Day 38- back home

I’m back home!  This unforgettable journey has ended- 6,196 miles -I was so blessed and so grateful for beautiful weather, good health, safe driving and no car trouble, amazing and talented musicians, wonderful dancers, acres and acres of wildflowers, wild canyonlands, windswept beaches, the dance halls themselves- my tireless GPS-and meeting Duke- I did attempt to set aside any predispositions and stereotypes I may have had about Texas and Texans- I could have chosen to initiate more politically-inquisitive conversations, but my purpose was not to incite anger or defensiveness, and certainly not to think I would change any staunch Republican, Trump-voting, gun-toting citizen over to my personal worldview – I was open to whatever presented itself to me – it did at times feel very threatening and uncomfortable to hear some of what I heard said, and I do know feeling that was growth-promoting in me- I could have responded to statements of racism and ignorance more strongly, because I realize silence can be taken as unspoken agreement, or at least condoning a sentiment- and I do regret that – but what a powerful feeling it is to find others in our own tribes, it’s a connection that gives comfort and even a sense of power- yet to look down on others as less intelligent, less this, less that; I don’t want to live in any society where that is the norm- the quality of conversations I had with Holly in Austin or Matt on Mustang Island, or Karl in Breaux Bridge – just as satisfying as those I had with others, up to the point where the “n” word might have come out,  or the reference to “hippies” as derogatory, or other less concrete examples- and then I remember the main intent of this extraordinary journey: to dance!  And dance does connect us with those we may not agree with on deeply important issues, simply by the essence of appreciating a good tune or chord progression, a good partner, the exhilirating, magical feel of a rhythm that creates movement in our very cells- and good Lord did I dance my little boots off! Thank you, Texas, and thank you to all my partners and fellow lovers of honky tonk, classic country, Cajun, zydeco, swamp pop, and Texas swing!

I will finish up this blog in the next few days, so tune in again for the full scoop and more photos-
I’m spending the night in Roanoke at my friend Rick’s home (where I left my car), and will head over the mountains and into the New River Valley to my home in Blacksburg in the morning – the locust trees are blooming, the hills are a lush green…purple wild phlox and buttercups are lining the roadsides

Here’s a few photos I took today in Chattanooga during my morning bike ride 

Thank you for reading my blog! 

Day 37 – exploring Chattanooga Civil War sites

A beautiful, soft dawn over the Tenneesee River- magnolias in full bloom- we breakfast around the corner from our B&B

Then off to Lookout Mountain Battlefield, which along with Chickamauga Battlefield comprise Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park (dedicated in 1895) – it is extremely cool being with Craig in a place such as this, as I can ask all the questions I want and get them personally answered  by a friend and a Civil War historian-

at first I thought there was only one soldier depicted on top of the New York Peace Monument, but when we went back to ask the ranger who the soldier symbolized, she said there are two soldiers on top, symbolizing reconciliation between Union soldiers and Confederate soldiers-

more artwork in the aptly-named Chattanooga Art District:

we stroll across the pedestrian bridge over to Coolidge Park as twilight falls over the river

Both a bit tired from our touristy day, we dine next door to the B&B – we catch up on each other’s lives as only friends that have known each other for 31 years can-

Tomorrow I’ll be home!

Day 36- Chattanooga

Back in the land of the pines, as Old Crow Medicine Show would say! On the road northeast all day- I’m allowing the hundreds of memories of the past  35 days swirl about as they will- filtering the racist and politically-conservative words and sentiments, letting them settle in where they belong, treasuring the music and the goodness of the sweet folks who came across my path- asking myself if my intentions of remaining open-minded, while staying true to my own beliefs and values, came through as planned – was I respectful and kind-

Craig and I meet at the B&B we reserved in downtown Chattanooga, in the riverwalk art/shop neighborhood right on the banks of the Tennessee River – it’s great to see him, as always- we’ve kept in touch ever since I took his women’s history class during nursing school at Jacksonville University in 1986- his area of research is the Civil War, and we’re going to check out battle sites around town tomorrow-

the view of the Tennessee River from our B&B deck:

the main hall leading up to our room- Craig jokes that I should show this picture to folks in Zambia and say that this is how most Americans live –

Day 35 -3rd day at BBCF

Oh my Lord what a day – full of random and unforgettable conversations, AMAZING dance partners, sunshine, music- when I finally limp away from the festival grounds, I see the street is littered with broken Mardi Gras beads, which were tossed from the floats during the parade earlier today – Louisianans really know how to party! One more stop after I stock up on groceries: the Bayou Teche park I have spent many tranquil afternoons at on the past, with Mike and also alone- the water is high – as I’m doing my best to discreetly change out of my sweaty dance clothes and into traveling duds  while standing beside my open car door, I hear my name being called from a van driving slowly by: it’s Renaud, the Canadian gentleman who I took the waltz class with on Friday! We laugh at the serendipity of running into each other again, here – he was camping at the same place I was, but before I arrived, and moved over to this park to camp for the festival days- we chat about our journeys, with map on my car hood- very personable, soft-spoken, elegant man- he’s been on the road from his home in Toronto since February

I’m driving up toward Chattanooga now, to meet up with Craig tomorrow afternoon – I’ll drive a few more hours till I get a motel -the weather was definitely warmer, the sun hotter, but still beautiful
I awoke in my tent this morning to the honeysweet sound of a lone Cajun accordion playing a waltz in a minor key from across the campground- could barely see the person playing it, through the trees and behind the campers- I decided to go over and thank them for the beautiful music when I finished packing up – well, I end up spending about an hour talking with a French Cajun gentleman and his wife and another gal- he says he’s been playing about five years, and had his accordion handmade just for him by a fellow in Eunice –then he lets me play it  and gives me a basic lesson! I’ve been wanting a Cajun accordion for years, but never get around to it- it’s such a bizarre, complicated, beautful and almost exotic instrument! And oh the sounds that can come out of it…I’m dearly loving the experience, and vowing to get my own soon!  he has several broken fingers from having fallen off a roof, and shows me how his twisted joints  limit the range of movement on tbe keyboard- we talk about what it was like for him growing up down here in Acadiana, not speaking English – he comments on how the folks dance nowadays at places like the BBCF, with “all the twirling around and stuff like dat- we never dance like dat!”- we laugh-they lament how Lafayette isn’t like it used to be, and then onward onto some astoundingly racist remarks about the black communities, using the “n” word – it’s not the first time I’ve heard it on this trip, and it makes me sick- then they ask if I saw all the police in the campground yesterday “when they found the dead body in the bayou?” WHAT???  (or I should say WAT?) Apparently a camper came upon a dead male body floating in the bayou that runs right through the park – “he’d already been dead a while”- yikes and bless his heart-there are few things more hideous, in my opinion, than a bloated, drowned body-my soul is stirred in so many ways- deep pleasure from the accordion in my lap and the music it makes, deep disgust at systemic racism, and grief and sadness about the death-

That is Antoine!!! I’ve seen him dancing every time I come down here, during Mardi Gras week and the BBCF – he speaks with the local French Cajun accent and he is one hell of a dancer – I suppose he is in his 90s but essentially timeless – he tells me he is  not doing too well, “kind of stiff,” then you see him doing this – undeniable proof that dancing keeps you young (at least this kind of dance!)

The town of Breaux Bridge, with Bayou Teche running through it (tenche in native Chitimacha means snake) This bayou was the Mississippi River’s main course when it developed a delta 2,800-4,500 years ago ( thank you again, Wikipedia)

Many,many sweet memories of coming down here with Mike – some not so sweet, but that’s the way it goes sometimes – 

Wish my videos would upload, but as I mentioned I’ll get to that ASAP when I get home 

Day 34- 2nd day at BBCF

One of my favorite bands, The Revelers:

I see this couple dance every time I’ve been at the festival- they’re so much fun to watch!

The crawfish -eating contest:

I entered the Cajun waltz and two-step, as well as the zydeco competition, with a man I danced with a lot today, John- did not win, but all in fun- a gentleman from New Orleans tells me the judging is rigged, to select couples that appear to be tourists and having a good time, not necessarily the “best” dancers- well …I shall still treasure my plaques and my T shirt from 2012, no matter what!

I refilled my Roy’s lemonade cup five times today ($1.00 for unlimited refills)- his slogan:”if our lemons were any fresher.. you’d slap ’em” – when I explained this to Sheva when she was around 5, she thought it was hysterical – he’s a retired pharmacist who now travels to festivals selling his fantastic lemonade

My footsies are sore!! What a day – what joyous music! What excellent partners! I try my best to listen to my body, dancing on pavement and cement, stay hydrated – pretty hot sun- I take two naps in the shade, and actually leave,  fulfilled, about 6pm – I shower, then chill in my hammock -the campground appears to have a boy scout troop, the air is filled with the sound of children laughing and playing, one of my favorite sounds in the world – Duke and I talk on the phone- sounds like he will be able to come visit me before I leave for Zambia!

Day 33- Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival – 1st day!

Showered and in the tent, ready to sleep, profoundly overdosed on endorphins  from dancing for about five hours today with excellent partners- and there are two more days of the festival!  There was a crisp, fall feel in the air this morning – blogged, took a walk  along the boardwalk and forest trails here in Acadiana Park, immense oaks in this forest- spoke with Terra and the kiddoes tonight at the festival- so good to hear their voices – I sure do miss dancing and just being around Duke-

The park Visitor and Nature Center:

although the weather is absolutely delightful, as soon as you stop moving the mosquitoes attack you-in the Visitor Center I hear a camper tell the ranger about a friend of his who was bitten by a snake, but only one fang penetrated, and she thought it had been a bee or something – the ER staff was perplexed as her ankle turned black and swollen, and ruled out several things but with only that one hole, who would have suspected a snake?? She survived the incident with only general interventions and her own immune system- apparently snake antivenom is in very short supply nationwide-

And the 2017 Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival begins! The first one was in 1960 – there will  be 30 bands on 3 different stages, playing from 5:00pm today till 4:00 pm Sunday, plus cooking demonstrations, crawfish eating contests, crawfish races,  Cajun and zydeco classes and dance contests (full disclosure: Mike and I won first place in both the Cajun  two-step and the Cajun  waltz competitions here in 2012!), and amazing  food everywhere! And it’s $15.00 for the whole weekend! And  there’s also a full fair with rides and a midway happening at the same time! And a deep, genuine pride in the Cajun culture, evident in the faces of the people, the handing down of traditions and language from generation to generation, and most of all the powerful   moving music

Before the first band starts I join a Cajun waltz dance class under the pavilion – Renaud from Montreal asks me to be his partner – he seems tentative at first, but he’s got great rhythm and a feel for it- we part ways and expect to see each other over the weekend- 

My favorite partner tonight was a gentleman named Karl, who is an RN, and married to the Ambassador to Burundi – over the next 3 days we not only dance like crazy, but he shares super interesting information about public health issues in Africa- he invites me to visit them when I am in Zambia!

Day 32- Lafayette and Breaux Bridge- 

6:45pm -waiting for the band to start at Pont Breaux (formerly Mulates) in Breaux Bridge- tent set up at Acadiana Park Campground in Lafayette- this is my 8th or 9th time there, or maybe 10th – it’s a nippy 65 degrees! 

The band at Pont Breaux:

steel pedal, accordion, drums, and electric base –

I leave early to squeeze in a few dances down the road from Pont Breaux at La Poussiere ( which means,”the dust”):their  band is accordion, fiddle, acoustic guitar, drums, steel pedal, two electric base, and amazing vocals!

Will write more in the morning – so wonderful to hear this incredible music again since Mardi Gras week last year!

(my sweet home for the next three days)

Update: there was no need for finding a car wash after leaving Mustang Island this morning because the heavens opened up with a brief but wild storm last night, and all the slimy salty brine smearing the windows was washed away! 

I start seeing signs for fresh crawfish and Cajun cooking- so fascinating to witness on a trip like this how the regional differences change and crossover as I roll on down the road- whether it’s accents, food, music, dance styles, crops, the geology….

I hear on the radio that His Loathsomeness has signed an Executive Order granting to “promote and vigorously promote religious liberty” and my brain immedately detects code words- a little research informs me that his intent to “destroy”(such language, Donald!) the Johnson Amendment is apparently not even doable, as Executive Orders cannot overthrow statutes – and dang it, doesn’t the phrase separation of church and state even matter  anymore, can jargon such as “to ease restrictions on religious political participation” occur without anyone noticing? It goes to the Senate now…and done on The National Day of Prayer, no  less- never in my 60 years of life have I been more embarrassed and honestly frightened by what having Mr. Trump as our country’s leader says about this nation and about our political process –  (never mind the fact that only 59.7 percent of eligible voters voted in the presidential nomination- I just researched that- I had thought it was 43 percent, actually)

As I  near Houston, I pick up several Indian radio stations playing beautiful exotic tunes – and some killer  Spanish-language stations, playing boleros, mariachi, salsa, cumbia, tropical, ranchera, accordion waltzes, Veracruzano, tangos  – I am loving this! I hear ads from lawyers saying ” en estos tiempos de odio y racismo…”(in these times of hate and racism)  And then I hit downtown Houston traffic!!! I do believe only  Mexico City and Boston rival in terms of the anxiety this causes in me- I talk myself through it, breathe a lot, and repeat “you got this, you got this, you got this” (well, I suppose having my rental car washed away by high tide on Mustang Island might have been worse) Even the McDonald’s billboards are in Spanish only – it’s noticeably cooler today, barely tops 72, and breezy,  much less humid – 

I cross a river called (really) Old and Lost River – sugar cane and crawfish farms begin dotting the landscape – what a fascinating farming crop rotation: rice and crawfish – signs advertising the “best boudin in Acadiana”! – then after crossing the Sabine River, it’s “Bienvenue a la Louisiene”! There are many signs of recent flooding- tractors parked out in the middle of water-covered fields, water covering entire yards and up to the doors of homes – a woman at a rest stop tells me on Wednesday, the area had golf ball-size hail! I always give a shriek when I finally pick up KBON, the local Cajun radio station in Eunice- Cajun, swamp pop, and zydeco- and classic country, too – the DJs are bilingual French/English-I try my best to revive my high school French-the official weather forecast for the weekend is “spectacular”!!

Right after I set up the tent I get an email from Peace Corps giving details for our staging in Philadelphia on June 11!!! Also flight info- will be a nonstop from JFK airport to Johannesburg, then onto Lusaka!  I am to contact the PC travel agency ASAP to book my flight from Roanoke to Philly! 

Day 31- beach fun- Schroeder Dance Hall – El Campo Lone Star Inn

The sound of waves and wind were magical last night – but sure would have been more comfortable in my tent! I have coffee over at Matt’s  campspot, and share a great conversation – he is very personable, and I appreciate his open-mindedness – he has land in the Yukon, and has spent time in Mexico – we talk about Texas conservatism, the Trump administration, the art of traveling well, the environment, the effects of internet use on our brain development and society , our families- when the fog starts to lift a bit we swim – water temp is very pleasant – those holes in the sand were crabs! There are telltale piles of claw-printed sand tunneled out overnight beside almost each hole-

We wish each other safe travels, and I head out after a nice shower- not sure if I want to find a dance in the Houston area for tonight, or just go on to the Louisiana border – the roadsides are full of long-headed coneflower, or Mexican Hat -I pass the birthplace of Mexican general and politican Ignacio Zaragoza, who led the Mexican army to defeat invading French forces at the Battle of Puebla in 1862-
 I drive a few miles out of the way to see Schroeder Dance Hall just outside of Goliad, although I know it no longer has dances -it is listed as the second-oldest dance hall in Texas (and if you have been paying attention, remember which is listed as the oldest???)

The humidity is palpable, and it hits 89 degrees – I see massively huge rice silos- can’t quite identify some crops – strawberries? I’ve noticed when there are bilingual signs, the Spanish version is listed first, and is equally if not even more eloquently-written as the English translation- 

The Lone Star Inn  in El Campo seems like a good place to stop for the night, as I am beginning to crash from last night’s poor sleep- I’m about an hour west of Houston, and my spot at Acadiana Campground in Lafayette is a-waitin’ for me tomorrow night! Cajun dancing here I come🤠

Day 30- Mustang Island State Park

It’s dusk, and this is where I am for the night – just outside Corpus Christi-the air is extremely humid and sticky, and there’s a stiff, constant wind- very energizing- before leaving Duke’s home this morning he read aloud to me his journal of a motorcycle trip up to Alaska – we talk about how much we’ve enjoyed each other’s company these past few days, and plan to stay in touch- I restock ice and food and head southeast to Mustang Island-

I’ve missed the local peach season by about a month, dang it! I pass a great variety of crops the further south I get, also a kind of mesquite prairieland – milo? soybeans? HUGE oil refineries- 

It’s a moist 93° when I step outside onto the beach – yikes- a dense foggy cloudbank hugs the gulf coastline

Snake hole or turtle hole??  Or……?

This is my campspot! The park has what appears to be several miles (?) of primitive camping (picnic table and portapotties every few hundred yards , plus a water spigot) -I debate whether or or not to attempt driving onto the beach itself, getting stuck in the sand, etc, but get optimistic advice from fellow campers so I go ahead and drive in onto the hardpacked sand – Matt (from the Yukon) and I agree that the tide couldn’t possibly reach our cars – 

These birds were about two feet above my head, and taking tangerine slices from my upheld fingers! I am completely covered in a sticky salt mist and the wind is whipping up the waves – 

Some folks just leaving when I pulled in said I could inherit their sweet campfire! I walk down the beach a few yards and chat with Matt- we share travel stories, and a beer, as night falls

It’s too windy to set up my tent, and the air is really wet with gulf wave spray and intermittent sprinkles, so although I consider putting my sleeping bag on the picnic table,  I opt for the reclined front seat, with my door propped open for ventilation- the continuous roar of the waves is hypnotizing and so very calming – sleeping on the beach has always been high on my list of favorite things to do – Duke and I talk on the phone for a while before I fall asleep- I miss his company and his smile – there is a cloudcover,  so hardly any stars, but several lights way out in the gulf from what I assume are oil rigs-

Day 29-Porky’s and Lady Bird Johnson Park

I was going to leave Fredericksburg and begin heading toward the Louisiana line, but I’m having such a good time hanging around Duke that he talks me into one more day here- we share some of our favorite music with each other (using the ever-popular retro system called “boom box”), we dance in his kitchen, go hiking at Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park, and have lunch at Porky’s, with The Best Hamburgers in Texas- really! He’s a sweet man (Duke, not Porky- although I’m sure he is delightful as well)

We run into another hiking couple on the trail- they are newlyweds, and we have a nice long talk