25. Clifton: Home and Harbor

November 7, 2011


I’ve been home for more than a week now.


I wrote nearly 10,000 words over several days but have decided not to post it. I feel it’s overwrought, too private, and laced with contentious reflections that are likely to offend almost anyone – bearing witness to some of my favorite personal deficiencies.


On the other hand, I also feel I’m holding back the best of what I have to say. But I’m eager to put closure on this travel blog – for now – so I can get on with other business. Therefore, I’m going to compromise.


I’ll edit out what I think is frothy, and opinions I might later regret being too forthright about.


One of my intentions has been to add an appendix, or an epilog. I’ll do this later – whenever, when I’ve got the leisure for it. I’ll cast my nets wide and pull in a range of themes, including much that’s either whimsical or unconventional and argumentative, requiring delicate consideration as to exactly what I say and how I say it.


Another of my intentions has been to relegate the recent travel journal to one of various dimensions, and begin to add pages or postings on completely different topics. This will entail the acquisition of blogging skills I don’t possess – i.e., how to set up my site so what I want to feature will be both attractive and convenient.


Dealing with computers and software issues is not one of my strengths, so I’ll have to put this off until I’m sufficiently caught up with a large backlog of tasks and obligations, and until I’ve set by a sufficient reserve of time and patience.


Whatever I was sick with is now almost completely gone. Only a bit of a cough remains. I have slept a lot, and deeply, including long naps during the day, a custom I’ve practiced all of my adult life. I’ve had a voracious appetite. My diet at home is so much healthier than it was on the road. I need to restore myself. I’ve started going to yoga classes again, but not as regularly as before I left. There are just too many ragged edges, and too many pieces of my life to put back in place, after so long and challenging an absence, before I can lock back into my old routine.


Everything at home is immediately familiar – but also indescribably and subtly different. This is the way that you come back refreshed by travel. I have definitely been revitalized, in a way that makes me eager to re-embrace my old life, where I’d been sluggish and lethargic for some time before I left.


For days after my return, I felt like I was still in motion – bedding down in a different, unfamiliar place every night, passing through a long succession of towns and countryside where I’d never been before. My dreams were weird, and I didn’t immediately know where I was when I woke up. But that psychological momentum is beginning to dissipate.


One of my most treasured habits is to keep silence in the morning after I awake, sipping my fresh-ground coffee and reading seriously while the mind still retains some alpha-wavelength quality, perhaps the residue of sleep, unruffled by worldly commotion.


It’s been good to resume this habit of contemplative leisure.


Some ways back, I quoted a passage from Arthur Koestler’s book on “Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe,” which I still haven’t quite finished. His portraits of the great are none too flattering, with Johannes Kepler being somewhat of an exception. There was another passage which thrilled and vindicated me – if I can admit that without the taint of immodesty, or delusion in comparing my own mental processes to those of one of history’s most outstanding scientists.


After being widowed, Kepler, who was now a man of consequence, set about to choose his second wife. Koestler goes into some depth portraying the methods by which Kepler made his choice among eleven candidates, comparing this procedure to the extended rigors he practiced in framing the eccentric orbit of the planet Mars.


“Kepler’s way of discovering the right wife for himself strangely reminds one of the method of his scientific discoveries …. There is the same characteristic split in the personality between, on the one hand, the pathetically eager, Chaplinesque figure who stumbles from one wrong hypothesis to another … who proceeds by trial and error, falls into grotesque traps, analyses with pedantic seriousness each mistake and finds in each a sign of Divine Providence …. But on the other hand he did discover his Laws and did make the right choice among the eleven candidates, guided by that sleepwalking intuition which made his waking errors cancel out and always asserted itself at the critical moment. Social rank and financial considerations are topmost in his waking consciousness, yet in the end he married the only candidate who had neither rank, nor money, nor family; and though he anxiously listens to everybody’s advice, seems to be easily swayed and without a will of his own, he decides on the person unanimously rejected by all” (409-10).


I love it.


Regarding Koestler, I don’t know enough about him to say without hesitation that I admire him, but I am in awe of the knowledge he commanded to write this book, of how well written it is, and of the – probably, for all I know – groundbreaking insights it offers into the history of science.


There’s material on the Internet that comes in with breathtaking immediacy. Back in my comfortable office chair, I am ideally positioned to draw from these sources again. But there is so much dire turmoil in the world now, and getting to the root of it is neither obvious nor palatable. So on second thought … I’ll pass over now what just a few hours ago I was going to pass on.


I herewith present the final load of images from my marathon bicycle ride – in the same, reverse sequence I used when I wrote from Lola’s Pasteries and Eatery in Nixa, MO, and later, that evening, from my tent near Branson West, on September 21.


  • #8959 – Elizabeth doesn’t like it when I point my camera in her direction, but here she exercises forbearance, posing in the dress she wore at the wedding of her cousin’s son in Michigan. October 30. 
  • #8962 – A road-weary Bob, still under the weather, in his old bathrobe and a clean shirt, seated at his desk, bestrewn with freshly opened mail and items still unsorted from his travel bags. 
  • #8969 – Last of my first loaf of home-baked bread … sliced thick, the way I like it. See below (Note A) for my standard, plain and simple recipe. 
  • #8964 – Dough ball kneading in a battered, Yankee Doodle bread machine … where I always make it, on the floor in our miniscule “galley” kitchen, too narrow for you to spread your arms across. 
  • #8971 – Another fresh loaf off the assembly line … a thing of beauty … you can almost smell it, can’t you? 
  • #8966 – Dutch oven cooling by the window. See below (Note B) for a comfort recipe that’s suitable for troubled times. While you’re at it, observe the custom carpentry in this kitchen equipped with less than a square yard of actual counter space. I designed and built the shelving as soon as we moved in, almost exactly seven years ago. The broad, horizontal boards propped up from right to left can be cleared and removed in seconds – to satisfy intrusive government busybodies, who might want to be assured that the fire escape outside the window is accessible. In some ways, this tiny apartment is my favorite of all the many homes I’ve ever had. 


Saturday, October 29


  • #8925 – I-81 in south central Pennsylvania. I haven’t owned a car since my last one – a 1969 Dodge Dart – expired in the spring of 1993. I seldom rent one and I seldom drive. Except for my young adulthood, when I was still enjoyed driving, I’ve disliked long highway trips. The monotonous freeway movement gets boring, and I almost always struggle with drowsiness. Even when my children were small, in the early 1980s, and I used to take them car camping in the Sierras or the Redwoods of northern California, never more than a 6-hour drive from our San Francisco home, I would have to stop, induce them to be still and quiet, and snooze for half an hour or so in order to revive myself. Oddly, last Saturday was different. Recall that I hadn’t slept a wink on Friday night, as I first watched the World Series on TV, then wrote my blog “page” from Martinsburg, and after that was too keyed up to fall asleep. I was packed and on the road at least an hour before the first, pre-dawn light. All the buttons, levers, dials and gadgets on that contemporary automobile I’d rented really confused me. Even the headlights and windshield wipers – at first, in the dark – were almost too complicated and tricky for me to work, on the slushy, slippery roads, with poor visibility. What amazes me is that I did the lion’s share of the drive without fighting to stay awake. Maybe because the travel conditions were so extreme and unsafe, I concentrated intensely, and gave no thought to physical exhaustion. Also, the car was expensive, probably in part because it was a one-way rental. With all the insurance and extra charges, it came to $173 for one day. Now, this being a Saturday, and the agency on Broad Street in Clifton being closed for the weekend after 4 o’clock that afternoon, I knew there was some risk I’d have to pay for one or two additional days if I turned the thing in late. So I was under pressure as well to save myself a huge and completely unnecessary expense – barring safety considerations – by getting it in with a comfortable margin of time. 
  • #8929 – Familiar ground at last. This is what Market Street looked like last Saturday, around 2 p.m., when I was rolling in. As the day went by, and as I got farther east, the road surfaces became ever more treacherous. The wet snow bunched up and froze where it landed. I saw several accidents. The traffic on I-80 and 46 in New Jersey, which normally would have zipped along at fifty to seventy miles an hour, crept at twenty-five or thirty. At points it became congested, and I had long waits at stoplights. I became a little nervous about missing my deadline with the car, but my foremost consideration was still just to get home safely. Despite its commercial-sounding name, Market Street in Clifton is only two blocks long. It forms one side of a triangle that bounds our 300-unit apartment complex, built right after World War II, in the somewhat cramped but more charming style of that distant age. It’s one of the cheapest places to live in Clifton – though not cheap by Ozark or Appalachian standards. It’s an unlikely oasis of convenience and seclusion in the huge New York metro region. Within a couple of blocks we have a library, post office, Home Depot, excellent grocery stores and other shopping, a major bus line into midtown Manhattan, as well as the LA Fitness Club, where I’ve benefited a lot from the classes and exercise routines I’ve attended for well over a  year now. 
  • #8931 – Home sweet home. The snow quickly melted. In two or three days it was gone. Only a week later, I’m looking at a glorious, crisp, golden fall day, without a trace of snow on the ground or a cloud in the sky. Did I throw in the towel and end my expedition too early? I don’t think so. Somehow, I feel that it was time. I’m sufficiently revitalized by all I saw and did, and I feel good about picking up again on the old flow of life at home. 
  • #8932 – Safe at last. I would never ride a bicycle in conditions like this. Would you? 
  • #8934 – Into our storage locker … 
  • #8937 – … which I think of as my “bicycle barn.” I own three other bicycles besides my Surly. Each is completely differentiated in my thinking; each has its particular occasions and purposes. The Surly, of course, is my warhorse and my thoroughbred. If I could keep only one of them, this would be it. 
  • #8941 – A pretty, pastoral name for an unlikely courtyard haven. The road signs on the last leg of my drive were mostly impossible to read, due to being encrusted like this with snow and ice. I would estimate that half of the residents of our apartment complex are immigrants who don’t speak English at home – from many countries, but mostly Slavic and Hispanic. This is a very different America from nearly all of what I saw these past two months. Still, to me, today, it’s home. 
  • #8940 – It wasn’t until I turned in the car and walked the two-and-a-half or three miles home – in my heavy duty Chippewa boots – that I recognized how much damage the storm had wrought. The wet and sticky snow clumped up on tree limbs and weighed them down, causing many to break and fall. All along the way, I saw trees sagging, branches torn and hanging, and tree limbs, large or small, scattered on the ground. Roads were blocked and power lines were severed. Even days later, waiting for my yoga class to start, I heard people talking about how the power was still out, or had just come on, in neighboring towns. On Halloween there was an automated phone call from the City, advising that children not go out unaccompanied by adults, due to the danger of loosely hanging branches. When I rode over to my garden plot, a little over a mile from here, to retrieve my tools, I saw limbs and branches piled up at the roadside all along the way. 
  • #8948 – This is one of my favorite trees ever, from my whole life. It’s right smack in front of our upstairs apartment window. I watch it burst into pink blossoms, then scatter them, with Nature’s unbounded profligacy, on the ground every spring. It suffered major damage in last week’s storm. I was afraid the wrecking crew would move in with their power saws and that wheel-mounted monster grinder that renders whole trees into sawdust, as I’ve seen them do with other beloved trees in our settlement that broke up in the powerful windstorms that come through here several times a year. Fortunately, when they showed up the following Tuesday, they only took away the fallen pieces, and left the tree itself intact. 
  • #8954 – Sunday, October 30. Familiar view from our living room window. Already the snow is melting and the sky is blue. 


  • #8876 – Friday morning, October 28. Just north of Tom’s Brook, VA. By an odd coincidence, in retrospect, the site of my last night of tenting was characterized by fallen tree limbs. So much so that, due to this feature and the sloping landscape, I spent more time looking for a suitable place to pitch my tent than I had on any previous evening. 
  • #8879 – It was cool here as I lingered to sip two cups of powdered coffee and enjoy my wooded surroundings before departure. I still had no inkling that this would be my last day out. 
  • #8882 – There was a splattering of cold rain in the evening, after dark, but none of the “possible” snow that had been forecast. This is where I listened to that gut-wrenching sixth game of the World Series on my little Sony radio. 
  • #8884 – These gloves I’d paid $30 for at the bike shop in Cape Girardeau, and the ridiculous cycle-shoe covers I paid twice that for in Frankfort, turned out to be good investments. Though they are no longer, and probably never will be again, critical additions to my outfit, they kept me sufficiently warm on a number of icy mornings. There are moments in any long chain of events – which may be singular or very few; nevertheless, these gaps must be safely crossed for the whole of a journey to be sufficient and complete. For such difficult passages, unusual expenditures may be justified.  
  • #8885 – The lovely, and deceptively unmenacing sky of that last morning in the field. 
  • #8887 – Northern reaches of the Shenandoah Valley, looking from the highway to the east. 
  • #8890 – Civil War markers like this one were a frequent sight on my ride up the Valley. The cause of the Old South continues to be remembered – and endorsed – in other ways. I saw a school named after General Lee. Highway 11, which I rode all the way up the Valley, bore the names of Lee and Jackson. The Hertz agency in Winchester, where I rented my car, was on West Jubal Early Drive. On the other side of the coin, General Crook, mentioned on this plaque, distinguished himself in the wars against the Indians of the Old West – who were among the foremost of my childhood heroes. 
  • #8893 – Further reverberations of military names … 7233 Sheridan Road in Chicago is where my parents were living when I was born. 
  • #8894 – Strasburg, one of many scenic towns along my route. 
  • #8897 – Facing west. 
  • #8898 – If the wifi had actually worked, as they assured me it would, in that first (very tacky) motel where I stopped on Friday the 28th, the timing and circumstances of my homecoming would have been completely different – almost certainly a lot slower and more expensive. I lost time and broke my rhythm here. But it often happens – as it did in this instance for me – that when our intentions are foiled, we are better off for it. Leo Tolstoy wrote a memorable story which illustrates this point. Fittingly enough, I was attracted by the title on one of those little pocket editions – “What Men Live By” – at an airport gift shop in Tokyo, as our plane refueled when I was flying home from Vietnam in November of 1970. I still keep that little volume in a special place. The three lessons that the fallen angel Michael had to learn were these: (1) It is “… love [that] has been given to men, to dwell in their hearts”; (2) “It is not given to men to know their own needs” – my predicament, with the motel room where I needlessly unpacked here; and (3) “… man does not live by care for himself, but by love for others.” Indeed, these lines could stand as an epitaph for all of my wanderings: “When I came to earth as a man, I lived not by care for myself, but by the love that was in the heart of a passer-by, and his wife, and because they were kind and merciful to me. The orphans lived not by any care they had for themselves; they lived through the love that was in the heart of a stranger, a woman who was kind and merciful to them. And all men live, not by reason of any care they have for themselves, but by the love for them that is in other people.” 
  • #8899 – Phil, who rented me the car, was another bicycle guy. He asked me how I liked my Surly, told me about his own search for the perfect bike, and described how he’s raising his children on bicycles. We discussed the line of – American made – Surly bicycles, and I let on how the Big Dummy intrigued me. If I had a place to keep one, money to burn, and any plausible excuse to use it, I would own one. Phil said that a friend of his has a Big Dummy and absolutely loves it. http://surlybikes.com/bikes/big_dummy 
  • #8900 – Dues ex machina. 
  • #8903 – When I made my arrangements on the phone, I requested the smallest and cheapest car available. But when I got to the agency, for whatever reason, Phil said, “Just to help you out … I’m going to let you have a larger car.” I couldn’t even tell you what the make or model was. When I was four years old, I could identify everything on the road; today all cars look the same to me. At any rate, the upgrade made it very easy for me to load my bike and gear, and the difference in gas mileage couldn’t have amounted to much. I paid just over $50 to refill the tank after unpacking in Clifton. That was less than I’d expected it would cost me for well over 300 miles of driving. Good thing I only had this vehicle for a day: by the time I got home, I was thinking I wouldn’t have any trouble getting used to it. 
  • #8906 – St. Louis hometown World Championship event. 


Thursday, October 27


  • #8861 – Elizabeth Street, Harrisonburg. No doubt about it now … 
  • #8862 – … I’m on the right way home. 
  • #8863 – Before leaving my motel, I searched Online for breakfast places in Harrisonburg, settling on Collective Grill because it looked like I’d find wholesome food there. The portions were small, and it cost a bit more than I thought it should have, but the food was OK. What made this place memorable were the shudders of horrified fascination that went through me as I sat in there. The décor and atmosphere were all so familiar. Throughout most of my adult life, I would have felt perfectly at home. But my outlook has changed immensely in the past few years. The whole New Age and leftwing paradigm that was my unquestioned philosophical anchor for decades has taken on a completely different tone and meaning. It’s as if I could see what was invisible to me before. All of the symbolic trappings now – as they did that morning at Collective Grill – appear stereotyped and false. The people I observed were almost caricatures, falling into categories I could immediately discern. The mix of races and generations in this photograph brings home the pervasively cultural aspect of the Marxian worldview. The little kids at one of the tables reminded me of how cheerfully I saw my own children raised in this spirit – so long ago, on the San Francisco scene. Today I’m horrified at the results, and all too conscious of my inability to alter what’s been wrought. 
  • #8864 – All of the “collective” workers here were in a groove, on a wavelength, moving in synch with some invisible conductor. Everyone was cheerful, but no one looked too bright. There was a dullness in the eyes of the waitresses who passed by close enough for me to see it. I had to remind my dumpy gal (the brunette behind the counter) over and over again to please refill my undersized coffee mug. Very unwaitresslike, she seemed remarkably out of tune with what was (really) going on. The guys in their ponytails and beards – all of them back in the kitchen – were obviously grooving too. I could sense how everyone was equal, everyone politically correct. For a chilling revelation of the “job” that was done on us collectively – which so many, myself included, were blind to at the time – do a search on You Tube for the complete Yuri Bezmenov interview, “Deception Was My Job.” You have to watch this cold-blooded, reptilian KGB defector describe the scientific methodology by which western society was taken down to get the full impact of how we’ve been brought to the sorry and frightful condition we are in. 
  • #8868 – Back on The Old Valley Pike, Highway 11, heading north. A fitting image to close with – the beautiful, bucolic open road, still in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, somewhere north of Harrisonburg. 


I inserted a few musical links into the early pages of my journal, and I’ll sign off with a lullaby today.


One of the high-tech novelties I marveled at as I drove my rented vehicle home was the music system. I quickly gave up trying to link my iPod to the speakers, and I knew it would be unsafe to fiddle with it as I was driving anyway. So I just started punching buttons on the radio.


I had heard of Sirius before, but this was my first experience of actually tapping into it. Again, I couldn’t fiddle with it much, or spend my energy on learning how to find my way around it. But I stumbled on a folk music channel that sounded good to me at first, and I left it on for as long as I could stand it. Gradually I realized that many of the numbers were overly sweet, there was an off-putting New Age, leftwing subtext in the music, and I could sense the beguiling, subversive cultural orchestration that’s become evident to me almost everywhere I look anymore in our public life.


But there were several numbers I really liked, in spite of this. Here is one of them. This is the best rendition I could pull up Online, though I don’t like it as much as the one I listened to on Sirius, by Bruce Springstein and somebody else (I can’t remember who).


I like the photographs that accompany the present version because they’re real, and because they reverberate with the America I traveled through and feel gathering about me everyday. I will acknowledge that they are just a trifle false as an adornment to my own wanderings, which have always had a safety net and a gilded edge around their rougher aspects, if not to the romance I cherish … of being receptive to whatever treasures or travails the state of travel may bring upon me.



Posted in the wee hours of Monday morning, November 7, 2011, from my beloved desk in my own sweet home.


o     Note A: Standard, plain-and-simple bread recipe – no additives, no garbage, no junk.

ü    One and two-thirds cup of water. I run all of ours through a Big Berkey filter. At least some of the chlorine, fluoride and other junk gets removed. For years I distilled our water with a Waterwise distiller. But the thing started breaking down and was expensive to repair. Moreover, it was too slow, too noisy, too hot in the summer for our small apartment … and too hard on our electric bill. I’m not sure which method is better, quality-wise, but the Berkey is easier, cooler, quieter and cheaper to use. It also has the potential benefit of being much more versatile – you could take it and use it absolutely anywhere.

ü    Next, I measure out two teaspoons of salt. You could get fancy– and at times I have – with expensive, sea salt varieties. But all I use any longer is the normal, iodized grocery store brand.

ü    Then I put in three cups of white bread flour, and one cup of whole wheat flour. I almost always use King Arthur Flour. Maybe because it’s what all the stores around here carry, or because the logo on the packages is so cool. It’s the oldest flour company in the United States. Three summers ago, when I was riding from New Brunswick, Canada, back to New Jersey, without having planned it in advance, I cycled right past their home facility in Norwich, Vermont.

ü    Finally, I put in a heaping tablespoon of yeast. You’ll go broke if you use grocery store yeast, sold by the packet. I buy 2-pound packages of Red Star yeast at our local Costco, for less than $3 a package. They are vacuum packed, keep well, and I always have several on hand. I get countless loaves from every 2-pound package of yeast. After opening, I store most of it in the freezer.

ü    Finally, it’s OK to experiment. In the past few days, with my more recent loaves, I’ve substituted half a cup of oatmeal or rye for equal portions of the white flour. I wouldn’t swear that it’s an improvement, but it isn’t any worse.

ü    As the bread machine is kneading the dough, I always have to lean over it with a spatula, a butter knife, my plastic flour container, and a large spoon. I keep adding more whole wheat flour, scraping the caked-up residue off the walls of the bread pan with my spatula … then adding a bit more flour until the dough ball is just the right, tight and springy consistency. There is a tipping point, a magical moment, when it stiffens from slightly mushy into that just-the-way-it-should-be form.

ü    Incidentally, I can stare into that bread pan, watching the lovely dough ball whirl and mix around, almost the way I would gaze into a lover’s eyes. Later, when the kneading action stops and the dough ball comes to rest, it is never perfectly still. It exudes warmth, like a living thing, and expands with a motion that’s very slight but still perceptible. Bread – I mean real bread – is such a wonderfully beautiful and magical substance. Truly, making bread is one of the finest and noblest things you can do, several times a week at least. I am sure of it.

ü    So there you have it – couldn’t be simpler, more economical, tastier, or (despite the white flour, relatively, compared to standard balloon bread) less harmful to your health. Nothing but water, salt, flour and yeast. That’s how the best and most staple things in life ought to be – keep it simple, and stick with quality ingredients.

o     Note B: Bankruptcy Stew (from 501 Recipes for a Low-Carb Life, by Gregg R. Gillespie & Mary B. Johnson – library copy.)

ü    … economical main course for a crowd … fresh parsley will add a wealth of flavor.

ü    Nonstick cooking spray (I use olive oil)

ü    2 pounds lean boneless beef round steak cut into 1-inch cubes

ü    4 large potatoes, peeled and cubed

ü    3 large carrots, peeled and thinly sliced

ü    j1 large green bell pepper, thinly sliced

ü    1 large celery stalk, chopped

ü    1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced

ü    ½ cup tomato sauce (I use fresh tomatoes)

ü    ¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley

ü    1 bay leaf

ü    Grease a large Dutch oven with the cooking spray (=olive oil) and heat over medium-high heat until hot. Add the beef cubes and brown on all sides, gradually adding up to ½ cup water until all the meat is browned. Add the vegetables and the tomato sauce (=tomatoes), cover and simmer until the meat is tender, about 1 ½ hours.

ü    (I’m not picky about keeping the proportions of ingredients strictly balanced.)

ü    (I like this recipe because it’s both hearty and rather easy to fix.)

ü    (I keep a file on my computer with recipes like this, gathered from diverse sources.)





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