I spent most of Wednesday in the car, driving from site to site along the Harriet Tubman Byway, trading off between the excellent audiotour (it didn’t go off the rails with reconciliation rhetoric until three stops from the Delaware border) and the rental car’s satellite radio–a Springsteen-only station? Be still my roadtrip heart! It was a dreary rainy day, and I was all complicated feelings and quiet as I passed through the heart of Caroline County’s Underground Railroad territory and the place where the Still’s had to decide which children to leave in slavery because they couldn’t all make it to freedom at the same time. I drove to the Choptank River, the site of Tubman’s first escape, but I had to pass a house draped in Confederate flags to get there. I learned about the Caroline County Courthouse where slave auctions were held, and just down the block, the local jail’s intake center. The sign out front told the story of voting for a state constitutional amendment banning slavery, since the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t apply to Union states. Apparently Caroline County voters protested their disenfranchisement, claiming their votes against the amendment were destroyed. Voter disenfranchisement, right. I got lost over and over again, because there aren’t a lot of signs out here, and I wonder the backstory, what kinds of resistances have been thrown up at every stage of remembrance. And then I made it to stop 31, Adkins Arboretum. Oh, it was worth the trip, a walk through an upland forest and an audiotour that described the role the natural environment played in enabling and hindering flights to freedom. Each track trailed off with different names of freedom seekers, and I wanted to know them all. William Still kept a book of all who passed through his Philadelphia office. Two of them turned out to be the brothers his parents had had to leave behind. They’d been sold to Kentucky, but 27 years later, they were free, too. The sun had come out, and it was hot and sticky and the bugs, oh the bugs. In a car you. Don’t feel it. It’s different on a bike, too. Today was a good day to take a bit, slow down, walk, and listen.
Tuesday was hot. Humid and hot, and I woke up kind of dreading the thought of a bike ride, to be honest, so I left the hotel early so I could get some miles in before the heat really laid in. Oh, I’m so glad I did. I drove the bike out to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and followed the signs for the bike route. I took my right onto Wildlife Road, paid my one dollar entry fee, and then I was at the edges of the earth, which is how wetlands feel to me, both land and water, and the road set precariously and temporarily between the two. Dragonflies zipped all around me, and red-winged blackbirds were everywhere. I saw more herons and egrets than I could count, and the smell–the smell!–was so *clean*. I snapped this picture from an overlook, but if I’d taken the picture facing the other way, there would have been more water, and a stand of trees in the foreground. That’s the thing with wetlands–you have to be there to see it all, and what you see will be different in a heartbeat. I rode away from this lookout, took my left back out on the main road, and was joined by flapping herons and young eagles just barely above my head (or that’s how it felt anyway) and it was all so fantastic I heard myself actually say out loud, “this is magic,” because it was. I extended my ride as long as I could, relearning, again, that if you’re traveling fast and easy, you just might have a tailwind, and you’re going to have to pay it back going the other way. I spent the rest of my day in the car, following ghosts down back roads and getting myself good and lost trying to find the end of Hoopersville Road. So many lives lived and being lived on the same shifting ground.