Day 11 in However Many – Exile

When we drive and the weather is warm, we have the windows down, all of them, and the wind is thunderous and constant. Yesterday, after a few very hot stops – 96 degrees at a dog park outside Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan – we put the windows up and the air conditioner on.

And then, because it was so quiet in the car and we had run out of things to talk about, we turned the radio on to hear Wolf Blitzer of CNN talking to Julian Castro about the Walmart shooting in El Paso. It was, by now, about 5:30 in the afternoon, we had gone the whole day having no idea that people had been killed buying school supplies on a Saturday morning. I had been in the Walmart at Grand Forks the day before buying a new camp lantern, a Citronella candle, paper plates and a 98 cent pair of blue flip flops because I’d left mine in Grand Marais. The store was full of ordinariness and people unaware of any danger, although I walked past a display of ankle holsters and wondered why does this need to be here?

We drove on in silence, listening to CNN’s reporting – interviews with Beto O’Rourke and the Governor and Attorney General of Texas. We drove from Moose Jaw to Swift Current just listening and looking at the plains and then the slightly rolling hills and then the plains again, all golden and tranquil. We just kept shaking our heads at what we were hearing – the requests for prayers and blood, the gratitude for first responders, one speaker congratulating the police on having gotten to the scene in six minutes, and multiple statements that El Paso shouldn’t be defined or divided by this one incident. Meanwhile, Wolf Blitzer told us, the people who died were still in the Walmart, laying, I suppose, where they were shot, hours and hours later.

We’d decided 96 degrees was too much for camping so we were headed to a dog friendly hotel that a guy at the dog park in Moose Jaw found for us on his phone since ours had stopped working in Canada. The hotel sported a Chinese/American restaurant so Howard went there to fetch us dinner, it being too hot to go anywhere and leave the dog in the car. The Chinese lady there asked Howard if he’d heard about what happened in Texas, he said yes, and they both shook their heads, no other conversation needed apparently.

We had our dinner, had a cranberry and Tito’s nightcap, and read. We didn’t turn on the TV. We knew what would be there – panels of experts, interviews with survivors, reporters asking why someone would drive 900 miles across the State of Texas to that particular Walmart to kill people when there are so many other Walmarts to choose from. Prevarication from elected officials, sickening, self-serving excuse-making from people responsible for public safety, and the invisibility of the lava of grief and suffering pouring over the loved ones of people killed and injured by a young man who had swallowed hate and fury fed to him by white nationalists including the president of our very own country.

We are in Canada. It is peaceful here and that makes me envious, it fills me with longing. I feel like a foreigner here. I am a foreigner.

Day 9 of However Many – Ruining the Neighborhood

After hours of looking for a place to camp tonight and nearly giving in to the temptation of getting a hotel room for us and our dog, who, last night, cost us $45 on top of the $150 for us, we found the Polk County Campground in western Minnesota where we paid $25 for the last available site.

We are surrounded by giant white RV’s, easily forty or fifty of them. The one across the road from us has Halloween decorations up including a Tin Man, a pumpkin, a skeleton dressed in a tuxedo, and a wooden American flag. On the way to the bathroom, we saw an RV with a garden and the sprinkler going. A lot of the rigs (as they call them in RV Nation) have porches with steps, decks with gas barbecue grills, it’s crazy. They are packed in like cars at a used car lot in a bad neighborhood. Who would go out in the country to listen to your neighbor peeing in the next RV? I don’t get it. Plus they are obviously staying here a long time, no, they are living here. We, on the other hand, are just passing through. As my husband is prone to saying whenever we camp (which is rarely), this is where we decided to lay up. He says this like we’re leading a wagon train across Nebraska as in “we’ll get through the pass and lay up on the other side for a few days.”

We have the only tent in the campground. I bought it as an alternative to a tent we’d had for years that had 5,000 collapsing rods that had to be threaded through a thousand little loops and then someone, preferably a child but an adult if that’s all we had, had to go inside the flat tent with all the intricate rods and loops arranged just so and then leap up like a middle school girl at cheerleading tryouts. It took us fucking hours to put up our tent. I’m serious. Hours. And people would gather. That was the worst part.

So this new tent is an abracadabra tent. You take it out of its pouch and you just go bam a few times on the ground and poof it’s a tent! And then there are a bunch of adorable little stakes to pound into the ground so the miracle tent doesn’t take flight. It’s fabulous. It is also impossible to collapse the tent to fit it back into the bag. So what began as a nifty little 36″ marvel is now the size of Saturn with all its rings riding on the top of all our gear in the back of the truck. We don’t even pretend to try to get it to its former self. 

My hot spot conked out as I was writing this so we decided to go to bed, a decision that called into question the entire concept of camping since it was unbearably hot and humid with no wind, the two of us and our large dog who immediately curled up and put his weighty head on my foot. I laid in the heat in my underwear and a t-shirt, fraught with anxiety that someone would look through the one open flap and see me, a 71-year old half naked woman, as if this was scandalous or dreadful in some way. In a more rustic spot, I would have worried about an axe murderer but that seemed unlikely considering the inhabitants of our little village. Finally, I got up, put on my shorts, went outside and opened all the damn flaps. Then I laid back down. Let them come and look at me, I thought, all the little villagers. It would be a sight to remember.

Day 8 of However Many – On the Road

I think we are going to Moose Jaw. Unless we go to Rapid City. There will be a fork in the road at which time we will decide to go north or south.

North is Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan which could be great or it could be like hundreds of up north towns with a lot of buildings with flat roofs and planters made from old tires, both of which I kind of like but they aren’t the spectacular scenery one is supposed to see on a driving trip, but then I really liked Nome, the ultimate up north place, even though it was extraordinarily gritty and littered with more abandoned rusty steel than Pittsburgh.

South is Rapid City and then somewhere around there a wild horse refuge that I have been talking about going to for years. The chances that we would see wild horses are slim since we can’t take our dog, Swirl, on the bus that goes to search them out and it is unlikely the herd will be standing by the side of the road while we drive by. Plus it would probably be hotter there than in Moose Jaw, although the temperature yesterday in Moose Jaw was 84.

To be frank, Moose Jaw is attractive to me only because of its name. So is Medicine Hat which is further west in Saskatchewan so we may not get there. We do have work to do at home at some point.

We drove into Ashland, Wisconsin, late this afternoon, hoping to roll into a nice pet friendly hotel, but the prices were through the roof and our dog exceeded the weight limit (40 lbs.). We tried a few other places but same story and then decided to stop in a wee motel behind a bait and smoked fish store on the off-chance it was pet friendly. It was and it was also ridiculously cute and cozy, two beds with big northern motif quilts, two comfy easy chairs, a table and chairs made of hewn wood, no weight limit for the dog. Deluxe. We bought a $5 pizza and a six-pack of beer, and watched the debate.

We are eschewing chain hotels for the rest of the trip in favor of more mom and pop enterprises or our own tent which is crammed in the back of our truck with a cooler packed with a bottle of half and half and a bag of cheese curds. We will need to go shopping.

I have wanted this life since I read Travels with Charley. I want to go without knowing where I am going, sit with a map on my lap, and make lunch by the side of the road. Not plan. Just go. It’s luscious.

Day 7 of However Many – Love

This is how it looks here when the sun goes down.

Not every night. But enough that it makes you want to come back to have that moment again.

After my future husband kissed me for the first time, I fainted. He had already turned and started down the stairs of my upper flat and I’d closed the door behind him. Then I dropped to the floor. Probably too much beer, he said later. I thought it was love but I didn’t argue. I didn’t know him well enough to love him.

I do now, though.

He took this picture tonight. Even though he’s been here hundreds of nights, he went outside to take this picture. Each night is beautiful in its own way. I was right to faint.

Day 6 of However Many – Unintentional Documentation

I am trying to live an undocumented life but it is very difficult when one’s practice is to document everything.

This afternoon, flying a bumblebee kite, I thought about how I ought to take a picture of the kite, more specifically the string running from my hand to the bumblebee’s chest. That line, that string against a completely blue sky was the perfect shot so I looked around for my husband to ask him to get my phone because part of my undocumented effort is to quit carrying my phone in my pocket all the time.

But he’d gone inside after watching the beginning of the kiting, if that’s what they call it, and I knew he was probably napping. It was a July afternoon on vacation, after all, what else would he be doing? It wasn’t even worth yelling, the wind would drown out all but the shrillest, most terrifying scream and I wasn’t ready to go to such lengths just to take a picture.

Besides, I thought, one can remember things. I remember that when we were kids, my brother, who was nine years older than me, could make a kite out of newspaper and balsa wood. Having newspaper laying about seems common but why we had a ready supply of balsa wood I couldn’t tell you. My folks were handy, though, so they had stuff like vast assortments of nails and screws, tools of all sorts, tiny screwdrivers, vices that would hold thing still, my dad could fix a toaster and tie a fly, my mother turned dresses into curtains and vice versa, all of which goes by saying, of course, we would have balsa wood and probably enough lumber to make a rowboat if the need arose.

So my brother would make a kite, I can see him doing this in my mind’s eye, the newspaper spread out on the kitchen floor and then when the kite was done he’d tear up old cloth to make the tail. “It needs more tail,” he would say, and then outside when we tried to fly it, he’d say it again, “It needs more tail.” Then flying a kite seemed like something I would never be qualified to do, at least not without my brother.

I don’t have a picture of my brother making a kite or flying one. I have almost no pictures of my brother, even though for many years he was my great defender and caretaker. He wasn’t making the kite for himself, he made it for me. That’s what I remember.

So I flew the bumblebee kite today with my 15-year old granddaughter and 6-year old twin grandsons. Then my granddaughter put together a second kite, a Little Mermaid kite, and we took turns flying both kites but for long stretches of time I flew the bumblebee kite by myself, the wind blowing hard off Lake Superior and the kite flying as high as its string would take it. I am so lucky, I thought. I am so lucky to fly this kite. I don’t need a picture to remember my great luck.

But as it happens, there was a picture taken and so I share it here with you.