As a kid, I grew up just outside New York City in my elementary school years and in Rhode Island during high school and university years.
From New York, you could hop the train and be in Philadelphia or Washington, D.C., within hours. From Rhode Island, we would go to Maine for breakfast and Connecticut for donuts.
Then I moved to Texas.
In my early 30s, work took me to the Houston region, which has ended up being a place I truly love. The challenge, though, for this inveterate rambler whose rush comes from experiencing new territory is that, from Houston, you have to drive more than nine hours when heading westward to get out of Texas.
I do love the aptly Texas-cliché “big sky” vistas of West Texas. They’re beautiful, but huge swaths of space stretch out like listening to a symphony of one note for hours upon end. I enjoy that one note and learned to see the magic of the desert, but for me, variety truly is a spice of life.
I had been in Texas for well over half a decade when we finally felt we had exhausted just about every corner of the state (though we never did make it to Mission during butterfly migration season). Our wheels were itching, and we just had to switch gears. Researching options, I was strongly considering driving to Mexico, but the complexities of needing special licenses and insurance made it more complicated than enlivening.
We had driven over to California multiple times and up through Colorado to Utah and Idaho. We’d been east along the Gulf Coast through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama over to Florida.
Nothing else was coming to mind.
Then I pulled out an atlas — a real one, on paper — and looked at the U.S. map. And suddenly I saw what surely had been registered before as a lover of geography, but never stuck: Arkansas.
For many unfair reasons and some pretty major justified ones, Arkansas doesn’t always have favorable connotations, but looking at that map, it was like I was seeing it for the first time.
I got online and quickly discovered that one of its most popular nicknames, which appeared on the standard state license plate at the time, is “The Natural State,” and it is packed with more campgrounds than just about anywhere else we’ve been.
You can hunt for diamonds; you can see unusual butterflies on a mountain in the stunningly stealth Ouashitas; you can experience one of the most beautiful ridge drives in the world; you can sit in majestic solitude, wrapped by nature, in a soaring needle of a glass chapel hidden in a grove.
Arkansas became one surprise of natural and human-created beauty after another, and one of our best camping/hiking experiences remains Cove Lake at the foot of Magazine Mountain. After years of living in Texas, Arkansas revealed itself to me on that map when we were ready to receive it.
During the past few months, my Vermont version of Arkansas revealed itself, almost literally in my backyard.
I had heard rumors for several years of some trails on an Episcopal property somewhere in Burlington and thought maybe they were over near the bike path, but it was never clear to me whether they were open to the public. It wasn’t until they came under public-private cooperative stewardship and received the “new clothes” of attractive rock steps this summer that I actually entered into their world (which native locals might understandably wish had remained a secret).
It went a step further recently just last month when we discovered wonderful little maps placed on posts at trailheads and junctions. On one of our first walks, before the little maps, we had wanted to trek a trail that seemed to skirt the south side of the point, but we couldn’t figure out how to get there. Without the new maps, I’m not sure we ever would have discovered the practically invisible magical entrance into the woods off North Beach.
I have experienced throughout my life a law of magnetics and resonance that when we are ready to see something, it reveals itself — and not before.
My purpose and work have always been about being astutely observant, noticing what others do not and doggedly researching things until I find answers, and yet these places remained invisible until it was time.
It’s happened over and over again: The hot springs we discovered one night after a long, cold drive in Colorado; the Little Free Library at Colchester’s Airport Park after years of bike riding from there; magical Charlotte at the other end of the Essex Ferry when we were living in Lake Placid and coming over to Burlington for independent films; the Converse Bay boat launch that remained invisible through our whole first season of kayaking; the amazing trails at Heaven Hill in Lake Placid; a revelatory 2013 Chicago vastly different from earlier visits in the 90s that changed our lives, resulting in Chicago becoming our second hub when we’re not in Vermont; an intuitive meditative insight “memo” in 2014 that the city of Atlanta — as a life, as a living entity, as a center of progress — was sensing that it was meant to be an active agent of new forms of regeneration and healing, not just for the US, but also for the world and was calling for lives who recognized this to help it step into that purpose, especially moving towards 2025.
And here we are.
It is a reality of my experience that we go through phases and seasons of resonances when we are meant to be in rapport with something or someone — for collaboration, for learning, for testing to expand our capacities and break through limiting comfort zones, to flex our strengths and to fill our gaps. I wasn’t ready for the Chicago of 1999, but after much personal evolution, I was ready for Chicago 2013. For a time, my work required the will of dynamic stillness and Olympic determination of the Lake Placid Adirondacks. Now I’m in a season of collaborating with the love of Mount Philo and the citizen-stewardship that is the hallmark of Vermont.
As we navigate (to put it kindly) the events of Jan. 6, and the long prior year, are we ready to see? And what will we do about it? Once the map reveals unnoticed territory, it is impossible to unsee. And once the territory calls, we are expected to respond.
Rock Point Haiku
Written during the The Poartry Project September 2020 Poetry of Nature Walk-Along I hosted at Rock Point on the theme of writing Japanese hokku and tanka poems:
Dazzling blue wave
stirs green glass water music,
sky drinks down the sun.
JC Wayne is a Vermont-based poet, visual artist, creativity mentor and founder of The Poartry Project. Contact her at poartry.org.