By the Numbers:
47 pages into the Travel Journal, 3122 miles, 11 states, 8 plein air paintings, 3 AirBnB’s, 1 hotel, 1 glamping tent, 2 friends, 1 cousin, and one great aunt. 2 concerts, 3 crappy sketches of hotels and coffee shops, 2 new stamps for my National Park Passport, 9 books.
Day 1- Travel Journal Page 145- Drive from Montgomery Village, MD to Savannah, GA.
The drive was less than 600 miles, which in the West means about 9 hrs, but during Spring Break on I-95 amounts to about 11.5 hrs. I saw more cars from New Jersey and New York headed South than from any of the Southern states I passed through. No wonder the South tried to secede from the uppity North. That and the fierce protection of slavery as an institution… Nevermind.
I listened to “Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Examples of the Wild Woman Archetype” by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, which felt insightful and riled me up a bit. There is a romanticization of the life I am currently choosing to lead that brands itself as being “free spirit” and subject to “Wanderlust”. This doesn’t really describe what this lifestyle is like. Yes, it is untethered, but it isn't fully free. Every day isn’t an adventure and barefoot walks at sunset. There is a lot of grit and boredom, asphalt under tires, and bug splatter on the windshield. The “Wild Woman” isn’t your Instagram influencer living van life. She is a woman outside of social norms and suffocated by the expectations assigned to her gender. She also had a traumatic childhood. That wasn’t me. I’m doing this because I can, not because I can’t do anything else.
I got to Savannah just as the sun was setting and stayed at the One Way Hotel, a motel decorated with sculptures made from beach trash. I did yoga to release the tension in my back and watched the Avs beat the Stars before going to bed.
Day 2- Travel Journal Pages 146-153- Savannah, St. Simons, and Jekyll Island, GA.
I packed up quickly and drove into Historic Savannah. I painted Spanish Moss in Ogelthorpe Square and listened to a local tell tourists about his massive white Maine Coon cat, Buddy, who wandered lazily around the square, came when he was called, shook paws, and generally behaved like a dog. On a whim, I messaged a former student of mine who is studying fashion at SCAD, and met her and a friend for coffee near Forsyth Park. I wandered back to the historic district, only to find out I had misplaced my car and searched for it for an additional hour before finally finding it and driving to the coast. I checked into my AirBnB, and left immediately to go out to St. Simons Island to the fishing pier to watch the tankers and absorb the wonderful southern accents. I dipped my feet in the Atlantic and watched my sandal nearly float away before checking Instagram and seeing a suggestion from a friend to go out to Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island. In spite of the relentless no-see-ums, the trip was worth it to see the dead alien-like forest. I made it back to my AirBnB late, made a pot of ramen and then crashed for the night.
Day 3- Travel Journal Pages 154-158- St. Simons Paddle and Drive to Orlando, FL
Seventeen years ago, I did a week-long kayaking trip along the Satilla River and out to Cumberland Island, GA. It remains one of my favorite travel experiences, so I looked up the company, which is based out of St. Simons, and booked a 2 hour paddle. The company, Southeast Adventure Outfitters, no longer does those epic trips, but they offer many group paddles half-day, and I shared the experience with a retired couple from Rochester NY, and a family of eight who shared tandem kayaks with a parent and a child in each. The day was lightly breezy, which kept the bugs at bay, and we saw lots of birds, sharks, and spitting oysters. I’m a strong paddler, so I went ahead with one of the guides, Katie, who chatted happily with me about the challenges of being a woman guide as well as a working artist. I learned that Manatees love fresh water, and that it is illegal to spray them with hoses, even if they love it.
I took 10 minutes to sketch the marsh before hopping into my car and driving to Orlando where I would stay with my Cousin Leah, and her family. The drive was uneventful.
Day 4- Travel Journal Pages 158-163- Winter Park, FL
Leah and I dropped the boys off at school and then she took me on a drive around Winter Park to see all the places where she grew up. We stopped for brunch and talked about our families, wandered around book stores and sampled artisan olive oils. We spent the rest of the morning looking at the exquisite Tiffany Glass collection at the Morse Museum of American Art before heading back to the apartment to work and unwind. I finished the painting from the marsh the day before and continued to reconnect with family I hadn’t seen in years.
Days 5 to 8- Travel Journal Pages 164-167 Ft. Myers, FL
I spent these days staying with my Great Aunt Mary, whom I had spent all of last October with after Hurricane Ian. In the spreadsheet of this trip that outlines the logistics of where I will be, and my expenses and income, I have a few stops that are meant as times to take a breath. Ft. Myers and time with Mary was one of those. We visited and talked about current events and the merits of digital art vs. traditional mediums. I worked at the public library on a design for a mural that would go in a grocery store in Kansas, I did laundry, and I went to the beach. There are plenty of things to do along the gulf coast, but I needed the moment to pause and reflect. Mary shared photos and letters to my Great Great Aunt Dit that had been hidden in a secret drawer in the Brower Desk, a handbuilt cherry behemoth that is passed through the family to anyone with the Brower name, and while the secrets I learned in the letters to Diddy are not mine to share, I feel honored to know them.
When I painted on the beach overlooking the turquoise gulf, I took time to record the scene directly behind me as well. Ft. Myers is still devastated from Hurricane Ian, so the apartments behind me were gutted and crumbling. Construction buzzed as the buildings were being rebuilt, but the view looking West over the Gulf of Mexico offered no indication of the mess along the coast. I wonder what else I have forgotten about when I failed to record what was behind me
Day 9- Travel Journal Pages 168-171- Mobile, AL
The drive from Ft. Myers to Mobile, AL was uneventful except for a few miles of white knuckling through heavy rain as I drove north up I-75. The farther north I went, the more the interstate became rolling hills, and I got lost in undulating meditation as I listened to “Fiona and Jane” by Jean Chen Ho. I rolled into Mobile at around 5 pm and parked downtown to stretch my legs before heading to my next AirBnB. It was Easter Sunday, so everything was pretty quiet and deserted, just how I like my cities, and I was charmed by many of the old 2-story buildings draped in flowers and ornate iron work, punctuated by empty lots and store fronts. My cousin Ian loves Mobile, and referred to it as a dumpster full of gems. I think this is a useful description for a lot of American cities, and I wondered how the city changes when the cruise ships are in town, or when it wasn’t a significant Christian holiday. I’d like to go back sometime and see a concert and enjoy more time there. As it was, I enjoyed some decent beignets, and a quiet walk around the Spanish Plaza before turning in for the night at the Springhill Historic House and AirBnB.
Day 10- Travel Journal Pages 172-176- Mississippi Gulf Coast and Drive to New Orleans, LA
I pulled off the highway and stopped at Gulf Shores National Seashore. Before now, I had been to all 50 states, but I felt like Mississippi had been short changed since we only stopped for gas there when I drove the coast after high school, and I wanted to give it most of the day. The weather was gorgeous, so I painted the bayou from the fishing pier and listened to three fishermen talk shit and pull 30 pounders from the bay. One of the fishermen, a retired cop from Chicago, was really happy to talk to me while I worked, but he and his fellows tried to spook me when I told them I was headed to New Orleans later that day. They told me to pack a knife and a fake purse, and I took their warning with the grain of salt it deserved. Traveling alone is to be in a constant low level state of fight or flight, and I’m always baffled by the people (usually men) who seem to think I am unaware of the threats that go along with being a woman in this world. Granted, I am a white woman in a country that has been designed to protect me, but the dangers are real and I would be wise to recognize them. All this being said, if I allowed this to dictate every one of my actions, I’d never do anything, so I accept the concern of others with love because it is given with love.
After painting, I moved on to Biloxi, where I ate shrimp and crawfish and sipped sweet tea before wandering around town and walking the beach where there were Wade-Ins during the Civil Rights era in protest of segregated beaches. I drove along the coast through the rest of Mississippi and noticed a Waffle House every 2 miles. The words of the fishermen weighed on me, so when I rolled into New Orleans around sunset to find my AirBnB in a neighborhood that was convenient to the French Quarter, but full of potholes the size of a Yugo, and historic houses in a wide range or repair, I allowed my unease to overwhelm me. Sometimes, I lean into being naive and ignorant, especially when I travel, and while the place I was staying was safe, bohemian, and charming, I worried that today was the day the bill for my nonchalance would come due and that I would find my car broken into. I spent the night and most of the next day sitting quietly in my room, listening to the occasional arguments from the neighbors and questioning myself. I resolved to not do anything at night and to take a Lyft the mile to Jackson Square, instead of walking.
Days 11 and 12- Travel Journal Pages 177-183- New Orleans, LA, French Quarter and Garden District
I got over my fear and had two lovely days in New Orleans. I did take a Lyft into town that afternoon and enjoyed walking the streets of the Quarter and eventually trying and failing to paint a jazz band in front of St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square. Most of the square was closed in preparation for French Quarter Fest that weekend, but I sat on a park bench and listened happily to the assorted brass instruments, saxophones, and drums as they played classic New Orleans jazz. It was times like these
that I am reminded of why I seek the anonymity of music and the crowds that accompany it. The camaraderie of shared experience eased my nerves and I walked back to my AirBnB through Louis Armstrong Park, keeping my head on a swivel, but feeling much more relaxed. I ventured out again that night to see Hovvdy at the Toulouse Theater and enjoyed a serenade by Robert, my Lyft driver, all the way home.
The next morning, I walked again to find the streetcar that would take me to the Garden District where I spent the day wandering and painting the old trees and exquisite houses and gardens. People barely batted an eye at me as I sat on the bumpy brick sidewalks and worked in my sketchbook, though plenty of tourists stopped to talk to me. I have one of those faces that invites conversations from strangers, and while many people were curious about me, most preferred to share their own stories, and I was happy to listen while I worked.
Traveling/living like this is a bit strange because I don’t have unlimited funds to do whatever I like and I can’t listen to everyone who sends me a recommendation for what to do and where to eat. I’ve said it before, but this isn’t vacation, and I have to find a balance between what is a can’t miss experience and what is sustainable. The work of walking around, recording what I see, and sharing it is my job, but I can’t just move from place to place and skirt the edges of what makes a city special. This is where I wish I had a local guide to help sift through what is sensational and what is essential to a place. If left to my own devices, I don’t always opt for the unique experience and I fall into patterns of comfort. But that is another post for another time
Days 13 to 15- Travel Journal Pages 184-186- Dallas, TX
The next few days were spent with my friend from college, Natalie, and her husband, Mike. Unlike in NOLA, my friend was an excellent guide who helped curate my experience and cut down on a lot of the stress of deciding what to do with myself, and I was grateful to have the time with a person whose company feels natural no matter how much time has passed. Natalie lives on the 26th floor of an Art Deco building in the Central Business District and I found myself enjoying all of the details of the old skyscrapers and neon lights of the city. I would have never picked downtown on my own, since I gravitate to historic neighborhoods and rural places, so the experience was novel and gave me an appreciation for Dallas that was separate from its notorious traffic.
Over the two days I was there, we visited the Dallas Museum of Art, ate excellent pizza at Partenope, breakfast tacos from the corner store, and wandered around the Bishop Arts District. I had Texas BBQ and saw Pedro the Lion perform in Deep Ellum. I visited with old friends. I didn’t write or draw anything. Again, visiting and experiencing the world is often at odds with recording it, but I will continue to endeavor to find the balance.
Days 16 to 18- Travel Journal Pages 187-192- Amarillo, TX, to Las Vegas, NM
After packing my car for an uneventful and windy drive to dusty Amarillo, Texas, in the Panhandle, I arrived at Mariposa Eco Village, just outside the city. I would stay in a canvas Tentrr “glamping” tent on rocky rangeland that I shared with some cows and a pack of coyotes. I had a queen bed and plenty of blankets, but once the sun went down, there wasn’t much to do except watch the stars and listen to an audiobook. The Eco Village was a nice surprise: remote, artsy, and quiet. I saw one truck, but apart from a few text messages from my host, I had the place to myself. I painted and posted a few pictures to social media and a friend suggested I check out Cadillac Ranch while I was in the area.
Amarillo was meant to just be an overnight stop between Dallas and Las Vegas, New Mexico, so I had no plans to explore it. But when my friend in New Mexico told me she had an errand in Albuquerque that would keep her late, I needed to figure out how to mosey before the 3 hr drive. The wind had buffeted the tent relentlessly throughout the night, so I was up with the sunrise. I had a jalapeño bagel with the retirees at Roasters coffee, journaled, and thought about a friend from high school who died nearly 10 years ago. He was one of my first writing crushes. I had one in every writing course I’d had in college–something about talent and watching someone as they read out loud… it was pathological–I’d written him a postcard when he was in the hospital, not long before he died. Feeling morose, I found a nail salon that was open that early and got a manicure and ruminated on the act of killing time. This happens sometimes when I travel. If left to my own thoughts for too long, I start to get agitated. Everything feels heavy, deep and important. Journaling helps.
Hands slick with lotion and still fragile shellac, I programmed Cadillac Ranch into Google Maps and drove 2 miles up the highway to the bizarre roadside attraction. Since 1974, people have been invited to park on the frontage road by I-40 and walk 500 yards out into a dusty field to spray paint the 10 vintage Cadillacs that have been partially buried by their hoods in the dirt. The experience is free, but you can buy stickers and a can of paint from a truck near the entrance and the nearly 50 years of built up paint has resulted in colorful and spongy masses that are reminiscent of cave formations. There’s a similar sight in Alliance, NE, called CarHenge, where vintage autos have been stacked in a parody of Stonehenge and I have to hand it to the hippies for creating something weird and wonderful that breaks up the monotony of the barren landscapes. I was charmed, so I went back to my car, grabbed my paints and Crazy Creek and sat there for 2 hours while people painted their names, favorite sports teams, and important dates on the cars. Plenty of people came to chat and share stories about their journeys while I worked. One woman was there to commemorate the 5 year anniversary of her son’s death, and again I thought of my friend. Sunburned, but pleased with my morning, I packed up and drove West.