I was recently singing and playing “This Land is Your Land” for a friend’s kid, and it got me thinking about our Cricket travels. So many of the verses speak to the beauty of places we’ve adventured in, and they make my heart melt with happiness.
I also like the folky depression-era populism of Woody Guthrie’s message, and the spirit embodied by subsequent adopters of the song like Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen; especially the sometimes-left-out verse that begins, in one variation: “There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me.” (Hey Trump – it’s not gonna work.)
The melody of the song is lighthearted, and singing it with children is a bit of fun nonsense, not unlike singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.”
But whose land is this?
Chris wrote an excellent post last fall about our country’s lack of remorse for taking this land (our land?) by slaughter and misrepresentation. He wrote that our relationship with Native Americans is “an unhealed wound, ignored in the hopes that it will go away.”
In the version of “This Land is Your Land” that I’m playing, there’s one last sour chord, not found in the rest of the song, notable for its dissonance, and held for a long 5 beats. That cord speaks (for me) to this unhealed wound, to the fact that we’re celebrating enjoyment of something stolen (some would say won?).
Today while paying a bill “the old fashioned way” I remembered that I underestimated the number of checks I would write on our travels.
Bring more checks than you think you will need!
In “regular life” writing a check is pretty rare. I use checks for a few personal transactions and I do everything else with some form of online banking, or cash. As do you, right?
With camping, free is best, of course. The BLM is great for this! So are New York State Parks. But sometimes you have to pay.
A Forest Service campsite might cost $6 or $10 or $15 a night. There’s a small wood or metal box that you stuff your payment into, in a small envelope with tiny boxes to fill out in pen. There’s no credit card option. Cash works too, but with no “cashier” there’s no mechanism for providing change. And nowhere to get money in the woods!
Some places are more modernized. Private facilities take credit cards, for sure, unless they’re small town operations. I also reserved a lot of California State Park campsites using their online system and a credit card – but it only works on registrations a couple of days out. When you’re traveling day by day and you pull into a California campsite without pre-registration, you’ll end up wanting a check. The camper host will have a packet of envelopes. It’ll become a familiar process.
And if you’re lucky enough to be living like this long term — You’ll write a lot of checks.
We’ll be unwrapping the Cricket soon!
We’re not so idealized here at Curious Crickets and still we’re really excited to be getting the Cricket out of winter storage. Because waking up in fields and forests. Is. Awesome.
Maybe you’ve been wanting to get out for a week.
Are you curious about The Cricket?
Contact us if you’re interested in short or long term rental.
I’m taking off the tarp next weekend!
We’ll be using the camper on occasional weekends, maybe at MassMoCA, hopefully in the wild as well. We’re lending the Cricket to a friend in September for a residency in Maine. A few things planned.
There’s room on the calendar…
Play is awesome. A Google search will give you a plethora of information about play’s useful properties, both for children and adults. I believe in this research but I’m also a big proponent of play simply for the sake it. That’s why kids do it, right? Kids aren’t thinking, “this activity will help boost my creativity and bring me closer to the state of flow as described by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, thus making me more productive at work.” Kids do what feels good.
Recently, Chris and I were waiting to enter TEKNOPOLIS, an exhibit of interactive art and technology at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Most of the patrons were moms and dads with children under 8 (the exhibit was listed as for ages 6 to adult). The line was a bouncing, waving, whining stream of child energy.
Along with the “everyone-would-categorize-them-as-such kids,” there were a mother and her teenaged son in front of us; he looked to be about 14 or 15 years old. He wasn’t quite full grown. He had long hair and was dressed casually. He looked around and expressed dismay at the preponderance of children. “I didn’t think there would be so many kids,” he said. His tone suggested that the kids made the event seem less cool, and that he didn’t identify as a kid. Like maybe he wasn’t in the right place.
This attitude isn’t surprising. I remember how it felt to be a teenager. I’d also heard similar concerns from Chris — to whom I simply kept insisting, “it’s all good; we’re giant-sized kids; this will be fun.” I told the teenaged-kid essentially the same thing. Turned out, I was right!
TEKNOPOLIS was FUN.
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Somehow, Chris and I ended up working our way through the exhibits on roughly the same path as the teenaged-kid and his mother, and that was fun too. When they opened the gate, we beelined for the virtual reality room upstairs and stood together waiting to use Google Tilt Brush — a 3-D virtual reality drawing program. The teenaged-kid went first. He was prepared (and, we learned, had been pestering mom for a home system) and he made a drawing that was recognizably derived from life. It was fun to watch.
I said to Chris, “I need a plan!” It was intimidating knowing that a line of people would be watching me. First though, I wanted to experiment with all of the brushes and to orient myself in space. The few minutes I had with the system went by quickly. I want to play more with this very cool tool!
Later, we went downstairs to the XYZT room. Borrowing from math for its name – x (horizontal), y (vertical), z (depth), and t (time) – the room was full of sensory, immersive, playful, and interactive technological innovations in black and white. The video below is from “Anamorphosis in Time” which transformed live video of exhibit-goers into wavy and time-distorted alter-versions.
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Another of my favorite pieces was the “Kinetic Sand,” a light-table-slash-horizontal-responsive-video-screen. It showed digital “grains of sand” that could be manipulated in patters by touching the table. We met up again with the teenaged-kid at this table. He watched us us play for a few moments and then started asking questions… “how does it work? … ” is it responding to your hand like there’s a gravitational pull?”
“Try it,” we suggested. We all played for a little while and then, as the group around the table enlarged, Chris and I wandered off. When we returned, the teenaged-kid was still there. He had played through each of the five or so cycles of pattern and physics that the table offered, and he explained to us how it worked. One pulled particles towards the hand, another pushed them away, and so on. We all played together a while longer. “What happens if …?”
Others joined, and the games continued.
That kind of engagement is why giant-sized kids are so cool. Chris and I had a blast running and jumping around the exhibits for our allotted two-and-a-half hours. We problem-solved our way through the interactive parts but it wasn’t a serious science project kind of vibe. It was play, curiosity, complete engagement in the moment. We were absorbed. We were inventive. We connected.
My complete attention to the moment reminds me of how I felt in the South Dakota Wind Cave. It also reminds me of long-ago adventures; early in our relationship, Chris and I visited Ireland together and spend days crawling around the Burren, amused by little more than limestone rock, tide pools, the smashing of waves, and each other.
Homo Ludens, a classic work on play by the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga, describes play as “a free activity standing quite consciously outside ordinary life as being ‘not serious’ but at the same absorbing the player intensely and utterly.”
That quote describes travel-adventuring at its best.
I am so grateful that we can still find the time and places act like giant-sized kids, even now that we’re living like grownups back home.
This is life. I am lucky.
These Crickets are pretty well settled back into (and enjoying!) the routines and rituals of everyday life. I miss the open sky and easy connection to natural landscapes, yet I’m glad to once again be part of the community structures within which I feel most intellectually and spiritually alive.
There’s a richness to life within a community; that’s an obvious point, but one that is under-appreciated because for most of us, social structures and our DNA are always driving us towards creating and maintaining connections. When you’re not living on the road (or otherwise reconstructing your life in some kind of new environment), you don’t usually have to think too much about it.
Networks of people have many functions. To mention just a key few, they help us meet basic human needs, bring us together to create and share joy, and offer us support during times of trouble.
In a talk this week at Smith College, Maria Stephan highlighted the importance of networks in successful nonviolent resistance to authoritarian regimes (this is her expertise). “A movement of movements,” she called it, describing the ways that working at a local level builds trust and loyalty that are needed for a sustained engagement. If these efforts are also organized with intersectionality and into larger networks, rather than in silos, they are more likely to succeed. If you’re interested in these ideas, this TED talk will give you food for thought about the need to mobilize 3.5% of the population, and what that means.
I heard about Stephan’s talk from someone at work, and I’m grateful for that. I love to build connections around my perpetual desire for learning and growth. One of my (several) favorite things about being home is that as I’ve wondered how to re-engage in democratic civil society, people I know have pointed me towards lectures and other resources that were just the thing I needed at a particular time. (I read a lot, but lectures are unique. To speak for an hour or more to a live audience is to create a particular kind of responsive long form journalism that requires a lot of clarity and care.)
First, it was Garry Trudeau. He reminded me that it can feel good to connect with people about distressing events, and that it’s possible to be entertaining and constructively engaged. Next it was Adam Gopnik, who reminded me that there’s precedent for dealing with uncertainty and ugliness. Societies are cyclical, vacillating in fairly predictable ways between openness and aggressive reaction. This can result in feeling disheartened and hopeless, but it can also help us use great minds of history to inform our thinking about the present.
Most recently it was Maria Stephan, who spoke cogently about action informed by history and brought up the importance of self care. She had already pointed out that it’s important to plan for at least 8 years of civil resistance, if not more. The divisions in our society are that deep and it’s a big mistake, she says, to allow people to become discouraged because of unrealistic hopes — we need to plan for a marathon, not a 400 metre dash. I’m drawn to think about deliberate nurturing as an important element of sustaining momentum. I already think a lot about the overlap between healthy shifting of awareness and unhealthy avoidance — how to tell the difference, and how to create practices that serve me well.
The day after the election, Chris and I happened to be near Boston and we visited the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis. There was a particular installation by Sarah Sze (this page has photos and describes the enchanting piece better than the official Brandeis site) that allowed me to feel calm in a way I could nowhere else. We spent time exploring together and then, while Chris visited other galleries, I sat for more than an hour and sort of meditated in the large dark room. While that activity felt healthy, the desire to stay seated there forever did not (or wouldn’t have been in practice).
In the months after the election, I’ve felt a strong desire to escape. Burning Man has thus crept into my psyche; I’ve often been viscerally reminded of pieces like the lighthouse and I’ve felt a pull to run away to a magical place that doesn’t exist. I’ve also felt an urge to run away into the hills; I think lots of people feel that way, but for Chris and I it’s somewhat more of a practical option because of the ways we’ve lived in the Cricket. I’ve observed the blogs of fellow road travelers, noting that some have gone quiet (sometimes as their life patterns change, as ours have) while others keep up a steady pace of festive adventuring, no mention of the state of the world. I wonder if they feel as carefree as they seem?
For some time, those various couples were the network to which I related most easily; they understood and could inform that peculiar lifestyle of living together on the road. I wonder, would I would still be avoiding the news if Chris and I were still on the road? It would be easier to do so without the forces of community here at home inciting me to talk, question, and know. Or I might also be building networks of a different sort; I had one non-escapist fantasy that involved taking the Cricket to all those places we skipped and interviewing people who support Trump about how they feel and what they hope to achieve. I think it would make a great podcast (someone’s doing it, I imagine).
Chris and I hope to get tickets for Burning Man 2017; they go on sale soon. Burning Man is a once-a-year-extravaganza of departure from everyday life. I wrote last year that it felt post-apocalyptic. It’s also a place of super strong community and active engagement. A city almost unto itself, bound by both ritual and radicalism — and that’s exactly this year’s theme: Radical Ritual.
In 2017, we invite participants to create interactive rites, ritual processions, elaborate images, shrines, icons, temples, and visions. Our theme will occupy the ambiguous ground that lies between reverence and ridicule, faith and belief, the absurd and the stunningly sublime.
There will surely be rituals of cleansing escape and rituals of social action (along with everything in-between). The more I think about the networks of people volunteering year-round towards making the on-playa event happen, the more I realize that Burning Man isn’t quite as debauched as it looks while biking around, especially to an overwhelmed newbie. So maybe the question is, how does that energy translate now, post-Trump? As a healthy escape, a safe space, a refuge? Or is Burning Man more part of the activism of everyday life than I realize? A place where intersectionality already flourishes?
As I was thinking about Burning Man 2017, I looked at our photos from 2016. The theme was “Da Vinci’s Workshop” and as a small contribution to the Burning Man community, I had posted a “Leonardo quote of the day” each day of the event. Some of the quotes (as below) are strikingly appropriate to the concept of nonviolent resistance and social change, as part of a network.
I realize that quotes don’t change culture and Burning Man doesn’t represent any practical solution to the challenges of a divided America. Yet it’s an interesting piece of the puzzle, somehow representing both an effective system of connections and a place of renewal. As I talk with people about how they are making sense of the current social and political climate, I realize that although my dilemmas are specific to me, they’re not particularly unique. People who followed the campaign straight through are still facing questions about how to be useful and how to feel ok. I find it to be comforting that the Burning Man network exists (admittedly far more liberal and open-minded than the population at large) and succeeds as one sort of movement of movements.
Now, I need to dig into the many resources for organizing and action suggested by Maria Stephan and others. Radical ritual and life in action. My community has persuaded me that there’s no other choice.
(All photos in this post are mine from Burning Man 2016.)
It’s been almost two months since we’ve ended our travels and already it seems like years ago. Time is strange that way, how it can stretch and elongate itself or compact and shorten depending on the situation. What once seemed distant can suddenly spring forward as memory is sparked from unusual sources. Standing Rock is that spark for me.
I’ve failed several times to write this blog, my first attempt being last spring. It always starts with how our road trip refreshed and further educated me on American history. Crisscrossing such routes as the Oregon Trail, Pony Express Trail and the Old Spanish Trail gave a clearer picture of the challenges and accomplishments our ancestor’s endured. Then there was the Japanese internment camps we passed and nuclear testing grounds, reminders of darker times.
There were many other historical markers we came across but the one we followed most was the Lewis and Clark Trail. This was not an intentional decision, but one of pure accident but perhaps rightfully so. Just like Alexis and me, Lewis and Clark set off to explore the American West and find an easy route to the Pacific Ocean. Like these two adventures, Alexis and I followed parts of the Missouri, Yellowstone, and Columbia river until we reached Cape Disappointment where, just like Lewis and Clark, we set our eyes on the Pacific Ocean for the first time in our travels. These two explores helped open up the West while also starting the long and unfortunate demise of the Native Americans living there.
Having lived both in the West and now East, I find there is a great absence of Native American presence in the East. Other than their casinos like Mohegan Sun, there are few physical things to remind us that other tribal cultures once thrived in our 13 colonies. The majority were pushed west and that is where they have remained. The West is where over 90% of the reservations are and it was the West that reminded me of the tragic relationship between the United States and Native Americans. Actually being in places where Chief Joseph and his 3,000 Nez Perce trekked while fleeing the United States Calvary paints a clearer picture of their hardships and mishaps. Another trail we came across several times is the Long Walk of the Navajo. This was the path used to march over 8,000 Navajo, 300 miles, and have them live on 40 acres of land. We drove through many reservations, catching a glimpse of their lifestyle and circumstances in which they live.
Our history is riddled with such happenings and filled with broken treaties. The relationship between the United States and Native Americans is an unhealed wound, ignored in the hopes that it will go away. It is a situation our government has all but given up on. It’s an embarrassing disgrace that our government and media choose to give little attention to the Native Americans and would rather focus on how other countries mistreat their people.
Our media has diligently covered every tweet Donald Trump made for over a year paving the path to his presidency. Meanwhile, a conflict slowly began brewing between the Sioux and oil industry. Scarcely covered in the news until the shadow of the election seceded, even now this story is barely mentioned. Instead the media would rather listen to the talking heads make assumptions on how Trump will lead this fine country of ours. Ironically, once this peaceful protest finally did get some press, the government decided to shut it down, forcing the thousands of protesters to leave by December 5th.
You would think our government would have some remorse towards the Native Americans, given how much we’ve screwed them. You would think our government would stand up for them and say- hey; we got your back on this one. But just the opposite, once again, America has spit in their face.
Originally, the oil pipeline was to cross the Missouri above Bismarck, ND, a predominantly white city. But Bismarck feared their drinking water could get contaminated and so the pipeline was moved down river next to the Standing Rock reservation. The Sioux have the same concerns as their white neighbors but apparently their concerns are valued less. Why would the oil industry move the pipeline for white Americans and not Native Americans? Why would our government allow this?
Its no wonder the Native Americans have mostly chosen to remain to them selves and not intermingle into our society of racism and inequality. We have proven to them time and again that they are just a nuisance to our own development and will disregard their rights and liberties for the betterment of ourselves. We are not a united nation, far from it.
When Hilary Clinton’s slogan is “Stronger Together”, or Donald Trump’s is “Make America Great Again”, or Obama’s “Change We Can Believe In”, or John McCain’s “Country First”, or George W. Bush’s “Yes, America Can!”, or John Kerry’s “Let America Be America Again”, how much do these campaign slogans resonate with Native Americans? Do politicians even try to win their vote? People like the Sioux, the Navajo and Nez Perce have been swept under our nations rug long ago. They have faded away in the barren and expansive West while the politicians in the East try to forget whose land this was in the first place. As our politicians discuss the rights of muslims, blacks, hispanics, gays, transgender, and women; they turn a blind eye from the Native Americans, the first and last people to suffer discrimination by the United States of America.
How to celebrate Thanksgiving on the road?
Last year we could have been out of cell service, camping at a pullout along route 1 in northern California. We’d been hopscotching up and down this stretch of coast just south of the redwoods for several days. We’d met some hippy kids who were tent camping the same route, and they planned to cook in a fire pit on the beach.
We parked the Cricket on the street in Mendocino and slept there in stealth mode, which means the pop-top was down and the window shades were closed. The days were sunny and sometimes even warm enough to walk barefoot on the beach, but the nights were cold. We slept in hats and jackets, and I woke to find my breath condensing on the wall next to me. Brrr. Our journey down this stretch of coast would have been slower, had the weather been warmer.
We spend months exploring the 750 miles of coast from northern Washington to San Francisco, and still I feel like we haven’t even begun to spend enough time there.
Last year, it happened that we were in Mendocino for Thanksgiving. The town reminds me of Vermont in a way (Victorian wooden homes and an interesting cast of characters in a remote but well visited small town) so it wasn’t a bad place to spend Thanksgiving. We could see a sliver of ocean from our garden-side table. We had thought about being at a mountain lodge, and that would have been nice too.
Please stay here with me in Mendocino,
Where life’s such a groove,
Thanksgiving was our first big holiday on the Cricket adventure. We weren’t sure what to do, disconnected from our annual rotation of being with family in Colorado or Connecticut. It caused us to have some interesting conversations about what the holiday means to us, what we want in a Thanksgiving experience.
Nine years ago Chris and I flew to Japan on Thanksgiving Day. It was a great day to travel. I can’t remember what we ate on the plane; our real Thanksgiving meal had been at home, a week or so prior, when we could schedule it with family.
In the Cricket, Chris and I had each other, the setting was awe inspiring, our days were carefree. I miss it already! (Like, seriously. I think about running away to California. Yesterday, a conservative publication called it “Hillary’s Utopia.” That sounds good to me.)
Last year’s day was awesome, but it still helped us decide to go “home” to Colorado for Christmas. I wrestled a lot with the meaning of Christmas, and it seemed to be the same things we had missed while in Mendocino for Thanksgiving — being with our people, performing familiar rituals. Cooking, drinking, eating, being together. So this year, that’s exactly what we are doing.
This December, these two crickets are the “artists in conversation” at Gallery A3 in Amherst, Massachusetts.
If you’re local, please join us for an evening of photos, stories, snacks, and art! This event is in coordination with A3’s December “small wonders” show.
Travel Tales with the Curious Crickets
Join Chris Nelson and Alexis Fedorjaczenko as they reflect on their fifteen-month road trip exploring the American West. They traversed over 26,000 miles pulling their little Cricket trailer, camping the whole way, living in a variety of natural landscapes.
Where: Gallery A3, 28 Amity Street, Amherst, MA
Contact: 413-256-4250 or email@example.com
When humor fails, there’s poetry. This morning after election night, Wislawa Symborska comes to mind, particularly her poem “The End and the Beginning” (to honor copyright, read it in full here; it’s worth it).
There’s also running away. Another of Symborska’s poems, “Consolation,” begins: “Darwin. They say he read novels to relax, but only certain kinds: nothing that ended unhappily.” Darwin’s supposed approach reminds me of my own escapism during this travel adventure. It also reminds me of how I felt at Burning Man.
The awesome XKCD recently tackled that question, and suggests the result would be something like the Salton Sea. Yuck.
We haven’t written about our visit to the Salton Sea yet, but that and Slab City will be a good post-apocalyptic story for … after the election. Yuck.
Go vote today! If you need help voting, check out this resource from another XKCD site.