The newest chapter in our pilgrimage began on Monday, August 3, 2015 when we left my sister’s home in Connecticut which had been our base for two months. It was an emotional parting, equal parts sadness over the separation from loved ones, and exhilaration at being in our new home – the Airstream and the open highway.
The first day of travel was challenging. The initiation included the sensory experiences of new sounds created by the truck and the Airstream together. These two talk to each other all the time. I imagined the squeaks and crunches to be dialog something like, “Hey, that’s a really tight corner you’re trying to make there, big guy”; to “Wow, we’re going really fast!” We made it to our first campsite in East Branch, New York which is in the Catskills. The campground had just re-opened and we were the only campers there which meant we got to select the site we wanted. T2 spent the first night along the shores of the Delaware River, which I considered to a good omen for the nights ahead.
Next, it was a Elmira, New York and a campground called Newtown Battlefield State Park which commemorated a 1779 battle in which the six-nation Iroquois ended up on the short end of a battle with the encroaching land-hungry rebel-patriots. Hmmm.
We had initially selected a site in the woods, with no electric hook-up, thinking it would be more private. However, on arrival, we found that the insects of summer had assembled in impressive numbers and were waiting to greet us. It was hospitality we chose to skip and we found another site in the open parking lot which was much more comfortable, and included power, thereby reinforcing one of the ten commandments of RV travel: when given the choice, pick the site with electric hook-ups.
We meet up with our close friends for two days and visited the magnificent Corning Glass Museum, ate marvelous food, laughed much, and treasured the joy of the company of dear friends that has blessed our lives.
After a long day of driving on day four, we were heading to our campsite near Somerset, Pennsylvania when the universe presented one of those choices that can change your life. We noticed a sign for the Flight 93 National Memorial. A conversation ensued between us and we each weighed in on the prospect of submersing ourselves in that much deep emotion after a long day on the road while knowing that Shanksville, Pennsylvannia was a place not to be overlooked in the history of this country. In the incredible beauty of the open fields of central Pennsylvannia, we were reminded that we are not separated from the world, that we are all one, and that actions of a handful can irrevocably change everything, as they did on September 11, 2001.
The stark beauty of the memorial wall was deeply moving. There is a series of 40 white marble panels, lined up along the plane’s final flight path. Each panel bears the name of one of the forty passengers and crew on board United Airlines flight 93. The flight ended in a ball of fire, hitting the ground belly-up, at upwards of 500 miles per hour, and creating a crater nearly 35 feet deep, as the passengers and crew decided to fight back against the hijackers. Flight 93 was the only one of the four planes hijacked that day that did not hit its intended target.
I had such clear memories of September 11 before I visited this site. That day, I was at my office in Keene, New Hampshire while Peter was at our house in Rindge, waiting for the moving company to come. One of the businesses in our building told us to turn on the television to watch the news. We witnessed the horrifying video of the second plane hitting one of the twin towers in New York, on an unbearably beautiful morning, and we knew we were witnessing thousands of people perishing. I learned of the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, just minutes later, and waited for a terrifying number of hours until I heard from my son, who was living in DC at the time and working out by the Pentagon, knowing that he was safe. One of our granddaughters was christened that weekend as we all attempted to maintain some assemblance of normalcy in the face of such unspeakable sorrow and grief and fear. But until now, I had no experience with Flight 93.
And now, I was looking at photographs of the 40 people who were on that plane – the pilot, the co-pilot, the flight attendants; adults in their 20s, 30s, and older; one woman who was pregnant; people who were merely anticipating a non-stop flight to San Fransisco and were destined for another role, and I was deeply moved. How do we remain present to the life we have been given? How do we release the attachment to the life we want to live and live the one we are handed? These 40 people faced that question and in so doing, raised that question for me. It was a profoundly moving experience and I prayed for them and for their families. It was an uneasy night for sleep…
Friday, we visited two Frank Lloyd Wright houses here in central Pennsylvania, Kentuck Knob and Fallingwater. The latter has been on my life-list of places to see since my days in high school when I first saw the incredible images of a house actually built over a waterfall. I had wondered if you build a place that way, do you hear the waterfall all the time? Do you see the mists rising over the falls? What happens in winter when the ice and snow accumulate? And now, decades later, I actually got to experience the place. It is astounding. Wright decided to build the house over the falls so that the owners, the Kaufman family from Pittsburg, would be constantly connected to the water. The house is irrevocably connected to the water even though one cannot see the falls from the house. But you live in harmony with it. It’s a dance of architecture which the Kaufman’s son referred to as “romance”. There is romance between the building and the water, between the owners and the house, and now between the visitor and the experience. A love-affair of possibility.
Kentuck Knob is a more modest and equally appealing Wright house. It was constructed in the mid-1950s, with views of the distant hills and huge valley. Wright never saw the house once it was finished (he was 86 at the time) but I imagine that he would have been pleased. It is one of one a handful of his houses that display the cherished red signature tile, his way of “signing” an original design. The house was sold in the mid-1980s and the current owner, English Baron Peter Palumbo, has installed a remarkable sculpture garden which includes two Andy Goldsworthy installations. This surprise discovery reminded us that we can be called to a place and find the most memorable parts of the experience are beyond what we could imagine until we arrive.
The Goldsworthy cairn is a metaphor for this initial phase of our pilgrimage. It marks a specific place, noting the sacred and mysterious. Recently, we hiked into the woods with friends who live in the Green Mountains in Vermont. We walked around the ruins of mysterious and unexplained cairns that have been discovered in the woods behind their home. There is a golden thread linking these two cairns. Both were built with intention by human hands. Both awaken the paradox of what is seen and what is unseen and unknowable. Both are powerful, beautiful, and yet hidden and not understandable. These are rich reminders for each day of this pilgrimage. When we return each evening to the cocoon of our nomadic home, we come with gratitude for the life we have been given.
Peace and all good things to each of you.