When I began considering an extended period of travel, it was, in part, because I needed a change. The home I’d long thought of as a sanctuary was no longer such. I had been deeply disappointed and derailed by an overturning in my life and I needed distance. I was physically, emotionally and spiritually depleted and I was no longer willing to continue in a way of life that was draining the life out of me. I needed to lay new tracks toward respite, renewal, and relief.
Like Gustave Flaubert, I was eager to be “transplanted by the winds.” Like Charles Baudelaire, I was eager to be in the places of departure and arrival, eager to be aboard machines of motion. Like Edward Hopper, I was seeking the poetry in a train car, the sanctuary in a coffee shop, the message in a neon sign. Like Alexander von Humboldt, I was seeking knowledge, an expansion of my understanding of the world and its workings. Like William Wordsworth, I craved the restorative power of nature.
BUT, ultimately, foundationally — through and through — what I needed most was the ministry of the sublime. I needed to hear from God. I wanted to connect with His artistry in nature and be awed by His power breathed in and through the created order. My spirit craved healing and I was eager to paint what I learned and saw and felt and heard and smelled – all that I experienced with every sense and every fiber of my being — with words and photographs and sketches.
Alain de Botton, author of The Art of Travel (a book from which I have drawn much inspiration), has lamented that: “There are some who have crossed deserts, floated on ice caps and cut their way through jungles but whose souls we would search in vain for evidence of what they have witnessed.” I didn’t want that to be true of me; I wanted to BE wherever I was.
But I shouldn’t lead you to believe that the Rubber Hoboing I was to embrace was to be only a serious, studious search for reignition. I was also up for some light-hearted, boisterous, frolic-laden, delight-filled fun.
I was ready to answer, what John Steinbeck referred to as, the call of “bumdom.”
As I made plans with my husband Gene to set off for parts unknown, I was filled with anticipation and ready to embrace the vulgar realities of wayfaring. Like Mr. Toad and his friends from The Wind in the Willows, I delighted in considering what the open road, the dusty highway, the heath, the common, the hedgerows and the rolling downs might hold in the way of adventure.
And so, as 2010 was drawing to a close, my husband Gene and I sold our home in Pennsylvania and set out to gather experiences – outside of our experiences – on a road trip across the United States.
We traveled down the eastern seaboard, across the south, up through the mountain states, and out to the west coast. From Washington state, we made our way down the Oregon coast and then headed back east via a route that took us through California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee and the Carolinas. All totaled — over this period of time (two years, two months and two days) — we wayfared our way through 27 states. I also took one “side trip” to the island of Oa’hu.
Along the way, we met fascinating people from gold panners and a family of wild mushroom pickers in Oregon to a moonshiner in Louisiana, from a mariachi band in Texas to Gullah-Geechee sweetgrass basket weavers in South Carolina. We spent delight-filled days marveling at glorious natural wonders from the majestic Grand Canyon in Arizona to the hoodoo-filled Bryce Amphitheater in Utah, from the lush and soul-soothing Appalachian Mountains in Tennesee to the barren salt flats of Badwater in California’s Death Valley. We work-camped on a ranch, on a vineyard and in a coastal RV park. We risked much but gained much. Along the way we also had a good many surprise encounters with wild animals, many of which we found in new and unanticipated habitats. Our companions: grizzlies, black bears, coyotes, bighorn sheep, prairie dogs, pronghorns, mountain goats, alligators, lizards, sundry insects, bald eagles, egrets, herons, pelicans, hawks, falcons, elk, bison, creatures of the sea, even a band of beggin’ burros.
My Massachusetts-born and bred husband herded 250 head of cattle across eight miles of the Badlands (in the company of a real cowboy) and I starred as the murderer in a staged production of the 1940s era Inner Sanctum radio play, “The Voice on the Wire.” We had a double tire blow-out on one side of the trailer in New Mexico but were saved from a roll-over. I had a serious reaction to some tainted water in South Dakota and contracted Bell’s Palsy from overdoing the heat and wind while dry camping and hiking in Death Valley.
I am profoundly grateful for every single moment. I have known “the rapture of the lonely shore” and have partaken of the healing solace found “in pathless woods.”* I know now, on a deeper level, that polish comes through trouble and that not a single heartbreak in one’s lifetime need go to waste. All things can be used of God to develop in a believer an unshakeable trust in Him. He is the Rock of Ages and I am confident that He holds me tight in the place cleft especially for me. I have been where I have been and I am where I am and the journey has reshaped me and I will carry it with me as long as I have memory.
Augustine described the world as a book and he asserted that those who do not travel read only one page. With this trip, I’ve now “read” – or, at the very least, “perused” – all 50 states, all of the Canadian provinces (save for Nunavut) and many countries in Europe, Asia and Africa.
As I write this, we have come off the road for a time on the coast of North Carolina where we are with family and I am working on three books. One, that is illustrated with photographs I’ve taken while on the road, focuses on our days as Rubber Hobos. On the Rubber Hobos site (http://www.rubberhobos.com), you’ll find previews and excerpts from that book; intros and links to On the Road with Mac and Molly, a program I host on Pet Life Radio; a listing of suggested books that may reignite your mind and spirit; and inspiring quotes on travel, art, culture and nature written by sojourners over the centuries.
A last little bit on my professional background: I’ve worked as a professor of renewal and urban ministry and directed a Doctor of Ministry program in the Renewal of the Church for Mission. As an ordained American Baptist minister, I have pastored congregations in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. I have extensive training and experience in relief work and disaster response and have led a number of ministries and non-profits charged with helping society’s at-risk, homeless and marginalized individuals and families.
My articles, columns, and book reviews have appeared in professional journals and popular magazines. Profiles of my life and ministry have been featured in periodicals, on television (including a Billy Graham telecast), and in a book (More to Be Desired than Gold). I have been honored with an Eastern Seminary Student Assembly award for excellence in teaching; a Christianity Today Book of the Year award; a United Press International award for excellence in news writing; and a Church of the Year award (celebrating the ministry of the congregation I pastored in New Hampshire).
“As dying and behold we live” (2 Cor. 6:9).
“I had a bed of asters last summer, that reached clear across my garden in the country. Oh, how gaily they bloomed. They were planted late. On the sides were yet fresh blossoming flowers, while the tops had gone to seed. Early frosts came, and I found one day that that long line of radiant beauty was seared, and I said, “Ah! the season is too much for them; they have perished”; and I bade them farewell. I disliked to go and look at the bed, it looked so like a graveyard of flowers. But, four or five weeks ago one of my men called my attention to the fact that along the whole line of that bed there were asters coming up in the greatest abundance; and I looked, and behold, for every plant that I thought the winter had destroyed there were fifty plants that it had planted. What did those frosts and surly winds do?
They caught my flowers, they slew them, they cast them to the ground, they trod with snowy feet upon them, and they said, leaving their work, “This is the end of you.” And the next spring there were for every root, fifty witnesses to rise up and say, “By death we live.” And as it is in the floral tribe, so it is in God’s kingdom. By death came everlasting life. By crucifixion and the sepulchre came the throne and the palace of the Eternal God. By overthrow came victory. Do not be afraid to suffer. Do not be afraid to be overthrown. It is by being cast down and not destroyed; it is by being shaken to pieces, and the pieces torn to shreds, that men become men of might, and that one a host; whereas men that yield to the appearance of things, and go with the world, have their quick blossoming, their momentary prosperity and then their end, which is an end forever.” — Henry Ward Beecher
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Featured image: Coming in to Death Valley National Park, California from the west.
Save for one by Alan Blackburn, all photos by Donna Hailson.
* George Gordon Byron