The Wind Turns

We woke on Sunday morning a bit tired and decided to spend the morning relaxing at the trailer. Jim had the Sunday crossword to do and I am always happy knitting and reading. It was a delightfully sunny morning and it felt deliciously lazy to just hang out.

After lunch we walked over to the Ranger Station to rent kayaks for the afternoon. We always intend to go kayaking, but on previous trips were hampered by lack of a life vest for Dakota. This time we had brought his and the Tahquamenon River was much too alluring to resist.

Kayaks on order, we decided to walk the rustic campground at Rivermouth. This campground did not loop as most do, but ran alongside the Tahquamenon River. Heavily wooded, the campsites were generously spaced and had views of the river through the trees. I would definitely forego electric hook ups to stay here if we ever were to return.

As we walked, I began to feel an uncommon disturbance in my tummy. When we got back to the trailer, our kayaks were there, but I needed to lay down for a moment. I went back to the bedroom and just kept feeling worse and worse. I was increasingly in distress, sweat began pouring down my face and body and I couldn’t even lie down I was so uncomfortable. Indigestion? Flu? With alarming speed, the pain increased until I finally realized this was something I could not deal with on my own.

Jim headed to the Ranger Station to find out options for medical intervention. The ranger said we could drive to Sault Ste Marie, an hour and a half to the east, or we could head west to Newberry. She recommended Newberry as it was her own home hospital and she thought they were good.

We chose the latter and by the time we got in the truck all I could do was writhe in pain and moan. My thoughts, my whole being was just consumed by pain. Jim made the trip in about 45 minutes and I have only brief recollections of trees flying by and passing many cars as he sped as quickly as possible to the hospital.

Newberry coalesced as a collection of streets and buildings. The blue sign with the H was a beacon. We pulled up and I staggered into the Emergency Room. They rushed me back and I was never so thankful to be anywhere. When the morphine failed to quell the pain, they switched to something called Dilaudid. It took multiple doses and then finally the all-consuming pain was under control. At this point I had no idea what was wrong, but they ordered a CT scan. The CT scan revealed my small intestine was obstructed. They ordered an ambulance to take me to Marquette, which was over two hours away, and where they had the facilities to perform surgery.

Poor Jim had been most of this time in the waiting room, but he was on hand to say goodbye as I was loaded into the ambulance. It would be left to him to head back to the trailer and Dakota and the next day hitch up all by himself and follow me to Marquette. It had to have been a lonely and dismal night.

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My surgery was scheduled for the next morning. At the same time, Jim was hitching the trailer. He texted his sister, Linda, to bring her up to speed. Enter the goddess/saint Linda. She called him immediately and said she was jumping in the car. It was about a seven-hour drive, but she would meet Jim in Marquette to provide much needed and desired moral support. Linda would stay with us several days and, while we may have managed without her, it made all the difference in the world to us.

As terrifying as this whole episode had been, we were incredibly fortunate to have been not too distant from care. The Helen Newberry Joy Hospital in Newberry did a great job of stabilizing my pain and diagnosing my problem. We were again fortunate that they have a close working relationship with the UP Health System–Marquette Hospital. The transport they arranged arrived instantaneously and we began the two hours plus trip.

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The UP Health System—Marquette Hospital turned out to have just opened in June. It is a gorgeous state-of-the-art facility. I had arrived at the hospital Sunday night and my surgery was scheduled for the next morning. Any concerns I had about who my surgeon would be were irrelevant. I was grateful to be there and hoped for the best outcome.

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All went well with the surgery. They removed 19 inches of small intestine, but that’s okay because there is plenty left. The eight inch incision did in all likelihood put an end to my bikini modeling career, but it was a small price to pay.

Jim arrived to visit in the late afternoon. Linda was on hand and they were busy scouring the area for appropriate places for my recovery when I got out. The average stay after my procedure is 5-7 days. My recovery was an upward trajectory. I rejoiced each time a tube was removed and by Thursday, my happiness was transcendent as I surveyed my first meal.

Jim and Linda had found the perfect place for us to recover. The Country Village RV Park in Ishpeming is about 20 minutes up the road from the hospital. Abutting the campground is the pet-friendly, Jasper Ridge Inn. We would have the trailer on hand and the comfort of a hotel room within a few hundred yards.

Linda drove me from the hospital and Jim followed in the truck. It was great to be out and floral tribute greeted me at the hotel. Linda left shortly thereafter having taken incomparable care of both Jim and Dakota. This was the end of the trip we thought we were taking and the beginning of a homeward voyage. We would take our time convalescing and, when it was time, hit the road back east. It was a little sad, but mostly we were grateful that everything worked out so incredibly well.

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Stars Did Not Align

Editor’s note: this post should have preceded the post entitled Restoration East of the Mississippi. Apologies for the inadvertent geographical diversion. 

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Just outside Star City is Cane Creek State Park. We arrived on a sunny and warm afternoon. The drive from Lake Catherine had been short and it was just past 1 p.m., early for check in. The woman in Ranger Headquarters said she wasn’t sure our site was free yet. We drove past and it didn’t look like anyone had thought about hitching up yet.

We needed a place to wait. Jim had looked at the map and saw there were two roads, one led to a boat launch, the other to the picnic area. Both roads were shown to have loops at the end. We headed down the road to the picnic area only to discover to our dismay that here was no loop, just a dead end. Uh oh.

At the picnic area, there was a small parking lot near the bathrooms and Jim pulled in. Some folks were sitting at one of the picnic tables. We figured they were probably wondering what the heck we were doing. Choosing to flee this potentially volatile scene, I headed to the rest room and left Jim to it. When I emerged, he had managed magically and gracefully to get turned around in the small parking lot. We had to laugh. Those people at the picnic table must have thought he just happened to drive me to use the ladies room with the trailer hitched even though we had a bathroom in the trailer. It was pretty funny.

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Right on time, the previous tenants pulled out of our site and we got backed in and settled. This campground is pretty small, only 24 sites and most were unoccupied. It was wooded and shady which felt good in the warm afternoon air. The lake was just visible through the trees down a hill from our site. Given our concerns about ticks, we did not set up the mat or our chairs outside. The great outdoors held little charm for us.

The ranger had warned me right up front the ticks were bad. Having just had an upsetting tick experience, we weren’t really anxious to get on the trails. We lounged around for the afternoon and managed to get the weather before the tv began pixilating wildly. A big thunderstorm was predicted.

It was a boomer and a banger all right. The lightning and thunder were impressive and the rain prodigious. It was still spitting the next morning. We spent the morning reading the paper and cleaning the trailer. We had just enough cell signal to send emails, hot spot and even make calls.

The park rented kayaks and I walked back to the ranger station to inquire about rentals. Due to the rain, they weren’t renting any that day. I had been obsessing over the tick issue since we left Lake Catherine. I was so worried about Dakota and totally grossed out that we seemed inundated with ticks. I asked the ranger if she thought I was over-reacting. She was most commiserative and sympathetic. Rangers have to do many things in their jobs, I guess therapy should be added to the list.

Lunch was an appropriate rainy day meal of soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. Right after lunch, I headed in to Star City’s sole laundromat to do the laundry. It was actually a pretty nice laundromat. Having spent quite a bit of time in various iterations of laundromats in the last few months, this was a happy surprise. I was so content sitting there knitting, I didn’t even notice when the wash cycle ended.

Late in the afternoon the skies cleared. Dakota and I took a (hopefully) tick free walk down to the fishing pier. The air was incredibly fresh and clear. Some couples were taking pictures down at the dock in full prom regalia. They seemed very happy and excited. I would expect prom is a pretty big deal in a very small town like Star City.

Since hiking the trails was off the list, the next day we decided to drive up to Pine Bluff. For some reason Pine Bluff sounded terribly familiar to us. Jim had done some research and discovered they had a series of murals painted on the walls of buildings in the downtown area in the 90’s. The walls depicted scenes of local history.

Pine Bluff was about 40 minutes north and we drove through open country. We followed the signs for the downtown and parked the truck. It was a sunny and comfortably warm day. Jim had noted the locations for all the murals and we decided to make it a walking tour.

The murals were still there, but Pine Bluff’s downtown was deserted and the buildings were crumbling. It was beyond creepy. Store windows were boarded up. We walked the sidewalk past a couple of store front lawyers’ offices proximate to the county courthouse. Otherwise, there was nothing left.

Going out of business signs decorated the fronts of buildings which were now roofless with walls beginning to collapse inward.

Railroad tracks split the downtown. A train signaled its approach and we stood by as it rumbled past us through the desolate town.

The Historic Depot Museum was defunct. We peered through windows to see the empty lobby. The ticket desk displayed its open hours and pamphlets were littered across the counter. It was as if the people had simply disappeared one day.

North of the tracks there was still some activity. A few small and dilapidated houses stood. The convention center was flanked by a now-closed hotel. A government building stood next to the post office. We turned back towards the downtown and passed a recently erected brick structure housing the Arts and Science Center for Southeast Arkansas.

We spied a deteriorating brick building. Painted on its side was the legend “Tear Me Up.” Not “Tear Me Down”, but “Tear Me Up.”What did that mean? Was it a plea for restoration? Was it a protest against the rampant neglect? A cry of anguish from a heart wrenched by loss? Another building seemed to sport the beginning of the same plea, but it remained unfinished. What happened?

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Back in the truck, we drove through some depressed residential areas and up to the campus of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. This is a predominately black institution with just over 5,000 students. The campus included a stadium, some dorms, academic buildings and, while not architecturally outstanding, it appeared to be in good shape.

We were deeply saddened at the state of Pine Bluff. The city is 75% black with about 20% of inhabitants white. The median income in the city is $30,413 and almost 1/3 of the population lives below the poverty line. How had this been allowed to happen to these people? They had been abandoned by all appearances as their city collapsed around them. In 2013 CNNMoney reported the crime rate in Pine Bluff was second only to Detroit. Recently the city was awarded $2 million to stimulate development. Hope for the future?

We drove back to Star City. Back at the park, we walked down to see Cane Creek Lake on the park road. Standing on the dock, Dakota began ferociously scratching at his leg. I checked only to discover a large tick embedded in his flesh. We walked briskly back to the trailer to perform yet another tick check.

While we were in Arkansas, a big story on the national and local news was that state’s plan to execute inmates on death row before the expiration date on their death serum. Popular opinion in the state seemed to hold that this would bring closure to the victims of heinous crimes. Others suggested taking a life under even these circumstances was unacceptable. This was not the first time that we experienced the collision of local and national news. It always made for thought-provoking juxtaposition and this was certainly the case in this instance as the state did successfully carry out four executions, two in one evening, during our stay.

The next day we would head back to Mississippi and we were glad of it. Arkansas had been a difficult state for us. We had been beleaguered by ticks. We felt uncomfortable and often unhappy. It seemed a strange state with scenic lakes anchored by hulking power stations and cities left desolate and crumbling. It was a state where even the truckers seemed malevolent. Was it us or was this really a state where good and bad seemed to fit into the same glove?