when I managed walking through particularly rough neighborhoods, or past dogs that coraled me into running traffic. I depended on Kathy to ask me for extra details behind the typed story eveyone read. She wanted to mentally help carry my burdens, and see all the beauty. Although I never heard her voice, I read her words until I heard her heart talking out loud to mine the way a close friends does. Kathy told me my dream was a good dream, that it mattered. Kathy mattered. Kathy took the time to share her life with me.
At 1130am yesterday Kathleen Dennis went peacefully out of our lives at 49 years old. I know nothing more. The letter I recieved today was from her daughter. The note was a couple of paragraphs sent out to people on Kathy's e-mail address listing to let us know that a glorious light had blown out. I read. I re-read before finishing. I checked her name. I ran for mistakes. My thoughts folded and re-folded thoughts until everything tore in squares that meant nothing. There is no fence to lean against that will make this easier. There is noone that I can hand these words to and have them understand...help me understand.
She put the feathers I sent to her in a special box I remind myself, afraid forgeting is already setting in. Her address waits in the back of my journal for me to send trinkets from the walk that she would hold with her eyes closed the way I do with special things, feeling the tide of story and energy soak into her hand. There is nothing left to send that matters. In Saint Francisville, Louisiana I found a flag that one of the storms sent to the ground to rot (Katrinia?). In Saint Francisville I sewed up one of the stars and sent it to Kathy. Our people of the earth have been making art, and dress out of flags sense the first wind tugged red, white and blue across this country. I happily saw Kathy feathered up for a powwow with my star shining from the porch of her hat, or pinned to an old shirt. The remaining row of stars now hang from my cedar flute attached to my pack. I hear it begging me play.
My head throbs with the pain of loss, yet I know that her family feels and mourns a woman I saw the beautiful shadow of. I am sorry for their loss.
There is a hole that I will not be able to fill. My dear friend said many prayers for me over this walking. I have seen killing winds turn at my tent for no reason. I have been safe in bad places when there was no logic to my shield. Walking across America is in itself a humble prayer filled with little Amen's that tie all my words together. With all the string in my heart I sew to down quills Kathleen Dennis's name in my inner room where dreams and prayers are made. It in a new prayer for remembering, until the Great Creator sets us all down to run in rich fields where we will mourn no more.
Good-bye Kathleen Dennis. Thank you for touching my life, as I am sure you have blessed so many others. As you asked me to, I will live this dream, and remember.

12 July 2006

A Waste Of Gunpowder and Sky

4 July Simply walking.

National independence. My sun faded division patches from the 82nd pull me on down the road like large weather balloons today. Another afternoon of thunder moving heavy tables behind black clouds. How can I sweat this much? My face melts into my shirt.
In a gas station that sits under a fine new layer of dust, I shrug off my pack until it stands on it's own inside the door. Stepping away from Crowdog I am disappointed that my soaked back doesn't feel cooler. They are cooking too much catfish. The air is damp with cooking oil and steam. A barrel of a man with a tree for a neck stands between me and the restroom door. He is leaking testosterone into a puddle at his feet he thinks I can't see. Unimpressed, I aim my wobbling legs around him with one rudder out for balance. It's no good. He's not having any of it. He wants to talk to me, to question me about pounds, miles, bundles of time spent and the intention that drives me on.
"Twenty five miles a day, give or take..take really" I throw this out to his eyes that are looking too hard into mine. "If it is this insane heat then I walk less. Amount of water carried, food, rest heat, mountains, people to engage with, rain, it all ties in." He continues to eyeball me for softness. Any pissing contest I want part in waits for me behind the stained unfinished door with the word 'ME ' on it, because the N fell off. There is no weakness in my face but he keeps searching. There is only a red heat rising through dirty wet hair and brow. He smiles without his mouth, more of a fist becoming simply a closed hand. The hulk gives me an offer of a bed, shower, food served hot at a place he shares with his wife sixty five mile away, fifteen mile left of course. He is doing simple math in his head that already has the hour I will be at his door. Before I can think it through I have said no. It would not be enough to walk these miles on the furnace rim at my pace of rest and pondering through swirling waves of sun. No matter how fast I walked it would not be fast enough. I could only walk that fast away from him and his puddle of mannishness.
A deer doesn't jump a fence from a run unless pushed. Always I must save something for the fight, something extra to swim to shore with if the wave of the current reaches up for my mouth. I walk around this fence to the bathroom as the conditioned air takes my sweat.
Thinking Robin may visit me on one of her free days keeps me to the road even though a large shade oak flirts with me from flourishing field of blue green grass. Sitting on a slope of the embankment against a large deadfall branch. Boots off I watch the rain come for me. Leaving people physically is easy enough usually--mentally leaving people is walking very slowly always uphill.

11 July 2006

Three Legs Left To Stand On

The first leg of the walk is now contained in journals, memories, photographs, new friends that send still notes, and the skeletons of four pairs of slaughtered boots. Basecamp Betty is headed north toward her new home in Minn. after dropping off another one of my tents to see me through the nocturnal heat, and taking some gear away that I will now try to live without. My pack looks fatter somehow. I tell myself that warm air expands. Next month it will be one year of walking(counting the first two months of New England). After a year of living in the woods, under overpasses, behind old barns, wedged up by the hedge in and out of New York, I have learned that my pack just doesn't do skinny well. Still, I have hope for my big hipped friend in eventually lose an inch or two.

The eastern leg of the walk was the longest portion of the walk I sketched, and then brought to life. As it looks now,I will head into Texas and then break north into Oklahoma. As the weather permits, I will continue northwest toward the Dakota Territory. Before snow falls I will not make it. Even if I do, there is no way I will get south again without having a one man Donner party as I head into the Rockies. In my head I had the idea of contributing my services where needed to one of the northweatern Indian reservations in trade for two hots and a cot through the winter. I could work on the book, teach, cut wood or patch roofs, study the language of the people I live with, and expand my perception of what this life really is all about. Everything on the walk has come along at the perfect time. Relaxing my hand on the reins, I know that my feet will bring me to where I am supposed to be. When the weather gets the hard chill with white promise I will bend my road toward the southwest (unless a more favorable road comes to the horizon of the north).
Last year I pushed my flesh through winter. In the midwest I will be surrounded by a world I do not know, winter's I have only read about--and more land in the mile to man ratio than I can safely traverse in feet of snow. Without a sled loaded with serious support equipment I would be burning journal pages to stay warm. I would be burning the walk. I will travel across the southwestern sand until the spring allows me to return to walking north. The walk is a 'W' across America ending on the Washington coast. I don't have to die though to insure a perfect letter. Already, as the soles of my new shoes stick to the searing tarmac, I know that winter is coming. The hands of the days do not reach up as far into the evening hours. Young birds are practicing flight as if it matters. Bull gators croak less into the night. Stores are beginning to package up pencils and rainbow pens like they are again selling them for the first time.

08 July 2006

Share it with a Friend

Alexandria, LA

The road leading here was empty days of staring toward a speck on the horizon where the road became a point that everything funneled into, thoughts, new friends missed, every highway song I have ever heard. Trees always leaning away, a thousand dead armadillos filling my head with the putrid rot of bad oil, three flattened rattlers I try to move with my foot, and the shine of far away tar rolling on to me. We all file off into the distance that gives no hint of ever ending. Vehicles that passed me five minutes ago can still be seen all these minutes later just working out getting smaller and smaller. Marksville was the last town that had food to buy, or easy water. Marksville is a long walk back, a walk I won't make except in dreams faling backwards. More than one home along the way didn't answer their door when I knocked for water with my humblest face on. From a spout hidden behind thick brush, or baking in the concrete sun beside a railroad station where many signs warned me to stay away, desperate,I filled water-bottles after I saturated my insides with all I could camel down. Finding water became a day's task the moment I shouldered my pack and stepped into the dawn. That and walking--always walking.
Route 1 moves into Alexandria through a very poor section of town. At least nobody threw another mustard and ketchup hotdog at me from a moving car, or sent a huge wave of rainwater soaking me from head to my socks by storming their red-neck pick-up through the largest puddle in the state just as I walked by. That was Marksville. Some places just get angry like people do. When it happens it is best to just pray for trees, and once they are given run for it. Anger takes a spell to work it's way out.
Walking through some poor towns is beautiful. Yes, there is more trash, smells, dangers. Your eyes have to be all over, keeping yourself aware and safe. Even with all of this I have said thirty hello's this morning as faces walked past me searching out my eyes with eyes of their own, eyes that wanted to pull up a chair and get to know you. That is how they made me feel. I walked past countless buildings that were falling in on themselves, and carwash stalls taken over by heavy webs of vines. Colors, painfully bright lunge from murals on over pass supports that nolonger hold anything. The street art slows my feet. They are not angry murals like I have seen too many times, in too many towns and cities. They are filled with hope, flowers growing up out of rock surrounded by handprints in every race color, blue skies washing over clean fields gone silly with life. Just walking by made me feel good.
I knew that a fancy clean new mini-mart would show up eventually. I am thankful I did not cheat the walk. In a tiny store that sold gas (if you want super), I met Joni Diane Sharp. My money went from my hand to her hand, and then back into mine as we talked. Joni asked alot about the walk with a healthy amount of wanting to understand. It is priceless to stand in a small Louisiana market and watch the world you would never elsewhere met wander in. Great faces that have bronzed in the sun turtle out of brilliant white t-shirts reaching for a morning coffee. Old men laughing the way I remember doing as a child, but rarely see adults do anymore. A life loving laugh. Before I left, Joni gave me water that did not taste like an old garden hose, rather it was cold and in a new bottle. Wrapped in foil were two more bundles for my journey when I left. Joni said if I didn't want all the smoked sausage and chilli cheese then I should pass it off to a friend. I laughed to myself, "I don't know anyone here." I couldn't thank Joni enough. I hadn't had a meal besides nuts in almost two days. I never said this to her.
A half mile down the road town still looked like a dark city waiting for evil to find a way of working out an advantage. Finally I found a fairly decent place to perch and still cover my back. On an old loading dock I prepared to dive into my great gifts of food. Just as I started to get the party going a pit bull,black and white, started working her way over to me from a tear in the metal of a warehouse door. She was more hungry than I guess I had ever been. Her nipples were extended from use. After alot of tender words she was three feet away propelled by a belly that over-powered her desire to flee. Her tail remained welled between her legs. Her head was down, and meek. Here was the friend I was told about. As I shared my meal I talked about the miles that had just passed. I talked about being alone. I talked about how much I had been given. When I left I knew she would not follow. Her secrets were somewhere in that old building. Mine were on the road ahead. Still, a block away I looked back. She was licking a stone I used as her table. I wished I'd given more. We always wish we'd given more when we remember being hungry too.