The last time I checked-in via my travel blog was when I left Kentucky. That was October 22nd or so. I spent a couple weeks in Arkansas, another week or so in Texas, then a couple weeks in New Mexico. It was in north Texas that I met up with K Mae and David from Windham. I’d met them both about a year ago; I knew they were traveling too but we left Maine a month apart and their route was rather different from the one I’d traveled. I happened to see one of K Mae’s FB posts indicating they’d be in Texas. I was also heading to Texas; it only made sense to see if we could meet. During the couple of days we shared in North Texas, we agreed that spending winter together would be good for both of us as we had no other community. It was there that we found a place to park for the month of December just outside Tucson.
For the next couple weeks we traveled in separate directions with a plan to meet in Deming, New Mexico where we’d stay until December. They had alternative plans to mine from then until just before Thanksgiving so we went our separate ways with an agreement to meet in Deming later that month. In the end, because of anxiety I experienced traveling I-10 from Boerne to Junction, I opted to change plans that had me traveling across west Texas to El Paso, and drove northwest to Midland where I stayed one night ultimately meeting them a bit earlier in Roswell, New Mexico Bottomless Lakes State Park. From there, we traveled to Deming across the stunning Sacramento Mountains, and beyond through White Sands and Las Cruces New Mexico. There we remained for 10 days, through Thanksgiving. On December 1st we traveled to Desert Trails RV Park west of Tucson where we stayed the month; on January 1st, we caravanned to Apache Junction where we’ll be at least until end of February.
So the previous paragraph covers the Cliff Notes of who, what and where! From here on, I’ve decided to tell this story in a different way. So bear with me as I zig zag my way through my experiences.
Arkansas was beautiful! I loved it and that surprised me. I did not expect the beauty and the magnitude of public land. The vegetation resembled Maine’s and there was plenty of rural land so I felt comfortable. At the same time, I was not accustomed to Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) campgrounds; we don’t have these that I know of in the northeast. They exist adjacent to ACOE land holdings that typically involve hydropower dams. In Maine, we are removing hydropower dams to allow fish passage and the regeneration of sturgeon and wild Atlantic salmon.
While the ACOE parks were gems, I also felt a bit conflicted about using them in light of the Standing Rock situation….same army even if different oversight. And as much as I’d appreciated the relationship with the reps of ACOE in Maine when I worked at DOT, I still had a sour taste about what I’d learned about the inconsistencies at the Corps in terms of regulatory oversight. Because most of the DOT permits involved waters of the US, the ACOE often had the principal responsibility for issuing permits under the Clean Water Act as Amended (CWAA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Under these laws, the ACOE is required to consult with ALL agencies that also have a stake. This includes Federal Highway (when the roadway was eligible for federal funding), Maine DEP, Maine Tribal Governments, Maine Fish and Wildlife, Maine Marine Fisheries, Maine Historic Preservation and their counterparts at the Federal level. This potential for confusion and redundancy is replicated all across the US and can include county governments. It was up to the DOT to assure that the local jurisdiction, i.e. towns were consulted with. Granted, there were interagency agreements to simplify review of minor projects like culvert replacements but new projects affecting new land were always expensive and time consuming.
I stayed at two ACOE sites in Arkansas; one called the John F Kennedy Campground on the Little Red River, adjacent to the Dam Site Recreation Area in Heber Springs and one outside Conway on the Arkansas River called Toad Suck Park. The more I think about it, the more I realize that if the Army who is building or at least issuing permits to a hydropower corporation’s project wants local support then it makes sense to give the public a recreation area to divert their attention from the environmental impacts of the work. It’s akin to giving a child a lollipop so that the sting of the needle is less readily felt.
I was also struck by the extent of poverty in Arkansas; even Little Rock, where former President Bill Clinton was raised, looked pretty depressed. I saw many empty store fronts in downtown; building facades were covered in flaking paint and the public realm (the portion of the main street that includes sidewalks, esplanades, plazas, sculpture, pedestrian lighting, parking the roadway, including medians) left much to be desired. Somehow I expected I’d see that Maine needed to measure up; I was so wrong! Seeing these places, from New Hampshire to Arkansas, made me feel proud of the many Maine main streets where the public realm is most often well cared for and many downtowns are growing in vitality. Clearly the public investment in this asset in many Maine towns created a sense of pride and vitality that was lacking in most places I’d traveled through except the largest of cities or those with vast natural resource assets that attract visitors in their own right.
By the time I got to Arkansas, I was feeling lighter. In Kentucky, I experienced such hospitality and was able to take in such nurturing that once I resumed my travels, the nervousness that had accompanied me until I arrived there, was virtually gone. Rather than trepidation or hesitation regarding moving forward on my own, I experienced a sense of adventure that up until then had been on the back burner. After the Kentucky portals I passed through, I looked forward to who and what I’d meet as I progressed to some yet undetermined destination somewhere around Tucson where I had envisioned spending winter.
In addition to the nurturing and hospitality that I’d received all along the way, I think it’s important to talk about my experience at the Society of Shamanic Practitioners’ Northeast Gathering in Upstate New York. I mentioned that experience before but did not expound….it takes me a while to process I guess. So let’s rewind to late September. At the shamanic gathering I attended in the Adirondacks, I participated in so many planned activities.
The most impacting experience involved breaking an arrow with my throat. Derived from a South Pacific indigenous tradition, this activity involved declaring to the entire gathering what barrier one wished to overcome. After selecting an arrow, the arrowhead was to be placed in the soft portion of the throat just below the collar bone. Take a moment to put your finger there and you’ll feel a little notch. The other end of the arrow, the nock, where the slotted plastic end straddles the bow string was placed in a hole drilled in a board held by the facilitator. This board happened to be shaped like an owl. The feathers at the nock would prevent the shaft from sliding all the way through the hole. Imagine an H; the two uprights are the people involved (self and facilitator) and the arrow’s shaft formed the horizontal. Standing in the warrior position, and with a specific breathing and arm pumping technique, the person who declared the barrier they wished to break, lunged forward into the arrow while the facilitator held the board firmly, against the force of the lunge. When the activity was first described, I quietly decided that I would be sitting it out. With 25 or so people to undertake this seemingly death defying feat, I had plenty of time to build up my confidence….I mean anxiety! What I didn’t realize is that both were actually building.
Our group consisted of 20 women and 7 or so men. Everyone who got up before me except one person successfully stepped into the arrow and the pressure actually split it into at least 2 or 3 pieces. One of our members was a person who was vision impaired. When I saw her stand and split the arrow, I was undeniably inspired. After two more women who spoke fiercely about the barriers they intended to break, I found myself walking to the front of the room. It was as if I was walking and watching myself at the same time. I selected my arrow and gently twirled it in my right hand. After a couple deep breaths, I heard these words come out of my mouth: “Stop thinking about it; get out of your head and trust!” l placed the arrow head at the base of my throat while the facilitator held the board and arrow securely. Pumping my arms and breathing in and out as directed while standing strongly in a forward lunge, I stepped into the arrow on the third out-breath and I watched it bow then snap in two. What a feeling! With a completely open heart and love filling me, I hugged our facilitator in amazement. It was exhilarating; I was so proud of myself for overcoming the fear that had welled up in me. I collected the two pieces of arrow and saved them. Many others tossed their broken arrow into the fire as a gesture of release. Those like me who were not ready to do so were instructed in the tradition to drive the pieces in the ground in front of their house so that visitors would know an intention to break a barrier had been set in motion. Because my house is movable and own no ground, I opted to carry this accomplishment with me for a while; the arrow pieces traveled with me from New York, through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and into Kentucky. On my last night at Land Between the Lakes, I felt it was time to release them – to let go of the reminder of my intention to trust my spirit to keep me safe and give me the experiences I had set out to have. I built a beautiful campfire and gifted my arrow pieces to it. I watched them burn with a feeling of freedom that I had not experienced before then. A sense of peace came over me. I felt ready to face anything and welcomed the adventures ahead!
The experiences I’ve had since I left Maine have built on one another as if everything was somehow connected and that I have been following a path of destiny. I’ll speak to this more in my next blog covering a bit more of my time in Arkansas and Texas. Where the next several months will take me I barely know but I have a pretty good feeling that I’ll be where I’m supposed to be.
I’m learning to trust, to see that there are forces working behind the scenes directing my moves and that there is a destiny guiding my decisions. I’m learning to pay attention to what feels good in my gut. If I feel anxious, I change course; if I feel light and happy with no anxiety, then I know I’m in the right place. It’s that simple! With enough practice, I might just be getting this Law of Attraction!