Adventures, Covid and Staying Safe

I should be packing my bags right now. I was supposed to fly to Denver Thursday and meet a friend before taking a solo road trip home.

Covid cancelled that.

So I decided to take a shorter road trip to some place I’ve been wanting to go. Charlottesville, Virginia has rich history. Ashtabula, Ohio has covered bridges and a drive along the lake to find lighthouses sounded fun. I thought about Harper’s Ferry or Gettysburg.

But none of these options excited me when I considered how many sites are closed and that I would need to wear a mask on outdoor guided tours of historic sites in the July heat.

My indecisiveness and the logistics were starting to stress me out. Long story short- Covid has cancelled this too.

Instead, I’ll hold onto my vacation for another time and will settle for a long weekend for now.

Friends have been asking about my approach to safe adventuring in the time of Covid. I’m not thrilled to spend a lot of money traveling far to stay in hotels and mask up at Monticello. However, I do enjoy day trips and local adventures to get me out of the house and keep me somewhat engaged with the outside world.

Here’s a rundown of what I do:

Local state parks have been a true blessing. Before allergies ran me out of the woods for a few weeks, I was hiking regularly. Fresh air and a good stretch of the legs felt amazing after being cooped up all winter.

Photography has provided a great excuse to go for a drive. Sometimes I visit local places that are familiar but my favorite thing is to travel a new road. I like photographing old barns, churches, streetscapes and anything else that draws my eye. It’s fun to travel with a map and camera on the seat next to you and good tunes blaring from the radio.

Social distancing is easy when it’s just you puttering around on a quiet hiking trail or in the car.

I have also ventured to a handful of small businesses. For example, I took my first horseback ride at Uncle Bucks Riding Stable this spring. The average horse is six feet long so it’s perfect for social distancing. I’ve been in a few local antique malls as well. With the economy sputtering and small businesses struggling, it is important to me that I support small businesses when possible.

I don’t go anywhere that’s crowded and work to protect my personal space wherever I am. Of course, I’ve always done that and am kind of enjoying the new six foot rule.

There are some logistical issues if you’re going to be gone for a while. You can either adventure for as long as your bladder will allow and go home – or you have to find a restroom. There isn’t an abundance of restroom options in small towns or on back roads. Fast food restaurants have been closed and there aren’t many rest areas off the highways.

My approach has been to find either a Walmart because the restrooms are close to the door or, if I’m in a town with options, nicer stores like TJ Maxx usually have clean restrooms.

I mask up, carry hand sanitizer in my pocket and dash in and out somewhat quickly.

Another practical matter is food. Depending on my mood and devotion to eating healthy, I either pack a lunch or opt for something quick. Vegetarian and vegan options are limited but Taco Bell will make its entire menu vegetarian just for you, BK offers the Impossible Whopper, and if you feel like venturing into a store, some grocery stores like Meijer have fabulous salads and fruit options. Most local dairy bars have walk up windows where you can order a tasty shake and grilled cheese. A lot of mom and pop restaurants will take phone orders and some will offer curbside pick up.

There’s often a city park around for a picnic. If nothing else, I find a corner of a parking lot and people watch while enjoying lunch.

Gas pumps always seem filthy (especially now) so I either touch them with a paper towel or sanitize when I’m done.

I have a short list of things that I always take with me and have added a few items since Covid found us.

– Maps – I always take my atlas and any county maps that might prove useful. You never know when you’ll be in a place without cell service and will need help navigating.

– Extra shoes and socks – Uncomfortable feet are irritating and I’ve found myself with wet feet after a ramble through a dew covered churchyard more times than you would believe.

– Pen and paper- I jot down things along the way including topics to research, unusual road names and places to check out another time. Any belief that I’ll remember this stuff on my own is a pipe dream.

– Practical stuff – I always take my camera with an extra battery, phone charger, cash and cards, paper towels, a garbage bag, a couple of plastic grocery bags, an apple, and an insulated water bottle. You never know when you’ll have muddy shoes to clean or stash and those plastic bags come in handy. I’m really bad about finding plants and dirty old antiques that I don’t want touching my nice upholstery but a garbage bag covers the seat nicely.

Since Covid. I’ve added to the list a gallon jug of water, some masks and plenty of hand sanitizer.

So there you go – my guide to staying safe while adventuring during a pandemic is pretty simple. Keep your distance, stay clean, be smart but don’t be afraid. Living in fear isn’t healthy. We all need fresh air and an occasional change of scenery, even if it is just a drive around the neighborhood to get an ice cream cone.

What adventures have you enjoyed recently?

Concord Church And The Underground Railroad

Sometimes the draw to see a place is just too strong to fight. That was the case yesterday as I had been fighting a gnawing desire all week to visit a specific site.

It’s a church and it was an important station on the Underground Railroad in my region. Yesterday wasn’t an ideal adventure day as it was overcast with threats of rain. However, I went anyway and came home with plans to return for better pictures some blue sky day.

The destination was Concord Presbyterian Church near Frankfort. Technically, it’s a few miles from Frankfort at a little place called Lattaville. The congregation dates back to 1805 and started in a log structure. In 1822, they built this brick building.

Honestly, it is a beautiful church just to look at but the knowledge of what went on here is what makes it truly special in my mind.

Reverend James H. Dickey was an active abolitionist in Ohio. He and two other families from his congregation were Underground Railroad conductors.

They hid fugitives in the church loft.

From here, escaped slaves were either taken into Frankfort or Chillicothe for the next leg of their journey.

Today the church sits at the intersection of two country roads. The church presides over passersby from atop a hill. The carefully tended cemetery is filled with older graves, trees and old fashioned flowers. The birdsong is lovely and I saw a deer in the field behind the churchyard. It’s peaceful. And yet, I had the overwhelming feeling that I wasn’t alone.

You may think I’m crazy but I think that places have life within them long after people leave the building. You’ve heard the phrase “if walls could talk.” They may not be able to speak but I think very old walls hold memories and emotions.

This place exuded feeling for me – both good and bad. I lingered, in no hurry to leave, as I tried to picture all this church has likely seen. Imagine over almost 200 years how many weddings and funerals, christenings, tragedies and celebrations this church has known. How many families have come and gone?

How many escaped slaves found refuge here? And where did they go after they left? What happened to them? Did they make it to freedom?

When I talk history, my mind always shifts to sepia or black and white:

In school, lessons about slavery, the War and the Underground Railroad erred on the side of vague and detached. It didn’t sound so bad the way most of us were taught this chapter in our history. It wasn’t until college where I minored in history that my education on the subject took a deep dive into the realities and horrors of these matters.

In recent years, I have grown to appreciate how different my experiences in this country have been as compared to those who live other places or who look different than me. With that in mind I make an effort to step inside the minds of people different than me and to better understand their experiences.

As hard as I try, there are some events in history and some peoples’ stories that I will never be able to comprehend. But I still try.

I cannot imagine the horror of being considered chattel, valued by an owner as one would value a cow or a horse. I cannot imagine being forced to live and work in conditions designed by someone else or the fear of having my own children ripped from my arms and sold.

I cannot imagine escaping, sprinting for freedom, and the constant fear of all that could go wrong or the terror of going back.

I cannot imagine the physical and emotional exhaustion that comes with such a long journey in an age before automobiles or air travel. I cannot imagine relying on strangers for help.

I cannot imagine the grief of leaving behind family and friends and the only life that you’ve ever known.

I cannot imagine the uncertainty of what the future will hold and how you will make a living if your escape is successful.

I cannot imagine allowing myself the hope that someday freedom will be mine.

Capturing fugitive slaves was a lucrative business. Attempting escape, attempting to help fugitives – this was all incredibly dangerous. What risks did this minister and his flock take to help others?

Why would anyone think that holding slaves is the right thing to do?

We act as though slavery was a long time ago but it really wasn’t.

As you can tell, this visit to Concord Church was more than just a trip to see a neat old church and the timing is no coincidence. With all that’s happening in our country, today, the reckoning that is taking place has me trying to learn as much as possible and to at least attempt to understand someone else’s view of the world.

The history buff in me says the best means for understanding today is to understand how we arrived at this place.

Wherever you are in this world, I’m guessing there are historic sites that are accessible to the public. When it’s safe, I hope that you will choose one to visit. Ask yourself what really went on at this place. Who was here? What was their life like? Don’t just look at an old place. Try to step into another time, into someone’s mind and absorb what this place really stands for and can teach you.

It’s a kind of personal growth that is tough to explain but so rewarding to experience.

The Eye Of The Beholder

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, a statement I believe to be true.

Take, for example, this image from Hillsboro. The chipping paint, the doors and all those windows, the sliver of blue sky, and that vibrant flag held up by the breeze make for a beautiful sight by my estimation.

This place isn’t shiny and pretty by traditional standards but it has a story to tell. Perfection is overrated, friends. It’s the chips and the oddities that make life interesting. I’ll take patina and character any day.

Flat Land, Tall Sky Perspective

I come from hill country. Here we have hills and hollers and far more trees than people. There’s not much flat land and the farms are pretty small.

That may be why I’m so fascinated with flat places. The western part of Ohio is very flat and fertile. Here you find large farms and expansive lawns. Everywhere you look it seems people have landing strips for their small aircraft.

One thing that always amazes me about flat places is how big the sky seems.

I live high on a ridge but tall trees block the view so the sky I see doesn’t appear that expansive. In places like Highland County, Ohio and in the western states, the sky goes on forever.

The other great thing about this kind of farmland is the abundance of barns and silos. I saw many on Saturday’s journey and stopped to admire more than a few.

The barn pictured above was among my favorites because of its simplicity. It’s nothing fancy but has been around a long time and looks sturdy. It gets the job done and proves that utility can be beautiful. As big as this barn is, it seems dwarfed by the sky as well.

I offer all of this as a reminder that we all live under the same sky but it doesn’t look the same for everyone. Mull that over as you go about your business today. It can be an eye opening exercise to think about the world from someone else’s perspective.

What I Learned From The Pandemic

It’s June. Our world here in Ohio (and the rest of the country) has been screwy since March. Some of us have picked up new hobbies, found new passions and maybe even have begun to self reflect. Here’s what I have learned from the pandemic:

1. I do well on my own. Years of experience as an only child have served me well because I’ve had no trouble living alone and not seeing others. Who knew this life skill would come in so handy?

2. Dressing nicely is something I miss. Jury duty recently offered me a court ordered excuse to put on a dress and leave the house. Fellow jurors complained but I was excited to wear something other than shorts and a t-shirt.

3. The ability to move about freely is something we take for granted. Lots of cancelled plans and other inconveniences are disappointing but the real frustration is being unable to just move about freely. I used to hit the road on Saturday mornings for fun, roaming freely in a variety of directions. During the shut down there was nowhere to go and nothing to do. I’ll never take for granted my Saturday meanderings again.

4. I am fortunate and privileged. With no kids to educate or spouse in the way, I’m free to manage my time as is best for me. I’m employed and staying busy with plenty of interests to keep me occupied. My life is good compared to many others.

5. Constant dependence on the store can be minimized. Back in March, when it was clear that things were about to turn serious, I stocked up on all sorts of things – cat food and litter, toiletries, pantry items, frozen foods, trash bags, and anything else I could think of that would keep. By doing this and by managing fresh produce wisely, it became possible to hit the store every couple of weeks. While there, I would replenish supplies used from the pantry and pick up produce, thus keeping myself in a constant state of stocked up. It has saved me a lot of money not running to the store whenever I need a few things.

6. On a lighter note, I learned that the pickles pictured above are positively addictive. I don’t know what they put in these things but they’re amazing!

What have you learned from the pandemic? I would love to hear your stories!

Real People, Real Stories

Rosie the Riveter courtesy of theAtlantic.com.

A trip to the doctor for a sinus infection this week left me sitting in a waiting room filled with strangers. Nearly all of them were like me or like people I know – white, middle aged or elderly. The one person in the room who was different was an elderly Amish woman.

If I had been asked to start a conversation with someone in that room, she’s the one I was most curious about. And it occurs to me that I am naturally drawn to people who are different than me.

I’m interested in where they’re from and how our paths crossed. What’s their world view? What do they enjoy? What do they wish people knew about them? I often am surprised at what I learn from talking to those who have a worldview different than my own.

Maybe that’s why it’s such a shock to me when people dismiss those who are different or, worse yet, bully and discriminate against them.

I like human stories and sometimes share them on Facebook – the Louisiana brothers who survived D-Day and who lived to be old men; the elderly woman who smuggled hundreds of Jewish children out of Germany; and the many strong women who we call Rosie the Riveter have all appeared on my Facebook page. I often give attention to those who can no longer speak for themselves or who don’t make it into the history books. Sometimes I share stories of people who do have a voice but who often are ignored.

More recently, I’ve been sharing the stories of people of color. Maybe no one is reading or watching the videos but I like to at least give them a platform. It’s healthy to hear the human side of the story as opposed to the headline version of what’s happening in the world.

I’m convinced of two things:

1. It’s easy to hate people you don’t know.

2. People who think they hate history believe that it’s all about memorizing dates, places and names of people long dead. And that’s not what matters most when studying history.

If you think about it, we are living history right now. That Amish woman has a story to tell that will be a valuable thread in the fabric of our history someday just as the female biracial pilot who told her story on YouTube does. Just as you and I do.

Someday, historians and kids in schools across the nation will study 2020 American history. Wouldn’t you like them to know how you lived and contributed? What you think of our world today?

Go look for the people and the stories that don’t make the history books. You never know what you might find.