Tales of a 21st Century Gypsy

September 24, 2004 Minneopa State Park, Minnesota.

I left Minneapolis late in the afternoon, in a steady rain and suddenly colder temperatures. I had hoped to drive as far as the South Dakota line, but it was already getting on towards dusk when I reached Minneopa State Park, only a hundred or so miles down the road. So I stopped for the night, in a quiet spot of open grasslands scattered with trees. I was the only camper in the whole park. I could almost imagine this to be my private retreat, meadow and prairie where Iíd never hear other voices or be choked by clouds of campfire smoke.

After the rain the sun came out, scraps and tangles of cloud scudding across the sky mixed with brilliant patches of powder blue, aqua, and a tinge of lilac as the sun set. The night was black and white and silvery gray, a brilliant moon lighting the clouds, the stars shining in the patches of black sky behind them. The wind at night whirled around my van, the trees above me shaking and shuddering, the rustling of the leaves rising to a roar with sudden gusts.

The morning came gray, windy, and cool. After four days in Minneapolis it was good to be alone, just me, my van, my computer, my cup of coffee.

Making coffee is a labor of love in my van. I seek out the best beans I can find in the towns Iím passing through. I grind them myself, with the small hand grinder that I bought in Rome. Grinding the coffee is slow and repetitive, each bean carefully crunched with a turn of the handle, the grains sifting into the little drawer below. It takes three drawers of coffee, each two thirds full, to make a good morning cup, ten or fifteen minutes of grinding, sitting on the cooler in my van listening to Morning Edition on the local NPR station. Then boiling the water in the heavy cast iron pot that a friend gave me years ago, and pouring it into the French press to brew for four minutes. Finally I can pour it into the new cup I bought at the clay studio in Minneapolis and take it out to the picnic table to drink slowly as I enjoy the cool wind, the gray sky, and the blowing trees.

The cup was made by a Florida artist, one of a dozen whose works are sold at Northern Clay on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis. I didnít need a cup, I have enough already. And they are nice ones. One is a big mug hand painted with yellow and pink flowers and blue dragonflies on a white background. Another is a smaller cup, cool smooth blue-gray and rusty brown speckled with darker brown. Then thereís the small cup without a handle, a gray and brown glaze with drips of blue running down from the rim. I donít know where I got that one Ė at a pottery sale somewhere. I donít believe in using light weight, unbreakable camping gear, just because Iím traveling. I kept the nicest of my pottery with me, rather than packing it in a safe place in my basement where no one could enjoy it. My glasses are the same. I only have two with me. One is a small Czech crystal tea-glass that I bought in Morocco, royal blue trimmed with gold on the rim and a pattern of gold wreaths etched around the sides. The other is even smaller, a four-ounce glass with a heavy coppery finish on the bottom, slowly tarnishing to lovely shades of orange and iridescent blue and red. I donít use the glasses Ė I drink water, out of water bottles, mostly. But I have them, in case I should want to pour a glass of wine or fine port.

So my new cup was an unnecessary addition to the collection. I worked so hard to give away all my possessions. I have told myself so many times that I can enjoy beautiful things but I donít need to own them. So why did I enter the clay gallery with the idea in the back of my mind that I might acquire something new? Itís hard to say. But itís hard to give up the desire to acquire things. I donít know why itís so much fun. I already have nice things, why do I want more? And why do I want to own the nice things, instead of enjoying them without owning them? When I lived in a house and had space, I had myriad nice things that I never even looked at, indeed that I forgot I owned. I still do Ė 19th century American quilts, Berber wedding veils from Tunisia, colorful wall-hangings from China, and drawers full of fabrics from Senegal, Niger, China, Nepal, CŰte díIvoire, and a dozen other countries. All of them hidden in my house in Virginia, in the warm dry crawl space on the top floor. Does it make any difference in my life that I have a new cup to drink my coffee from? I donít think so.

Of course a new cup is no big deal in the scheme of things. Thereís room for it in my cupboard. I can afford what I paid for it. But itís a larger principle. What is it about people that we want to have so much more than we need? I donít know.

While I was considering my drinking utensils I noticed a penny on my picnic table, a shiny one, iridescent like my glass from being out on the table through the weather. When I was a child my mother said finding a penny brought good luck, so we always picked them up on the street. Recently it occurred to me that I wasnít sure if the penny itself was the luck, or it would bring good luck in some other form. After all, when my mother was a child a penny was good for a handful of candy, at least, so finding it was lucky indeed. I took my question back to the source. She assured me that the penny brought luck, it wasnít the penny itself that was the lucky occurrence. I wonder what kind of luck the one on my picnic table will bring. What would I want, if I were to make a wish? I donít even know. Iím not lacking for something specific that Iím aware of. Iíd have to wish for serendipity, for something lovely that I couldnít have anticipated or thought to wish for.

A line of geese just flew overhead, streaming across the gray sky. A pair of small birds landed on a perch high above me, but I didnít reach my binoculars quickly enough to identify them. Starlings, perhaps, or maybe catbirds. The wind is picking up, the light undersides of the leaves are flashing in unison as branches bend and tree trunks sway. My fingers are getting cold, here at my computer, and my toes are crying out for a pair of socks. But I like it here, I donít want to pack up the van and lumber onto the highway towards South Dakota.

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