The Long Way Home


The Open Road
l. Rural Florida: Jeff finds a giant cockroach. c. Motel hell, South Carolina. r. Last morning, Ocala, FL

l. Jeff finds a giant cockroach, Citra, FL. c. Motel hell, South Carolina. r. Last morning, Ocala, FL.

As difficult as travel can be sometimes, I feel the most at home on the road. I love getting up early and listening to morning sounds: muffled voices through motel walls, the slamming of car  doors, and watching the highway from outside our room, calculating how long it will take us to  get to where we’re going. Our car is our house for the week. We eat lots of trail mix that gets gooey and stale by the end of the trip, drink PA Dutch birch beer. Yes’s Fragile makes a good soundtrack for the red dirt roads of South Carolina, and “Supernaut,” our Floridian anthem. I loved sitting on Tybee Island beach, watching giant ships and earlier, eating salmon croquettes at Neighborhood Soul Food. I loved our late-night stop at the Piggly Wiggly to buy goofy t-shirts and Little Debbie S’mores cakes for the ride home. I loved how on the way back, we stopped in Elkins, North Carolina to find barbecue and instead found a car cruise, the tiny main street packed with people sitting in lawn chairs on a Saturday night. It felt a little like stepping into someone’s home uninvited: not unfriendly, but knowing it’s only temporary — that in just a six hours’ drive, we’d go back to our lives again.

Top: US 301, Florida Bottom: l. Fireworks pit stop, South Carolina. r. Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia

Top: US 301, Florida
Bottom: l. Fireworks pit stop, South Carolina. r. Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia.

Top: l. Old friends, Tybee Island. r. Savannah from the top of a parking garage. Bottom: l. Witch house, Savannah, GA. r. Pelicans, Tybee Island.

Top: l. Old friends, Tybee Island. r. Savannah from the top of a parking garage.
Bottom: l. Witch house, Savannah, GA. r. Pelicans, Tybee Island.

Top: l. Rayon mill, Jesup, GA. r. US 301, Hawthorn, FL. Bottom: l. Cornfields, South Carolina. r. Closed campsite, North Carolina.

Top: l. Rayon mill, Jesup, GA. r. US 301, Hawthorne, FL.
Bottom: l. Cornfields, South Carolina. r. Closed campsite, North Carolina.

Top: l. Open road, Georgia. r. New River Gorge, WV.  Bottom: l. Jekyll Island, GA. r. Blue Ridge morning, VA.

Top: l. Open road, Georgia. r. New River Gorge, WV.
Bottom: l. Jekyll Island, GA. r. Blue Ridge morning, Virginia.

Top: l. Micanopy, FL. r. Elkin, NC.  Bottom: l. Blackville, SC. r. Cross Creek, FL.

Top: l. Micanopy, FL. r. Elkin, NC.
Bottom: l. Blackville, SC. r. Cross Creek, FL.

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Cabin Fever
August 31, 2011, 5:18 PM
Filed under: West Virginia | Tags: , ,

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I’m no nature girl, but I love getting away into the woods every once in a while and my amazing friend Leslie was kind enough to share her parent’s cabin with a group of us last month. It’s perched on a large hill – mountain, really – overlooking Stonecoal Lake. We cooked and napped and watched mind-numbing TV and sat by candlelight just shooting the shit. And now it’s the last day of August, summer gone. I am looking forward to the fall months, to figuring out where I’m about to go next.

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Down a Dark Hallway
August 28, 2011, 12:05 PM
Filed under: Art Gallery, West Virginia | Tags: , , ,

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These photos are the last in the asylum series; I don’t want to leave them. I mentioned in earlier posts about the light and space and how I loved it – and how much the history of this place affected me. It helped me to connect to something outside of my grief, which has changed me. Would I have experienced the mystery of these hallways in the same way had my mother not died this past January? Everything is different now that she’s gone. I feel things more deeply. I resonate with indescribable sadness, and when I’m happy, I am so filled with joy  I can hardly hold it in my arms.

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Reasons For Admission
August 26, 2011, 6:27 AM
Filed under: Art Gallery, West Virginia | Tags: ,

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Reasons for Admission, 1864 to 1889 (from the TALA archives): Bad habits and political excitement. Desertion by husband. Brain fever. Business nerves. Fall from horse. Deranged masturbation. Imaginary female trouble. Jealousy and religion. Immoral life. Opium habit. Over action of the mind. Bite of rattle snake. Asthma. The war. Uterine derangement. Rumor of husband murder. Medicine to prevent conception. Vicious vices in early life. Sunstroke. Fighting fire. Novel reading. False confinement. Greediness. Gathering in the head. Laziness. Loss of arm. Liver and social disease. Milk fever. Bad whiskey. Women. Disappointment of nerves. Grief.

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Lost & Found
August 24, 2011, 6:42 AM
Filed under: Art Gallery, West Virginia | Tags: ,

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It is every urban explorer’s dream to walk into a forgotten place with crumbling rooms still intact – objects abandoned, chairs pushed out from tables as if the inhabitants only left for a few minutes instead of years. But mostly we just found empty rooms, unhinged doors and windows bursting with sunlight. One of the historians at the asylum told us that when the hospital closed in the 1990s, workers found jars of patients’ organs lined on shelves in the medical building, which were later buried in an unmarked grave on the property. There is the difficult task of tracing patient histories when so much has been lost. We found medicine logs from the 1970s lying on a dirty windowsill in the geriatric building. A hospital gown stuffed into a locker. The Victorian greenhouse, like something out of Burnt Offerings, humid and lush with creeping ivy. An art deco exit sign on the third floor in the middle of a dark hallway. A sooty fireplace, a purple ball, a flooded basement and deafening quiet.

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A World Within a World

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When we crossed the West Fork River into Weston, I was in awe by the site of the asylum; it’s so enormous that it literally took my breath away. The castle-like structure is a Kirkbride model, designed with the belief that a patient’s environment was part of the cure for mental illness. Doctors encouraged patients to engage in farming, cooking and cleaning of their ‘home’ – activities not only with the plan of curing, but also creating the world where they lived, sometimes for the rest of their lives. One of the last people admitted there was singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston. You can view his artwork while listening to loops of his music in the patient art gallery. The hospital closed in 1994, not too long ago, and I’m trying to imagine what it was like for someone to roam the hallways or tend to the gardens, to look through the barred windows out to a town that they may never have known.

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Lily’s Room
August 19, 2011, 6:31 AM
Filed under: Art Gallery, West Virginia | Tags: , , ,

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The ghost of a girl supposedly haunts the green room pictured above, which is why the ball and the toy duck were left there. I didn’t know this when I entered it, but I didn’t feel her presence. I wanted to feel something when I walked those hallways, but what I felt was mostly sadness,  a heaviness that I attribute to being in a place with a dark history and my grief. Through barred windows and broken doors, rooms flooded with light.

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