One artist's journey: Trying to live a creative life with grace, grit, gratitude...and a border collie.
(or perhaps I should say: greys, grit and gratitude)

31 July 2015

Transcontinental Meditation

It is possible that my love of wandering was handed down via my Viking/Scots Norman ancestors.  It is said that the St.Clairs (and I am St.Clair by blood, not marriage) are descended from Vikings that invaded the North of France then fought their way back to the North country with William the Conqueror.  My people (as my grandmother would say), wound up in the Scottish Highlands.  Explorer Jarl Henry St.Clair is said to have led an expedition that “discovered” America in 1398 (nearly 100 years before Columbus)…in recognition of his exploration, he was given Roslyn Castle and the title “Earl of Orkney”. Undoubtably, we are a feisty, adventurous lot and there is no shortage of natural wanderlust coursing through my veins.

If that were not enough, my parents’ love of travel by car nurtured my roaming ways.  Family summer trips had us meandering and camping all over the Southeast to visit historic sites and the various coasts (my favorite being the Outer Banks of NC, aka “Graveyard of the Atlantic” and home to wild ponies).

One epic trip had the five of us packed into the Oldsmobile Delta 88, hauling a pop-up trailer and wandering most of the great sites in the Southwest in less than two weeks.   My Dad led our vacations with a decidedly Type A state of mind.  I remember stopping at the Grand Canyon at dusk…a quick look and a couple of photos then we were off again to the next scheduled waypoint.  The trip ended with an all night drive so my brothers and I could be on time for the first half day of school.

Throughout my youth my Mom showed dogs, so she and I wandered even more.  Shortly after a typical 3 am departure for a show in Indiana, I remember being curled in the passenger seat dozing and hearing the radio announce a “freak snowstorm” in our path.  The words chilled me.  Since then I have driven many the mile, often with trailer in tow, through dozens of blizzards and ice storms.  

It was from Mom that I learned to have a sense of humor and adventure about travel.  Invariably, she and I would wind up in the worst part of town on those dog show journeys.  Mom would make jokes while quietly locking the car doors and trying to find her way safely to our destination.  To this day, I have laughed as I forged my way through countless situations that would paralyze many travelers.

My own solo journeys began when I was nineteen or twenty, traveling to shows marketing my art.  Rather than simply go to local shows, I chose shows in places I’d never been, or just wanted to go.  One of my early “epic” trips (aka: “the trip from hell”…another story), covered four shows and over 10,000 miles in about five weeks.  Among other “adventures” along the way, that trip included a stop/search by seven police vehicles and an ER visit.  I was 24.

Four Toyotas (all bought NEW) have logged only a part of the miles driven over the years: an outgrown ’87 4Runner was sold with 180,000 and a ’92 pickup sold with over 250,000.  With an odometer about to roll over to 300,000, my ’02 Tundra still carries me into bear country and my current art show truck, a ’10 Tundra has over 120,000…not to mention countless miles on several other vehicles.  

Even the Miatas have done their share. 
In 2001, I removed the passenger seat in the first one and built a “bunk” for camping.  It carried me, the dog, painting gear and cameras for about four weeks on a journey that ranged from Vermont to Northern Ontario and back, then on to Arizona and Yellowstone before returning home.  That was yet another 10,000 miler…in a two seater ragtop (okay, one seater).  

Entries in old journals opened, not with a simple date…but with the odometer reading on whatever vehicle I was in at the time.  When asked why I didn’t just fly from place to place, I’ve always said it was because of the animals or the big paintings, but really, it is because I love the places in between.

Over the years I have traveled to art shows, in search of subject matter and just for the sake of wandering.  My wheels have rolled highways, byways and gravel roads across all of the lower 48 and parts of Alaska.  One great project was driving through 48 states in 48 weeks, plein air painting for a charity project.  Despite all the miles logged, there are still places I long to see and re-see.   

Though I have yet to determine exactly how many miles of broken center line it takes to heal a broken heart, I have discovered that time on the road does heal most things.  I’ve always called it my “Peace of the Road”.  There were times when I ran away in a blind “bolt” and it would take, not just miles, but STATES before I relaxed and started to soak in the scenery again.  There were times when I drove to run…and was never sure if it was ‘away’ or ‘to’.  Peace of the Road doesn’t always come easily.  

Along those miles I have lost, loved, dismantled, created, grieved and rejoiced.

A former love used to berate me for my travels to art shows and for research.  “You don’t need to go to Wyoming to paint moose” he’d growl.  He’d also say, perhaps a little sadly, “you always look younger when you come home from a trip”.

Between countless miles of white lines, I’ve colored outside the lines…inventing things, designing paintings and writing songs, stories, poems and lists of painting titles.  

There were miles where I listened or sang along to my bizarrely eclectic music collection, memorizing songs that I would then sing a cappella for many more miles (and years).  Yes, I do have a collection of “road” songs!  There were miles of books on tape/CD and innumerable hours of NPR.  Along untold kilometers, I found myself by being completely lost…in thought.  

Then there are the really quiet miles…no radio, no music, no singing, no sightseeing, no thinking.  Just the rhythm of the highway seams until even that fades into the background to leave the wonderful quiet place of mindless mindfulness…my  “Transcontinental Meditation”.  

In the past, I worried at this deep love of the road that seemed in irreconcilable juxtaposition to my love of “home”.  Despite my enchantment with the road, I sometimes dread leaving home and usually love returning.  Home too long and the little things carry too much weight, away too long and I lose my ground.  It took many years and thousands of miles to learn to embrace this dichotomy of spirit.  My sanctuary is vital…but that space between the leaving and returning is essential, as well. 

We all need “home”.  Home isn’t necessarily a building…it is our refuge, a place to recover, restock and regroup.  For me, home is where the ideas and dreams that fly on the road come to roost and, perhaps, become reality. 

Travel is vital, as well. It is travel that reminds us that the world is big and beautiful and diverse.  It puts us in our place and shows us that we are simultanously insignificant and essential to our world.  Exploring takes us out of the comfort zone and stretches our minds and souls.  Travel teaches that we are vulnerable...and stronger than we ever knew we could be.  Experiencing other places and people enables us to see different ways of living and being in the world.  It is deeply humbling...teaching us toappreciate what we have and to have compassion for those who aren’t as fortunate.  Distance gives perspective.

My gratitude for this place I call “home” is immeasurable.  For now, with 6000 miles of Transcontinental Meditation in my rearview,  I am happy to be here, to be home.  Just outside my door is a road, though…and it could take me anywhere.