Sarah Reflects on the Weeks of Filming American Bear

The last week has felt so much different.

There is so much to think about and so much to process that I dont even know where to begin. I dont think I've stopped experiencing our adventure and I dont think I'll realize how important was for a long time. And that's simply the personal side of things - the cinematic is going to be something I've never experienced before.

The biggest thing for me is the memories, or the way that anything anybody says reminds my of our time on the road, reminds me of one of our amazing hosts, reminds me of an encounter or a place or a time. And I feel weird talking about it all the time but I dont think I've ever had so many new experiences in such a small period of time. Those six weeks are huge for me, and ever present.

I had never seen the Grand Canyon, never seen Mt. Rushmore, never been to most of the states we visited, never tasted the foods we tasted never had conversations like I had with strangers.

I keep thinking that everyone should do it, everyone should go out and try and help each other and experience new things and get to know strangers. And there's this overwhelming trend that everyone in America thinks that other people are bad, but they themselves are so willing to help. People think that the world is chaotic and dangerous but they as individuals are calm and kind. So there's this inherent sort of contradiction. BUT because everyone is a little nervous, the risk and reward in staying with a stranger, or helping a stranger, is so much greater. It's part of what makes it so rewarding and part of what makes it so interesting. If everyone did that we'd lose that extreme risk and extreme reward. Which sounds a little sad to me. But it also sounds wonderful. What if we could travel that way? Or always feel safe when driving across the country because we know someone will help us if something goes wrong?

That sounds amazing to me.

I want this to show people that we can trust each other. I want that so badly. That was the initially point of my journey. But there is so much more in there - in the details, in the characters in the cultures that are so different. Everyone takes care of people differently, every one's understanding of hospitality is so different. First, we can trust each other. Then we can learn from each other. And at each layer is something different.

Have I changed? Yes. Definitely. I feel a little older, a little wiser, a little less afraid of the world, and maybe a little chubbier from all the pie.

This was a journey through the entire spectrum of my emotions. I think I felt almost everything I've felt before and some amazing brand new feelings.

It was a journey of stories. Everyone, everyone, everyone has a story to tell - a real, human story with real, human drama about real, human things. Beautiful things.
And everyone wants to share it (well almost everyone) - they want to share it with someone special - a stranger is the best candidate because they can't tell your friends, because they will listen openly, because you wont surprise them or confuse them. But the thing about strangers is, after you tell them your stories, they become your friends. Or maybe you only tell them that you are scared to tell them - well that's a pretty big weight, a pretty big secret - a story in itself.

I love that I have new friends all over the country. And that I can call them. Just to talk, to tell them stories.

I think about his everyday. About trust and fear. And the patterns we discovered. There is so much to learn there.

And I feel at a loss for words. Because this was profound for me. And my greatest hope is that it will be profound for someone else who sees it. For everyone else who sees it.

American Bear visits Cape Charles, Virginia

Lexington, South Carolina was old, Cape Charles, Virginia was older.

And it felt old.

It felt sea washed. Everything colored like ocean spray and bleached by the sun.

Greg was going to do the approach alone thing. While I sat in a café and worked through his resume, my resume, details for the upcoming month.

But the drive there ended up being almost 8 hours. With traffic and pit stops, we were late and Greg was exhausted. He decided to try going out despite this. Brave boy.

My stomach was hurting from trying the biscuits at Bojangles. So was his.

I sat at the computer, sent out a couple emails, did some virtual organizing, ate a piece of peach pie and chatted with the people walking in to try and find us a home as well.

After forty minutes Greg came back, exhausted from a long conversation with young people at the local bar. He said he felt like he had to try so hard to grab their attention. That he wanted to stay with people who weren’t going to be out partying all night.

So we built the camera and headed toward the beach.

Most people were visitors, but eventually we stumbled onto some locals. A very interesting guy invited us to stay at his squatter house. He said he couldn’t be sure when he’d be home but the door was always unlocked and we could visit whenever we wanted. He gave us directions. He was super friendly, but had plans for the night. Then we met another young guy from the area, he was having a major party at his place and we could come party, and sleep there. When I mentioned release forms, he said he’d have people sign em at the door. Smart. But really… not the best place for fancy equipment.

We told both the boys we’d let them know, that their offers were very generous, but we wanted to keep exploring. As we headed down to the beach we walk bust a very cheerful young man who told us we had just missed the dolphins swimming by as the sun was setting.

We tried to speak with other people but eventually ended up at the end of the beach, talking to that same boy – Stuart for almost 45 minutes about his adventures traveling around this summer.

We told him our story and we got our most enthusiastic yes ever – from an 18 year old whose family was visitng for the week.

He took us home. His younger sister, Caitlin, made us a DELICIOUS salad. His two youngest sisters Brigid and Maureen told us stories, offered us ice cream and kept asking us to watch Elf with them – which we happily did eventually. When his parents came home they were surprised to see us, but distracted by a small vehicle emergency.

We watched the movie, ate some popcorn and chatted with the girls.
Maureen fell asleep and had to be escorted up the stares to bed twice. She came back down after brushing her teeth and going to the bathroom to fall asleep in the room we were all in. Stuart carried her back.

I slept in the extra bedroom on a futon with the tech stuff, Greg was on the couch with the AC (which was so COLD, but he LOVED it).

In the morning Brigid and Greg walked together on a hot chocolate run.

It felt so comfortable, something I am only realizing fully now. We were sort of instantly insiders. Nobody said make yourself at home – but we almost had to. I don’t know why this happened at all. I keep thinking it had to do with Brigid and Maureen and their comfort with us. But also the way weren’t exciting to them as strangers, but rather just someone to sit with and watch a movie. Someone to tell stories to, but not someone to fight over. I felt fine grabbing a blanket from the other room when I was cold, and getting a glass of water. Maybe it was because their family sort of functioned like mine – just a little chaotically.

But it was a great night – and an even better morning.

I think I like getting to know people. Which I suppose is obvious. But I like the conversation that starts to come so easily after doing an interview. I love sharing stories. Listing to Stuart and Mrs. Hickey talk about the ways in which they help strangers and why caused a lot of discussion

After we talked some more Brigid and Maureen ran into the yard with teddy bears – our presents had been discovered! They helped Greg load the car and when Brigid asked for another bear, he gave her one – naming her two Sarah and Greg.

It was awesome.

American Bear visits Lexington, North Carolina

Lexington doesn’t feel old. But it is.

It felt like a place that had recent become a lot slower than it used to be. It was sort of still sweating after a race. And maybe it didn’t win.

Everyone was friendly. Super friendly. I think I beginning to accept that as a normal thing for the places we visit in the South. Finding a home is more difficult, but finding a friendly smile takes only a few seconds. I think about the morning after our night – we stopped at IHOP at 7am and after eating (we had the most friendly waitress since Julie in Bonner’s Ferry) I held the door open for a family coming in. They all, one at a time, turned to me, smiled and said “Good morning, thank you so much.”

But rewind.

We started downtown after an interview with the executive director of the homeless shelter, Gayle. Gayle was super friendly and super empathetic. She had made taking care of people her biggest responsibility, possibly her biggest joy.

Everyone in town was friendly but most had fallen on hard times. We talked to a man who had taken in a friends young daughter to lessen their economic struggle; we talked to a woman who believed that no one else could take care of her, that it was her responsibility to take of herself and no one else; we met a man who talked openly about his sadness at work in a deli rather than making furniture, what he was trained to and enjoyed doing. Everyone seemed to be helping each other.

The first few people declined an interview – but nicely, or at the least not rudely.

We stopped at a country store – one that had been in town for almost 100 years. The local favorite was cheese pimento salad. As we interviewed the manager, then the owner, everyone who came in was buying it. It was bright orange and kind of scary looking, but my curiosity was spiked. So we bought some.

My thoughts: Bleck. And my stomach complained for the rest of the night.

I don’t want to insult a local favorite, but it was just not my style. It was a mushy sort of paste made from mayonnaise, American cheese, sugar and pimentos. A sort of egg salad made of American cheese, but sweet. Thought: If egg salad and jello salad had offspring. Plus cheese.

No one in the store could help us so we decided that we would stop at the Japanese restaurant (A Japanese restaurant? Here?) before heading back to the homeless shelter to chat with a few residents.

That’s where we met Dan, Jimmy and Doug. We walked into the bar and the red walls were covered in a patchwork of paintings. The Shins were playing.

We chatted with the guys for a bit and then Doug – in a half round about way – invited us to stay with him for the night.

Doug was reading a book about zombies after we returned from the homeless shelter. He talked a little bit about racing – citing his home in Milwaukee as responsible. He talked to Greg and I about shows he’d seen.

We talked about performance art and Karen Finley and we contemplated buying some art. The artist, Stewart Knight came by later – check out his work here on Myspace.

It was a very pleasant and entertaining evening. In someways it felt almost weird to be hanging out with people my own age (older, I suppose, but…) again.

That night, we did an interview with Doug. Who told us that he didn’t like facebook because it created false friendships and he described the forming of friendships as a lengthy process. When I asked him to tell us part of his story he explained that we hadn’t earned it yet, that it would be unfair to the people he calls friends, the people who spent the time earning those stories, if he shared with us, and with an audience.

It’s tough for me to explain Doug. Because I think in many ways he was my opposite. He understands that he is guarded and he uses that word – but for him its positive. I am open with everyone, and he is closed. Not rude, or harsh; not the regular connation of those words. He was friendly, just private.

When we asked him why he took us in, it was sort of a mixed thing. He thought of himself last when he went through his list, realizing all of his friends were working super late, had children or no space. He seemed to think of himself as a last resort, and he wasn’t really hesitant, just logical. He said, “I couldn’t lie. I had so much space, “ also, “It was to weird to be bad.” We often wonder if people are making up excuses, or suggesting that in order to carefully avoid us as strangers.

He believed that life experience creates suspicion. That we are born trusting, as children we want to be everyone’s friend. But that experience teaches us how to distrust.

American Bear's Time in Hot Springs

Let me tell you about Tom and Becky.

Tom and Becky came to us from nowhere. Or rather, through a distant connection.
We had originally intended on going to Fayetteville the day after our accident. In Fayetteville, we had arranged one of our few couch surfing nights. Philip, our host for our evening in Fayetteville made some calls for us when we called to cancel. He called a friend whose parents lived in Hot Springs - those parents: Becky and Tom.

So our stranger for the night called a friend who called her parents and we had a phone call from Tom asking what he could do to help.

Greg told him our dilemma - we have no way to drive, no room to stay in and no place to go.

He said - I'll come pick you up in fifteen minutes.

Tom and Becky fed us (most nights delicious vegetarian food), housed us, let us print new directions, do our laundry, swim in their pool, use their internet. They took us on a boat ride on the lake, we got to play music together - a small recital of sorts.

This was a totally unique situation, because for the first time, we NEEDED help. For the first time we didn't have a car to sleep in.

It was kind of a break - but filled with phone calls and organization; planning and trying to figure out how we were going to get home.

After three days with them we felt much better. And now we had the resources to go and the arrangements all lined up.

So with a hug, we said goodbye.

American Bear in Oklahoma

Albion and Talihina Ohklahoma

It’s strange writing this so long after it happened. And with a mindset so different from only a few days ago.

I remember that I wanted to note that our day in Oklahoma was a day of peaches. We ate four peaches that we bought in Texas but didn’t try until we had pulled into the parking lot of a milkshake place in Oklahoma. Peaches are by far my favorite fruit and these peaches were ripe and perfect. I think I’ve converted Greg – he wants peaches everywhere we stop now.

Then, in a small country store in Albion (the only business in town, up a hill and attached to this couples house) was a collection of peach scented everything: soap, shampoo, lotion. In the bathroom: peach hand soap. In Pam’s Hateful Hussy Diner in Talihina, peach hand soap. I don’t really know what this means or how it relates to our day there, but it made me excited and it was a recurring theme. Later, at the grocery store, peach nehi soda – I bought one, remember my dad’s stories about nehi. It tasted like each jello , the kind we used to make when I was little. The kind that I still make.

As hinted, we started in Albion, the tiniest town on our itinerary. Population: 146. The main strip of the town was deserted, and when I say main strip I mean the few scattered houses and boarded up businesses. We knew we would try the post office but we thought we’d start at the Bent Can – the country store. When we arrived there was a man buying some canned fruit. We waited for him to purchase his items and then started talking to the owner – who was originally from Denver.

We had chosen a camera-less approach for the day, so there was no asking whether or not she was up for an interview. But we asked the same questions. She was friendly, if a little twitchy. She had moved here to escape her relatives, something she was very animated about. She loved Denver and she would much rather be there than Albion if it weren’t for her family. And all I could think about was how much I missed mine.

We talked to with her and her husband, Eli for over an hour. And then we told them what we were doing. And she froze up. She said, Sorry. No space.” She asked if we had a tent, then Eli said we shouldn’t sleep in a tent because we might get eaten up by chiggers. In high school I had a history professor who had chigger eggs laid in his arm, leaving scars that I never wanted to see on my own arm. I cringed and then told Greg what they were.

As we were leaving she said, “Sorry I can’t. Like I said, we have company.” Greg and I looked at each other and then went to the post office. Which was closed. And that was all we could do in Albion short of knocking on doors. Which would have been a difficult thing there, because I would have wanted to avoid the homes with chipboard for windows – and that doesn’t seem quite fair.

So we made our way to Talihina. 9 miles away.

Before we got far we saw a couple of young Mormon men strapping their bikes to a car on their way home. I stopped to chat. They were friendly and talkative and had good stories to tell. In a sense they basically do what we do every day – except they do knock on doors (though they have time to knock on everyone) and they have more of a mission than we do.

We went to the grocery store – most everyone was willing to strike up a conversation, but we couldn’t find anyone to take us home. Though we gave out a few cards.

Then we stumbled into Pam’s Diner – full name: Pam’s Hateful Hussy Diner.

We just wanted to fill our water bottles but got nabbed by the pie. We had a slicof coconut meringue. It wasn’t made in house and it wasn’t anything amazing. We told our waitress what we were up to. She took our card and about five minutes a smiling face arrived at our table, “You can stay with me. It’s just me and my two girls, but I don’t mind havin ya, “ a cheerful voice said. I turned to see Amber smiling at us. She grinned as we said, “Really? That would be great!” and then she said be right back and disappeared. As we waited (we had finished out pie), Amber’s mother, Pam (THE Pam) came and chatted with us. She did a full background check, not quite so subtly as checks we’ve had in the past, very upfront and direct with her questions. We told her what we were up to. “Well we don’t got much, but what we have we share,” said Pam about the town, herself, her daughter. We told her we’d be very grateful for just a floor – we’re low maintenance after all. “Well, we’ll work
something out, “ she said before disappearing herself.

We sat there confused. It seemed like Pam didn’t want us staying with Amber. We had no idea what was going on. We had finished out pie. Should we order more food? Should we leave?

Eventually Amber returned to us. “My mom says she’ll put ya’ll up in a motel.” We

Somehow it became clear that we wanted to stay with Amber. And somehow her mother became okay with that.

And then we got to meet Laney and Alyssa – ages 6 and 9. Very friendly girls with very different personalities and very different appearances.
We stuck around to eat dinner and talk to Amber’s friend Ron who offered to take us parasailing.

That night we had a very long conversation with Amber who spoke openly about her past and her future. She discussed her previous addiction to drugs and her struggle to get over it, her relationship to god, her mother and her girls. She cried when she told us how bad she felt and how much she loved her family; she showed us some of her her poetry; and she and I played with bendaroos as we talked (I called them wiki stix – one of my favorite toys when I was little) . We talked with the girls a bit too – they showed me some tricks with the bendaroos and kept asking Amber to do the “glow stick trick”.

So she did. We went into her bedroom and she brought four glow sticks with her – green, pink, blue and yellow. She poked holes with a push pin in four places on the top of each one and she and I shook the neon liquid all over the place. Like Pollock. Like wild children. Then Greg and the girls came in and we turned off the lights. And the whole room glowed. Colorful stars made three dimensional shapes. The kids rolled in it, then they stood out. It was spectacular. And kind of smelly.
Amber was an amazing host. She slept on the couch so we could share a bed. But she didn’t let us know she was doing it until it was too late. She fed us snacks. She took us to breakfast in the morning.

Amber didn’t talk to us before she said yes. She didn’t worry that it was just her and two young girls. She trusted automatically. And that was amazing.
We said our goodbyes, the thank you’s and Amber’s kind words – “thanks for reminding me that its okay to trust people, “ a bendaroo version of Alyssa for our dashboard and hugs all around. As we were walking away Amber stopped us, “Drive safely,” she said, and then, “If you need anything I have a friend who owns a garage.” We smiled and walked on.

After the car accident, I called her (she had actually called me first, just to check in), I told her we’d been in an accident and she said, “I am glad you are okay , “ and then, “I don’t know why but I had a feeling about ya’ll.”
The accident feels eerie to me. Because of Amber’s feeling, because it happened in Bear, in the center of Bear, exactly where mapquest said Bear was. Because I have no idea how it happened – a mistake, a simple mistake, a mistake that I would not make. And here we are. A few days in Hot Springs and driving our U-Haul across the country.

Stories about our rescue-ers Tom and Becky to follow.

Day 39: Bear, AR

We had been in Bear, Arkansas for about seven minutes. We drove down the road that Mapquest told us to drive down; we saw the old church, now boarded up, but it does say "Bear, Arkansas, Est. 1934." We were headed across the road, easing out from a stop sign, when we got in the accident.

The car was probably going at 45 mph when Corey, the driver, slammed the brakes, noticing us crossing the street. He hit the passenger side -- where I was sitting. And filming. We haven't watched the footage yet.

We got slammed, ran over a stop sign, and came to a stop in the bushes. Corey's pickup truck was pushed up against us too.

Our passenger door was pretty banged in; the front right tire bent at an angle; both car doors have trouble opening. Corey, 18 and extremely friendly, drove a small GMC, and the hood and lights were obliterated, and the driver's door couldn't open.

We are all fine. I have a bruise on my head from having it banged against the window. The car is probably totaled. Doug, who towed our car to the garage, drove us to a hotel as well. The future is a mystery, and we need dinner and cold showers before anything else.
And this is after another phenomenal night, staying with Amber and her two daughters in Talihina, Oklahoma last night. That blog entry will still come. But maybe after we've had a long discussion about what's next.

American Bear visits Dallas and Paris in July

Dallas, TX -

We officially had our best meal of the entire trip (restaurants included) with EZ and Jules in Dallas.

EZ made vegetarian tacos - each ingredient was cared for and spiced and perfect. The options for taco insides: applewood smoked zuccini, portabella mushrooms, poblano peppers, bell peppers jalepenos, and chiles; oaxacan cheese; a bean concotion that was full of complex flavors; and homemade guacamole. Jules had warmed blue corn tortillas in a pan on the stove. We had a texas blonde ale as we stood around the kitchen and a yummy white wine with the meal.

Greg and I have had a lot of uninentional vegetarian food. But this was a meal of intention. And it was amazing. I could not stop eating.

Jule and EZ were both super friendly and playful (each in their own way). I loved watching Jules walk on the high ledge of garden planters and touch all of the plants that looked like they had an interesting texture. EZ told great stories and talked so openly about his love for Jules. Jules later told us about the way that EZ wrote - his letters like poetry.
Greg and I had so much fun. We got to see a lot of the parts of Dallas that we wouldnt have discovered on our own. I feel like I could live there - as long as I could still hang out with Jules and EZ.

EZ told many stories about helping strangers and Jules talked about how her family was so much different than EZ's - almost an opposite. They both talked about their pasts as huge contributions to their feelings towards others. And of course this is something we all understand but it is also something very important. Our families help shape us in such huge ways.

Paris, TX
I think the people in Paris are the friendliest we've encountered. Everyone we talked to sort of took responsibility for us, they became invested in our safety. Our first experience there (always influential on the outcome of the day) was at the public Library. I had an interview with KNPR and they needed a landline. A couple of days before hand Greg had called to see if they could he us. And the director, Priscilla had very generously offered to lend us her office. When we got there everyone was super nice.

Priscilla was friendly and offered to put us up if had some bad luck. And we met Leigh who
offered the same and had us follow her to a place to get an oild change on her way out because she was worried her directions might be bad. Priscilla called the local newspaper to get someone to do a story on us. Both woman were super energetic and friendly and funny and kind.

We got our oil changed at Paris Express Car Care (The Penzoil place across from Wal-Mart). For everyone in Paris - THESE GUYS ARE AMAZING. We mostly talked to the manager, Matt who was super friendly and did a lot of extra stuff for us for free. He was so nice and gave us safety advice as well as teaching us a few quick fixes for our car. So if you are ever in Paris, TX - go visit these guys. and the Library.

We had lunch and our waiter was super friendly, young and hospitable and funny.

We of course visit the eiffel tower.

Finally we made it to the downtown area to talk to some strangers. First stopping at Paris, Baby. A small baby botique. One of the co-owners was working and she was super friendly, offering to find us a place and (later we discovered) making her facebook status about our project, we got about three text messages later in the afternoon. We went to the wine shop - the only local place to buy alcohol for the last 30 years, because Paris had been a dry town until very recently. The son of the owner was super nice, talking to us for nearly 45 minutes and giving me a glass of very cold, very sweet, white wine. His pregnant wife was super nice too and had some ideas for us.

Eventually we found our way into Spanglers. Where we met John. John was friendly and spoke openly about the fact that he felt like America and Americans had changed - they were no longer true Americans. Usually I can tell when someone is going to take us in. I am almost always right. I wasnt sure about John though, and after some funny miscommunication - with Greg's phrasing and John's only occasionally poor hearing, John did not understand what we were asking. Greg, in our usually follow up question said, "So why didnt you invite us into your home" And John said, "What? Oh, I am sorry. " and then "I think that would be fine."

After a bit of faltering and explaining, we met his wife Stella, who also smiled and agreed right away.

John took us on a small tour of the area - we saw the factories and the other neighboorhoods and the Jesus in cowboy boots in the cemetary.

When we got home we waited for a bit for Stella and she came home with Mark, a friend of theirs who they had sort of adopted into their family.

The five of us went for Mexican food and conversation.

Then we talked inthe parking lot for a long while.

Then we talked over dessert.

It was a lot of interesting conversation.

John is an ex-rancher turned mortician turned local downtown shop owner. We heard about the time he contracted TB from a corpse, a time where he contacted another very painful disease from a corpse. We talked to Mark about his time in Alaska and his family.

Lesson of the day: surprises. The evening just kep suprising us. We kept stumbling into interesting conversation. An even John and Stella were a suprise. Because we thought they'd said no and then they said yes. Two days ago we had the opposite, but this feels much better.

American Bear Day 30: Tuba City

Tuba City - sounds like it belongs nestled in the big open bowl of a tuba. But I think even the shiny gold of a tuba is duller than the colors here and probably much wetter. Though most of the homes were nestled against the curving hillside, it was no tuba we were looking at - it was a folded, holey landscape - maybe a harmonica or an accordian. Or a set of pipes woven with wool.

I love dry land. I have lived in a desert all my life and this feels comfortable. But I forget how chapped my lips get and how my skin starts to feel like dry clay.

I think we were scared of Tuba City. Our first encounter was with some intense, drunk, stumbling hecklers at the "dinosaur tracks". We pulled off the highway just a few miles before the city because I am very much interested in dinosaurs. I want to see dinosaur foot prints. Before we had even parked completely there were two men at Greg's window arguing over who got to give us the tour.

They said it was free, except for tips.

Finally, I said, "look if you guys can't stop, we are just going to go."
"Fine, just remember to tell them about the jewelry..." So a single man led us towards the red desert. And there were dinosaur tracks alright. Tons of them, in different kinds. It was actually pretty cool, but the visuals kept being interrupted by the stumbling broken sentences of our guide. He kept missing words, asked us three times where we were from and each time had a different response, "I used to live there," "I went skiing there once," "Ah, I hear it's beautiful." He tried to draw the outline of the less visible footprints with a water bottle, but what was left behind was just a lot of curling dots that obscured what we could already see.
The whole time he was talking about money. He awkwardly tried to get us to bribe him to see the t-rex tracks.

Back at the car he said he usually got a lot from people with cameras. I had two ones, a ten and a twenty. We had been on the sand bed for all of 7 minutes. I asked if he had a five (he had taken out his money during the tour to count it and I knew he had exactly 55 dollars), he said no. He brought out his money, said "Only twenties" and fanned it, revealing a five and a ten. "I saw the five out there. And I can see it now. It's up to you. I have two ones or you can give me that five for my ten." "I usually get more than that." "If you had been honest I probably wouldn't mind giving you more than that, but you weren't. You want this or not." "Nah." I handed him the two ones, feeling guilty but also frustrated at this drunk man trying to hassle me. "Dont forget to look at the jewelry, " he said, and then punched the car door as we drove away.

And so with that we toured out town. We discovered a museum, a trading post, a McDonalds, a Taco Bell, and tons of boarded up houses.

Today was a special day. I was going out alone, with just audio and a notebook, so Greg could transfer footage from our trip to Bear. I was nervous. And I am very rarely nervous.

I started at the museum. The woman I spoke to was nervous and shy. She said she couldn't but sent me to a manager. The manager wasn't in her office, so I ended up at a general store.

There I met Milton. He was the first person to agree to an interview. and the first person to say yes. He called his wife.

"I am with this crazy white girl and she wants to stay at our place tonight."
I nod.
"She says what if you kill us?"
"I promise I wont kill you."
"She says she promises she won't kill you."
They talk in Navajo for a while.
"She says yes."

And so I reported back to Greg and we spent three more hours in Taco Bell doing some producing and tech stuff. We met two very friendly girls named Kiana and Tiffany.
At 8 pm we still hadn't heard from Milton, so I called.

He said his tour was running late. Expect him at 10pm.

So we went to the Grand Canyon as fast as we could - stopping at Little Colorado River Canyon just in case we missed it. We were chasing the sun - speeding down the road towards the fading light.

It was beautiful. Maybe the most beautiful thing I have seen on our trip - and there have been a lot of beautiful things. Tiana had asked us in Taco Bell just a couple hours before - and we had cited the Badlands, the lake in Montana, the hills in Bear, Washington. But the Grand Canyon on fire - with the brightest reds and oranges fading into the deepest blues I have ever seen. After running down the slope to a view point. After speeding down the road. After listening to good music. That is a sight to see.

At 10:15pm we still hadn't heard from Milton, so I called.

He said the tour was still running behind. Expect him in 45 minutes. At a gas station.

Greg was getting nervous. The postponing of time and defnitely the fact that he had never seen or heard Milton, made for an eventful 45 minutes.

We went over safety procedures again, we made a backup plan. We brushed our teeth in the sketchy gas station bathrooms.

Then Milton arrived and we followed him home. The second Greg set foot in the door, I felt him ease up.

Milton's wife Lynette had to go to bed early and their son Tanner was asleep already, so the three of us sat outside under the stars for 2 hours.

We talked about art - about his photographs, some so vivid and crisp and swirling they looked like oil paintings - we talked about aliens and spirits - skin walkers and other worlds. We shared beer from the brewing company a few days past. We saw shooting stars.

In the morning we talked more - with Tanner on Milton's lap talking about bugs and heat and his older brother. Greg talked extensively about his nervousness and his fear. Why seeing someone is so important. We learned about the other side for just a second. The idea of not really knowing who we were staying with really frightened him. I am sitting next to Greg and he has two things to say, 1 - " I was a-scared" and 2-" four corners, schmore-corners. I'll just have to go to five corners now. Take that!" (we just passed the four corners monument on our way to colorado and it's closed...)

His discomfort was less about never seeing him perhaps and more about the way that our time to meet him was being pushed back. The mystery involved in those changes really made him nervous. It was a little hard to gauge. But in the end it was a great night.

American Bear Visits Bear Number Three: Bear Arizona

Bear, Arizona - a sort of mystery land. We could never figure out if we were close to civilization or far from it. I had perfect cell phone reception, but the night was completely quiet and the starts brighter than any of my favorite small towns.
The sunset was completely southwestern. Like an oil painting, the strong dark horizontal lines of bright colors with a single bright star and a crescent moon. That's been the way the sky has looked all over Arizona though; painted land, painted sky.

The Bears have become so personal. We document them, but it's really our only time to be alone, to talk with each other rather than many strangers.
This Bear was amazing. At this point I think we've decided that it's been our favorite so far. It was familiar to me - maybe a little drier than the dry colorado mountains where my dad has been for many years building a tire house. But it was also unfamiliar. We saw three giant eagles, sat in an empty river basin for over an hour, followed two sets of train tracks in opposite directions, slept on the softest, chalkiest, dryest earth, and almost stepped on a dead scorpion.
In Montana I wanted to be a cowboy, here I wanted to disappear into the drought, or howl at the moon.

This Bear was interesting because it was a lot about us. In the last 30 days we've spent a lot of time talking about our film, about other people, about future films, but we hardly ever reflect about our relationship. Here - we did.

I stepped on a cactus.

I hunted for arrowheads.

I was incredibly excited about the cool night. After our sweaty night in Vegas, the cool that arrived at around 4AM was so soothing.

We discovered energy here. Or we started to understand what makes people comfortable with us - a single similarity - their intution, our presence.

I can't believe this is Bear number three. And yet I can. We've already learned so much.

American Bear, Day 23: Grangeville, Idaho

There is a lot to talk about with Grangeville.

We've never given out so many cards. We've never had so many people turn down interviews.

We had a lot of really amazing conversations. A lot of really interesting talk.
But not a whole lot of leaps of faith - not a whole lot of people willing to help us.

We started in the grocery store. Our qualifier was curly hair. And Greg was doing all the talking (It's one of our mini-experiments). So we talked to a lot of women (because most men seemed to have short hair or no hair) and 2 in the store said yes to an interview.

While we were in the store we ran into Anna - who was passing through to visit the parents of her best friend.

Anna took our card and left a message with Mark and Maura.

We talked to a few more people in the pizza parlor and outside of the movie theater. Again, everyone took our card but no one could host us.

We talked to two women on a walk who were incredibly helpful and friendly. A man in the pizza store offered to treat us (but we had just eaten). He had some amazing things to stay about the state of the nation. The kids outside the theater had a friend for us to call. But no luck really. Just a lot of friendly, talkative people.

Around 9pm we got a call from Erin that was followed by a call from Maura - she said she wanted to talk to us first but we should come on by. This was the first time that we've had anyone want to hang out with us before saying yes. Every time we talk, I mention this to Greg, "Why dont people screen us more often?" I know thats what I would want to do. Chat with some to get a feel for them before offering them a place to stay.

So we headed down there and she and Mark told us AMAZING stories. They joked that we had stumbled into the only liberal home in all of Idaho. It was probably true.

Their daughter Lily, was very articulate and excited.

Maura made us blueberries with yogurt and cinnamon and we talked till very late.

In the morning the day care was open. Maura takes care of anywhere between 7 and 14 children on a daily basis and we woke up to giggling kids.

She made us a DELICIOUS breakfast despite her business and they sent us on our way.

It was an amazing evening.

and Maura offered to send me earrings that makes. I want to send her something too.

The Lesson of the Day: There is always someone who is willing to help. Even in a town full of people who are scared of cameras and strangers. And there are always people who will try to help you, but cannot take you on themselves. And sometimes the people who are willing to help are incredibly friendly and have good stories. And sometimes they feed you amazing food.

I've been thinking a lot about my post from Bonner's Ferry. About the idea of excuses. I think excuse is the wrong word. There is something there that is important to get at, but I dont ever want to hold it against some one or accuse them of making excuses if they are unable to take us in. To some people being hospitable means having a bed for people to sleep in. Or a clean house. or food to feed them. And though we dont need all of that, it is still important to some people. Maybe its not only fear that stops people but the pressure of hospitality.

American Bear, Day 22: Couer D'Alene

I have yet to eat a potato in Idaho. Just like it took us a while to eat cheese in wisconsin. The local girls in Couer d' Alene said all the potatoes at the restaurants actually come from Washington. We have a few more days to try a potatoe and I guess I am looking forward to it.

We havent slept much in the last few days so it makes us a little goofy. Especially in the car. Greg won't stop saying everything in various accents and I cant help but sing just about everything I say. I am getting really good at fitting most things into well recognized tunes. It's fun but makes me feel sort of crazy.

Couer d'Alene was a long day. We talked to over 40 people and spent the day baking. We had decided to try what we call the "sloppy" approach. I put on tons of make up and smeared all across my face - I used a hershey's kiss to make little chocolate messes in the corner of our mouth. Greg made his hair really messy and we spilled salsa all of her his wrinkled shirt. He wore swim trunks for shorts and I wore my tank top kind of side ways and really messed up my hair - it was big and filled with tangled and quite greasy.

It didnt really seem to have a huge affect. A couple people asked Greg what happened to his shirt and a teenage selling snow cones told him he had something on his face. Generally people didnt really seem to notice. When asked about it they said we looked like beach bums, but nothing more. We were on the lake and everyone was looking kind of beach-bummy.

Greg and I decided that next time we try the sloppy experiment we need to buy/make him a sleeveless shirt and have him wear a bandana - and I'll to think of something equally as strange to accompany my dirt, smeared make up and funny hair.

We had many people take our cards in Couer d' Alene. No one could help directly but everyone wanted to find someone to help us out. We only got one call back - from Cortney and Amber who had just moved into their house a week ago and were newly independent hard-working 22 year olds. They were possibly the most enthusiastic people we'd ever met on our first encounter. The conversationd zoomed around and they shared so much with us.

While we were talking to them on the street we ran into another roup of young people who were equally as friendly and excited about the film: LJ, Macy, Jackie and Rhett. They invited us to taco bell with them and we had a lot of fun talking and eating. Greg and I have been eating so much mexican food lately, its kind of crazy.

Macy told us about the idea of fondly calling friends racial slurs. She said it was normal there. "You know, I had only known him for a few moments but I felt comfortable with him. So made sense to call him a beaner." This was really interesting to us because she didnt think twice about it. Until we started asking questions, "Now I feel all weird and guilty. Everyone does it here."

At around 10pm we got a text message - Amber and Cortney initially didnt feel comfortable having us over unless they checked with their third roommate - "our third roommate isnt coming home, sou can come over. ***" We called for directions and headed over there - getting a little lost in the process.

Just as we were about to pull into their driveway, we got another text, "ok our roommate came home and said no you cant come ***."

So we decided to knock on the door anyway. We were there and I needed to pee. For almost a minute no one answered. I joked that they were hiding in the bathroom - turns out (we heard later) they were.

Amber and Cortney opened the door together. They saw us and smiled and invited us in. Cortney said we could stay, she had just gotten scared. We offered to leave. They said no. And so the night began.

After Cortney and Greg both showered - we headed to the grocery store for a midnight ice cream run. It took us a while to pick flavors - not because there was a lot of disagreement but because everyone wanted everything. Apprently we all wanted ice cream. We took home two half gallons - mint brownie and frosted cake (or the fancy and strange renditions of those names). And then we found the pie. So we bought a chocolate silk pie. I was already feeling sick from too much sugar - but we were all excited.

Back in the house, Amber's boyfriend had arrived. He called some more friends over. Greg and I had no idea what was happening until we heard Nick say, "Yeah, we're staying up all night. Just come over. We bought ice cream." And so the night really began.

We watched New Moon (because Brock insisted) and ate ice cream and pie and talked and told stories and suddenly it was 4am and Greg was asleep on the floor. We had both been ready for bed before we met the girls at around 8pm.

Once Greg was asleep Amber and Nick went to bed and and everything sort of died down (Except Brock who watched another movie). Which is a good thing really. For all of us.

In the morning we did an interview with Amber. She talked about how scared everyone got - mostly because of the horror movies they had been watching lately. About Cortney having a panic attack and the two of them being scared. She had told us from the beginning that she probably couldnt sleep with strangers in the house. But she did. She slept from 4am till 10am and wasnt worried about us. She told us about her photographs, about her love of learning through experience rather than school. She told us about her upbringing and her family and the pain she experienced growing up. We talked about fear and trust. About intuition and how important it is. About being in someone's presence and how that can calm you or scare you.

And then we talked about good movies. Good non-horror movies.

The conversation as probably the lengthiest of our time there. And the most interesting and important.

This was the first time Greg and I had ever been asked to leave. And also the first time the people who asked us to leave changed their minds. The idea of fear is so present here.

They got scared by thinking too hard - by not being in the space with us. They got scared by scary movies and a cousin who liked to joke with them. (Amber says, "He was making jokes like. Can you hear that? It's knives sharpening." when I wasked if she thought he was scared, "No. He wasnt scared. He just likes to mess with us,") When they were with us and in public they were so enthusastic and comfortable - they approached us. There fear came about when they were alone, at home, at night, talking together. It's a confrontation of imagination and intuition, of public versus private. Maybe we are learning where fear comes from?

We become friends with these girls, but it took a lot of courage from them. And that's interesting too. Because maybe our friendship is stronger because they had to overcome something. Maybe it's weaker.

After our long conversation with Amber, I felt close to her. She got up for a second, went to her room and came back with a photo she had taken of the lake. It was in a bright purple frame. She handed it to me. "Do you like it?" "Yeah. It's nice." "Do you think its pretty." "Yeah, def-" "-You should take it."

People like to give you something when they feel connected to you. I think thats why we leave bears behind where ever we stay. It's a thank you but also a physical representation of the exchange that's occuring. It's why Wade carved as a willow whistle, it's why Jolene gave us necklaces, why Julia gave us a friendship pendant. Hugs and presents and offers. Thats all we can do to show some one that they helped us grow, that we will miss them.

I tucked the painting in my bag and hugged Amber goodbye. She was the most afraid in the beginning and the most comfortable in the end.

I think that's why we do interviews. To get to know people - to create a platform for sharing. It's why we talk too. A good conversation and a good interview can happen at the same time. We can share together.

We piled into the car and as we were driving away I got another text from Amber, "Hey its amber miss ya already haha but if u ever go anywhere beautiful on ur travels and happen to take any pictures i would absolutely love it if u send me some =) ***".

Check In

Greg and I just wanted to take the time to thank you for reading the blog.

It's very exciting that you are following us, and we want to ask you for your thoughts.

What do you want to see more of? Less of?

What is surprising you about our experiences?

What do you wish we were exploring further?

Let us know!

Days 19 and 20: Hungry Horse, Montana and Bonners Ferry, Idaho

We left Kay's house early to find some internet access at a restaurant. But no one in town had wireless - the Perkins in town center was attached to a hotel that had wireless, so after trying from our table we ended up crouched at the end of the stairs in the back portion of the hotel, writing emails and working.

We made our way to Hungry Horse through Glacier National Park. I grew up around mountains, but these mountains were bigger and greener and covered in snow - a sight to see. The air changed quickly - I noticed it first when we pulled into a little diner for my first slice of huckleberry pie. It was crisp and flowery.

We were officially in huckleberry country - every where we stopped from that point on had something made from huckleberries and even now (we are in Northern Idaho) huckleberries are an option with every sweet thing. We even had them on our waffles for breakfast this morning. But I am getting ahead of myself.

After our first piece of huckleberry pie ever, Greg and I decided a hike was necessary. We have been confined to the car for so long - eating junk food and exercising only when we walk from place to place to meet new people - that my body was in shock for the first leg of our trek.

But once my lungs got used to it and I regained feeling in my feet and legs, it felt amazing. The air smelled great and we noticed bear poop every hundred yards or so along the trail.

The trail ended at an big teal lake. Nestled safely between a couple of the largest mountains I have ever seen - snow decorating the fringes of the tallest one - big pine trees sweet from the rain that we'd just missed- was this little cool clean lake. And it was my favorite color.


Hungry Horse, in the order we toured it, was a strange town. Our first stop was a late lunch, early diner at the Elkhorn Grill where I tried an Elk burger for the first time. I told Greg it was somewhere between lamb and hamburger, but more towards the burger side. I also had my (so far) best piece of pie - a too tart raspberry and rhubarb with home made crust -- rating: 8.

Our second stop was the local bar - recommended by both the firework stand operators and our waitress. They said it was colorful, and I imagined a lot of strange people - but mostly it was a lot of drunk people. A couple less drunk people and a couple very drunk people. And they were all still colorful.

We interviewed a few people, asked them for suggestions - no one knew where we could stay and a few even refused to be on camera (understandably, really). At this point it was almost 10pm - and we were starting to get worried.

Eventually we went into a big huckleberry shop - where everything was purple and huckleberry flavored. We spoke to one of the girls behind the counter, when the manager, Lori got a little worried. She spoke with us, making sure we werent asking questions about huckleberries - and then let us tell her all about the project. When we finished she picked up her cell phone, with in minutes we had a place to stay - Amanda, her daughter put us up in their old cabin, and while I wrapped a wedding present for her friend, she did an interview with Greg.

This made us really learn to keep on pushing. Sometimes, when it starts to get dark and we've talked to a lot of people it becomes very discouraging. We sort of want to throw our hands up and drive to the nearest camp ground. And that's sort of what it felt like staying with Kay - not that she wasnt kind or helpful - but we sort of gave up too early - because we were discouraged. But if we can just brave through that we can usually find someone amazing.

And Amanda was great. She had the most wonderful and beautifuly articulated things to say about why we need to help people. She was close to our age, we'd guess. And she wore a hoody and her hair back. But she sounded like she was giving a speech at a graduation - a really good speech about something Greg and I both believe in very much.


We left the cabin to drive to Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Stopping only once at a hiking trail and water fall for a quick walk and glance at the river. On our way out we met some strangers who offered to let us stay in their six room tree house. The idea was exciting, but we didn't end up with them - they never called but we also decided it was just a little too easy, and not the right town at all. After much discussion, we decided Bonner's Ferry was where we needed to be.

Again, our first stop was food - At the Panhandle Cafe. Our waitress, Julie, was the funniest, most enthusiastic woman we'd met in a long time. She was super friendly and smilely and very real - every ounce of her hospitality was natural and comfortable - when we sat down she said "It's packed in here - so, I am not gonna lie, you probably wont be getting the best service." Then she laughed a big full laugh and took our orders. Later, when we were eating we heard to tell the table behind us, "Well its not as crazy anymore, so if things stay this way you should get some reasonable good service."

We decided we had to talk to her (maybe stay with her) - but with the craziness of the restaurant and her being the only waitress - we asked her when we should come back and headed towards the town. Our first stop was the Safeway parking lot. We talked to a few people - no takers. Someone recommended the sheriffs office. No help there, not an ounce of hospitality or advice - but then we pushed a little and we were told to try a church. For the first time on our trip we decided that trying a church might be fun, but maybe we should interview some more people at safeway.

It was there that we ran into Judy and Verle Smith, who told us all about the chips the government had placed in Judy's body - many in her brain and arms - to cause her tons of different pains. Verle took responsibility, he spent some time in jail and now this for his work on bullet specs. Judy was wearing what Verle told us as $3000 worth of magnets. She said they helped the pain. Verle told us about the Farraday room he'd set up in their house for Judy - how it no longer worked. We were all set to stay with them and investigate further when two things happened 1- they told us about the government men who followed anyone who visit them home and 2- they told us about the electronic cloud that covered their house making it impossible for any technology to work, and even short-circuiting many cell phones, cameras etc.

So we headed for the church. But on our way we ended up at the Fairgrounds - it was the fourth of July after all and we had been told to go there over and over. We said in the car for all of three minutes when I said, "Let's go talk to Julie again." So we headed back to the diner, where Greg met Wade and Brenda.

They told us about their 8 kids, their full house, their own adventures and help from the kindness of strangers. I thought, these people are so friendly and awesome, I'd love to stay with them, but they have a full house - on top of them they were housing Papa and a cousin. But we told them our story anyway, and without hesitation they invited us over. The one rule they said, is we would have to go see fireworks with them later, and also we would probably need to do some marshmallow roasting.

The rest of the night was a blast - we wrestled with children, ran through tunnels screaming with children, rolled down hills with children, roasted hot dogs and marshmallows with children. We met them all when we walked in the door - Aaron (15) greeted us at the car - he told me my name meant princess in Latin. Cheyenne (10), Sammie (9), James (8), Lexi (7) and Hunter(6) - Wade and Brenda's recently adopted children - grinned at us from the porch and all had something to show us instantly. Tylor (10), also had things to show us, including how easily he could tease his mother into a playful battle. They loved the camera and the sound recorder, they took pictures and whispered and shouted at the microphones. About twenty minutes later, Anthony (19) came home and helped Tylor start the fire.

Wade and Brenda had warned us that in their house play was a serious thing - water fights in the house were not uncommon and at this time of year, firecracker fights happened more than occasionally. And we were not disappointed. We even roasted marshmallows in the rain.
The night was great. I haven't felt so playful in a really long time. So much positive energy.

Eventually we all piled onto the couches for a movie and I fell asleep way too easily. With Greg at my side, Lexi on my lap, Hunter on his, it was warm and comfortable... and I was almost snoring.

A house is never too full for company. Especially if company is need of a place to stay. Of course, it's all about comfort level, but if Wade and Brenda can fit 14 people in a 2 bedroom house, then anyone can take home a couple of extra guests if they aren't afraid. We deal with the fear of strangers a lot, but there are other fears that come up too. There is also a fear of looking bad - a fear that the house is too messy or too small, that the kids wont behave or that these strangers might pass judgement on you. And there is a fear of having your possessions taken. And a fear that you might be manipulated, but personally and in editing. But these two are not afraid of any of those things. Their house is well-lived in, not messy, says Brenda. And the nice tv is of no concern. And the camera is cool and interesting and sometimes even blends in - its not something to be afraid of.

This town takes care of each other - everyone says so- and everyone has stories to prove it. There is a total lack of selfishness here. The kids still want attention and the food still goes fast, but if you need help, people will help you. The first half of our day we just weren't finding the right people - or maybe Julie and Wade and Brenda really are themselves, the selfless ones.

Wade and Brenda have taught us a lot about what's important. Family. And play. And love. We probably knew that already, but they are the embodiment of that - and seeing it only reinforces values that we already understand and believe in. And it makes us feel less guilty about our feelings that "I would, but...." are really just excuses. Maybe those excuses are not just created for us, maybe they are how we ease our own consciences, but when it comes down to it, there is always room and never a mess. Beggars cant be choosers after all. And when those excuses leave, all that's left is fear.

Day 16: The Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana

The first person who talked to us in Lame Deer became the perfect example of how welcoming the community was. He talked for a while, then invited us home to talk more later if we were up for it. He said just ask around, everyone knows where he lives.

The day was hot and dusty - the second we pulled up people started recognizing us as outsiders. They were curious mostly - asking questions and then asking to be interviewed.

One of the things that we have been noticing is how eager people really are to talk to strangers. How exciting it is to share your life with someone who doesnt know it. Especially if that someone is recording it onto video. People love to tell stories. They love to pick the parts of the their lives that they find most important, and they love to share. But also there are the darker stories, the sad ones. Telling a stranger those stories feels good because you start with a blank slate, and in some ways sharing lends validation to the things that have happened to us.

We met Jolene as we wandered towards the cold drinks. She was pushing a cart and watching her grandson Evan as he danced around. He wanted popsicles, and I couldnt blame him, it was a hot day. [This makes me really nervous for Nevada and Arizona in a couple weeks]

Before we even had a chance to tell her what our project was about - we mentioned that we were making a movie and we had just started asking her about the area - she said "Do you have a place to stay tonight?" We laughed, told her what we were doing, she said come on over before 5:30 because she was cooking a big dinner. She said, "As long as your not vegetarians." and Greg and I laughted pretty hard before telling her that Greg was in fact a vegetarian.

Evan told us his full name was Evan Angelo Walkslast Spiderman.

We talked to some people around town - the Pow Wow was the following day and everyone was preparing for the big celebration - Later Jolene would tell us laughingly - "We aren't really celebratung your independence, it was just the only free weekend on the calender."

When we arrived to the house the the sky was big and dark and filled with lightning. We were later suprised to discover that dinner was actually a reunion of sorts - a neice was coming to visit after being away for almost ten years. We were excited to meet Jolene's sister Charlene, her husband Joe; Sharlene's niece Crystal and her new boyfriend Paul (Jolene kept joking that they were new sweethearts); Crystal's daughter; Joe and Charlene's grandson and grandaughter; and Jolene's other grandson Sheldon occasionally made an appearance with his girlfriend Mariah.

Before we ate Jolene said a lengthy prayer in Cheyenne - when I asked her about it later, she said she had just asked for a blessing, said thank you and wished her family well. She said that she wished us a safe and peaceful journey and that we would meet kind people.

After dinner we went to see fireworks and all the while Jolene was telling us stories. Her personal story; stories about the Cheyenne; stories about some of the issues they have been facing lately; stories about family and friends.

We learned so much so quickly. About a culture we were unfamiliar with. About Jolene and Evan. About how the world works.In the course of the evening we heard a lot of upsetting stories, but the honesty and frankness with which they were told made them very impactful.

Evan was one of the friendliest four year olds I have ever interacted with. He was very much at Jolene's side all the time - both were still suffering the pain of the recent death of Jolene's husband Jimmy. Jolene was a little concerned that Evan still used a bottle - but she said the doctor and dentist both think its fine, so she'll just wait until he decides he's done. And Evan is proud of it - he knows its not exactly normal, but he thinks its pretty cool that he still uses a bottle.

The issue of alcoholism and drug use came up in every conversation we had - whether it was our first interviewee saying that he had worked on a program for drug users for years - or the cashier at the grocery store saying that drug use was down to about 10% of what it use to be - or Jolene telling us that both she and Jimmy never drank, smoked or did drugs. It was mentioned sometimes as an issue that is being delt with, an issue that's no longer really an issue; and it was sometimes mentioned as a big problem.

After dinner there were fireworks.

And in the morning Jolene made us pancakes and eggs - she says its part of her culture to feed people, part of her culture to take care of strangers. We did a long interview, played with the dogs and cats for a few more minutes [Almost everyone we stay with has animals] and raced with Evan through the yard. Then Jolene hugged us both, tried one last time to get us to stay for the powow, and handed us both necklaces that Jimmy made before he passed away. Mine was slender and colorful, with shiny green beads between inside out rainbows. Greg's is thicker with less colors - but still very orange and green and all of his beads have a nice metallic sheen. Both have small carved turtles in the center.

We handed her a bear and a note and she smiled and said, "Evan, A Knuckles." Evan
repeated her, then she turned to me and said "like knuckles, but na-ah-kose. It means little bear." I smiled, "I call Gregory that sometimes." So she wrote it out for us, along with her mailing address and we hit the road.

"Stah -vah - see -woah", Greg said as we left [Thats my poor phonetic spelling of the sentence].

That means see you later in Cheyenne; There is not word for Goodbye.

Days 14 and 15: Pierre, SD; The Badlands; Mt Rushmore; Lead South Dakota

Pierre was interesting mostly because of the way it began. I don't mean that the beginning was the most interesting part, but rather that the beginning created the adventure of the day in a larger way than most of our beginnings.

We started at the Capital Journal - the newspaper for the area - to do an interview with David, a young reporter who majored in Poli-Sci at Grinnell. David, unlike the previous people who have spoken to us, asked if he could follow us on our journey for a bit. So we set out with three instead of two.

We also started late. Maybe around 6:30pm. Maybe 7. Because the interview took a while. In Pierre, just on the line for Mountain Time, this looks like early afternoon, not evening.

The first local we found said yes. Instantly and sweetly - she joked about having us help her make bagels at five in the morning and was shocked when we enthusiastically said we would love to do that. We gave her our card and decided to do more interviews while she cleaned up her coffee shop.

BUT about an hour later, after a lot of long conversations with nonlocals and locals alike - conversation that did not include asking for a place to stay - she canceled on us. She said she didnt realize it was so late in the evening, that her husband had a baseball game until very late. When I assured her late was fine - we had many things to occupy our time, she insisted that it wouldnt work out. I think perhaps the fear hit her late, but that meant that it was almost 8:30pm and we were now without a home for the evening.

We asked a few more people - kept running into out-of-towners. We went to a bar where no one greeted us, and the own her said "no fucking way" to an interview. We went to an Italian restaurant: talked to the wait-staff and the chefs. They were super nice but coulnt help. We asked a woman as she was sitting down to her table. She sent us to another restaurant. We went. We spoke to maybe 5 people there, including a man who suspected us of trying to manipulate him through editing into saying horrible things that he didnt want to say. I'd say generally, people were very friendly, but many people were made incredibly nervous by the presence of the camera. It wasnt our request, premise or idea that got to them. It was the camera. And everyone said it would have the opposite affect...

This entire time David was following us. For nearly 6 hours he hung about diligently and waited for us to find our hosts for the evening. But that moment never really came for him.

Rewind. On our drive to Piere Greg and I stopped to get pie. Pie is probably my favorite food. And I have made it a quest of mine to try pie in ever state we visit - the ultimate goal being of course to eat the best pie in the country. I am mostly a fan of peach and berry pies, but the occasionally pumpkin, banana cream or coconut cream sometimes finds itself in front of me. So at this little restaurant I had homemade banana cream pie. It was not good pie. It was alright pie - it was very banana-y and the coffee was onlce 5 cents. But the woman who worked as a hostess was INCREDIBLY nice. She was curious about our project and when we explained it to her she gave us some phone numbers for people she would almost definitely help us.

As we pull on the highway Greg says, "you didnt get her name did you?"

Fast Forward: back to our second restaurant - we have just left the parking lot after the strange paranoid (and also probably drunk) man and Greg and I decide to call these numbers. David says we can be his fall back plan, but he'd need to stay objective for his article, so we call. Calling people is a new thing for us - even when people we stay with suggest someone, we generally refuse to find them. Mostly because it feels like cheating and because it feels better to meet someone in person. But we call. And this is how the conversation goes: "Hi Guy. My name is Sarah, I am making a documentary and I was told you were a good person to ask for help. The woman who told me works at Al's Oasis, she uh, she took a teaching class with you, and she buys organic millet from you for her goats. Funny thing is, we never exchanged Yeah. Yeah. .....Its about relying on the kindness of strangers for a home each night...... Yeah? Really? That would be great.... Fishing? This late?.... Yeah. Sounds good. Twenty minutes?......Alright, Thank you so much!"
Guy, and his son Jack met us at the Wal-Mart parking lot and took us home. I think David was a little disappointed.

We had an amazing night. We stayed up till 2AM talking with Guy about everything from our first date to dinosaur bones, to the things we are supposed to talk about like culture and fear and trust, to the Spanish treasure his father is so adamant about finding. He showed us his sunglasses that record secret HD video. Guy is a sort of back country Renaissance man - he runs a couple of small casinos, a farm, and a few properties. He is an avid fisher and hunter (the walls of his home decorated elegantly with mounted trophies), a family man, a hopeless romantic, a collector of dinosaur bones - and he isnt that much older than us.
We woke up first in the morning, only three hours after we went to sleep - had to get the oil changed in the car - so we left without really getting to say goodbye, but made sure his thank you note and stuffed bear were placed in plain sight on the kitchen counter.

I tripped on his cowboy boots when we walked out the door.

Pierre was not the most hospitable town. Not unfriendly but definitely guarded. I never worry that we wont find a place to stay. But sometimes I worry about the movie. It's interesting the way that experiencing what is happening and experiencing what is happening sometimes come into conflict. And how some of the best moments never make it onto film.

So the beginning - our late start, our third person - created the end.

In Pierre we learned exactly how circumstantial everything is. By chance, we met mostly nonlocals. By chance, we met people who were afraid of the camera. I have never been more grateful for a fall back plan. Because our fall back turned out to be an amazing night.

Day 15 is our sort of day off. We knew we had a long drive ahead of us. And tons of National Parks to drive through, so we made a deal: If we got to our destination any later than 8 we would foot the bill to stay in a cheap motel for the night. We left Pierre late - almost 11am - after fixing the car, making copies at the public library, buying groceries. We drove for nearly 9 hours. Because we visited some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

We saw Mt. Rushmore - Greg jumping as high as he could to line his head up with Washington's.

We visited the Bad Lands - Greg found it incredibly peaceful, for some reason it completely destroyed my understanding for proportion, I could never tell how big the shapes I was looking at were.

We visited the Black Hills - Our first glimpse of a pine forest since our journey began.

We visited a town called Scenic and spoke to a wonderful woman named Kim. Her story made Greg nearly cry while he was shooting. She was a remarkable lady - a bison rancher who operated a second hand shop and was very open about her lack of trust and where it came from. She told us her whole story. You'll have to see the movie to hear it.

That night, we pulled into a tiny motel, and it was strange, it felt like one of the best shooting days we'd had. Our camera was full, and we were tired.

There is so much to see in United States. So many different people, whose lives are more complex than I could ever imagine or create. I think a lot about this from a fiction perspective as we go - how these people are so real, why they are so real. And even in the superficial ways that we understand people in narrative film - through small actions, hobbies, details - the people we meet are real even in those superficial details.

And the landscape is amazing.

(pictures soon, I promise. Also - Another blog post about last night)

Day 10: Decorah, Iowa

Decorah, Iowa is a town of families. But I don't mean nuclear families - in fact, I think I only saw one child - but everyone I saw in the town had formed their own family from the best of friends. That was evident in just about everything our hosts did and said.

Tonight was our first night as couch surfers; our first night where we pre-planned who we were staying with. We arrived in Decorah to Julia and her friend Maria, waving their arms at us from below Julia's downtown apartment. They took us inside - I fell in love instantly. Their walls were covered in clippings and images and notes and messages. It felt completely like their space.

Julia took us on a tour of the town. Everyone we met in Decorah was incredibly friendly - and not just in the sort of superficial way - they were genuinely interested in us and many people offered up their homes (not realizing that we already had a place to stay).

Julia and Leah organized a potluck for the evening and we had a feast. Casserole, potato salad, fresh fruit, salad, the cheese we brought from Wisconsin, fresh tomatoes and goat cheese, pasta, wine, beer... and all vegetarian. Which made my body quite happy after our time at Ribfest and the incredible amount of junk food I find myself drawn to at gas stations. And of course, Greg was excited, we have really yet to have a real vegetarian dinner. Everyone came: Seth, Jared, Erin, Aaron, Brita, Steven, Jeanine and a few others who didn't stay as long.

The potluck was in a beautiful park with amazing views. The sun set. The light was amazing. And I caught fireflies. Just to watch them glow in my hands.

Seth's favorite ... I wanna say alcoholic beverage and I want to say snack... is poptarts and jager (I dont know how to make the dots). I turned to Erin, "this sounds disgusting. But I want to try it." Because if I can eat cheddarwurst, I can use poptarts as a chaser. I still don't really know how I feel about it.

As dinner wrapped up we decided to go to Dunning Springs - a beautiful waterfall that we could barely see in the light of Jeanine's car. I think that made it more stunning.

The night ended at the Hay Market - a local bar that everyone joked was really gross but a whole lot of fun. It wasn't so bad. And it had a pool table. Unfortunately, Greg and I had to abandon our new friends early to deal with our tech stuff. Sigh.

But the point is: Decorah is very welcoming place. We can't really speak to its tensions or its diversity, because we didn't get to discover that as much as we would have liked. And we really didn't get to test anything. But we did learn what it meant to be welcomed with open arms into an amazing community. Not just by individuals but by a group. The thing that I noticed about everyone was how willing they were to let us in. There is something very special about the comfort and ease with which friendships were formed. And perhaps it's because this was one of our first nights with people close to our own age, but the thing about the group we spent the evening with is that it was made of people of many different ages.

The thing about arranging for a place to stay ahead of time is that we don't really get a sense for the town's hospitality. We can assume and guess in this case that we would have found a home almost instantly. That's really the best we can do. And our hosts did an amazing job giving us a glimpse at all the other aspects of the town.

As we were leaving, Julia handed me a necklace she had made. She said, "I give these to all my friends when they leave. So there's not a single one in Decorah, they're sort of all over." And then we said goodbye. (But I have a feeling we'll come back).


Aaron. Talking about diversity. And Russia.

An interesting photo of our short walk towards the falls at Dunning Springs. That's Brita in the front, Julia, Jeanine and I in the back.

Day Seven: Chicago!

Waking up in a Wal-Mart parking lot is not at all what I would have expected. Especially early in the morning when the parking lot is still mostly deserted and the light is faint and wet. In some ways it was kind of nice. I slept well - minus a few much needed stretches and a rainstorm that passed through at about 4 in the morning.

Our lack of electricity overnight meant we had to go to the local bakery and borrow all of their electrical outlets to do our daily downloading of footage and charging of batteries. The whole process took almost 3 hours. After a couple home made donuts we left at around 10:30am and started the drive to Chicago.

I think the hardest part of our day was picking an exit from the freeway. We guessed perfectly though and ended up just outside Millenium Park (we payed $29 dollars for parking! gah!). Greg has never been to Chicago and I wish we could have shown him more because it really is an amazing city, but we mostly experienced the Loop area - a good first glimpse I suppose. We stopped at the bean and the fountain - meeting people along the way.

Our first stranger was David - a fiddle player from Louisville who had moved to the city about a year ago. He played us a short tune as he was warming up and had some fascinating opinions about Chicago and the fear of strangers that seems to pervade cities and most towns. "I have noticed a change in myself moving here," he said. "In Louisville, you make eye contact with everyone you pass, or most people, but here, you don't." and "I did at first, but now I wear my sunglasses and my ipod so I can pretend that I am oblivious if people try to bother me." He didnt seem to like this idea, but was in a way resigned to it, "What I have done essentially is let people become part of the scenery." Interestingly enough, he spoke very highly of the community in Chicago, especially the home he found in the music scene here. He mentioned the openness and kindness of the musicians he had idolized enough to feel distanced from them before he tried to befriend them. "They really are just right here."

Eventually we met up with Rick and Jennifer on their way home from work. They were both clad in Johnny Rocket uniforms and comfortable strolling towards the L (read: train station). Rick said some amazing things about why we help people, or mostly why we don't. He said that he doesnt really trust people until he gets to know them, that no one really does and that's just the way it has to be. Then he called in a favor and found us a hotel for the night. We were shocked. Jennifer said she would have taken us home right away but she didn't want to put us through the three hour journey back home for the night. In shock and awe, we headed off to our first planned interview for the day.

But here is our dilemma: This is kindness in strangers. This is a HUGE favor. This is hospitality. But is this really what we are getting at? Because there is something about staying in a hotel that doesn't quite feel like really accomplishing our project. We relied on an incredibly kind stranger for a home. We are certainly experiencing a sort of kindness that is completely unexpected and completely amazing. So what's missing? I think it's the transformation. The change we watch and experience every night with the people we stay with - they slowly become our friends. This morning we woke up - well rested, clean, wet swimsuits hanging in the shower, we went downstairs for breakfast - but we hadn't made a new friend. We hadn't learned anything new about a person, a place, a culture, a country. We had nobody to leave a bear for. No one to hug good bye; no one to wish us good luck on our journey.

I think that's what makes a day feel like an important day - the days we wake up alone - those are the days that worry me. I want to hear stories, I want to tell stories. I want to see someone excited for us and with us and about us. We talked a lot about the stories that turn strangers into friends - and that's important, but maybe it's not the stories. Or maybe the stories are just a part of it. Maybe its sharing a home with someone, letting them take care of you, taking care of them. Peter, Stella and Becca in Oberlin had a point when they said that in some ways what we are doing is almost as "difficult" or important as being the person actively helping the other person. There is an exchange that happens. When someone helps you. When you help someone. When you sleep in the same house as somone. Joe would say energy. And Patti and Randy would probably say that the relationship is just the Christian thing to do. Susan might make a joke or just smile a little knowing smile. But they are all right - something happens. Friendship. Connection.

So we leave Chicago today - having met some amazing people, experienced some pretty Chicago-y things. But I dont think we know Chicago quite as well as we know Roscoe or Avoca - or even Oberlin.

Maybe tonight we will make a new friend or two.

American Bear, Day 3: Ashtabula, Ohio

We got to Walnut Beach just as everyone was getting off work and piling onto the sand. Or so some teenage girls said when we asked if they thought we'd find someone to stay with. They were positive - but the opposite of loquacious. Most of the people we spoke to seemed less than eager to share stories with us. But then again, most of them were teenagers excited about the first hot breaths of summer.

Finally, we found Susan Hamme. She was nice from the get go - and also interested in answering our questions. And then - after a subtle but thorough background check, she invited us home with her. After, of course, the party she was attending wrapped up. But then she invited us to come play bocce with the group starting in a couple hours.

It was a perfect situation really. Because we got to explore Lake Erie.

I have never seen a Great Lake, until yesterday. And let me tell you - that is not a lake, it's an ocean. Without salt. The only thing that felt different to me - that really felt like someplace I'd never experienced, were the woods on either end of the beach - [small and light and more like clusters of trees than woods. But thats what they were called: woods.] - and the pebbles. There were pebbles and stones everywhere. Round and smooth and colorful. I spent most of my childhood obsessed with rocks; my 5th grade science fair project was basically just a survey of the different kinds of rocks. And the tide of this great lake had rubbed these rocks into smooth little pebbles in so many colors - bright orange to a jasper green - sand stone and granite and something the color of Greg's shirt.

It was cold. Very cold. But bareable. And I pulled Greg in after me. It had a small tide - a little rumble really - nothing exceptionally dragging. We swam around for maybe an hour, Greg stuck his tongue in the water multiple times - I think he was shocked to discover it wasn't salty. He said it was the first time he had been in a big body of water since he was fifteen - and it showed on his face.

Then we watched the sunset.

And then we met up with Susan, Lindsey, Chris and the gang for bocce. It turns out Greg is an amazing bocce player. He saved the day on multiple occassions - mostly after I had just messed something up. I had a few good rolls - even earning us a few points, but Greg, whoah, someone needs to buy him a set. And force him to compete. For money. Their family is amazing - a collection of the most interesting people: loving, nurturing. We used bug spray for the first time this summer, spent a few hours in the lights of the bocce court, caught some lightning bugs (that is another story from my childhood), played with the dog, and made sure to keep the feeling of competition up.

As we were playing, Sabrina (Chris' daughter) suggested an adventure for the morning. And I latched on - even if it meant waking up before 7am to go to the river.

Our time in Susan's home was short - at least while we were awake. But she was so kind and hospitable. She had an amazing shower - by the end of the night I felt cleaner than I had in days. We were joined in our night with her by Lindsey's two children: Gwen and Ian who were cute, cuddly and tired. They also loved the stuffed bears that we give out as thank you presents.

It was an all out sleep over - Susan, her dog Maddie and 4 guests.

After a delicious breakfast - Chris kindly treated us all - we pulled on our swimsuits and drove to the ford to jump into the cool (read: very cold) waters of the Ashtabula River. From a ford. Which is a bridge made of concrete that also functions as a dam. It was beautiful. The entire river bed was made of solid rock, the edges covered in the same colorful pebbles. Sabrina, Jose, Tatyana and Chris were fabulous company. We walked upstream, tried to catch some fish and told stories about algae and home. ATV's drove past, revving their engines as we counted to three and jumped into the river.

One. Two. Three. JUMP.

American Bear The Official Day One: Roscoe, NY

I can hear the brook outside the window, along with the frogs that Joe calls peepers. I imagine they are tiny, but I bet I am wrong. When I stepped outside I saw lighting bugs, pine trees and fading light. It smells like camping.

Joe tells us about the flood that happened here a few years ago - about how it somehow avoided his home and most of his belongings, taking with it only a small shed. He shows us the gazebo he built, pebbles in the center making a medicine wheel. "I didn't realize when I built it that I had put the door facing west. I didn't have a compass or anything. I just wanted it pointed towards the house."

And it does face directly west, an axis of stones like an arrow out the front towards the setting sun.

Everything here is so green. A darker green than Vermont and maybe more constantly the same color. And there's a lot of pebbles. Everywhere. Joe says the stones have a special energy - a heat to them. All stones really, but because this land is made of rock and stone it makes it a whole different kind of place. He puts his hand a rock by the brook - he smiles at Greg.

Greg and I started in Morristown - at Greg's house. We said good bye and headed out. I have a sense of something beginning, but because I have no idea what, I don't get the usual nervousness. I think mostly I am just curious. Excited always, but mostly I just want to know whats going to happen. I feel like I am going to learn so much about who I am in the next 60 days - about other people, about our country. So my curiosity is overtaking my nerves. And it always helps to sing with Greg in the car.

We passed through New York City on our way Northwest. It's such an important place for me, for both of us, that it made sense to see it as a sort of beginning. If it weren't for New York City this whole journey would never be happening. I would never have fallen in love with Greg, never made this film with him. But I moved there and that is where this all began. All of it.

New York is such a busy place. So many pairs of feet and clenched palms.

Our final destination: Roscoe, NY.
Now we are in an even smaller neighboring town, watching old movies and hearing Joe Modica's stories. But the destination was downtown Roscoe - nicknamed Trout Town, USA and filled with trout imagery and traveling fishermen. Everyone of the locals kept referring to it as a tourist town - and we saw some license plates from very far away, but it feels like everyone we saw knew each other. It was not even close to the level of touristy that we had encountered in a couple of our test shoot towns. It was quaint -the down town only two blocks from start to finish. Even the locals see it that way. Quaint and quiet and close.

Very close. We talked to Kimberly who told us about her sister's horse back riding accident and the town coming together in a huge display of community to raise the money for her operation.

And now we are home for the night, getting ready to tuck into the comfy bed Joe has generously let us use - I keep thinking about energy and Joe's stories. I keep thinking about the exchange that happens between people when they tell each other stories. Joe told us we were changing things, that we are living the American dream.

Today, it certainly feels that way.