Monday, November 29, 2010

Chapter Twenty-Six: "You're Macrobiotic?!"

From our site in Warren, I caught a ride to the next campsite where I learned that most marchers had gone into Marcher-in-the-Home.  My friends were staying with a local couple, Vince and Amelia Chamberlain, so I found my way to their house.  I knocked on the door and when Vince opened it, I introduced myself and asked if he had room for one more peace marcher.  He laughed and without hesitation invited me in.  Vince introduced me to Marty, Georgia’s beau who had just arrived on the march.  Marty was tall and slim.  His ruddy complexion and long, straight blond hair and blonde beard reminded me of the picture of Leif Erikson in my fifth grade history book.  Vince then showed me to a guest room where I put my daypack and sleeping bag.  He told me to make myself at home.  Amelia, our hostess, had taken Iris and Georgia to a beauty salon to have their hair done.  What a great idea.  I liked Amelia already for having thought of it.  I wished I’d arrived in time to join them, though my hair was already cropped so short that if you clipped any more off, you’d have to call it a crew cut.  A while later, everyone returned, coiffed and manicured.  We all commented on how nice they looked.  
With everyone on hand, we transformed the house into one big party with our conversation and laughter and stories.  The dining room table groaned with food as we enjoyed the comfortable flow of eating and talking, talking and eating until we all sat back in our chairs, stuffed to the gills.  Amelia moved us into the living room where the conversation continued.  As we talked, I folded copies of my latest newsletter, stuffed them into envelopes and wrote out the addresses.  We talked at length about the corner society had painted ourselves into with nuclear arms and the decisions our governments had made up to this point.  We shared our personal histories and asked about one another's interests.  Vince and Amelia couldn’t get enough of our peace march stories.  Their questions and comments just egged us on.  
 “How about a Great Peace March cookbook?” Amelia asked.
We groaned and recounted our too frequent encounters with jicama, cabbage, peanut butter and blood oranges.  Vince and Amelia laughed and suddenly understood our gushing appreciation for the home-cooked meal they’d served.
“What will you do when it’s all over?” asked Vince.
“No!  No!” we all yelled.  “We don’t want to think about it!”
Marty, the newcomer, hungered for clues to what he’d missed.  Every now and then one of us would mention something the others hadn’t remembered or experienced first hand.  Already the Great Peace March story had become an untamed, people's history Vince and Amelia found it all very entertaining.  Eventually we talked ourselves out and retired to beds and sleeping bags and a good night’s sleep. 
We spent a leisurely morning at the Chamberlains’ eating a hearty breakfast and reading the newspaper, a rare luxury on the peace march.  It felt like an extravagance to have showered before breakfast.  At some point, Georgia started to munch an apple from the fruit bowl at the center of the dining room table.  When she was done, she picked out another piece of fruit and took a bite, all the while talking and laughing with the rest of us.  At the end of an hour or so, she had eaten the entire bowl.  Amelia asked graciously, “Would you like some more fruit, dear?” Georgia realized suddenly what she had done.  She was embarrassed, but we all thought it was funny.  Amelia wondered aloud whether Georgia was suffering from vitamin deficiency and kindly refilled the bowl from a seemingly endless supply of food in the kitchen.  
The Chamberlains engaged us at so many levels that none of us wanted to leave.  Apparently the feeling was mutual.  Amelia showed off her T-Bird and gave us a tour of town, and she invited us back to the house again for dinner, this time joined by their daughter, her husband, and their little grandson.  The evening was another party buoyed by great food and lively political discussion.  Finally, we really did have to head back to camp.  We loaded into the car and drove to Wick Park in Youngstown.  We arrived after dark and said our heartfelt thanks and fond farewells.  In a long string of great Marcher-in-the Home experiences, our stay with the Chamberlains stood out as especially special. 
The smell of dusty leaves in Wick Park signaled a change in the season.  Autumn had arrived.  An eighteen-miler took us southeast from Youngstown to New Middletown.  In the early morning we headed out onto the road that took us past miles of hulking, dead steel mills—enormous buildings with caved-in roofs, broken windows and heaved-out walls.  It was hard to believe that just a generation earlier these steel mills had stimulated a vibrant Mid-western economy, which had in turn sustained America’s position as a world-class industrial power.  Now, kudzu vines crept in at the windows and a jungle of weeds, some as tall as trees, pushed through the cracks in the concrete foundations—Mother Nature reaching up to reclaim her land. 

One of Many Abandoned Factories
I remembered an illustration from my high school biology textbook depicting a house and yard and showing how, left unchecked, native plants would eventually succeed one another until they reached a climax community.  Within three years, tall grasses and meadow wildflowers would completely overtake the neatly trimmed lawn.  After ten years, shrubs would grow to their full habit, and sapling trees would take hold.  Fifty years on, the house was barely visible for the dense hardwood forest.  As we walked past the battered scene, I was overcome by a desire to fix it.  I imagined pulling down the factory ruins.  I wanted to oversee a plan to haul away the scrap metal and broken concrete; I wanted to turn the land over to sprouting seedlings and let new rain refresh the nearby creek.  Like the boy in My Side of the Mountain, I wanted to pitch my tent and live outdoors, waiting until time had re-established the meadows and woodlands, and the animals returned.  I imagined all of this as we passed the worthless rubble of industry.  I wanted to give nature a chance to start over. 
The peace march continued down the streets of the company town neighborhoods past blocks of positively decrepit row houses.  Could people really be living in these dilapidated homes with their sagging gutters, their bald, trash-strewn yards and rusting chain link fences?  Except for the occasional graffiti, no one had painted anything here in decades.  A sign posted on each front gate, “Beware—Guard Dog,” made me wonder what treasures lay inside.  With uncertain smiles and suspicious glares, the faces of impoverished Americans appeared at the windows, in paint-chipped doorways and on the tumbledown porches.  Occasionally, someone returned a wave, but most people just stood and stared as we passed, as though the weight of life had ironed out every last smile.  Whatever the benefits of our Cold War economy, meager few had reached this neighborhood.
One day’s walk brought us out of the urban ghetto and into affluent suburbs where smiling people served us water from coolers in their front yards, or coffee and doughnuts from behind folding tables they’d set up along the sidewalk.  What invisible boundary kept these worlds apart?  Here was a Mexican border within our own United States.  Here, people clapped and cheered and flashed us the peace sign and shouted, “Good luck,” and “We love you!” and “No more bombs!” as we passed by.  Teachers brought their students out to greet us; bosses and employees stood talking on the sidewalk, watching as we passed.  Iris and I went into a bakery to buy one biscuit each and left with two bags full as gifts from the owners “to share with your friends.”  People on the street welcomed us and handed us apples and Girl Scout cookies, and the local Dairy Queen passed cups of ice cold Coke over the counter free of charge.  On the other side of the tracks, we had failed to achieve even the smallest bead of interest; on this side of the tracks, we were stuffed by lunchtime.

An A+ Welcome From Local Students
We stopped in Poland, Ohio, where Mayor Justine planted a tree and presented the mayor with a key to "Peace City"; in return we received a wooden gavel.  Here I first noticed that the trees were tipped with orange and yellow.  One dogwood was already pied bright red and green and looked like Christmas.  But it wasn’t Christmas; it was bee season.  As we approached our campsite just outside New Middletown, we passed a lush clover field where two deer grazed, oblivious to the steady stream of marchers flowing past.  Bees buzzed around a long row of supers at the edge of the meadow.  A brook abutted the campsite.  The sign said Honey Creek.  I inspected optimistically but found that it was, alas, only water.  Iris went hunting for four-leaved clovers and returned with one for me, which I pressed into my wallet.  At dinnertime, two colorful parachutes appeared high in the sky and slowly floated closer and closer until at last two men touched down right in the middle of our camp.  In the evening, Andi, who had made a video of the march, showed it in one of the town hall tents, and a small group of local musicians came out and played old timey music until bedtime.  The long, busy day was still with me as I lay down to sleep.  I had walked through two Americas, one where people lived in comfort and safety, and another, just a day’s walk away, where people suffered the humiliation of poverty.  Ironically, the nuclear bomb served to soften the distinctions between races and classes.  It was, as one poster put it, “an equal opportunity destroyer.”

Journal Entry—September 22, 1986
            The East—No Doubt—The East

September 22nd was a chilly autumn morning.  I lingered in my sleeping bag and listened to a cricket chirping so slowly that I couldn’t identify the sound until the air warmed up and his engine got running a little faster.  Poor guy, his days were numbered.  A thought germinated in my mind.  Maybe humanity was like that a cricket chirping on a chilly September morning, destined to perish as winter settled in.  Perhaps we were, in a Dylan Thomas phrase, “a bird, all but one of its fires out.”  Maybe, as the pinnacle of creation, human beings had inadvertently crafted our own harsh extinction.  Then again, maybe after a nuclear winter, Earth would, as some believed, restore herself and evolve new species, ones with a more balanced set of priorities and a greater sense of responsibility.  Poor little cricket. 
I loaded the trucks after breakfast and hitched a ride on the Peace Academy bus.  I shared my concerns about the fact that the D.C. office was divided about our arrival plans, but no one on Peace Academy seemed concerned.  Perhaps D.C. was still too far away.  I had the sense that folks on Peace Academy thought that plans would work themselves out, and maybe they were right.  I decided to let it go.  Peace Academy approached the Pennsylvania state line.  It was raining hard.  The driver slowed down, and all of us called out:
“California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio… Pennsylvania!”
The next day was a fifteen-mile walk that brought us through towns linked by the steel industry and the Beaver River.  The first part of the march was along a busy highway, way too close to traffic.  Cars and trucks zoomed by, making it impossible to talk or walk comfortably with one another or make eye contact with the drivers as they passed.  We came through Baden and into Ambridge and walked the last mile or so through “Economy Park,” a frugal name for an inviting, green recreational area established, the sign said, in 1957just like me.  We camped at the top of a hill around a big, white barn.  Rows of apple-laden trees lined the fields; everything was dampened by intermittent rain.
I was in a foul mood in the dinner line that evening.  Because of the on-and-off rain, the kitchen crew had designated one of the town hall tents for serving dinner.  The dinner line snaked into the tent and along the buffet line, but there were too many of us to all fit inside, so we filled our plates and snaked right back out again to hunt down a dry place to eat.  I didn’t like taking my food to my tent because it meant taking off wet shoes and clothes and then having to put them on again to take the plates back to the dishwashing trailer.  I usually stood outside the town hall tent in the rain and tilted my head forward to let the bill on my rain hood direct the rain beyond my dish.  The only advantage of eating in the rain was that by the end of the meal, the dishes had nearly cleaned themselves. 
So, I was standing in line with a sour puss, wishing I had my Walkman so I could disappear into NPR’s “All Things Considered” on the radio, when spontaneous applause erupted from the end of the dinner line.  Someone shouted, “’All Things Considered’ just announced that the U.S. Senate has refused to fund future nuclear testing!”
  The whole dinner line burst into cheers and laughter and applause; whoops echoed down the line.  For those who had been arrested back at the Nevada test site, it was an especially sweet moment.  For all of us, it was a great celebration.  Everyone chatted excitedly through dinner.  Maybe we could move our government to a new way of thinking.  Afterward, many of us could not settle down.  Libby shared a bag of cashews, sent by her mom, and clusters of marchers stood talking by the dining tent.  We were giddy.  Our message really was being heard.  Some remained skeptical, but I felt proud and hopeful that our representatives were finally listening. 

September 24th was a Wednesday workday.  With all the rain we’d had, loading was getting a little tricky.  Everything was wet, including the shelves inside the truck that we stepped up on to stack the gear up to the ceiling.  Nobody liked standing in the rain, passing wet tents and sleeping bags, so we worked as fast as we could.  That made the slippery task of stacking even trickier.  By the time we were finished, my muscles were tense from keeping my balance, and my clothes were damp from handling all that wet gear.  Two thousand miles behind me, and I had yet to buy a decent pair of rain pants.
  Evan and I hitched a ride with Campscape—today it was Bill, Eliot and Harry—in Bill’s van.  We had driven a few miles down the road when the van up and died.  Much as they tried, no amount of fiddling would bring her back, so Bill and Eliot headed back to camp on foot to see if they could get help.  A short while later, Chuck, a sweetheart of a guy with big-framed, thick glasses and a Wild Bill Hickcock moustache, pulled up alongside the van and asked,  “You guys need some help?”
“Yes!” I said, indicating with some urgency the direction in which they had departed.  “Give Bill and Eliot a ride back to camp.”  After he’d left I realized I hadn’t even said, “Please.”
Chuck drove off to find them, and Evan, Harry and I waited in the van.  There was no place to go and nothing to do, so I read a copy of “Family Circle” magazine I found on the floor.  How it got there was a mystery.  I smiled at the thought of Bill subscribing to “Family Circle,” but I was glad to have something to read to pass the time: an interview with Ron Reagan the younger; a tale of a lost first love; summer recipes; pillow craft designs; the story of a father who stayed home to take care of his quintuplets while his wife worked; and an article about safe places to live in America.
Chuck returned a short time later with Bill and Eliot.  They fiddled around with the engine some more and figured we might be out of gas.  Since most of the gauges in Bill’s van had stopped working some time ago, it was hard to tell.  Chuck would drive to get some.  Harry went with him to be dropped off at the march.  Now Evan, Bill and I waited.  We had a grace period of about three hours between the time we had finished loading the trucks in the morning and the time we needed to be at the next site to unload them.  We played guitars and sang some songs, but we were getting nervous about how long it was taking to get to camp.  After a long time, Chuck returned with the gas.  He poured it into the tank and then cleaned the fuel line.  That was the problem, he said.  The van started, we thanked him, and we quickly got back on the road. 
By the time we arrived at camp, the march had already arrived.  A few people had started unloading the trucks, but most marchers were just standing around in the pouring rain waiting impatiently for their gear.  We called out and got lots of help, but everybody was soaking wet and miserable and ticked off at us for not having their stuff ready.  Nobody wanted to stick with the unloading until it was all done.  As soon as they saw their bags, they walked away with them.  I couldn’t really blame them, but it made our job much harder because we had to keep stopping and asking for more help.  I felt bad for Bill and Eliot and the other Campscapers who had to put up a big town hall tent in the pouring rain so the kitchen crew would have a place to set up the serving tables for dinner.  Eventually, we got it all done.  After dinner, everyone was dry and fed and feeling a little more upbeat.  It hadn’t been a horrible day, just a miserable one, and the unhappy Pennsylvania sky was still weeping at bedtime.

Portrait: Peace Marcher
Heading into Pittsburgh, we had Marcher-in-the-Home.  I felt a head cold coming on and was debating whether I should go into anyone’s home at all.  At the last minute I gave in, figuring it would be better to be indoors than to spend another night inhaling mold spores in my rain-drenched tent.  I found the only remaining marchers, we called them Non-Dairy Jeff and Non-Dairy John, waiting for a host family.  They said they always had trouble going into Marcher-in-the-Home because both of them kept a strictly macrobiotic diet.  At last, a woman arrived and asked if we were looking for a place to stay.  We said yes and asked if it would be too much to take all three of us.  Her face lit up with a more-the-merrier expression that made me think she wished she could take the whole peace march home.  She opened the trunk, and we threw in our gear as we introduced ourselves.  Her name was Annie.  We drove off, everyone talking about the march, about Pittsburgh, about the gloomy weather.  When we got around to talking about food, Non-Dairy Jeff mentioned that he and Non-Dairy John were both macrobiotic.  Annie’s face went blank. 
“You’re macrobiotic?!” she said.
Uh-oh, I thought, this was going to be a disaster.  She probably spent three hours making a big, cheesy lasagna for us.
I’m macrobiotic!” she exclaimed.
The four of us burst out laughing.  I hadn’t previously encountered many macrobiotics, but I was pretty sure no one had ever seen any happier than these three.  I was just going along for the ride.  The moment we arrived at Macrobiotic Annie’s apartment, the three of them went right into the big kitchen, and Jeff and John snooped through every cabinet.  You’d have thought they’d died and gone to macrobiotic heaven.  Every other minute John or Jeff would call out, “I can’t believe you have…adzuki beans!” or “agave” or some other ingredient I’d never even heard of.  Annie was ecstatic and insisted we all make ourselves at home. 
Meanwhile, I was tired and getting stuffier by the minute.  I told the others I wasn’t feeling well, and they took me on as their personal project.  They told me to go take a rest.  “We’ll make you something to eat, and you’ll feel better,” Annie promised.  I went into the living room and made a nest on the floor in the corner.  I rolled out my sleeping pad and sleeping bag and prepared to crash.  To the sound of kitchen cabinets opening and closing, water gushing in the sink, and merry chopping on the cutting board, I fell fast asleep. 
When I woke up a couple of hours later I found that my macro medics had prepared a meal unlike any I had ever eaten before: Warm miso soup, lightly steamed carrots, burdock root, and kombu, whatever that was, sprinkled with seaweed over brown rice.  The portions were moderate.  I was hungry and curious, so I ate it all and found everything surprisingly delicious and filling.  
We sat around the dining room table for a long time talking about the march, and about macrobiotics.  I asked everyone the reasons for choosing the macrobiotic diet.  Annie and Jeff said their health was improved by eating natural, simple foods, uncooked if possible, and they liked the idea of relying on local produce rather than food that was shipped long distances.  They wanted to eat in a way that sustained themselves, local farmers, and the earth’s resources.  For John it wasn’t a choice; he had dangerous food allergies, and this was the only diet that saved him from chronic skin conditions, outbreaks of hives or more serious allergic reactions.  They each admitted to having a huge sweet tooth, and that launched them into a sharing of their favorite macrobiotic desserts, many of which seemed to involve plum paste or rice sweetener, and all of which were unfamiliar to me, though I was otherwise pretty well versed when it came to desserts.  We talked until late.  Amazingly, I noticed my stuffy sinuses and ears had already started to clear.  Everyone said good night and we all went off to sleep in Macrobiotic Annie’s apartment.  I was relieved to be in good hands, but the other three must have felt enchanted.  
I woke up in the morning feeling noticeably better.  If this virus was passing already, I could only thank the odd combination of roots and seaweeds and bean curd soup I’d imbibed under macrobiotic care.  I told Annie and Jeff and John that I was feeling much better, and they were pleased but not all that surprised.  They told me a macrobiotic diet helped cleanse the body of impurities.  Breakfast was a similarly strange and delicious concoction, and by mid-morning my normal energy had returned with a surplus that made me want to get out of the house and see the neighborhood. 
At Annie’s suggestion, I walked toward an area called Shady Side, and as I strolled along, I thought about how I felt.  I definitely had a head cold; it had not gone away, but I felt as though my body was literally cleaning itself.  My nose was runny, but the fluid was warm and watery, not the usual acidic mucous that irritates the sinuses and nose and skin.  My body was calm and resting, but I still had energy, a mode I’d never before experienced.  I had never had a head cold where I wasn’t struggling against fatigue, so I was pleased. 
In Shady Side, I found an outdoor sporting shop and bought a pair of GoreTex rain pants.  I was shocked that they cost almost a hundred dollars, a big bite out of my paltry budget.  As if it weren’t abundantly obvious, I quietly justified the purchase: I was living outdoors in the elements where it had rained almost every day for the past month, and, in the weeks to come, I would need them as a layer against the cold.
Back at the house, Annie kindly offered the use of her home library, so I read “Say Goodbye to Sleeping Beauty” and a few chapters of “Momo,” a children’s tale by a German writer, Michael Ende.  Non-Dairy John spent the better part of the afternoon cooking up another delicious meal, and as we sat around the dinner table, I told everyone how great I was feeling and that I’d probably be macro if every meal didn’t take three hours to prepare.  They chuckled but added that for them, there was nothing more enjoyable than working together in the kitchen.  I lacked their passion for cooking, but how could I disagree?  They had enlightened me through food, and I respected them for it. 
In the evening, I snuggled in my warm, dry nest on the floor and wrote a letter to Mom and Dad.  Outside, the pattering continued against the windows.  I took my brand new, hundred-dollar rain pants out of the shopping bag, sliced off the tags using Jason’s Swiss Army knife, rolled up the pants and tucked them into my daypack.  Macrobiotic on the inside; Goretex on the outside.  Hah, I thought, let it rain.