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.

31 December 2007

Corvalis, Oregon** Season of Rain

Outside The Beanery coffee shop a rare blue sky stutters into being. It has been raining since...I can't remember the last entirely dry day. All is creek to river, bog into swamp grass, the constant dripping into a world of forests carpeted in moss in every color plate of green. The tent that has seen me through most of North America, a tornado, bullet holed in New Mexico, beat upon by drunks, and draw upon as if they were walls of a cave on those days when feet of snow locked me within my humble shelter has gone to the knife. The MSR Fusion2 four season tent, a tent I would buy again in an instant, is now sewn and seam sealed into a brown rip-stop waterproof pack cover for CrowDog, and pouches to keep gear dry. The art of all things being open to becoming something else preserves my wallet and exercises my mind. In truth, the journal pouch, roof vent for a previously purchased one man tent I used just a couple months in Mississippi and Louisana (and will now carry to the end of this journey unless I find another MSR), and a personal rain awning that mounts to my Dana Design external pack frame(CrowDog)so I can sit in a waterlogged field and write and eat with food unpuddled. It is my way of not saying goodbye to a tent that has preserved my life. Goodbyes are stacking up now. It is in my breathing, th altered cadence my heart; a subtle tug of knowing I am leaving something important behind, Kit(the travois that I pulled sine OK) will travel no further. The security knot of self reliance that I girdled myself with begins to fray. Towns that were once a week apart will now offer up hot soup within a days walk. Conversation will begin to look for me.
For a week I have lived with Dave and Jeni Wells-Whitney whom I met in Bisbee, AZ ten years ago. At that time I was living in and traveling the southwest in an Airstream trailer. Jeni and Dave were roving in their VW bus and settled into a camp beside my silver bullet. In a short period of time we braided our lives into a gentle rope that has maintained through the years by notes, phone and letters. Just as Walton's Mountain was built into the sketch of the walk so was eventually arriving at the Wells-Whitney door before I wandered to the Oregon coast.
Meals have been rich and uncounted. The hollows spaces between bones begin to fill, sharp ridges between my ribs soften. Nightly we watch Northern Exposure re-runs for the first time on VHS tapes and our delighted bodies are cemented excitedly on the couch like children. I think of walking through Roselyn, Washington where the series was filmed fifteen years ago. I think of walking without ending. Relatives have been warmly introduced, and hands of Dave and Jeni's friends have found mine, removing yet more strangers from the world. There is a great pleasure tied to being introduced to the friends of those we cherish. In this world of great music and souls truly alive yet lost in the sea of living on a globe seven billion strong I am given the hands of those that have been winnowed from the masses with love;songs that I may never have heard on my own and this alone is a reason for celebration.

21 December 2007

Oregon Blooms (second draft) Sweet Home

"They'll warm to you, especially when you get to Sisters." It's the first voice I've heard in days and I am drunk on it, heady and slow to process. Even the sun is worn from a full day to mount one summit and it drops off early into a canyon of trees. Days of climbing with my head horse bent under a heavy burden have worn into me. I don't unsaddle my pack except to a give a gift then re-harness tossing my head from left to right as I cinch straps snug. This late in the day it is cruel to myself to set down CrowDog, and then once again shut down the lightness racing to my limbs by shouldering weight again. After a few more turns in the road lies a bed on stone and moss waiting on snow, waiting on me. My eyes are already combing the woods for it. Just shy of summit I'm crossing over I meet a couple with new backpacks half the size of mine and hanging far too thin. Its not enough, not here. It is clear that they'll be needing to hike alot on their thumbs if they want to reach their intention of the east coast with a world of winter weather shouldering in. Digging into my pack I find a large size Snickers bar. As I hand it to Rich and Linda, Linda's hand is out like the hungry mouth of a pup. The gift disappears into a magicians pocket I never see as her eyes, embarrassed by their own unknown hunger, come back up to mine in a soft expression of thanks that I except with a softing of my face. Her eyes fall to her hands and then the earth we stand on and rarely rise again. We all carry different scars. Gently I move my attention to Rich. My eyes shake them both down and their lack until I want to share my camp and the food I've pulled over mountains and through miles of uninhabited forest oblivious to weight and distance. Linda appears new to trail sign in the eyes and can't read intention. When her mate asks her if she'd like to set camp with me her vote vetos the thought. In a few minutes her vote has them walking away, plodding into the increasing cold and darkness that is ushering dampness around us fast, chilling sweat into dull knifes held flat against our spines, even a promise of better food fails to seduce her company, her conversation. Without intuition I would never feel safe out here either.
"Yeah, There's hard people to the east of this state but your heading toward people that will get you and dig what your doing. The people only get friendlier heading toward John Day, Prineville, and Sisters, all nice people. After Sisters...," Rich smiles,"No worries." Rich squints over the cigarette he is rolling, spitting a thread of tobacco he has licked free and again licks the thin paper and pinches his bronze fingers against his mouth into a roll. There is a truth about Rich, the scar from his forehead running down over his right eye into his cheek is like a line of red paint washes off with rain. Somehow it makes him regal and intense as if he is a shaman crossing mountains on a pilgrimage and only drinks rain and eats meal cakes cooked with trees hit by lightning. He is an old soul and we speak more with what we don't say than we do with what we do. The last of the day's afterlight showing silver in his long hair is as if inner light leaching out. He is brave wearing his hair lose I think to myself; a pistol in church. My hair is in a knot on the back of my head long unfed and broken after three years of starvation and sunburn, wind and the fraying caused by cracked fingers working a tangle free into wind while sage bush brushs my face with its easy 'everything is alright in the world' smell. I carry this top knot to remember the old ways. I carry it out of habit, and hope. It is a flag I won't be flying, but fold every morning in triangles and release into the wind at night in camp when I am with one with the wild things and hair is hair. Long hair has power in society, in the settlements of the settled. My not understanding this doesn't make it less true. It is a sign that I'm not totally broken, domesticated, an uncertain wildness remains making people nervous like the ink in my skin that is arrows and direction, force and restraint, old and never ageing. Rich and I talk until our feet begin to chain step in place the cold that is pooling beneath us. Linda is silently tucked into herself, hands wrapped in hands, never mouthing more than thanks and goodbye in soft breaths, and even then uses no volume. Rich rolls another thin smoke as I begin to move from their post on the guardrails with the smell of a sulfur match strike still moving toward my head like a thought unopened. Stepping from conversation I am moving from a good fire back to a cold I hadn't noticed before, not like this. I move alone into the mountains toward Rich's truth about kindness coming where little has existed, and hot tea I promised my hands they could cup around as the drapes of the forest closed around me for the night.


It would be a long list to detail all of the reaching out that has happened in the last days, weeks. The concern of the men D.O.T. plowing the mountain from Sisters to Tombstone Summit constantly kept me alive in their mirrors, outside the teeth of the slushy nashing of tire chains moving over mountain ice that once was tar, gifts of hot chicken and eggnog from David as I crawled from my caves of snow and brown nylon, escaped yet again from ice fields of rain over new snow over a foot deep as I descended into a new world of water constantly falling, collecting, adding weight, burden, a saturation no fire could consume. We stood in half circles, these plow drivers and myself, on pull-offs kicking stories with our wet boots until we were all adventures in a better season of bloom, all walking, all hunting elk, or moving through South East Asia, panning gold in Alaska. My pockets collected phone numbers, addresses, future plans to prospect in the fiftieth state, ideas bigger than the now dominant yearning for dry socks and for a sleeping bag that remembers to loft. The mountains gave up great friends and time to begin to ease down into the idea of the walk ending, down through all of the faces that have shown me their personal America and a slow sinking feeling that I soon will not be living this dream, this one wonderful slice of being.
Yesterday a green pick-up found me in the rain by mile marker #35. Two ladies from the Sweet Home School District No. 55 Transportation Dept. had been asked to retrieve me for a big Christmas meal at their main building/motorpool in town. With a comical pair of grins from tow laughing ladies that promise to return me to my location after the feast we headed for the absolute insanity of a room full of platters of steaming hot turkey and ham, all of the fixings, cakes and pies, fudge and sweets, and ...best of all, a literial pool of smiling faces all eager to talk, share, laugh and take me in like the saviors of norishment that they were. From town a reporter came with his pad and questions. Cameras flashed and talked their digital language. A hundred hundred questions were answered while I felt a roundness in my stomach, in my heart that I have not felt in a very long time. If a room can be love then I was in that room swimming from face to face, boyant in the silly joy of signing copies of my picture, and the constant reminder that these steps walked, all of these steps and stories, these faces, these inquisitive bright faces, everything that I had survived and been so blessed with...in this ending of the end to come in northern Washington matter. The Oregon that I saw in my mind's eye has found me and comforts all that has worn thin and is wanting.
With Cherl and Roger I rest for the night, fogged over with more food in my belly that I usually eat in a week. I am stranger but known, warm and dry and held close with every word spoken. The ladies from the transportation motorpool come to visit with excited faces. Walking through Sweet Home two young boys that look like my brother Steve and myself as children approach me as I walk into Sweet Home under my own power after being returned to where I was picked up. "Did you really walk America," a stunned boy asks through a face that tries to take in distance and time. Turning to look at them my heart melts into memory. In esy words I talk about bears and wolves, mountains and deserts, being empty to become full. Three busses go by and hook profusely. A seductive lady pulls up in a car and as for my autograph and the boyss gasp,"Everyone knows You. We have never met anyone famous>"
I sign cards for the boys with a warm face shining in memory, "In a few miles I will be a stranger again."

This is hurried writing, crude poking at words with a stick but I have miles to get back to so I can arrive in Corvalis under my power to see my friends Dave and Jeni. I will lose the trovois there. Many warm clothes will be set aside, their task completed. What was my sword and sheath, bear spray that only sprayed me, a pile of trinkets gathered and prickling with stories will come to rest in Corvalis as I prepare CrowDog (and myself) for the last four or five hundred miles of walking across America.

13 December 2007

Sisters, OR

I arrived yesterday to a police car special that lasted through the night, a sting that had flashing lights skipping all over the sides of the roads. South of the weigh station I set shelter without even a filtered headlamp and felt my heart quicken to the strobe of police car lights moving through the ponderosa and scrub, cedar and brier. It was the blackest night waiting on the coming storm. No blue and red flashing lights came for me. At Bronco Billy's I worked the chatter out of my lungs to a bar of men happy to chew on fresh road stories while I ate a burger and fries from the locals menu, and sipped re-fills of a dark micro brew that had my eyes flickering to the moving light of the large flat screen television in the corner that nobody was watching. Sisters is a landmark, a compass check, a place to exhale before falling off the map for nearly a hundred miles of snow and mountains with a blizzard on the way(at least an expected blizzard).
In many towns across America I am a juggling three legged dog that strayed from the circus. Here in Sisters I am another ornament dangling from a tree on the green. I am as expected as the cloud of mist after each cold exhalation. In Sisters, even with CrowDog bulging at the seams on my shoulders and a stacked travois following hip behind me, I blend. Tourists stare. Locals engage me in conversation to place me on their mental map, and wish me well.
It is a new sensation to feel nervous before leaving for the Cascades. I have lived in eight feet of snow in the New Mexico Rockies; lost finger use to find them again after a thaw through two winters now and this is the third. Bullets spit around me in the desert, and then I slept from exhaustion beside a jagged bullet hole in the foot of the tent. As they say here,"This is not my first rodeo." Still, in a frozen tent under the red filter of headlamp and cold tired reasoning I move over this next stretch, this last big stretch of open land before the walk concludes some five hundred miles later in Washington's northwest point. Maybe it is a mental spillover from being a combat paratrooper in the 82nd. As troopers we all feared the last jump, saw friends die on the last jump, heard of the colonel poured from his boots on his last jump. In my kit I count blocks of cheese, and check two stoves like parachutes. When the green light comes tomorrow morning I will jump...or walk. No matter how long I live I will never forget those four seconds that occur directly after leaving the airplane...the proverbial perfect airplane...that I hear falling in jungles from time to time taking all on board. For four seconds a train is in your ears, your stomach-so close to vomiting after running ground contours for hours to beat radar-moves into your narrowing throat, and you wonder-over the years of a single moment-is this the way I will leave so much undone behind? You think,"I could have done better." And falling and praying are one.
In Sisters Coffee Shop I wash my socks in the bathroom sink and shave with soap and a plastic pink razor. Again I smell the cedar of old smoke billow up from my shirt as I lean into the sink. "I move well in winter," I say softly to myself. "Food tastes better." There is an older man in the mirror smiling the way I used to and he believes me.

10 December 2007

Into The Cold

Prineville, Oregon

The stack of postcards and letters are placed in the mailbox, flag up. It feels good to reach back to faces and families I have walked away from; to affirm that they mattered, matter, and like Jessica Monday's gift of a thin red string she tied to my pack so long ago, I write to keep the string strong and avoid floating off into space from all those embraced.
"Jesse, before you go will you bless me," asks Rev. Janet Warner in gentle morning voice as she steps onto her frosted porch where I am saddling up to the travois and pulling straps snug on CrowDog? For two days I have been the guest of Janet and her husband Dan on the northern hill of Prineville. In all of my miles I have prayed blessings on many that have lightened my load, even if they just smiled. It has always been a whisper I quietly offer up into the miles of in between. This is the first time I am asked to bless and I feel a warm glow of energy come up from my chest though 30 degree air is moving into my clothes, emptying my pockets of wood stove warmth. I am honored by her request, and feel like I should close my eyes and talk softly, but of course I don't. My mouth stutters to a start before the feeling settles down. Janet saw me walking 16 miles out of town while she was busy heading west in her sedan days ago. The roads she drove became slick miles past my rest point so when she gave up her plans and shehe returned to talk to me. This is rare out in this open land...nearly unheard of by a woman. "I saw you walking earlier, and your load...I began thinking, surely this is a man with a story." Janet beamed up at me with her light energy spilling out the car window. Walking slowly to the car after setting down the can of ice cold hash I'd been eating in bliss being desperate for fat, my knotted leg mussels took me to the road. My story tumbles out effortlessly now so that no longer do I have to listen to my own words. My eyes are on a raven asking to glean from my lunch. Inside my shirts the sweat turns cold. After a few minutes I am offered an overnight at the Warner home some 16 miles away and it is afternoon. Not today I think to myself. At first I wonder if I will ever push in the phone number because I know nothing of Prineville yet. Food, washing clothes, the usual taxes wait to be paid. Thankful for a contact and a warm hand in mine saying a kind good-bye eases legs taking me back to sit on the earth and rattle the can with a spoon.
The miles do take me to Janet's home, shared meals, all of my needful tasks accomplished topped with two nights sleep indoors. My heart receives the spiritual conversations I hunger for like sweet fat. New friends enter my life, to include Cindy who blesses me with a gift bags fulls of treasures to eat on my journey, Smartwool socks and the platter of treats she created to polish my ribs with joy. Wow!
Will I bless You? Janet is the woman at the well, the land owner that calls in a fattened bull to be dressed for my arrival with overflowing dishes of sweet breads perfuming the air. I tell her this and how I pray for all that she has to bloom, to be enriched. Words sometimes crumble on front porches as I reach for straps that giggle and run behind my back while I turn and turn after them. In a land where I walked tired and alone I was given warmth and prayers. I will bless Janet and her home as I walk the road to Sisters. My words will be honed in my fingers as roads move under step, knowing through all of my troubles I am being lifted up, comforted and have never...never been forgotten.

08 December 2007

Prineville, OR (pop. 9,990)

Awaking to snow and the smell of cedar coming up from my layering of four shirts, I pull out from down comfort of my sleeping bag to the sounds of geese on the lake below. Pancakes are in my minds eye. I grin and squint at the first rays of sun in days. The campground is closed. It is no matter for I have no car to stall at the gate. My brake light that come in the evening is only a thought that says 'enough', 'rest'. It is too cold for the old ladies to walk their miniature dogs through the park and pucker their faces at me. Winter camp is free camp. This is the good fruit of winter coming down.
My legs moved fast to get here, away from Mitchell. They always move fast on their own accord when they have been slighted or worry; when they are running miles of rusted barb wire that is still as sharp as the signs, the never ending signs that have the words 'absolutely' and 'keep off' shoved together. One sign printed it out clearly on an old tree,"If you step on my land for anything in the next eleven miles I will have you arrested and fine you the max. by law $7,ooo. AND, I own the next eleven miles...both sides of the road. It was afternoon when I came to this sign. Picture Gorge just was completed in winding turns of sleet that bit the face and now the rain and wind were just reeving up to a hammer to make Oregon and Washington Coasts national disaster zones. I slept in a water ditch 4" deep on miniture islands of bunch grass and my foam pads, if I can call it sleeping. The compressed folded and released my tent over and over with me in it wearing earplugs. Big rigs blasting by on a road 2' away hitting me with a drumroll of slush. The food I bought in Mitchell in a store that has been a store since 1875 sold me hotdogs that expired 3 weeks ago, and bread that was a week past death and tinder dry. I tossed the other cartons I bought to save weight so I consumed some of the rotten food before I felt the knots enter me, spoil in me, and then I ran to every bit of sage brush with a white flag of toilet paper waving desperately behind me.
In Mitchell the postal service didn't like the name WhiteCrow, or the idea of a man walking across America, so the postal inspectors opened the box from Basecamp and sliced open all the zip-lock baggies of homemade peanut butter and oat cookies with a razor blade...then without taping their inflicted wounds, they re-taped the box. The large envelope from Lisa in Thermopolis, WY recieved a whole new large postal envelope after the labels were cut off the old, reapplied to the a new postal envelope before putting my now sliced open zip lock baggies of walnuts her mother included in the parcel for me...because we all know how much walnuts look like pot. Of course again nothing was taped up or any explaination offered. Some towns just don't pan out.