Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Our RV Adventure, Day 7: Fine Arts and Farms

(To start from the beginning, see Our RV Adventure: Introduction.)

Tuesday, May 7, Sweetwater, Tennessee 

At 3:47 am, the cats are restless.

At 6:15, I wake without an alarm, feed the cats, and make breakfast.

A songbird lands on our roof and sings. The roof vent is open. The campsite is peaceful, and even though we are in a steel and wood house that is also a gasoline-burning vehicle, we are in nature. The quiet hours policy is working well right now. We are not late, or hurried, or exhausted.

As I eat my oatmeal, Dusty sneakily reaches up to the table to playfully paw at my cup of vitamins.

After breakfast, I unhook, we pack, and drive to the dump station. Piece of cake.

We are two hours from Sewanee, where we will lunch with my Aunt Sally, Uncle Ed, and cousin Malia.

It’s a beautiful view of Chattanooga from the Interstate. The Tennessee River is wide. We briefly cross into Georgia. We start going uphill because Sewanee is almost 2,000 ft up.

Sewanee basically is the University of the South, at least since 1857. Ed and Sally, retired teachers, live on the campus, which is beautiful, especially in early May. Ed had been the chairman of the art department there. We consider parking on the street in front of their house but there is a No Parking sign. They have a semicircular drive in front of their house, so they suggest that we back up the RV into one side, and we can drive their car out of the other side. Backing up into the driveway requires Ed directing traffic on the street and Cathleen directing me from behind while I drive. We take a few branches off their heavily wooded drive, but seem not to have damaged the RV. Later I will climb up the RV ladder in the back and use a broom to brush a branch off the RV roof.

The RV parked in the Carlos driveway.
The RV parked in the Carlos driveway. 

The RV is in the shade, and we open the windows and roof vents, so we feel like we can leave the cats there while we go to lunch. We drive to the Golf Club for lunch. Malia, who is Mardi’s age, meets us there. She teaches and chairs the English Department at St. Andrew’s-Sewanee School, an Episcopal prep school related to the University, where her mother Sally taught mathematics for years. We trade family updates: school, significant others, our impending grandparenthood. I have a burger and yummy sweet (potato) fries. It's a nice day, and a nice time together. We have our goodbyes with Malia, and leave with Sally and Ed. 

Scenic overlook from Sewanee, Tennessee.
Green's View scenic overlook from Sewanee, Tennessee. 
We drive past a scenic overlook (Green's View) on the way back to their house. We check on the cats, who are fine, and will stay in the RV. We will now go to Ed’s “Iona Art Sanctuary,” a few miles down the road.

Ed and Sally’s Ford 15-passenger van has the same Ford E-350 engine and chassis as our RV. This is funny because Sally had asked me if the RV would be bigger than their van and I didn’t know it was the same cab. Of course, the RV is bigger – taller, wider, and longer – due to the house built onto the back. I looked this up later: the passenger van weighs 6,432 pounds empty, while the RV is 12,500 pounds empty.

Ed will take me and the dogs in the van, while Sally and Cathleen follow in the car. The dogs are Willa, who has only three legs; Babe, who is smaller; and Echo, a lap dog. The dogs run around the van trying to stick their heads out of the windows unless I pet them. When we arrive, they run around the field joyfully. Ed, who is 81, is surprisingly comfortable driving this van down the country road. I have to remind him to put on a seat belt, which he seems to find a burden.

Echo and Babe in the sanctuary
Echo and Babe in the sanctuary.
IONA: Art Sanctuary is a large (about 70 x 80 feet), peaked-roof, insulated, steel storage building, set back from the road. Ed had it built starting in 2005. There is a large field behind it, lower. The main entrance faces west to the field, with 12 steps down to it. About 100 feet from the foot of the stairs is a Shinto Torii gate – an entrance to the spiritual world, walking either to or from the structure. Over the entrance hovers a life-size guardian angel sculpture. Inside, the first thing you see is a life-size multi-racial creche of sculptures, surrounded by 12 luan wood and tile-board sheets sheets called “GALAXY.” The framed rectangles each have hole puncture arrays resembling constellations, meant to be viewed with light peeking through them. 
Inside the creche GALAXY.
Inside the creche GALAXY. 
GALAXY creche panels.
GALAXY creche panels.
The walls of the various rooms are covered in Ed’s paintings, drawings, and mixed media. The east end of the building is set up with a podium and seating for poetry readings and presentations. Facebook has an IONA page with many photos of artwork and the building.

Podium for poetry, presentations, and art
Podium for poetry, presentations, and art.
Currently, Ed is working on an installation of 13 metal sheets outside, similar to those inside, named The Celestial Sky – Messiah.” My cousin Aaron, who we will not see today, has been helping Ed extensively. We got to see Aaron and three of his children over Christmas break in 2016 when we were visiting my mom in DC.

Carlos' latest art installation in progress at IONA: Art Sanctuary. Sally is walking to its left.
Carlos' latest art installation in progress at IONA: Art Sanctuary. Sally is walking to its left. 
Ed says that most of his art has been inspired by encounters he has had with angelic spirit beings. He had once thought they were aliens, but no longer. He now calls them "living beings or angels - i.e., as hayyot" as in the biblical book of Ezekiel. As a Christian, I believe in angels, so why not? As Clarence says in It’s a Wonderful Life, “Don’t they believe in angels? Then why should they be surprised when they see one?” On the other hand, angels in the Bible are nothing like Clarence.

A turning point for Ed may have been two encounters he had on the isle of Iona, Scotland on Easter Sunday in 1990. The photograph and painting of it are called “Lightfall” (below).

Photographs of LightfallPainting of Lightfall

Ed guides us around IONA, explaining these things. He also reiterates an offer he had emailed us two years ago: choose an artwork as an inheritance gift. We choose “Atziluth,” a 40" x 60" drawing with paint and china marker, layered mixed media, one of a series of four spiritual worlds. 
"Aztiluth" on the wall in our house.
"Atziluth," depicting supernal light on water, on the wall in our house.
We take the painting in the van, back to their big old house, which they are rehabbing. We chat briefly in their dining room, but we have to leave to drive 90 minutes up to Lebanon, east of Nashville, to see Cathleen’s sister Donna and her husband Rich.

Between Sewanee and Lebanon, I see at least half a dozen roadkill armadillos. In Tennessee. Really?

Bridges everywhere are the worst for RVs: bumps, patches, potholes.

In Virginia and Tennessee, I’ve seen Attractions signs with nothing listed. There’s a claim to fame.

We are meeting Donna and Rich at Shoney’s in Lebanon for dinner. We wait out front. It’s a beautiful day.

I am about to ask about the large purse Donna is carrying. I perceive that it has a dog in it, which doesn’t make a peep the entire time we’re there.

We catch up on news. They will be performing in a wild west train robbery show as part of a country & western church ministry act with a gospel message. 

After dinner, we follow Rich and Donna in their pickup truck on increasingly rural roads to their hobby farm. It takes a little while to navigate backing up near their 30-amp hookup in the dark. They have had a succession of RVs, thus the hookup. After we get set in the RV, we join them inside their house for a jam session. The many dogs inside are not quiet at first, but Donna and Rich manage to calm them down. Three of us on guitars and Donna on violin. We start with “Folsom Prison Blues,” do some modern hymns, some Chris Tomlin, some classic hymns. We play one of ours, “Reconciled,” which Cathleen leads. We quit well after the planned 10 p.m. 

Back to the RV. We stay up too late, putting things away. Midnight. Set the alarm for 7 a.m.
The RV next to their house, in front of the stable
The RV next to Donna and Rich's house, their vehicles, in front of the stable (taken the following morning).
To be continued... 

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