At a roadside picnic area in Kansas, this tragedy of line markings begged the question, what happened here? Was the painter drunk? Was this a test area for new trainees? Was the machine malfunctioning?
A little later, I pulled over to the side of the road again to take some pictures of the vibrant clouds and deeply blue sky above crisp green fields, and a butterfly flew across the scene at exactly the right moment:
Which turned my attention to the butterflies in the grass at my feet, and I spent 20 minutes taking pictures of butterflies, including the one at the top of the page.
Other interesting sights across Kansas, Missouri, and Indiana.
Town name: Weaubleau
Town name: Hermitage, population 467 — That’s not a hermitage anymore.
Town name: Devils Elbow — Really? That’s what they chose to name their town?
Street name: The Game Dr.
Sign: Vacuum Museum. — Wow, there really is a museum for everything.
Sign: “I want to make a sodium joke. But NA.”
I spent some time visiting friends and cousins in Missouri and Indiana, and then continued heading east through lots of windy (curvy) roads into rural central Ohio.
The last time I drove through Ohio, almost two years ago, I wanted to stop at the Wright Brothers memorial sites but didn’t have the time, and figured it would be too expensive, anyway. I found out later that most of the sites there are free to the public, and resolved to visit the next time I was in the area. And for the last couple months, knowing that I would be coming this way, I had planned this stop into my loosely charted itinerary.
However, as I got closer, I kept feeling resistance to this idea, and instead of pushing myself into keeping to my original plan, I actually let myself step back and feel out where that resistance was coming from (personal growth!). I’m still not exactly sure, except that I wasn’t really in the head space for more museums and historic sites at the moment, and really needed some alone time in a forest. So I let myself off the hook, changed my plans (huge personal growth!), and looked for somewhere to camp for a few days instead.
Which turned out to be on lands owned by AEP, the Ohio power company. After strip mining the region for decades for its rich coal deposits, AEP has since planted over 63 million trees and established over 350 ponds and lakes, transforming a barren industrial site into useable recreation land and a new home for hundreds of species.
These 58,800 acres in southeastern Ohio are now available to the public for free for camping, fishing, hiking, biking, hunting, and horseback riding, although you do need a permit (which is free and downloadable).
Whatever their motives, whether love for the environment or self-serving publicity, there is now a beautiful forest instead of an abandoned wasteland, and for that I am grateful.
I spent a lot of my six days there watching the local flora and fauna and reflecting. I did a little math, a little exploring of the area, took a few longer walks, but mostly reflecting under the guise of plant- and bug-watching.
For example, I spent a really long time, probably a couple of hours, watching a teeny, tiny, transparent, larval caterpillar crawling around my window. When fully stretched out, he was maybe half a centimeter long and reminded me of the worm on Sesame Street, Slimey, in that he sometimes moved in the same way with the hump in his back when he crawled forward.
He mostly crawled upwards, but also in every other direction and sometimes would fall a couple centimeters and then start crawling again.
He didn’t seem to know exactly which way he wanted to go, and no wonder, since my window is not exactly his natural habitat. Out of his element, he was floundering and trying to make the best of a totally weird situation. That feels like what I’ve been doing for the last decade plus.
A little while later it started raining and the water washed the little caterpillar off the window.
One of the things this caterpillar-watching allowed me to reflect upon was a conversation with my friend in Indiana, in which we were talking about my recent math revelation. She was suggesting that, because I worked so danged hard at this math thing through all of middle and high school, and it still wasn’t enough for me to get the results I wanted, that perhaps that experience had formed a belief that anything that I wanted really, really badly would take just as much work or more.
Even worse, perhaps my belief told me that if I didn’t put in that much work, it meant that I didn’t really want it. So that later in adulthood, when I would get a job or take on a project that I was interested in or passionate about, I would work unrelentingly, to the exclusion of rest and common sense, because anything else meant (in my head) that I was wish-washy and not really serious about it.
And, honestly, reflecting back on my behavior, I probably did at times in a sense create more work for me to do because I needed to feel like I was working more, better, harder, longer, more seriously than…than what? Than everyone else? Not really. This wasn’t about external comparison (not much, anyway). Mostly I think it was about proving to myself that I really wanted it and was taking it seriously, and what taking it seriously felt like was this overwhelming, oppressive, endless to-do list of pressure and determination.
Like an abusive relationship, that feeling was familiar enough that I went back to it, sought it out, time after time, because that familiarity itself felt safe or good. Not actually safe or good, mind you, but I knew nothing better, and thought that was what being a serious adult, having a career, being a businesswoman and a professional, was supposed to feel like.
I got plenty of reinforcement for that belief from looking at other professionals around me and in the media who worked late and through weekends, bragged about how little sleep they got, and even took vacations seriously, scheduling them to a T to cram in everything.
So when I did occasionally experience good results from a less-than-insanely-serious effort, I dismissed that as a fluke and went back to working myself into sickness to feel better about myself.
What I have been learning, especially in this last year, is that grasping too tightly to things, including serious intentions, can sometimes make them harder to hold on to. Can even drive them away.
The calendar project I did last winter taught me that there is another way to work. That I can be professional without going back to that abusive relationship. This gives me hope for the future, but just as importantly, I am grateful my friend knows me well enough to see this and felt secure enough in our relationship to be able to point it out, and that I was able to take it in. Learning about myself is itself a gift, if sometimes a difficult one to receive.
This Journey is specifically about figuring out why I keep burning out, and this is one of the big keys to that. So, yay!
Back to bug watching.
At night, there were lots of fireflies. Many were the orangish yellow I am used to, but some were a bright, neon green. I thought it might be a trick of the light in the rain, but there were also the normal orangey colored ones in the same area.
What happens to a firefly, by the way, when it gets hit by a raindrop? Does it get knocked down far? Does it hurt? There were many there that seemed undeterred by the rain. And why do they light up? Are they signaling to each other? Why is it intermittent and not continuous? Is it group camouflage to throw off predators? I looked them up later and found some interesting facts about fireflies, including that they come in lots of different colors, including green, and that they are bioluminescent (they light up) in every stage of their life cycle, including as tiny, spherical eggs that may glow faintly when disturbed.
The AEP lands are dotted with a few private landowners, and in front of one old house is this lawn mower graveyard. Every single one of these abandoned machines is a lawnmower of every type and description, and this is only the half of the pile. In the other direction there were more!
Leaving the area after five days in this reconstructed forest, I felt more refreshed and in a better head space to see and learn new things again.
I snapped this quick picture at the signal light, unsure if I were allowed to turn left or not. I took the chance and turned left and no sirens wailed up behind me, so I guess that was okay???
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