From an early age, my parents raised us to be travelers—more than tourists. We discovered gems nestled between our native Pennsylvania rolling ridges and river valleys: Caledonia, Greenwood Furnace, Rickett’s Glen, the Poconos, Laurel Highlands and Lake Erie, to name a few. I still remember the ache in my shin bones when I walked into Greenwood Furnace Lake.

On our first long distance road trip, my brother and I clambered into the backseat of a Chevy, separated only by two paper grocery bags filled with picnic food. My brother counted the rows of stitching in the cloth late model seat, divvied them up, and drew a battle line. I had my Rubic’s Cube, a few library books, and my own little fortress with the bag’s serrated edge as my parapet. Let’s just say my brother and I scrapped like healthy American kids.

We motored from Pennsylvania to Yellowstone National Park in three days, eating at rest stops and crawling into clean, hard beds late at night after Dad achieved the day’s pre-destined map point. A mathematician and surveyor by birth and trade, he plotted our entire two-week vacation on 3 x 5 index cards. Even at the naive age of ten, I sensed he was ambitious.

My mother is one of the most industrious people I know and vacations were no exception. She created her own fast-food restaurant for us, filling a cooler and grocery bags to the brim with peanut butter, Oreos, Fig Bars, Middleswarth BBQ chips, bologna and cheese, Campbell’s soup, and apples. We’d pull into the rest stop as soon as we crossed a state line, and maybe halfway in-between if the state was wide. My brother and I’d run around yelling and dodging dog piles. Meanwhile, Mom spread out our 1970’s “patchwork” tablecloth and prepared lunch on the Coleman Stove.

At every picnic table, at every rest stop, my Dad would unfold his map across Mom’s tablecloth, pushing it impatiently between the fig bars and chips. Then he’d draw a line with his thick muscular finger from point to point and exaggerate the miles we’d cover before our next stop. I’d squall and my brother would sulk—and for some reason, Dad would smile. As the bags wrinkled and collapsed, their contents dwindling, so did the gap to our final goal: Yellowstone.

“Get your head out of those books, kids! Look around! You might never see this again.” We barely raised our heads through Ohio, Indiana, and the wheat fields unfurling across the plains. We stared at the speeding, unfamiliar landscape every time he shouted at us against the road noise of his rolled down window, then we’d return to devouring books and shoving grocery bags back and forth until Mom’s hand swatted the air as a warning and the bags disintegrated into dust. We competed to be the first to recite the hundreds of signs on the way to Wall Drug in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, then we pocketed our wooden nickels and drove on. The Badlands and Mount Rushmore appeared and disappeared, curious foretellers of the ancient sights waiting for us. As the elevation lifted and the peaks rose out of the hard ground, I found one of my first great and lasting passions: the American West.

I never questioned how my school teacher father and stay-at-home mother (later, a nurse) fed, clothed, sheltered AND took us on a vacation every summer. Now, I know, and I carry on, packing a cooler on every trip longer than a half-day. I pull in at rest stops and stick my feet in the grass for awhile chatting with other travelers: they are friendlier at these plazas for some reason. I budget my food, exercise my legs, let the wind whip through my hair, and revisit my lost 10 year old self.

Like my mother, I fill my cooler with munchies: almonds, protein bars, apples, cheese, greek yogurt, and bottles of water. And 70% dark chocolate. If I’m really prepared, I grill chicken and hard boil eggs. Delicious. I plot out my route, tap points of interest into my GPS, and store important details in an app. I also find a comfort in smoothing out my own familiar tablecloth across a picnic table. Oh, if they could talk!

The apple has not fallen too far and I thank my parents for planting this seed. And it seems I’ve programmed it successfully into my own children’s DNA, as I’ve got a daughter and son-in-law living in China and a son planning a trip to the Philippines. I’m thrilled to watch them chase their lives all over this magnificent landscape because, as much as I miss them and worry a little, I know they’ll understand others—and themselves—a little better when they come back home.

 

Should I call my obsession with travel an addiction? I sometimes see raised eyebrows when I’m asked where I’m planning my next trip…as if they can’t. Can I say that, for me, it’s the pursuit of scenery, for natural perfection that startles and moves me? For time apart for silence and thinking? That I’ve found value in shedding my possessions and paring down to the necessaries for a time? Oh, I know I might be stretching here, but that I find another new—or old—piece of myself whenever I travel?

I was sad to see that my mother retired the old patchwork tablecloth this past Father’s Day. When I arrived at Little Buffalo State Park, I hugged my Dad, then turned to my Mom and asked what happened to the old tablecloth. “Oh, it wore out, I guess.” She smiled an apology, then we turned and stared at the brand new, mint green, noticeably thinner plastic cloth for a few minutes. She raised her eyebrows at me and marched over to the cooler to begin spreading our picnic across it.

I like to resolve concerns as soon as they appear in my life, but sometimes resolution is not swift. Or even an option. When that happens, I pack my bag and a cooler and push a little distance between myself and my life. Travel gives me time and space to reflect and dream again, which I sometimes mislay in my grownup life. It’s good to get away to be still.

rain-on-woman2

When I was a kid, I didn’t wear shoes unless I had to. They slowed me down, or I tripped over them. In my bare feet, I could fly, scramble up and down banks and ridges, splash through creeks. I did everything full tilt, inhaling every new experience, every new person. My mother told me I used to crawl onto people’s laps and ask questions. No fear.

One day, when I was a little older, my father had a friend visit. I trailed them through the house and into the basement, curious. Asking questions. I remember my dad saying maybe I was asking too many questions of our guest. The guest said, no she isn’t, I don’t mind. How kind I thought he was.

When I didn’t have my nose in a book, I climbed trellises. Slid down shale quarries, broke bones, scraped knees and elbows, blackened a tooth. I have a story for every scar on my body, most of them reminders of my expectation of discovery and adventure. Funny thing is, I don’t remember much pain, just what came before it.

Somewhere on the edge of that, I became aware that if I didn’t slow down and look before I leapt, I might get hurt. I might regret…acquire another wound, which meant another scar. I suppose that was the beginning of growing up. Gradually, I became more thoughtful, maybe a little overly analytical, always trying to suss out the path of no regret. I think, in retrospect—though it’s a good, solid philosophy—this kind of unnatural caution has bred false starts, painful in betweens…and, oddly enough, the regret I was trying to dodge.

You know, half-hearted anything is not whole. Sometimes, no matter which way we turn, regret is waiting. When I was young, I had no idea what that meant. I barely understand it now. I was whole and brave. I miss her.

first-fridays-york-pa

first-fridays-york-pa

Last night, while strolling the streets of York, PA, I discovered the coolest band–yes, I said YORK. It was a First Friday night themed, “Dog Days of Summer.” First Friday has come a long way in the last few years. I was skeptical that this small Pennsylvania city would ever express itself with any gusto. The fact is, as a non-native, it often feels muted to me…passive and a little afraid of its own potential creative energy. It’s not known as a creative town or an exciting place, if we’re all really honest about it, but all kinds of artistic, entrepreneurial talent is seeping out of this industrial town’s seams. Last night, I sensed something real in the blocked off streets and it came in the form of a rockabilly band called, Didi Deluxe and the Dirty Devils. I said to my friend, “They can’t be from York…well, that’s not fair, if they’re from here, they won’t stay long.” And that’s not a reflection on the town itself as much as it is, as a musician or band, one must journey to music city Meccas for a bigger platform. The lead singer has moxie and a very funky look, the guitar player has the licks and riffs rocking, and the bass player–oh, the upright bass player–did everything with the big instrument other than hold it upright–he had it in his arms like a guitar, over his head–he even stood on it!  I LOVED IT!  My friend Performance Coach Tom Jackson would have loved it! Anyway, I’ve got to say, if you haven’t walked around York on a First Friday, check it out, bring your unmuted energy. Let’s sing and dance and laugh the streets alive–and look up Didi Deluxe and the Dirty Devils if you like a good performance and some rockabilly. I’m curious to watch them develop. People could’ve been dancing in the blocked off street…they weren’t yet…no, neither was I, but I think it might be coming. I’m going on the record that I’ll unmute my York energy if you will.

Personal favorite downtown York Shout-Outs: Mudhooks Brewery, Kimmins, Central Market House, Esaan Thai Restaurant, Marketview Arts, CapLive, Green Bean Roasting Co., Capitol Cinema

Pink Sunset

When I was dressing this morning, I turned to the mirror searching the middle of my back for a one inch, nearly invisible scar. I can still feel my skin tearing.

We were 13 and I was scrambling down a steep river bank at the confluence of the Tuscarora Creek and Juniata River. Kim was agile and squirrelly, while I was tall and gawky at best. My bare feet slid too far in front of me and I fell backwards in a kind of slow motion onto an old log, traveling the length of it before I could get my feet under me again.

She turned back and laughed, “Did you fall, Hubler?” “No!” Then she laughed like she always did when I got clumsy. I’m sure I pondered that laugh longer than she did.

Kim resurfaced last night after about five years: her usual time between contacts. She missed me. She missed our childhood. I told her it’s practically all I write about, trying to keep hold, to trace that gossamer thread of innocence back to when we were young and free.

I miss you, too, Kim…I miss us. Our gang.

And how we felt back then.