So, we returned home in our own sweet time and brought a conclusion to our journey. What began as an exile, in the negative sense of the word, actually turned out to be a healthy time away from what was–up to that time–a very stressful time in my life. We had planned on a grand adventure to an area of the country that Pam and I were both eager to see and failed in our original intention. What emerged was a voyage of surprise and a passage through a stream of personal emotion. The fresh air, the sites we saw, the time away from everything provided for an interesting contrast to the gloomy backdrop we had come to find ourselves against.
Our return marked that it was time for us to stop looking backwards and to start looking forward. This was the first time since in the nineteen years Pam and I have been together that we have not been involved with the beginning of the school year in some form or fashion. Remarkably, the current situation was not much different from the time right after graduate school when it seemed our calling in art was so far away. It was reassuring to know that, like then, we would find fabulous opportunities that would guide us through the next several steps of our careers.
I thought back over our travels and recalled those memories that would seemingly stick with me now that we had completed our trip. I remembered the sound of the falls at Presque Isle and how entranced I was by the traveling waters. I remembered Quinn’s celebration of the new larger tent with laps that were punctuated by him throwing himself into the nylon corners in order to make the 90-degree turns. The sight of this from the outside of the tent was hilarious as the whole structure would shake and jiggle. I recalled trying to sleep in the minivan with Pam, Pam’s cot and three restless corgis during a wind-driven thunderstorm. I reminisced about the eerie feeling of loneliness I had walking back from a night shoot at the falls in pitch-blackness. Despite feeling alone, however, it was hard not to imagine all of the things that could be lurking in the dark just outside of the beam of my flashlight. I thought about how stressful and how fun it was to spend so much time alone with Pam and my three beautiful corgis. There was the thrill of seeing the beauty of the Upper Peninsula, the sunsets and sunrises, the many waterfalls, a full rainbow in the middle of a thunderstorm, and the sheer awesomeness of Pictured Rocks. There were the sustaining elements of free wi-fi at the occasional McDonald’s, the amazing fire pit grill I was given years before, the warmth of a snuggly dog on a cool night, and, of course, the cinnamon rolls at the Falling Rock Café.
There we many memorable aspects to our journey but one phenomena that seems to really stand out has to do with the wildlife we encountered. There were prairie dogs, bison, elk and numerous birds and waterfowl but it is my encounters with the deer that sticks in my mind. On one of my hikes through the Porcupine Mountains, I stopped to photograph the rushing waters of the river that ran parallel to the trail. Kippie waited patiently while I took my pictures. After I finished, I grabbed Kippie’s leash and stood up to see three white-tail deer in front of me. Kippie was oblivious. I marched towards them softly, camera in hand and was amazed at how calm they were. They stood and watched me as intently as I watched them and then, the one closest to me took on a strange pose as it stared in my direction. I couldn’t believe it! This deer was taking a crap right in front of me. After the deer scampered off into the woods, I couldn’t wait to tell Pam and show her my prize picture. This had to be some sort of sign! Pam humored me and assured me that seeing a deer take a dump in the woods was not that big of a deal. I insisted this had to be some sort of a sign…what was that deer trying to tell me?
Almost a week after the pooping deer incident, Pam and I took a long hike to the Lake Superior shoreline at Chapel Rock in the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. As we were hiking back, trying desperately to make it back to our car before the sunset, Pam stopped me along the trail. She pointed to a deer, not far from us just off the trail. I raised my camera to my eye and stealthily approached the deer. As the deer moved, I moved and Pam whispered at how beautiful a creature this doe was. As I quietly pursued the deer, it stopped and took a crap. “Holy shit,” I thought to myself, “two pictures of two deer pooping in the woods.” This really had to mean something! As I continued following the animal, I remembered Walter Hastings and began assaulting this poor deer with my flash…just to say I did it. This finally encouraged my friend to head of deeper into the woods. I turned to Pam and said; “See? What are the odds of that happening twice?” Pam admitted that it was odd, but left speculation as to the message of the “deer gods” to me.
While I am still pondering these encounters, I have yet to determine their true meaning. Were the deer telling me not to be afraid, to “crap in the face of danger”? The deer’s irreverence was unmistakable. Were they telling me that you just have to do what you have to do? Was it a message of vulnerability they were sharing with me? I was confused. As I tried to decipher this message in the context of my entire journey, I pondered my situation. Perhaps the antlered deities were re-assuring me that it was okay to be on unemployment, maybe they were telling me not to take it personally that I was replaced by someone nearly half my age with a quarter of my experience. Maybe they were simply encouraging me to reclaim some of my earlier irreverence and to be true to myself instead of being someone living a charade. It was hard to narrow down exactly what I should take away from this experience…besides pictures.
Deer poop aside, this was an excellent adventure that was a much needed distraction from the worries of my life. It was a great chance to think, to fill my experience with amazing scenery, and it gave me the opportunity to find a way to feel better about my situation. I looked at this as an exile but it turned out to be a wonderful encounter. This exile gave me the chance to rework my understanding of the American dream and I made new connections to my work and my life. All-in-all, not a bad deal. I was refreshed and now ready for new adventures. An American exile would become my dream…a dream that will sustain me for the second half of my life. Wish me luck!