Posts Tagged ‘nature’

I can’t resist the open road. My Camaro is like a fresh horse kicking the stall, anxious to run. The weather is fantastic,  I feel driven to burst out the door with the morning light. My most recent road trip included Gainesville, Decatur, Krum and all points north on the TX HWY 35 towards the Oklahoma border. In the past thirty days we have shot our silver arrow into Terrel, Wills Point, Grand Saline, Mineola, Hawkins, Big Sandy, White Oak, Longview, Hallsville, Marshall, Jefferson, San Antonio, Blanco, Johnson City, Marble Falls, Burnet, Lampassas, Hamilton. Hico, Glen Rose, Cleburne, Alvarado, Rock Wall, Grande Prairie, Greenville, Farmersville and Midlothian….among other market towns, gas station stops and historic markers along the way. We passed the Frank Buck Zoo…..a holdover from a TV show in the 1950’s called ‘Frank Buck-Bring ’em back alive’.  What a hoot !

The Texas landscape is dotted with tall water towers announcing clusters of civilization in every direction like mushrooms rising out of tall grass. There are so many freeway off ramps that it’s easy to veer off and see what might have been unplanned for. Often it’s the happy accidents that make a road trip truly special. This is another reason why I like having my own transportation, unlimited time and not be stuck on airports, trains or bus schedules….it’s necessary to have the freedom to discover whats beside and between major cities. I have talked about the tactile experience of an open cockpit. The road-song of screaming rubber on melting asphalt and passing traffic is an exhilarating cocktail mixed with burning sunshine and turbulent wind. We talk about directions we might never have considered as they come into view. Turnpikes are like a sirens calling us into the unknown. There are moments during our passage through small town America when life is transcendent.

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Armadillo’s are nocturnal creatures, the only ones I’ve seen have been laying dead by the side of the road . I am  a crepuscular creature, preferring  the twilight and  dawn hours when it’s cool. I like to head out early and come home late, before the sun explodes and showers it’s violent burning radiation onto the world . It’s the singular intensity of  radiation that really turns me on. I love the incredible color separation at high noon when every blade of grass, tree and golden hay bale in the field is glowing  and redefined as if by HDR Photoshop effect. I come from a place where the sun rarely shines…and when it does it’s weak and apologetic.

I have developed a special appreciation for the sun after growing up in sun starved Vancouver BC Canada where people walk with their hidden heads bowed submissively and that element of their miserable existence has become an aspect of their societies wider personality. It’s not called ‘No-fun Vancouver’ for no good reason. Events are contrived and politically managed….there is no spontaneity there…people are never free to be …outside. Its the sunshine and being able to live out of doors that makes places like Texas so cool.

When we drive down the Texas highways and the clouds pop out glowing white against an intensely cerulean sky as if we’re sitting in a moving IMAX 3-D theater….it’s otherworldly. I can imagine coming to an understanding why people see the face of God more often in places where nature is such an intense experience. This weekend we visited historic Jefferson in Johnson County on the Louisiana border and Greenville…further north towards Oklahoma. The higher elevation of Johnson County produced a surprise… tall pines forests as opposed to the dry deserts of southern plains. Jefferson is where the bayou’s begin and steam boat travel was once possible from Baton Rouge on the Gulf Coast.

On the way we stopped in McKinney for lunch…. a sweet and well preserved old west  town north of Plano on the 75 Hwy North of Dallas.  We stop as much as we can in whatever local phenomena happens along the way….this time it was the Dairy Queen in Farmersville, maybe one of the last whitest places in America. We caught the lunch crowd as the Baptist church across the road was getting out.

Strangers are obviously unusual in rural Texas, we turned the conversation down to a whisper when walking through the door. I wanted to apologize for Canada burning down the White House in the War of 1812….but  a mixed couple with strange accents and glowing sun tans was as much as  this crowd could handle.  I learned something….I now know you can order biscuits and peppery sausage gravy at the Farmersville Dairy Queen.

Road trips through small town America have to taken in convertibles. Its true….you can drive for days and still wake up in Texas. The open roof adds intensity to the tactile experience… like taking communion with the world around you. The scenery and sounds blast by in motion and audible parallax while wind buffets and slaps your face and  sunshine burns your skin raw so that you glow…and exhibit raccoon eyes in the rear view mirror… it’s exhilarating. Before settling on  Camaros we drove many different vehicles. I find the Camaro Convertible to be the best road trip car I have ever driven.

Having the top down eliminates the bubble effect of an enclosed vehicle with a favorite radio station keeping you anchored in the past. The open road is life being lived…most times without conversation, you sit in awe as the planet spins by beneath you….you’re tied to a strip of fading asphalt so you don’t lift off and fly. After every road trip we return home to see ourselves in the mirror…sunshine silly and smiling like delighted children….before plunging into our pool….. knowing we’ve done something important with our lives by living for today.

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Sometimes I get to act like a kid again and do something impractical. Getting out on the open road was a practice that formed the mindset I enjoy today more than any other influence. So…when I got the chance to put a cool car like a Camaro Convertible on the road and drive to San Antonio Texas I was thrilled at the prospect. Highway construction in Texas is like religion, zealous and never ending. Whatever your chosen destination or route there are plenty of alternatives, from super toll ways to busy highways , freeways laced together with turnpikes and farm roads that stitch the  hinterland together.

The amazing thing is that any road you choose will be in fantastic condition. The route I took was so smooth… it was like gliding on silk. We drove the always busy TX E 35S out of the massive Dallas Metroplex to the 130S that took us through Austin….and on the way back we drove the TX 281N to the HWY 67N and FM 1382 dotted with small town America and the history of the Old West. Many of the sparsely populated towns along the way …. like Hico…or Glen Rose…are like time capsules that stopped growing when cotton peaked and caused the entire area to fall into a long slumber. This separation cleaves two worlds neatly in two…. the old from the new.

Civilization along the sleepy HWY 281 N/S between Dallas and San Antonio is primarily centered around a bucolic ranch culture…tall signs pop out in the form of elaborate wrought iron gates above cattle barriers announcing a fanciful name …like Rancho del Blanco …or some such thing….but  indicate that nothing but more miles across  barren land through grazing herds of scattered cattle or goats might be at the end of the road.

San Antonio itself is a tourist machine for primarily American holiday makers from the South and South West…..and it is a fantastically well developed place for easy access… for example the River Walk is spectacular.  Although there are now thousands of restaurants, tours , an incredible range of accommodations, hotels and gee gaws designed for family fun…. San Antonio is primarily famous as  home of the Alamo…which sits like a queen amongst a palette of tourism jewels.

This was the location where tough minded Texans fought Mexican General Santa Anna and lost… but eventually declared  independence on March 2, 1836. Something that’s not as well advertised outside the region  is that this area had been occupied by  Spanish missionaries for hundreds of years prior to  American immigration. Before that  native Indians  occupied the land for thousands of years. Each left some fascinating reminders of what Texas looked like before the United States came to be.

A chain of religious missions and outposts …including aqueducts, built by the Franciscan order of Catholic missionaries now forms a series of National Parks called The Mission Trail. The trail is composed of four missions and other private settlements, set miles apart  connected by a narrow strip of asphalt that winds  through  broken desert and green arroyo’s . Although the fortified building complexes seem to be ruins at first glance, they are still being used as active churches for local people. The sense of 500 years of continuation, church bells, prayer ,  history and community is fascinating. Fortunately for us, none of these places are over run with tourists. The experience reminded me of visiting profound archeological sites somewhere in the third world…..not minutes from comfortable San Antonio.

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Time flies when you’re having fun. How many times in your life have you said that? If it hasn’t been a lot… then you’d better get busy and start living. Trish and I are constantly amazed how fast the months are flying by . I suppose it starts with being busy and enjoying what we do. The number of perfect days in North Texas is a huge catalyst towards keeping the blues away. Life beneath these clear blue skies has really had an effect on my daily outlook.

We’re now in ‘the dog days of summer’. Long lazy days of perfect weather, sunshine and swimming pools have to be remembered rather than taken for granted. After living in Vancouver I have rediscovered my love of the open road. Instead of having to think of transportation as a claustrophobic chore, the open roads of Texas have added a new dimension to my appreciation of life. I know, songs about ‘the open road’ are cliche… but you have to experience it to really get it. There’s something instinctual that’s released in a persons soul when there is nothing but blue sky and open country in every direction.

As opposed to cities like Vancouver where  transportation infrastructure is so poor it discourages  travel in every aspect, and makes going any distance pure drudgery and a hellish experience….Texas infrastructure invites you to come out and see the country. The culture here is too get out of the city frequently and visit the historic towns that dot the landscape. This element of the lifestyle creates a huge economic boost to the countryside and encourages people to not buy a city condo and become a rat in a cage. A major US politician ( John Kerry) said recently “The Internet has made people hard to govern”. I suppose by extension…. freedom of person, thought and spirit also make for an independent minded population…. and you have that in spades in Texas. Think about it.

 

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Given that I have choices, I will confess, I love what I do. As strange as my lifestyle seems to some, you can’t imagine being rootless… until it happens to you. Most days I feel as if my feet never touch the ground. I’ve written extensively in the past on the subject of the hard core travelers life…but I’m not sure I’ve ever really nailed it. I would imagine this inherent rootless nature is what keeps me searching for another place to temporarily hang my hat. I know of many people who make an entire life out of one city, one job, a single interest,

I wonder how they do it. That would bore the crap out of me. Some people start with good intentions, but let themselves be dragged down by an avaricious disposition to possess material objects. Others get lonely while away and seek the structured comfort of a long term relationship and all that entails. Young people lose their youth and the world becomes objectified into paying bills and raising children. It takes a special personality type to drift off and never  touch down…like a perpetual travel machine.

I learned early on how to make a living out of an empty suitcase. I married in the middle of an ocean and raised a child on beaches, in airports and strange cities. It’s a life style I recommend to everyone. I have witnessed travelers suffer tropo so that the antipodal cultures they encounter becomes confrontational. That defeats the whole purpose of traveling. Ideally, you’ll become a kind of  Sadhu, eschewing the possessions and  standards of the world you leave behind. Imagine your freedom…if you can….and become the mighty mighty traveler. Forget about your short term vacation strategy… a month or six won’t cut it…… set yourself free. I promise….you’ll see the most amazing things along the way. Life is short….you’ll never get younger than you are right now.

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Trish and I are celebrating our one year anniversary in Dallas….but this is just the latest stop in a long line of stopovers. As Canadians, we are considered an anomaly. Most people in my country tend to hunker down, build a nest and stay in that one place for life, in the same job, short term vacation, paint the house every five years, have 1.2 children, put a different car in the driveway, buy a house they can’t afford, spend thirty five years trying to pay it off, divorce at least twice…. and never leave their comfort zone until  taken out in a box. Canadians in general are sedentary unimaginative and predictable people. The banks and government love them for acting like sitting ducks.

Many people emigrate,  we are nor immigrants…. we wander by choice. We have zero intention to stay in one place, instead we float in a dish of cream. When the milk runs dry we will  be on our way. In the past ten years in particular, we have been ‘on the road’ so to speak, living in hotel rooms and long stay executive apartments. I particularily like countries that rent furnished apartments by the week, like Australia. It’s liberating to move from one great view to another. I do not want plants or animals tying me down. I have a beautiful wife …why would I need a little furry buddy to assuage my inner emptiness? Aside from Dallas we have lived/ worked in  Paris , Amsterdam, London, Bristol, Beijing, Singapore, San Francisco, Bangkok, Hong Kong, New York, Maui, Helsinki,Denpassar,  and visited many places in between…..prior to that..  long stints in  Fiji and Brisbane homeschooling our son on the beaches. For university prep we gave the boy a top boarding school education and he went on to spend six years living on the campus of a great university. He is very independent and we’re quite proud of that.

The travelers lifestyle got under my skin when very young. I suppose you develop a mindset after a while where ‘home’ becomes a concept rather than a place. Our circle of friends are living around the world rather than the house-frau and her balding husband across the cul de sac. I’m permanently tanned from too much time in the sun, whereas in Canada they’re sounding alarms against the idea of even 15 minutes exposure. My travel flesh is deep and dark. My rotator cuffs  joints in arms and hips are grinding like an old transmission from too much time spent in swimming pools and surf lines…my travel bones are worn. And still I have no want to return ‘home’ and begin collecting china or automobiles….or even worse….take up golf.  This a hell of a lifestyle…. but someone has to live creatively.

Canadians in particular are jealous to the extreme, they covet  and become angry when anyone has something they cannot. It’s a peculiarity of the culture. You’ll find  conversations with Canadians  begin with  identifiers ‘what do you do….where do you live, how much do you make.. where have you been on holiday’? It is a Canadian caste system that defines who you are financially compared to every one else. They’ll want to know if they’re ahead or behind so that they can either envy you or despise you. Vancouver , for example has been polled as being the loneliest, least friendly, and difficult to make new friends in as a city…. there is a large population of people reporting some form of depression and mental illness due to the social isolation. People there are so covetous of anything another might have that they can’t decide to ‘just be normal’.A visitor to Vancouver will notice a desperation to own real estate and a huge number of newly leased cars…. but no theater scene, no music scene, art scene, no cool neighborhoods…..just a lot of miserable people sitting around telling you how great their city is as justification for what they’re paying every month. In fact…it has to be the most miserable , covetous place I have ever been.

But I remind people that what you do in life is a choice. ‘Change your mind.. change your life’… is a phrase that popped into my head when I began my career as a traveler hitchhiking around North America and then branching off to spend decades wandering the world. It works for me…..and if you don’t like where you are…pack a suitcase and go somewhere you do. Hey…it works for us. I guess I’ll have to keep my crown as ….THE KING OF PAIN.

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I stay in a lot of hotels. I live in a hotel today. A very nice one I might add. But regardless where I go in the world I always encounter cockroaches at one time or another. My wife hates roaches, I am her designated bug killer. For years I wondered why I’ve found so many cockroaches dead or dying on their backs. There have been times I simply found them sleeping…because when I disturbed them they went off , and tried to scurry away. I found this strange, but never questioned why…. until today when I Googgled the question “Do cockroaches sleep on their back?” Surprisingly I came up with hundreds of thousands of answers. Here’s a good one.

http://www.trapsforroach.com/?node=main&id=275&lang=

I have to add…the internet has really changed my life. I might have gone to my grave never knowing the answer to this all important question.

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