Collecting pottery shards of our pilgrim life.

Pottery shards in situ. Photo credits: oldpueblo.org.

A fellow Airstreamer recently posted a blog (Life on the Blue Highways) with a picture of some pottery shards that he discovered in New Mexico.  These shards struck me as a metaphor for the past few days at Koreshan State Park.  Like the shards, each day offered some unique new element in the whole field of our lives here.

It started on Good Friday and I showed up for my shift at the Art Hall feeling subdued, reflective, and quietly introspective. In addition to the solemnity of the day on the Christian calendar, earlier in the day I received a text from my cousin that her father, my Mom’s only surviving brother, was nearing the end of his life of 96 years and the family was gathering in Massachusetts. If God was calling him home, Good Friday seemed like an especially blessed day for this good man.  My 94-year old mother was not making the trip from her home in New Hampshire to Massachusetts, and my thoughts had been with my cousins as they faced his imminent passing. My heart was heavy as I headed to the Settlement.

It’s common when relieving the morning shift volunteer to have a quick de-brief of any special events, any updates on the buildings, or any park news.  My fellow volunteer told me that the park ranger had just brought in a new artifact for the display cases in the Art Hall.  It was a plaster cast of Cyrus Teed’s hand (Teed was the founder of the Koreshan Unity Settlement).  The practice of doing plaster casts of the recently deceased was common in those days (he died in 1908) and so with some reverence, I approached the new display wondering if I was the only person to notice the significance of having the death cast show up on Good Friday.

The Koreshan Parade Band at the Settlement, 1906. Photo courtesy of State Archives of Florida.

Since events seem to unfold in threes (and I had already experienced two), I was attentive to each subsequent guest interaction.  A group of four guests (which I later cast as two teenage grandchildren with their grandparents) showed up and they were very engaged in the history.  After my overview of the park, the grandson asked me about the empty glass case that had held some of the musical instruments from the Koreshan orchestra.  I told him the musical instruments were being evaluated at the archives at nearby Florida Gulf Coast University.  He lit up and said he was a musician and was interested in studying music and the conversation quickly ramped up to a new energy level.  As a docent, I know this sensation and when it presents, I just get out of the way and let it move.

One side-step here before I proceed with the story.  The day before I had been able to visit the archives and see some of the treasures from the Settlement, including the very same instruments that had just been removed from the display cases so I had a unique and fresh perspective to offer the guests.  I shared the news that one of the professors at the University was working on specific projects related to the importance of music to the Koreshans.  Like a sponge, this young man was just soaking up as much as he could bear, his grandmother taking notes for his future reference.

1885 Steinway piano in the Art Hall of Koreshan Unity Settlement.

But once again, the showstopper was the 1885 Steinway piano.  I hadn’t yet shared its history and as I did, he moved closer to the stage and I already knew the answer to the dual questions, “Do you play the piano” and “Would you like to see the Steinway?” would be a double affirmation  As if approaching the altar in church, we solemly climbed onto the stage.  The young man was completely awestruck as I opened the piano.  “Sit down,” I said.  “And play something”.

After some time, and I really don’t know how long, with tears welling up in both his grandmother’s and my eyes, he finished playing the piece, lifted his hands up and then off the 85 keys.  Silence re-emerged.  I was back in the Art Hall, having been taken to a place of ethereal grace.  I don’t know what he played but I can tell you it was soft and mysterious.  No one spoke for what seemed like minutes.  The silence was what I most felt.   No one else had entered the Art Hall while he was playing or immediately after, as if the greater angels who inhabit this place had posted a “Do Not Enter” sign on the door.

And then they left.  A couple of hours later, just before I locked up for the evening, the grandfather came back to ask me a question about another one of the buildings, “I knew you would have the answer”, he said, and then, “This has been one of the most amazing of all our days”.   I couldn’t have agreed more with his assessment.

Whenever walking one of Peter’s labyrinths, I often discover the connection between what seemed like disparate shards.

Living on the road is a lot like discovering pottery shards. Each day presents a chip, or something that might be brightly colored, or really shiny, or dull, or pointed, or rounded and what we nomads do is observe carefully, and then move on.  We don’t know how they fit together in the greater construction project that is our lives.  We don’t know if the shard of the day is going to provide the jaw-dropping missing piece to some greater mystery, or is merely the equivalent of more blue sky in the puzzle.  Our job is showing up, collecting the shards, curating them and being attentive for what comes next.

After supper Peter and I hopped into the truck and drove up to a 7:00pm Good Friday service at a nearby church.  It was clearly part of a pottery shard hunt so I listened and waited.  And then it came when the choir began singing.  “What is it about pottery shards and music today”, I wondered?  Years ago, my friend Lenny Matczynski gave me a copy of the Emerson String Quartet playing Haydn’s orchestral work, “The Seven Last Words of Our Savior on the Cross” which centers on Psalm 31:5.  The work was commissioned in 1786 for a Good Friday service.  I had forgotten about the whole orchestral piece until the choir began singing, “Into Your hands I commit my spirit” and as I sat in the sacred space of this consecrated place, my heart opened.  I had been given another shard.

Saturday morning I learned from my attentive sister that my dear uncle had actually passed from this earthly life around 9:00pm on Good Friday.  I’d like to imagine a choir of angels singing a Latin chant called the subvenite.  As one of the monks at New Camaldoli Hermitage once wrote me, “the sentiments are so beautiful”.

On this Easter Sunday, I share some of the words from the chant which the same monk sang at the Hermitage when my father passed away in 2013.

Refrain:  Receive his soul and present him to God the Most High.

Verse: May God who called him bring him to Himself; may Angels lead him to Abraham’s side.
Refrain: Receive his soul and present him to God the Most High”.
Rest in peace, dear Uncle Albert (shown here with one of my cousins, his daughter Jane).
Liz and Peter continue their pilgrimage-to-here in Estero, Florida in their Airstream, collecting metaphorical pottery shards along the way. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Celebrating my birthday with the women of Koreshan in Florida.

In-costume at Koreshan State Park during Women’s History Month with my favorite baker.

I’m writing this blog on my birthday and I have been given the most exquisite of gifts: a morning of solitude in T2, our sanctuary.  I’ve been reading poetry and found two snippets from poems that fit my reflection today.  Stanley Kunitz, at the age of 79 mused, “Maybe it’s time for me to practice growing old. The way I look at it, I’m passing through a phase…” while Billy Collins, at the age of 70, whimsically observed, “One bright morning in a restaurant in Chicago as I waited for my eggs and toast, I opened the Tribune only to discover that I was the same age as Cheerios”. Continue reading

The Steinway piano of Estero, Florida.

The 1885 Steinway concert piano, with 85 keys, on the stage of the Art Hall.  Thank you Ann Mangan for the photograph.

On Friday, February 23, something grace-filled occurred at the Art Hall at the Koreshan Unity Settlement. A little after 2:00 pm, concert pianist Bella Gutshtein, sat down to play the 1885 Steinway piano. Before she put her hands on the keys of this concert piano, she urged her small audience to remember that in the face of whatever darkness we may have in our lives, music and beauty can offer light. Then, she breathed life into a few movements of a Brahm’s piano concerto, and I was aware of the extraordinary gift of grace that I had received. Continue reading

Heading toward the sunrise from Utah to Florida.

Our campsite in Estero, FL with new Christmas plantings and flamingos in festive attire.

Our eastbound drive from Utah to Florida covered a couple of thousand miles across eight states. We arrived on November 20 and are now comfortably settled into the Volunteer Village at Koreshan State Park in Estero, Florida in the warm company of friends we met here last year and of the new volunteers who have come for part of the season. Continue reading

Across Nevada to Escalante and Boulder, Utah and the north rim of the Grand Canyon.

Rabbit bush in full fall colors in Nevada.

In spite of two unplanned technical events late in October, we still managed to get to southern Utah and fulfill a couple of long-time dreams for ourselves. Let me first start with the unplanned events which occur in life whether you are living on the road or not. First, we ended up with another quirky electrical problem in the truck. The short version is that our stay just over the California/Nevada border in a town called Fernley was extended for one extra day while Peter spent a day with the local Ford dealer (patiently waiting half a day since they were all booked) and determining that we needed a new battery. Continue reading

All along the Oregon coast.

Bully Creek Reservoir County Park was a respite and our first stop in Oregon.

On September 28, we crossed into Oregon from  Idaho, about half way up the state at Vale where the wide open land looks more like high plains of Kansas with grasses and open spaces. The first night in Oregon, we camped in a quiet county park, Bully Creek, along a reservoir.  The day we left, we watched campers arriving and getting set up for the opening weekend of deer hunting season.

 

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Our Airstream remodeling is completed.

We rarely catch those TV reality shows about home makeovers, but Monday, we were actually living one.  Exactly one week before, we left our Airstream with the mighty team of Ultimate Airstream in Williamsville, Oregon.  This was Phase Two of the renovations we committed to after two years of living on the road.  When Ian Harnish, the incredible team leader at Ultimate Airstream, showed us the inside, I just started crying with joy.  It was beyond what I could have imagined.

The beautiful windows in T2 bring the outside in so when I am writing, views like this (from Minnesota’s north woods in 2016) fill my heart. But we needed to improve the functionality of the living area for our needs.

As you loyal readers know, we love our Airstream (named T2).  Our experience with Airstream as the manufacturers has been nothing but enthusiastic.  But, after twenty-seven months, our love of travel, adventure, and life taught us that there were renovations we needed in order to maximize our tiny and very efficient space.  Specifically, we decided that we had no need for extra sleeping space so the long couch and the large dining table, both integral components to more sleeping space, were not priorities for us.

We are both avid readers and a comfortable chair became an essential element to peace and wellbeing and the original Airstream curb side bench was not making the grade.  We aren’t the kind of people who entertain a lot indoors so the long couch was not functional.  What we did need was more organized storage space inside, much more comfortable seating, and easier access to the under-bed storage that Airstream so brilliantly includes in the front bed, twin models.

View out the new window in the bathroom, June 2017. We did include a shade for night privacy. Also added a second towel rack in the bathroom.

Phase One of the renovations was completed at Airstream in Jackson Center, Ohio in June.  They removed the curbside bench and installed our new Lambright wall-hugging recliner pictured below in a couple of  images.  We also had them cut down the size of the dining table to better fit the recliner and open up the space more.  JC also installed a porthole window in the bathroom. We had seen this modification when we were in Death Valley in March and it just blew us away.  The picture here tells all you need to know about this improvement to the quality of our life.  The bath was functional without the window but with it, the natural light and the illusion of spaciousness of bringing the outside in, is wonderful and the last four months have just re-enforced our decision.

Here’s a close-up of the new cabinet which is tucked under the window and up against the wall with the refrigerator. The counterspace on top is amazing and because it is set back it just opens up the entire interior and feels so much more spacious.

In October, Ultimate Airstream took over from there for Phase Two.  They re-built the seating area completely, removing the original 93″ couch and replaced it with a custom 72″ couch and removing the gaucho slide that offered the option of another bed. (I have inserted before and after pictures at the end of this blog so you can experience the complete make-over). These guys use professional grade upholstery cushions and great vinyl covering that are essential for the intensity of our full timing. These cushions are firm and very comfortable for long periods of sitting (like writing and reading) and that will most likely last a decade.

They also designed and built a custom cabinet for us, adding precious storage space and creating an efficient set of storage spaces.  The middle cabinet drawers are heavy-duty, 11″ deep (they need to hold a portable filing system) and extend fully for access to the content. The cabinet materials, including drawer pulls and countertop, are all with the original Airstream materials that are specific to our 2015 and so the finished result is completely seamless.

Here’s a picture from the hall looking into the bedroom showing the two new under-bed drawers, fully extended. And yes, they did accommodate the floor rug when building!

The other modification we made was to install custom drawers underneath the deeper of the two twin beds in the bedroom.  Again, these are super deep and pull out all the way for incredibly easy access from the top to the storage bags of (in this case) sweaters and bulikier clothing items. This is already a life-changing modification as we have re-organized all the harder to get to spaces where seasonal items like hats and scarves got buried in smaller storage areas inside T2 and were hard to access.  We opted not to build drawers under the other twin because the space is not as deep (there are outside storage areas located in this general area) so it is far easier to access the contents since the space is so shallow.

On chilly evenings, we throw our Pendleton blanket over the recliner and all is well!

We also made another change this time around.  Ultimate Airstream replaced the radio/stereo that came with T2.  It never really worked for me and was too hard to use.  The new one, a Kenwood car stereo is great and since our Clarion speakers are so good, we can listen to our music and easily watch movies through the system.  No picture here of the stereo but know that it’s great.

So here are two remarkable pictures of T2.  The first, the “before” picture, shows the original set-up with the curbside bench, most of the long couch, and the fabric upholstery that we chose when we ordered the Airstream new in 2015.  The original table is oversized and while it did provide a great work space, the trade-off in comfort was not worth the price.

And below that is the “after” picture of the new living area showing the gorgeous couch covering, Chimayo wool throw pillows, comfy alpaca throw over the back cushions, and a view of the recliner.

The original interior living/dining area.

Our newly remodeled living/dining area is fabulous.

Liz and Peter are continuing their pilgrimage to here in their newly renovated Airstream, heading slowly south and east and aiming for arriving in Florida by mid-November. 

 

 

 

 

If it’s Labor Day, this must be Kansas.

In Kansas, the wildflowers are in bloom in the Flint Hills.

On this Labor Day morning, we are heading west across Kansas where the early morning sun is chasing us, splashing its burnt orange light on the world.  We left New Hampshire August 22 which was six weeks to the day from Peter’s hip replacement surgery.  His recovery continues to amaze everyone, including his surgeon, and after years of chronic and increasing pain, he is reveling in the reality of being pain-free.  In light of the priorities for his recovery and healing, we did two major things before beginning our westward journey. Continue reading

Summer in New England

Summer gardens in Newfane, Vermont on a Sunday afternoon.

The gypsies have put down roots in Keene, New Hampshire for a total of eleven weeks, which began June 8.  The primary objective of this longest-of-stays is ensuring Peter’s successful recovery from hip replacement surgery.  Now, nearly three weeks post-op, I am happy to report that surgery went very well and Peter is on the positive curve toward full recovery. The daily progress is astounding and serves to remind us of the gifts of grace where God is in the details.  Last week, Peter moved from the walker to his walking sticks during his bi-weekly PT session.

 

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Tennessee and Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Mountain laurel was in full bloom everywhere on our journey across Tennessee.

After leaving Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas, our eastbound trip took us into Tennessee, crossing the Mississippi at Memphis.  Swollen by the heavy spring rains, the mighty river had topped its banks, turning the flood plains on the Arkansas side into expansive, if shallow, lakes. We didn’t stop in Memphis this time, reluctantly leaving the exploration of the Lorraine Motel and the National Civil Rights Museum, and other things Memphis, for another visit.

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