OK, a little truth telling. Going to New Orleans was noble but the need for the food pantry I was helping out at has basically passed. Going to Joplin, Missouri to help with the rebuilding effort was noble but the second time I went there really wasn't anything to do since it either required skilled labor or a college group to latch on to. So when it became evident that I was needed back in Maine to help my brother Jim recover from a particularly tough round of mental illness it wasn't a hard decision.
At first I had complete confidence in the local hospital and was worried that I would be bored staying in a house in the country with no TV. Turns out I had it backwards. The local hospital was ill suited to the task, unwilling to admit it and as a result my life was anything but boring. Once we finally got my brother transferred my life got a lot easier and I'm now settling in to life in Midcoast Maine.
It's actually not so bad. My brother's house is a sweet place to stay. I get to see old friends from my High School days who I haven't seen in years and winter in Maine can be quite pretty from a nice warm car. Going to Rockland gives me some nice looks at Penobscot Bay and going to Bangor I get a nice drive up the Penobscot River passing through some pretty little towns along the way. Traveling can wait. This is what I need to be doing and truth be told...it's not that bad.
In the upside down world of retirement where lack of demands leads to stress over what to do and where one's schedule can quickly fill up faster than it ever did when the occupied sign was lit outside your door, traveling takes on a similar counter-intuitive logic of its own. When face with a fixed monthly budget (more like a target in my case), long days and long mileage are a financial disaster. Too much money on gas, increased reliance on fast food and less time to score a free place to spend the night. How to make those travel dollars go farther? Lately, it's been to go slower.
Welcome to the wonderful world of camping in America's National Forests, picnic lunches at all those underused picnic tables and FINALLY getting caught up on my reading. It's kind of nice in its own way. The National Forests are more geared toward hunting and fishing. There are a lot more houses than hiking trails so finding an appropriate spot is more of a challenge but it's doable (just look for the official campsites on a roadmap and then improvise). All of this is to explain my choice of route from New Orleans to Joplin.
Pensacola Beach was just to relive a nice memory. Not as much fun this time since the spray from the surf forced me to cover my tent and miss out on some nice stargazing.
DeSoto National Forest (South of Hattiesburg, MS)
Homochito National Forest (East of Natchez, MS)
Kisatchie National Forest (Homer, LA)
Ouachita National Forest (Hot Springs AR)
Then it got cold and rainy and I had saved enough to justify a night in a motel although quite frankly I would have been fine with another night outside. Arkansas isn't the alps but the western mountains were a nice change and I wouldn't mind a return trip to hike the 244 mile Ouachita (pronounced like Wichita with a WATCH IT) Trail. Another even slower trip for another time.
In September of 2005 when I decided to retire, the Epiphany came in two parts. One part was that my winter work paid for...well, work (apartment, gas etc) and that getting rid of both would be a wash. The other part of it was watching the aftermath of Katrina and feeling the way so many people felt that we had to collectively step up and help the recovery effort. Seeing the world was and is great. Hiking has been a real pass ion of mine the last twenty years or so but what gave the whole enterprise some semblance of a noble purpose was Katrina.
So it is with some sadness that I realized the time had come to move on. Businesses have returned, the Saints have given the region a sense of pride and resurgence. Local government is back to its lowdown ways and the need for a food pantry is more or less that of any other American city. Most clients' circumstances have improved so that other than trying to score a free turkey for Thanksgiving there isn't a lot of interest. In the grand scheme of things, this is good. The region has recovered and they can take it from here. But it's a little sad to say goodbye to such a unique moment in American life when ordinary people stepped up and helped their fellow citizens when the government failed.
My first reaction to NPR's story about airlines using bio-fuels was 'Uh-Oh, might pose a threat to the refineries down here in the Big Easy' (click here for story). But then I stopped myself and asked if I wasn't giving New Orlineans enough credit. Surely they worry about the environment as much as everyone else having lost such huge volume of land to coastal erosion even before BP went express in bringing Gulf oil to the America.
But then I had to take it even a step further than that. A friend once told me "don't look at what you like, look at what you do" when trying to decide on a career. What do people in New Orleans do? They talk about food. They're crazy about it. They go on for hours. They more you've never heard of it, the more of an opinion they have. Drinking and football are simply the excuse for cooking, eating and talking about both. I've had people go off for 15 minutes about New Orleans coffee, what should be in it, its history, toxicology and most important why other people don't make it right.
Can you just imagine a similar conversation about what should be in the ideal bio-fuel? French fry cooking oil or oil from deep frying shrimp? How about oil from the cajun turkey deep fried in a barrel in the back yard? Texas would no doubt want a piece of the action since they already deep-fry everything they can get their hands on and will probably resort to deep frying felons when they get bored with the death penalty. Your car won't just be responding to you but to your choice of what to feed it. Car sales emphasizing care, feeding and bonding. Amish finally seizing control of the US economy once they corner the market on corn based fuels. I'm telling ya', bio-fuels are going to be as American as apple pie...if we let them.