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In Summary: 35/6/9 May 16, 2016

Posted by indigobunting in Uncategorized.

By my count, I’ve been to thirty-five states plus the District of Columbia. I’ve technically been in six others but have decided not to count them. There are nine states that I believe I have never set foot in.

Attached is a handy graphic that will make it clear why my first-grade teacher yelled at me over my lack of coloring skills. The colors of the map scanned way brighter than the real thing. States colored in wild strawberry are ones I have been to. States colored in robin’s egg blue are states I have not been to. States colored in macaroni and cheese are ones that my body has technically been in but it seems unfair to count them given lack of true experiences. I think having a job naming crayon colors would be fun.

Thirty-five/forty-one isn’t bad. But it’s such a big country. Imagine the diversity in every state, how much you didn’t see for all your seeing. How could anyone ever think s/he’s seen it all here?

Unsurprising, the hypergraphic/superwoman Vesper Sparrow began her own writing-about-the-states project 29 days after I did, finished 34 days before I did, and did it over 24 days. It took me 95 days, during which I barely traveled at all.


Washington, D.C. May 16, 2016

Posted by indigobunting in Uncategorized.
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Taxation without representation
—standard issue DC license plate

Bitch set me up.
—Marion Barry

For me, there are two Marylands: growing-up Maryland and adult-now (D.C.) Maryland, which I will discuss later, under a false heading.
—Indigo Bunting

I moved to D.C. in the spring of 1986. I had been working for a guy named Paul, and his wife Rosemary knew this guy Curtis who knew this woman Rosalind who had just bought a house and was looking for roommates. I moved in with her. Tim was doing an internship, and when that was over, he moved in with us, and Rosalind’s friend Carol hired Tim at the job he worked the entire time we lived in D.C.

We lived in that house, in D.C. proper, for about a year, with Rosalind a few others. Our wedding was in the fall. We stayed in the group house til the next spring, when it was time to get some space.

Sadly, that meant moving out of the district for something affordable.

We always manage to find ghettos. Pleasant ghettos, overall, ghettos that are on the edge of the nice but are not the nice. We moved to Takoma Park, Maryland, which is nice, but we lived next to project apartments and there were lots of drugs about and some domestic violence and there was a lovely neighborhood three blocks away of actual houses, but we could not afford an actual house.

Growing up, D.C. was twice as far away as Baltimore, and yet somehow I spent almost no time in Baltimore and a lot of time in D.C. Maybe it was the museums. Maybe it was my sister’s ballet years. It just felt like my city, and after college, it seemed like the natural place to go.

Despite its reputation, D.C. is a great town. It’s not New York, of course. It’s not like anywhere, really. Maybe ultimately it is all about politics, but it doesn’t feel that way to me. I worked mostly in medical associations, nonprofits that were technically not allowed to lobby (but could certainly educate). As with any city, there are many worlds.

It was a struggle. But being in your twenties and thirties and living solely on earned income is a struggle anywhere.

I made some great, great friends, most of whom have also left the area. D.C. is a transient town.

For years I worked close enough to the tidal basin that during the fleeting cherry blossom season, I could leave the office, walk entirely around the basin, and get back to my desk having only stolen 10 extra minutes for lunch. It was magical.

I could eat Thai food and Indian food and Afghani food and Ethiopian food and Italian food and Cuban/Italian food (well, that one restaurant) and Jamaican food and soul food and Mexican food and when the doctors were in town I could eat at the fanciest restaurants on the company’s dime.

I could contradance two nights a week at the Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo.

I could bike on great trails through parks. I could go birding on the C&O Canal and on up to Great Falls.

I could take subways and walk everywhere.

But it’s hard to not have money in a city or its immediate suburbs. Each year, heading back from our week at Northbrook, we’d get more and more tense as we approached home. And more and more depressed. We wanted out. We wanted to move north. We eventually made it.

Been there?: Yes

Wyoming May 16, 2016

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Wyoming is a great big square and I’ve been to two of its diagonally opposite corners.

First, the southeast corner from my early-’80s trip to Colorado, that corner that gave birth to my Kansas/Nebraska confusion re: the route. I know I saw it.

Later, the northwest corner, on our trip to Montana when we dipped down into Yellowstone National Park for a day to fish and see wolves and elk and marmots and falls and geysers and crazy geothermal springs. More than once I’ve been faced with having only one day of a vacation to see a vast national park that needs a minimum two or three days to simply scratch its surface. But when faced with seeing not enough of it or not seeing it all, I choose the former. I have to. Who knows if I’ll ever get back? I want to, but will I?

I want to see those Grand Tetons, too.

Been there?: Yes

Wisconsin May 13, 2016

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When I lived in Illinois, Wisconsin wasn’t far away. In spring and summer friends and I made trips north to Lake Geneva, and once I even got as far as Baraboo and the Wisconsin Dells, mostly just driving through. Wisconsin was hillier than Illinois and reminded me of the farmland around my Maryland hometown, back when there was still (a lot of) farmland around my Maryland hometown. Wisconsin, I thought, was lovely.

Then—not quite yet a true birder—I didn’t know that the International Crane Foundation is in Baraboo. Now it would be the first place I’d go.

Been there?: Yes

West Virginia May 12, 2016

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I think Tim ordered my first pair of cross-country skis, Åsnes, from a lodge in the Canaan Valley that we always said we’d visit and never did.

My other Civil War love (besides Gettysburg) was Harpers Ferry National Park. Here the Shenandoah and the Potomac Rivers meet. Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia come to a point, and there is park land in each state. The town itself is in West Virginia. The Appalachian Trail goes right through it.

In high school years, Sue and Ned and Jamie and I would go there and hike up Maryland Heights and walk through train tunnels. Once, certain we heard a train coming, we jumped into the sooty alcoves and waited (for nothing). A couple of times we hiked and camped along the AT there. Sue and I had a trip planned one summer, but then there was a murder on the trail, not far from where we’d be, and we decided that two nineteen-year-old women alone wasn’t the best plan at that moment.

Tim and I spent a lot of time in Harpers Ferry, too. Tim met a potter in town, Jeffrey. In exchange for time on the wheel and couple of beautiful raku vases, Tim painted cows on Jeffrey’s pottery (the stuff that sold enough to make the artsy stuff possible). Tim got up to a decent cow-per-hour rate. We still have a couple of those pieces.

We loved to hike Maryland Heights, then walk around the town. Tim took annual guided fishing trips with his dad on those rivers.

A couple of times we met Kim and Rich at a great bed and breakfast above town. Once we went with a bunch of friends from DC, and I got dehydrated again (before I figured out what was going on with me) and ended up in another emergency room.

The only other place I remember being in West Virginia is Berkeley Springs, “America’s First Spa.” We went with April and Jan and took the mineral baths. It was very institutional, and private, like mini swimming pools. After our “treatments,” we discussed how the baths would make a great place for secret lovers to meet, an inexpensive alternative to a hotel room, but then we realized in a town that small, everyone would know.

Been there?: Yes

Washington May 12, 2016

Posted by indigobunting in Uncategorized.

When we made the decision to move to Vermont in 1994, there were wistful parts of us sighing, “Well, I guess we’re not moving to Seattle.”

We’d visited Seattle earlier in the year. Our friends were living in a small houseboat on Lake Union. We got the bed and they set up a tent on their dock. We kayaked. We went to the fish market.

We went other places, too. We hiked in Mt. Rainier National Park and made a tiny snowman in July. We had coffee and cherry pie at the Twin Peaks diner in North Bend and saw Snoqualmie Falls. We went to Roslyn and took pictures in front of the Roslyn’s Café (Northern Exposure) wall. We hired a fishing guide and floated the Yakima River, after which—exhausted and dehydrated from travel, wind, and sun—we found a restaurant next to Dr. Joel Fleischman’s office with staff kind enough to let me order off the menu: brown rice, steamed vegetables. We went to Olympic National Park and camped in the Hoh rainforest. I got poison oak in my eye and it swelled shut and I had to go to the emergency room in Port Townsend and get steroids, which worked so quickly I couldn’t believe it. (When I got home, my boss suggested I write a guidebook: Emergency Rooms ’Round the World.)

I remember Clark’s nutcrackers and gray jays.

It never rained. Not once.

Been there?: Yes

Virginia May 5, 2016

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Virginia is that other D.C. suburb, the one I didn’t live in. It’s where I took a semester of graduate-level courses to reassure myself I had a brain.

In my youth, it was the site of annual church retreats and all-nighters.

Virginia is the Blue Ridge Parkway.

But mostly, for me, Virginia is Chincoteague and Assateague. It’s camping there with Tim and Chuck and Marty and asking Chuck, when we arrived after dark, what a barn owl sounded like, and him saying “Like that,” as one screamed overhead on cue (Chuck’s high-powered torch catching a visual). It’s that weekend with gal-pal yh, foraging for food and drink at Kentucky Derby post time. It’s weekends birding and biking with Tim and my first look at roosting baby black-crowned night-herons. It’s me tearing up the last time we left there together, before Vermont, knowing we may not get back, at least not anytime soon.

And it’s that crazy blizzard at the beach, which is a great story all on its own.

Been there?: Yes

Vermont May 4, 2016

Posted by indigobunting in Uncategorized.

When I was fifteen, my sister went to a ballet camp in an upscale Vermont town. I remember our family driving her there and thinking, “It’s beautiful here. People live here.”

Eighteen years later, I moved to a town fifteen minutes-ish from that very spot.*

Nearly twenty-one years after that, I’m still here, in this town, Parts West. I have lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere in my life. This fact does not make me a true Vermonter.

Technically, I had a home base in Maryland for approximately the same amount of time, from 1965 to 1986, minus the high school year in Pennsylvania, the year in Illinois, four years of college, and most of two college summers working away from home. But there are no big blocks of time to subtract from my time here. It’s solid.

All our Northbrook summer trips convinced us that we wanted to move north, but the Adirondacks were too remote for, say, jobs. Vermont friends we’d met at Northbrook would mail us the classifieds every week, and we applied around, with a couple of interviews but nothing panning out. Then a new job in D.C. fell in my lap, I took it, and we decided to suspend the search for at least a year—which is when Tim’s Vermont job materialized, of course. So for eight or nine months, we lived apart.

Most of this blog is, by virtue of it being written here, already about Vermont. It makes this post feel random. I will continue randomly (if for no other reason to push through this project).

Times I’ve been proudest to live here: Vermont was the first state to introduce civil unions (2000). It was the first state to introduce same-sex marriage without being required to do so by the courts (2009). Republican Senator Jim Jeffords, seeing what was happening in his party, turned Independent (2001). When he retired (and no doubt he’d have been reelected), Vermont replaced him with Independent Representative Bernie Sanders.

Vermont is full of rich people living here full- or part-time. It is awash in second homes. It’s full of poor people too. It’s way more politically split than its reputation. That said, it seems that Vermonters from opposing parties are generally nicer to each other than what one sees nationally.

I look around at some of the people who have found their way here, like me—some amazing people. Good friends. And I can’t believe how lucky I am.

Been there?: Yes


 *My town is the opposite of upscale. I would wager that there are many people in the nearby upscale town who have never driven through mine.