MAPLE LEAF RAG Part 1: Learning to Fly

Dahna and I have traveled quite a lot since ’72 when we headed out west with a battered Whole Earth Catalog to look for land. We bought 80 acres, one half of the homestead of an elderly Dust Bowl couple who still top the list of the sweetest people we ever met. The place sat on a remote mesa in the high desert of southeastern Utah. At 7200 feet of elevation and no electricity or water, or the prospect of either, it was a tough place for two city kids to start out with each other.

We both think the harshness of that place forced us to work as a team and that it was teamwork which led eventually to the kind of love that can sustain a long marriage between two wildly different oddballs like us. This lovey-doveyness might come as a surprise to some of the campers who witnessed us trying to back the trailer into a tight spot on the blind side. Nevertheless.

When we started out back then, we loaded our two dogs into my ’69 Ford E300 cargo van and headed west. It was a brawny one ton beast, but it only had a little six cylinder engine with three speeds on the column, no power anything, radio or A/C. Basically it was Ford’s version of Lenny in Steinbeck’s Of Mice And Men. It was a good old truck and we tricked it out with plywood cabinets over the wheel wells and a big storage box in back that held our Coleman stove and lantern, plus a tent, bed rolls, dog food and other accoutrements of hippie wandering.

Occasionally we’d hitchhike cross country, generally through the Rockies or the desert of the southwest. In ’76, we very nearly lost our lives near Yellowstone when the Teton Dam collapsed and the Snake River crashed through its narrow valley killing a number of people. We were not among them but only by the slimmest of chances. It was exciting in the way Death staring you in the face often is, but I won’t bore you with the details. I’ll just say that sometimes it’s wonderful when you can not catch a ride down by the river to save your life. Life is the operating word.

About 40 years ago my dad offered to buy us a new boat if we’d supply him with a new life, a grandchild. We threw ourselves into the task but, alas, were unable to fork over the goods to cover our side of the bargain. As a result, we went boatless for another 20 years. After that long dry spell, so to speak, it seemed to make sense to buy a French 41’ blue water, ketch-rigged sailboat. It would make sense to any garden variety lunatic because we knew squat about sailing, or even boating in general. We knew traveling but not on water.

S/V Alchemy Anchored at Lydia Ann Channel, Port Aransas, TxDSC00391

So, we taught ourselves to sail the thing in Galveston Bay and later enjoyed a few years of distance sailing in the Gulf of Mexico. If you’d like to road test your marriage (to mix metaphors a little) take your spouse, your soul mate, out on the ocean in a little boat. “Wait,” I hear you say, “A 41’ boat is a pretty big boat.” No it ain’t, and we’ll see how just big your love for each other really is when you return to port, if you do.

Well, all that was awhile back. Now we travel in an RV and not just any RV. This is our third trailer in four years and that scares me more than just a little. For a long time I thought advancing age would compensate for my declining physical strength with an increase in wisdom, or at least a little better sense of knowing my own mind. Sadly, that’s not the case. I am happy to say that Dahna, who shares equally in the decision-making around here, also happily approved of each purchase and was no help at all.

Our First Camper at Silver Falls State Park, Oregon

IMG_4627

The above profligacy led to Branyan’s First Law of RV Motion: When the number of campers you buy is directly proportional to the number of years you own them, then you, sir, are a moron.

I’m writing this sitting in the booth of an Arctic Fox 25W travel trailer hard on the shore of Lake Erie, a little northeast of Cleveland. We bought this particular brand because it is a quality “true four seasons” camper and it lets you travel up north where freezing will burst the pipes of lesser units. Its plumbing and various tanks are completely enclosed in the insulated and heated space which greatly expands your range as the seasons change. May lightning strike me dead if I ever buy another.

Like most people, we adapted it with a few custom projects to suit, and it’s helped make the camper quite cozy. A long trip like this one takes a lot of preparation but that’s not all. We also needed a true and trusted friend to housesit for about three months while we’re gone. This person has to coordinate with hay cutters/balers, pecan harvesters, my neighbor and close friend Ray (not easy) and various others, all the while registering voters for the midterms (for God’s sake vote this time!), fighting our crappy internet provider and wrangling my broken down lawn mower. Imagine doing all this for three months in the cultural desert that is Comanche, Tx. where I happily live–Dahna not as much. You’ll agree that that requires a special person, a special friend. That person is Patty.

I’ve known Patty for fifty years almost and Dahna’s known her most of her life. She grew up in tough Pasadena, Tx. as one of three beautiful, strapping Irish sisters along with a cute little brother. She’s spent her entire adult life fighting as a Democratic activist in support of worthy officials, like Representative Lloyd Doggett, who actually try to help working people and the poor. From our house she’s boosting Beto O’Rourke’s senate campaign. Years ago she helped manage the campaign of Beto’s father in El Paso, and she ran a little while with Hunter S. Thompson during the Mc Govern campaign of ’72. Maybe she’ll tell you about it. Maybe not.

Patty is also a brave traveler, par excellence. In the last year, she’s pulled the tiniest teardrop camper through almost every state in the nation plus side tripping to Canada. She’s got a lot of stories to tell and we’re lobbying her to go back out there and get some more. The plan is to help her find the perfect upgrade camper and tow vehicle to go with it when we get back home. She’s done a lot of great things and traveling is just one of them.

Patty with Lemon Drop at Big Bend National Park

PATTY.jpg

She’ll tell you the best thing she ever did, by far, was raising her remarkable son, Hunter. This kid spent three years in the Peace Corps down deep in Paraguay after graduating with a BA in Philosophy. You might think getting a degree in Philosophy is pretty dumb in this day and age, and you would be right if you’re thinking of the average Joe or Jill. But, it’s great training for someone with the horsepower to understand it and that describes Hunter. It took awhile, but he finally met his match in Meagan. Like Patty before them (and still), they’re dedicating their lives to fighting the good fight. We’d better hope they win. They travel like crazy too and recently hung out in Guatemala working with farmers, Meagan’s specialty. No expensive RV necessary.

Okay, we had our expensive RV all hooked up in the driveway. Sacha was in her backseat with her pretty blue eye, and I was about to strip a mental gear. What did I forget? What else? I saw Patty standing by the truck so I walked up to her and said, “I’m going to give you a hug in a minute so you stay put.” Then I started walking around in tighter and tighter circles until Dahna finally said, “Get in the damn truck and let’s GO!” Hugs and kisses and, at last, the three of us were off to Nova Scotia. Flying.

Whooping Cranes at Goose Island State Park, Texas

WHOOPERS

Published by

Pat Branyan

To be added.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s