The pandemic, Easter, and the seeds of hope.

From 2020, Peter as Koreshan Unity founder Cyrus Teed and Terry Mirande as the Unity co-leader, Victoria Gratia.

As I sit in our metaphorical Easter garden of hope and spring renewal, I am surveying the state of our symbolic little plot of ground. What is sprouting this year?  It’s an understatement to note it has been a transformational year.  Peter and I marked the one year anniversary of the pandemic a few weeks back on March 13, 2021. We picked this date because it was March 13, 2020 when we learned that our beloved Koreshan State Park was being shut down. I remember the day so clearly because the president of our volunteer organization called to tell me that the balance of the Women’s History Month events were cancelled.  The previous three years, we had been telling the story of the women who lived in this religious utopian community where women had significant leadership roles and opportunities before the 19th amendment had insured the right to vote.  Our 2020 guest lecturer, author Adam Morris, was due to fly in from San Francisco in to talk about his remarkable new book, American Messiahs.  Now that was all going silent.

Joan Wescott as Koreshan member Lillian “Vesta” Newcomb on the stage of the Art Hall.

My fellow volunteers were doing re-enactments of a few women in the Settlement.  Their costumes had been lovingly assembled, they researched their subject so thoughtfully and now the balance of the month’s programming was cancelled. This past year, I have become more aware of a new-found gratitude for their devotion to telling the story of some of these women who carved their own paths against great pressure to conform to the traditional roles defined for them by the dominant culture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Did it take the pandemic to present the space for my reflection of gratitude not only for these volunteers, but also for the need to tell the story of these pioneering women on whose shoulders we stand?

It is tempting to slip down the rabbit hole here and feel only the losses of this pandemic, losses which have been enormous.  As I write this, 550,000 lives have been lost in the U.S. That number was unimaginable one year ago.  Part of our personal pandemic routine included tuning into PBS NewsHour every Friday evening when Judy Woodruff would profile five people who had died in the past week from COVID-19.  Peeking into the lives of these mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandparents, and friends often brought me to tears as family members shared personal details from the lives of these people whom they loved and who were now gone.  Peter and I experienced both the diversity of their lives and the universality of the grief and loss which in our humanity, we shared with those families. Did it take the pandemic to awaken this connection to our shared humanity?

Johns Hopkins doing essential work for the Center for American Indian Health.

In the face of this pain and loss, Peter and I found ourselves often desperate to help in some way.  We made donations to non-profits that we had not even heard of pre-pandemic, organizations which initiated responses to the devastation caused, for example, by the extreme poverty on the Navajo reservation where running water and great expanses of desert isolation brought crushing death tolls.  Food insecurity in both New Mexico and later here in Florida led Peter to volunteer at the local community kitchen preparing food for families with little other alternatives. As inadequate as it seemed, it was something we could do and now the question is how do we respond to the enduring call to address the underlying structural changes of poverty and isolation that the pandemic has revealed?

Something awakened In the darkness of this past year and we both discovered the importance of making course-corrections. We appreciated the gift of the hermitic quality of our Airstream, our movable quarantine unit.  We were able to safely travel over 5,000 miles (from Florida to New Mexico in May and back again in November) without having to ever enter a restaurant, an airport, or a hotel.  Masks and gloves and cautious and mindful public interactions are now wired into our daily lives.  In the darkness, we had been invited to live with presence and with gratitude for all we have been given.

There continued to be aching losses. Yes, it’s true we missed celebrating my son’s 2020 wedding in New York City (which was cancelled in the pandemic) but the young couple rushed to the courthouse in Tampa on St. Patrick’s Day of 2020, license in hand, just hours before it closed down. They just celebrated their first anniversary and I remain joyful over their inspirational love story and grateful for the two new step-grandsons we now have in our family.  Happy today-birthday, Sam!

Peter getting his first vaccine shot on March 9 , 2021 in Florida.

One year ago, we went from no idea how to protect ourselves from the infectious virus to a world with face masks and social distancing and vaccines and isolation from families and friends. We both have received the first shot of the vaccine and will celebrate Peter’s 75th birthday on April 6 with dose number two. We are limiting gatherings to close family and friends who have been vaccinated. We are looking forward to a mini-reunion with one of my sisters and one of my brothers and their spouses in early May after almost two years apart. I am still trying to see how I can navigate visiting my 97 year-old mother in New Hampshire who is still not vaccinated but remains healthy and hopeful she can receive her Johnson & Johnson single dose on April 9.  Has this year revealed both the fragility and the beauty of a world filled with loving interaction and face-to-face visits which ought never be taken for granted?

I marked the day in late 2020 when I received my Portuguese citizenship.  Here I am holding the banner from the Junta where my paternal grandparents were born in San Miguel, Azores.

Even though my family did not go on a 2021 family European trip marking birthday milestones for those hitting 75, 70, 65 and 60, there were other gifts in 2020.  I was able to secure my Portuguese citizenship and get a Portuguese birth certificate. Whenever travel opens up again, I have the option of exploring a Portuguese passport and EU travel benefits. I filed all the citizenship paperwork on September 25, 2020 which would have been my father’s 100th birthday. As first generation Portuguese-Americans, both of my parents were born to parents who had immigrated to this country early in the twentieth century from the island of San Miguel, Azores.  Intentionally filing my citizenship papers on this day felt like a way to honor my ancestors and their lives and sacrifices.  I am so grateful to my mother who secured her Portuguese citizenship in 2016, making it possible for any of her children to do the same.  Have I come to appreciate the deep roots to my ancestral homeland more intensely as a result of collecting and then filing all this documentation during the pandemic?

My last degree was awarded in 1971 from University of Connecticut so it’s been a few years between undergrad and graduate diplomas.

Back in 2017, I had given myself a birthday present which up until now only my family and a few close friends knew about. I decided to pursue a graduate degree in Theology, a life-long desire which seemed like a dream whose time had come. Neil Young wrote about dreams that fade away as a memory “without any place to stay.” I did not want my graduate study to be that kind of a dream. Studying mostly online through a well-established graduate program offered by Saint Leo University in Florida, I completed the course of study on December 14, 2020 and officially earned my Master of Arts in Theology.

The pilgrims come every year to the Sanctuario de Chimayo in New Mexico.

We now visit with close friends and family who are scattered like shells on a beach, via Zoom.  We talk about our health, haircuts, love and loss, movies and books, and our kids and grandkids. This past year has been a pilgrimage through isolation and slowly back toward new kinds of connection.  There are still huge problems, beyond the virus, to be addressed but we have had some time to reflect on the work that remains undone. So I wonder, can we, in this Easter season, see that hope is indeed coming back to life?  The seeds have been planted in our hearts, so how do we nurture the tender garden and get to work?  The late Archbishop Oscar Romero, martyr and saint, wrote that this work starts with us and while, “it may be incomplete… it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.  We may never see the end results…but we are the workers…we are prophets of a future that is not our own”.

This Easter, may your seeds of hope abound and may your garden grow to be prolific as you lovingly tend to it.

Peter and Liz continue their pilgrimage to here, living in their Airstream and tending their symbolic garden, grateful for all the grace they are given each day.

Eastbound via Tulsa, Memphis and Montgomery.

From the sunlit interior of T2, I am taking in the view of the serene lake here at our winter site in Estero, Florida. You’ll see part of the view below. We arrived here just before Thanksgiving and I am going to highlight three important stops along the 2,122-mile trip from Las Cruces, NM to Florida.

It was hard to leave New Mexico after six months because the place really touched our hearts. We’ve been blessed to have tripped on a rhythm that appears to be working with short bursts of long travel sandwiched between extended stays in a seasonally sunny and warm place. It’s what you may have heard me call “chasing 70 degrees”. In March 2020, we had booked a place in Estero, Florida thinking that we would be back at Koreshan State Park for our fifth season. And then COVID happened. While we had a place in Estero, the park was shuttered down and our beloved programs were cancelled – no cooking program for Peter and no special tours and Women’s History Month for Liz. The limited option we had was to be docents roving the historic settlement with no access to the historic buildings. However, then we learned that masks were not required for visitors to the park because Lee County has no mask-mandate. We decided it wasn’t safe or wise for us. We have become “those people” who won’t go outside our home without a mask and wear one any time – even when outdoors – if we are going to be within 6 to 8 feet of others. Period.

We did briefly consider not going to Florida at all but we had to vacate our site in New Mexico by November 15 and so we decided to cowboy-up and head back east. We drew our route so we could stop at three places along the way. First was a visit with friends in Tulsa, OK, part of our TX2 family that we did not get to see this year in Wyoming in September. We were able to secure two nights at a full-hookup site on the southeast side of Tulsa and the weather was beautiful, facilitating our wonderful socially-distanced two days with them. Life-long Tulsa residents, Fred and Randi are passionate about their city and over four wonderful take-out meals from one of their local favorite restaurants, Bin 35, we got updates on their lives in these challenging days. We sipped wine and munched on sweet potato fries, grilled salmon, short ribs and the daily special, fried chicken, and topped it all off with a buffet of local ice cream.

The next day we were able to spend hours at The Gathering Place, a remarkable public park that opened in 2018 after four years of planning. The next four pictures are from our visit (haven’t figured out how to do captions in the updated WordPress!). The Gathering Place sits on the east bank of the Arkansas River south of downtown Tulsa. It was the brainchild of Tulsa philanthropist George Kaiser and the public-private partnership has cost in the neighborhood of $465 million to develop. It is a fanciful, creative, beautiful and soul-nourishing place. It’s not hard to see why the place was named at the top of the USA Today Readers’ Choice awards in 2019 and one of Time Magazine’s top 100 Greatest Place in the World in 2019. The Chapman Adventure Playground is the magical place with magnificent over-sized cranes and magical forts to explore. There is the Boathouse, a beautiful contemporary space of light and geometry that houses special exhibits, including one we loved called “Cabinet of Wonder” which is a collection of everyday ephemera, like drawers of campaign buttons, curated by Massachusetts-born artist Mark Dion. Containing unique items from around Tulsa and the world, the Cabinet of Wonder captivated us and stimulated conversation. We wandered back to the beautiful Williams Lodge with its native sandstone walls. We enjoyed a relaxing lunch in the sunny, outdoor cafe, spending a couple more hours in conversation over yummy chicken salad, luxuriating in the gift of time with good friends.

From Tulsa, we made another iconic crossing over the Mississippi River at West Memphis. Crossing over the Big Muddy is always a symbolic moment for us codifying the crossing from the vast Western spaces into the Eastern confines of the country. We spent two nights here because I wanted to visit the grave of Sr. Thea Bowman. She is buried in the historic Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis, Tennessee alongside her parents. I had recently discovered this Black Catholic woman who was a Franciscan nun. She was a ground-breaker in her inclusive ministry to Black Catholics using gospel music, spirituals and African dance and art to teach and speak about the cathartic healing power of the African traditions. I was inspired by her scholarship (she had a PhD from Catholic University) and her deep faith in the redemptive joy of a life lived for Christ. Sr. Thea lived most of her life in Mississippi and died there in 1990 at the age of 53 after bouts with cancer. She is now in the queue for sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church.

Our third stop on this east-bound journey included two nights in Montgomery, Alabama. We had visited this city in 2015 and at that time went to the Rosa Parks Museum which honors Rosa Parks, the other non-violent activists from the 1950s, and chronicles the Montgomery bus boycott. That first year we also toured the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church where Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. first preached at the age of 26. At the time, the National Memorial to Peace and Justice was still on the drawing boards so we knew it would be back to Montgomery at some point.

There are actually two places to visit here and both required a timed-admission pass due to crowd management and COVID. The first place we went was the Legacy Museum which one visitor called a “stupendous testimonial to the history of African-Americans” and is housed in a former slave market from the Civil War era. The Museum chronicles the story of slavery and the slave trade along with the impact of enslavement, racial violence and racism in this country. Beyond the mind-numbing statistics of the numbers and the details of the degradation of human dignity of Blacks by whites, the exhibits include powerful audio-visual exhibits including contemporary videos of Blacks who have been or are still incarcerated. You can pick up a telephone and sit across from these men and women, listening as they talk from a life-sized video screen. If you aren’t moved to tears of sorrow or anger when listening, then check to be sure you have a pulse.

The second place we visited was the outdoor National Memorial to Peace and Justice, commonly known as the “lynching memorial”. Opening in April 2018, this is both stunningly beautiful and deeply heart-breaking. Set on a six-acre site, the open-sided memorial honors the 4,400 people – men, women and children – who were lynched in this country between the years of 1877 and 1950. Lynchings are hate crimes and they are intended to incite terror in Blacks. The memorial, which defies words, delivers its sobering message with the installation of 800 corten steel monuments (above and below), one for each county in the United States where a lynching took place. On each of the 800 monuments is the name of the person, or persons, and the date when each was lynched. Some monuments carry just one name, others, dozens of names. The design of the memorial is visual stunning. There are signs all along the entrance calling for silence and reverence as you enter this sacred space.

Spoiler alerts here: You enter on the first level and the monuments are on the floor, level with where you stand. Then as you turn the corner, the next grouping is hovering about two feet up from the floor, and then the third turn, they are nearly waist high and get higher and higher until the visitor is actually walking below the suspended monuments in the final group. I was overcome with tears when I my body began to take in the symbolic implications of the design. Along the wall of this final hallway there are samples of very brief stories of some of the people who were lynched. For example, in 1933, Elizabeth Lawrence, a school teacher, was lynched in Birmingham, Alabama for reprimanding three white children who had thrown rocks at her as she walked home. During the Tulsa race riots of 1921, dozens were lynched just for being Black. Arthur St. Clair, a minister, was lynched in Hernando County, Florida in 1877 for performing the wedding of a black man and a white woman. There are many more.

The Memorial is a project of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) founded in 1989 by Bryan Stephenson. If that name sounds familiar, it may be because he is the author of Just Mercy, an important book about the potential for mercy to redeem and a clarion call to end mass incarceration in the United States. EJI is dedicated to helping the poor, the incarcerated, and the condemned, providing legal assistance to innocent death row prisoners, confronting abuse of the incarcerated and the mentally ill, and aiding children prosecuted as adults. Both of us were deeply moved by the experience and I would urge all of you to put this on the short list of places to visit on a trip through the South.

Following the intensity of Montgomery, we took a leisurely route through to Estero, Florida with one more night on the road before arriving at our winter spot. It is a peaceful and lovely little place and we have added potted plants, our flamingos in Christmas bows, and two fresh and fragrant wreaths. Our landlady, who lives right next door, has given us the use of her outdoor dining table and four chairs which holds great promise for some socially distanced meals over the holidays. It feels just really good to be back here. I’d like to close with this Advent reading from this past week:

Psalm 85:10. Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss.
Truth shall spring out of the earth and justice shall look down from heaven.

Peter and Liz are settled in at Estero, Florida in their Airstream for a long winter’s night under temperate skies.

The Tetons, a wildfire, and snow.

Our vacation destination, the Grand Tetons of Wyoming.

On August 27, we left Las Cruces for a vacation away from the triple-digit heat.  Our plan was to head north about 1,200 miles, landing in Kelly, Wyoming on Monday, August 31 and then head up to Bozeman, Montana to visit some friends, returning to Las Cruces by September 20.  Many of you already know of our three-decade-plus love affair with the Tetons and Moose, Wyoming.  It was there, at the Triangle X Ranch, where we would re-unite with our dear friends, wander on horseback through the Bridger-Teton National Forest, along the Snake River, and up to big aspen groves, repeatedly falling helplessly under the spell of the breathtaking natural beauty of the Grand Tetons.  The ranch was the place where, over the years, Peter and I made some of the most significant decisions of our lives, moved to a clarity that we found nowhere else. Continue reading

It may be 102, but it’s a dry heat…

Our site includes a cottonwood tree and lots of blessed shade. The sunscreen we put up helps to keep the sun off T2. I love the potted plants that Peter created which we enjoy both inside and outside.

Las Cruces, New Mexico is working out well for us after seven weeks.  With so much uncertainty in all of our lives these days, just being able to write that feels like a gift.  Top of mind for us is what we call our “COVID lives” and we are both healthy and hopeful even as the cases spike here in recent days.  Dona Ana county, where we are, has seen an increase in COVID infections. Here in our RV park, the owner came by on July 3 to remind us of the need to wear masks, and to socially distance as we used the laundry, the common areas or the bathhouse. Continue reading

Cross-country quarantine trip, part 2.

Here’s the route we ended up taking.

When we left Airstream in Jackson Center, Ohio on Sunday, May 10 we were aware that we would soon be leaving the eastern third of the country, excited to be heading straight west, to New Mexico.  We got onto I-70 and headed over the border into Indiana. As other full-timers have reported, the Indiana section of the interstate is in terrible condition, rough and uneven like a washboard.  I imagined that the inside of T2 would mimic the mayhem of Lucille Ball’s experience from the classic on-the-road cult 1954 movie, The Long, Long Trailer.  Fortunately, there were no boulders stored under the couch to roll around, as in Lucy’s escapade.  The by-pass around Indianapolis on I-465 was eerily jammed with tractor-trailers, a scene unlike any we had witnessed since leaving Florida. Continue reading

Six states and our mobile COVID 19 quarantine unit

Exhilaration being on the road again, here heading north on I-75 in Florida.

A good journalist once said that when telling a story, focus on the personal stuff if you want to engage your reader.  After our first week on the road, here’s some of our personal shutdown story.  To re-cap, we left Estero, Florida on May 3 because we had a specific place to go (first Airstream in Ohio, then New Mexico) and felt we could safely travel there.  The day we left we were completely giddy with the sense of freedom and the joyful change of scenery.  Traffic was very light on I-75 north and we sailed along to our first night outside of Gainesville, Florida.  We reserved at a KOA and upon arrival, were met at our truck by the host who was wearing a face mask and gloves.  He led us to our site in his golf cart.  He did something we’ve never seen before: he wiped down our water, and electric connections at the site.  It was an immediate confidence booster.  He said the restrooms were open though we didn’t plan to use them.  The great curiousity in the campground was the one large family with six kids, two dogs and an inflatable wading pool who were in a tent set up near the restrooms.  Aside from that, everyone else was in an RV or trailer.  This random tent siting would turn out to be a complete anomaly in the nights ahead.  Every other place would have a ban on tents. Continue reading

Our lessons of grace in the shutdown

The past two weeks of the pandemic shutdown in Estero have brought some new challenges, surprises, and accommodations.  First, the challenges.  Last time I mentioned the record-breaking heat that we were experiencing the week of April 13. We wanted to have our air-conditioner checked because the heat was really oppressive and we were running it nearly all day and into the night.  We had made an appointment months ago for our annual Airstream service, but that was off since the factory in Ohio was on shutdown. Continue reading

T2 updates from Estero, Florida

Sometimes we feel like we are living in a Petri dish here in Estero, Florida. Is the universe conducting some great experiment in human adaptability and flexibility? We are finding ourselves called to perform daily course-corrections that might test even the elasticity of Gumby.  There are two variables at work here.  The first is the new reality of COVID-19 which continues to color our lives now affecting many of the scheduling details from shopping trips, to food planning and prep, to our morning walk, to the search for the essential face mask. It’s an influencer, but it’s not the only one. Continue reading

Moving on down the road, 2.5 miles

It’s remarkable that my last post was just two weeks ago because so much has happened in our lives.  As noted last time, we had gotten an OK to stay in the park and finish up our respective programs, even though the park had officially closed. The week of March 23, we started doing administrative stuff and began to feel like things were heading into a good direction for the interim. One week ago, we decided to look into renting a spot in one of the planned communities in the area since we decided once we left the park, we did not want to get on the road for a couple of months.

Continue reading

From Estero, FL, the paradox of these times

These days, a trip to the Publix Supermarket in Estero, Florida is a surreal experience with understocked shelves and the haphazard displays of the kinds of frozen pizzas that people don’t want to buy.   As I attempt to find words to describe this, my memory takes me back to my days as an English major at the University of Connecticut. One of my last semesters, under the guidance of my academic advisor, Professor Blanchard, I took a nineteenth century British literature survey course.  There, I regularly walked the Hogwarts-like hallways of the University’s bricks and mortar library, encountering Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, the Brontë sisters, Oscar Wilde, William Blake, William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, P. B. Shelley, Mary Shelley, John Keats, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, Christina Rossetti, and Lewis Carroll. Continue reading