The Top Ten Significant Insignificant Observations at the Halfway Point

We’ve seen six months of sunsets. Hopefully that qualifies us to make these insightful insights.

Six months into our trip and we’ve already done a lap around the US, circling the country (and more) from Channel Islands to Key West, and from Acadia to Portland.  Completing a circle usually calls for some kind of reflection, something that highlights lessons learned or nirvana(s) experienced.  This is not that post. (Although you might want to check out this post for more details on where we’ve been.)

We have some serious thoughts that we’ll no doubt put on the interwebs in the coming months, but I thought it might be fun to highlight some significant insignificant observations that we’ve had on our trip.  Some are observations that anyone might have had driving 25,000 miles around the country over six months, and some might be more conditioned by the fact that we haven’t lived in the US for about 10 years.

One: Why did anyone let us drive an RV without taking some sort of course first?

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The Peace of Wild Things (and Places)

Sunrise in Voyageurs National Park.

Wendell Berry’s poems, fiction, and non-fiction have been a near-constant companion on the road.  As some of you who have read earlier posts know, we started this trip with the goal of restoring body and spirit in some of the country’s most beautiful places. There are few authors who better speak to that desire than Mr. Berry.

As an example, here’s a short poem that I used to read in the urban jungles of Beijing.  It may have single-handedly brought us back to the American wild.

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me

And I wake in the night at the least sound

In fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

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Ode to the late-waking hiker

Mammoth Cave Campground, abandoned at 8 am.

Jen and I are night-people.  I’d like to say that we were night-people, because we sort of assumed that once we were rested and recovered, we’d be rising with the sun every morning.  That hasn’t happened–we’ve kept our nocturnal circadian rhythm here on the road.  You may have noticed that nearly all of our pictures are sunsets.  It’s not a coincidence.

While there’s nothing necessarily wrong with waking up late, we’ve noticed that our fellow campers tend to be the opposite.  I’ve stepped outside our trailer many times to find most of our neighbors gone by 8 am.

The fact that this has happened not just once, but on a regular basis, has sown some seeds of self-doubt.  Like any normal person, I’m attempting to deal with that guilt by writing a poem.  The first verse (or the last?) is below.  Any constructive criticism of the poem–or our sleep habits–is appreciated.

Me and my guilt in some natural hot springs in Big Bend

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The mind, wandering lonely like a cloud

Clouds over a rainbow, over pods of hundreds of dolphins at Channel Islands National Park

“I wander’d lonely as a cloud…”

Our trailer, before it was christened the Gray Whale (as opposed to the white…), came off the Airstream assembly line as a 25-foot, front-bed, Flying Cloud. To be honest, although this was the right model for us, I was never too keen on this particular name. The other Airstreams are a bit less florid and whimsical: the “Classic,” the “International,” even the “Sport” and “Basecamp” have simple, robust, descriptive names that tell you either what you’re getting or what it’s used for. The Flying Cloud? Robust it is not. As for “flying”, I doubt the line of cars waiting (patiently) behind us in construction zones across America would find that very apt, either. In fact, if she is ever flying, something’s probably gone dreadfully wrong…

The Flying Cloud, stationary

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Boondocking, and the Beauty of Living Off the Grid

In this year of living without in the National Parks, one goal was to learn how to boondock  (aka dry camp) and live off the grid in the Whale.  Our trials and tribulations with bad RV batteries and dodgy dish-washing techniques I’ll share later, but the reward of conservation and minimizing your resource usage is oh-so-amazing.  Because this, my friends, is what dry camping can be like.

Big Bend, Chiso Basin in the background

There’s nothing quite as amazing as waking up to this view, and feeling a little naughty (and a little guilty) that, for the time being at least, this vast awesomeness is your backyard.

When S and I were envisioning a place of peace to help us detox after years in China’s crowds and pollution, and a land of beauty to reinvigorate our souls, I believe this kind of magical stillness was exactly what I was dreaming of.

Why Peace? Why Parks?

North Kaibab Trail on the Grand Canyon. Does the path to peace go through here?

Peace has been hard to come by, of late.

When J and I began making plans to spend a year in the national parks, it was in part because we needed a respite from the work we had been doing in Asia. Our partners were justice-minded lawyers, non-profits, and academics who have been under incredible, intensifying pressure, as countries around the world have begun to reject the international human rights framework or, at least, any role for foreign governments, non-profits, and other do-gooders in it.

We needed to get out of the haze in Beijing, literally, and reassess the way we had been doing our work, and perhaps living our lives.

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