They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. In entertainment, waiting builds suspense to make people all the more hungry for what is behind curtain number 3. None of this has anything to do with a two-month hiatus from writing. I’ve been thinking. And that can be dangerous.
Along with thinking there was a big birthday and Spring arrived. A convergence somewhere between “the perfect storm” and “Bermuda triangle.” The winter’s mental bottleneck began to loosen and I started seeing signs everywhere. Pennies began to regularly show up at my feet. Ads contained messages written just for me. A search on the Internet screamed loudly, “Go to North Carolina.” And, so I did.
Life on the Road
I am my father’s daughter. Dad loved road trips. Probably my favorite times with him were on the road. Excursions with a loose destination. Unpredictable tours down the less traveled road. Dare I suggest gypsy blood comingled with the Belgians? Ever since, I suspect the happiest travels have been those where I have been let loose with an end in mind and nothing else planned.
Saturday, April 29th
I pack a cooler, watercolor paper, paints, a journal, book, music and clothes. With the GPS as my guide I head in the general direction of Greensboro, North Carolina. Why? All will be revealed.
Frames of Reference
When you live so long in one place, you forget how many years it takes to build your understanding of the relationships between places. I lived in the same house in McFarland, Wisconsin for 20 years. That’s a lot of forgetting.
There’s more to understanding place relationships than just the geographical part. Knowing a place involves a network of stories that tell who you know from the place, why you had occasion to be there, and what it has to do with all the other people and places that are part of your life. —Another thing you don’t think about, really, when you move somewhere else. Just like silverware. You don’t realize the resource draw until you are forced to “think” about where the silverware drawer is in a new kitchen. Ohio is metaphorically a new silverware drawer. I not only have to think about where counties are, I have to discover their existence. Yes, on a daily basis this can be a drain, but on a road trip—it is fascinating. And so, that is where my head is at 9:30am Sunday. Wondering. Imagining. Itching to bolt.
If it’s Sunday, I must be headed South.
GPS tells me to take Highway 32. Disappointment. I have been pretty far out on that stretch. I realize I have a good 45 minutes before I can expect the unexpected. About an hour and 15 out, I turn right on 73. The terrain starts to change and I am heading into big rolling hills. The mountains are forming before my eyes. Lovely. As 73 turns into Ohio 852, I head over a big expansion bridge crossing the Ohio River into Kentucky. To the east, I see a church tower and some interesting white spikes. Are they part of a building? As I get closer I see that this is Portsmith, Ohio and the spikes are the US Grant Bridge heading back to the Ohio of the river and the town.
My first detour. Interesting architecture. It was a grand spot in high times, but there are large tracts of town that are deserted, boarded up and neighbors of pawn shops. I find out later that the town thrived until the 1980s when foreign competition drew the steel industry away. Later I will learn of Portsmouth’s dubious distinction of being the seat of a prescription drug epidemic since the late 1990s. This explains many things I see while I’m there.
Along the river by the Shawnee Community College, it is more prosperous and alive. The college is built right next to the flood wall. Big, bustling (even on a Sunday) and new. I learn that the town has a rich history in sports and has been the birthplace and/or launching ground for legends like Branch Rickey and Jim Thorpe. There are other notables like opera great Kathleen Battle, Roy Rogers, and Ohio governor Ted Strickland.
Most impressive are the extensive and beautifully painted murals of Robert Dallford. They line the west end of the flood wall. These are probably the most beautiful of their kind that I have seen. They depict the history of the town. Dallford’s technique is beautiful. The scale is
amazing. I find it difficult to move from and 8×10 watercolor to 11×17. Dallford is know for equally spectacular mural work along the Ohio River. Talented man. See some of the other panels I photographed. If you ever get anywhere near, stop. It is worth the time.
Sunday, April 29, 2012 – 1:30pm
I have visited a restroom, eaten a snack from the cooler, and am now eating a banana while looking over a map. Highway 64 points me toward my eventual destination and along the way—to Charleston, West Virgina. Another place I’ve never been. Two hours away.
Charleston will bring another stop. Some more exploring and much more in Diving Off the Grid: Part 2.