Corn-hole Across America

A Photo-Essay-Poem

“Wanted:  Someone to Play Corn-Hole Across America in a Free Van”

In late October, my mate Reed sent me the craigslist ad.  It read:  “Wanted: Someone to Drive my Van from Montana to New Hampshire.”  I was elated– for you must know that I’m from New Hampshire and Vermont,  and that I’m currently doing some grad/art stuff in Montana.  And as the holidays were approaching, I needed to get back East somehow.  What are the chances? 

The brief jam is this:  a young fellow in NH buys his son a van right after college, the son hooks it up for dirt-bagging (built a bed into it, loaded it with surf-boards and skies, put stickers all over it, etc.), and he goes West young man.  Visiting friends in Missoula early in his trip, he proceeds to get rear-ended by a drunk driver.  Then decides to ditch the van to keep his adventure going–  hard to blame a 19 year old for that, but probably frustrating for Pops, who suddenly owns a van in Montana that needs $10k of body work.  So, months later, van is fixed, and he wants someone to drive it back for him so he can sell it.  That’s where we come in.

So after a lot of back and forth between Reed and I and Pops, and then some phone interviews and the like, it was decided.  We were to be his couriers, and the van was to be our vessel for a free ride East for the holidays.  He’d even pay the gas.  Not bad for two broke grad students. 

Having driven across this massive continent a few times now, (two trips of which you could read about here or here), I’ve now come to desire a way to give my trips some shape, to add to them some design.  On idea I have, perhaps for my twilight years, will be to go around photographing rural basketball hoops.  Another more pressing project would be to visit the various planned blockades against the Keystone XL pipeline, (all evidence of the growing nation Naomi Klein has dubbed “Blockadia.”) 

But what objectives might we pursue on this trip?  Well, we soon found out about some special cargo that would be onboard with this van, and I knew then that our trip was just given its design.  This cargo immediately showed us the veracity and wisdom of Steinbeck’s maxim : “We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.”  The cargo was the first agency of the trip taking us, and we were amused beyond laughter at what it meant for our journey.

The cargo, my friends, was a corn-hole set.  And the immediately realized goal for our trip, as simple and perhaps sophomoric as it sounds,  would be to play corn-hole in every state we pass through. 

Now, for those who do not know what corn-hole is, here’s a picture to get you started.

Corn-hole is by all definitions a silly, simple game, akin to horse-shoes.  But in lieu of throwing horse-shoes at a pin, players toss bean bags at the corn-hole boards, trying to either land the bag on the board for “a cow-pie” or “an ace,” or to toss one directly through the hole for a “corn-hole,” or “swish.”  One point for a cow-pie, three for a corn-hole.  Games to 21.  And while it’s been played for many decades in the South, the game is suddenly all the rage in lot-scenes at concerts, tailgate parties at football games, and it seems no frat house in America today is complete without a jenke set of corn-holes boards sitting in the furniture-strewn front yard.  More portable than horse-shoes and more mellow than frisbee, and with a hipster-tinged sense of ironic connection to something vaguely nostalgic, it seems corn-hole is here to stay.  For another year, anyway. 

Let me also just say up-front that I cannot find anywhere the origin of this game’s juvenile name.  I mean shoot, every time I even write it I can’t help but think of Beavis saying “Corn-holio!” on MTV while my brother and I laugh our silly little 1995 faces off.  I’m also aware that, for you, reading the word “corn-hole” so many times in this travelogue may undermine my attempts at literary seriousness, but perhaps my musings that come out of playing this game across the landscape will make up for this fact.  Or not.  Corn-hole.

And finally, a word on my presentation here.  As I was saying, for each state or province we passed through, we aim to pull over at least once, got out the corn-hole boards, and played a round.  For most of these games I also set up my Canon s90 nearby and used a timer to fire off a few shots of us playing– to lend my descriptions some visual backing, hoping that my bean-bags of language might then better land on your corn-hole board of understanding. 

I also, as a writer, kept some fluid notes in my pocket notebook throughout.  So rather than just present a heap of photos, I’ve stitched together my notes into a largely free-verse poem written in sometimes-rhyming quatrains.  This will, I reckon, add some more depth to your understanding of the wild, free-wheeling, provocative life of a traveling corn-hole player.  And perhaps, if I’ve done my job right, colored in a little more of that massive map of America you have in your heart.  I can report that no matter how much I travel through and live within this massive continent of Turtle Island, there is always more to discover, both out there and how it exists in here– and considering the year we just had as a nation, it seems like we all could use a light-hearted and wild-minded romp through this strange and amorphous place we hopefully are learning to better call “Home.” 

So my friends, I invite you to pull up a chair, crack a beer or steep a cuppa, and come with us for a brief, enjoyable, weird and wild winter ride across America, starting in Montana and ending on the shores of Lake Champlain.  In fact, here– take a bean-bag, and lob where we lob, land some cow-pies where we do, let’s together score a few nice corn-holes while we’re at it.  Whaddya say?

your ace in the hole,

Trevien

Buckign Bronco

Start: Drop off some hitchhikers in Butte, beginning their journey to Mexico

Hammer the van past the Anaconda-Pintlers, the Beartooths, the Crazy Mountains

Hit the wider plains, hoar-frost shattering the light of river-bottoms cottonwoods

Roll through the oil-towns of Livingston and Billings, the cowboy hoods

Play our first game of corn-hole on a slushy Montana hill, feeling good

Montana

Buy gas and sweetgrass from a Crow res trading station

Read flyers for basketball, rodeos, pow-wows

Jobs in the oil-fields, jobs in mines, but no jobs nearby

Info sought about sacred rock-outcrops slated for road-crew detonation

Above the Bighorn River, climb the Battle Monument in a blinding sun

Walk amongst the bones of horses and men

Custer’s last stand that still stands as synecdoche

American flags whipping in unsettled winds that unsettle me rapidly

The Native memorial– “The Battle of the Greasy Grass” to them–

A huge stone circle, with one end open to the Americans in intergenerational respect

And another opening to the Bighorn seen from this northern aspect

And at the base of the wrought-iron sculpture, see the fox tracks inspiriting through

Greasy Grass

Next we fall into Wyoming, pursuing that towering gathering place

Icy roads sanded with the local red

Then we see that ancient, rock-rooted tower

That monolith against the sunset, thrumming and beckoning

Devil’s Tower, Bear Den’s Butte

“That thing from that movie”

A geologic anomaly, and a phenomena the eyes don’t comprehend, only see

We wander the base of ice and scree

Been a gathering place for millennia

People who danced and sung and hunted buffalo and had fear and fights and fun

All amongst pronghorn antelopes that were once hunted by American cheetahs

Antelope that are now unnecessarily fast for the landscape

A gathering place during the Indian Wars

Decades of rumors and concerns shared amongst tribes

Life-times and life-ways eroding under new weather

With their proud descendants still gathering and praying and staying

The Tower has a presence that asks to not be an “it”

Asks you to contemplate our tall buildings and our old ruins

Complicates all notions of sentiency inanimately

as animateness becomes harder and harder to define

Soup on the camp-stove for us as fog turns off the Tower

But the Tower’s thusness does not abate

So we stare like old sailors staring at a darkened sea

We walk up to Tower, touch Tower, sun-warmed Dark Tower, dream the Tower all night

Next morning, rustle up our Wyoming corn-hole in the frigid, lucid light

Wyoming 2

Then five days to get East

Frigid sleeps lead to pre-dawn gas stations

Brushing teeth in life-scratched bathrooms

And a local day break through the windowsGas Station

Overhearing the old men who meet for coffee every morning

Heard country-wide in general stores, diners, and petrol stations–

Current concerns lifted from newspapers

Recent scores compared to seasons long-passed

One man’s wisdom landed like haiku:

“Well it’s Wednesday–

To late in the week

To start anything”

Hit the eastern edge of Black Hills by mid-morning

Slow the van to trot beside Coyote in a field

Watch the wind send the black-guard hairs on his muzzle

Into the patterns of the breeze-tossed grasses, all aglow and in flow

Find a spot off a National Forest road

To stretch and cook beneath ponderosas and aspens and sun

Make stew with the road-kill deer Reed had harvested

From a grassy Missoula ditch the previous fall

Companion Reed cuts out the gristle

Removes a few coarse hairs we’d missed first time

Also tosses these scraps into the forest beside us

Our first good Offering to the Spirit of the Road

Roadkill

Began a slow meander through those Black Hills

Those sacred hills, refuge of the Lakota Sioux

That place that they wanted protected in every treaty

That heart that Custer and prospectors so violently penetrated

With such sacredness in mind, with thoughts on “The Center of Creation”

I felt their bitter, slow-burning pain of having the form of their sacred hills

Become carved into, trans-formed for that National Monument of Disgrace–

The one that reveals the hollow, granite stare of presidents who did not care

So Mt Rushmore is driven passed,

and we pass it without stopping, out of respect

Likewise to the near-vacant tourist trapping town of Custer below 

As I taste the bitter taste of the Truth in our history that was kept from you and me

Things get catty at the edge of the Badlands

For beneath a badly-bruised sky

I whip the van quickly to the side–

see the tawny bobcat, stalking in the golden grass, shy

Play some real bad South Dakota Corn-hole on a Badland pass

Badlands

And then that feeling of leaving the mountains behind

The Badlands eroding in the rear-view

As the low drum roll of the South Dakota prairie already has me in a daze

Has me contemplating staying put, playing ball here for all my northern-desert days

Hoops - Badlands

Time to move.  Drive late.  Park along a creek for a four hour, four degree sleep

Coyotes yip-yawling-clipping in icy alders outside

Awake well before dawn and awaken the engine

Soar over the Missouri and make it to Minneapolis for a coffee-house breakfast

Old campus bricks behind sweatered professors

New co-op’s slick ads featuring bicycling hipsters, and flyers for a Ferguson protest

We slow roll and icily stroll along the Mississippi river of our boyhood dreams

Sense the waters pushing south to the Gulf over a thousand miles downstream

Float some corn-hole along the Minnesota banks of the Mississippi’s liquid seam

 Minnesota JPG

Another hard push through the afternoon gloom

Cross into Wisconsin and stop at a thrift store for a wool blanket

Admire the friendliness of the small-town woman, pregnant, radiant, offering potatoes

Contemplate growing up in this place, playing basketball in this yard in grey glow

Hit Lake Superior in industrial/touristy Ashland, Wisconsin– balk at the lake’s breadth

Buy smoked trout from a dimly-lit market with my diminishing cash

Talk to the blue-haired elder about the wild rice they’re selling–

I voice my knowledge of the Anishinabe people north of there

Their myth that guided them West from original Iroquois lands

That they would stop and settle where the rice grew in a land of lakes

That they would live and rattle their communities by the hand of lakes

That they would always give back  allow the fallen rice to seed next years lake

How the first whites felt it so inefficient, so pitiful that they didn’t store it as capital

Thinking how the global whiteness still insists upon a price for every kernel

And without mentioning it, I’m hearing Winona LaDuke speak three moons ago:

“Such Whiteness is a construct, you know– you can de-colonize your mind.”

This old lady here shares that she has a neighbor of native blood but blue eyes

Who, by treaty rights, fishes year-round for walleye

But will never sell an ounce of the flesh, only give it away

“He’ll only gift it, because that what he says it is anyway.”

Cast us some Wisconsin corn-hole, thankful for this gift of flesh and fish today

Wisconisn 2

Onward into deep snow and ascend a narrow road into the interior

The Porcupine Mountains of the Upper Peninsula

That Michigan apostrophe above the mitten

And finally park in a star-lively dead-end

Build that raging fire and cook that trout-coconut stew!

Because, my friend, the stars are iridescent fish scales

All swimming and spawning in the “River of Heaven”

As we ride these currents like a steelheads, swimming towards Home

Van

Wake early and invite the engine explosions to propel us by the hour

Approach the Canadian border with some consternation

Get rid of any and all contraband with concern and concentration

And straighten up our stories, realizing the truth is too strange to start with

Light off the last of our fire-works on the frozen lake, and fire off some corn-hole too

Michigan

Cross into Canada through Sault St. Marie

Get confused by the idea of a “border” in the earth

Get lost in the post-industrial streets that obscure the earth

Get found in the sun-set just out of town at the edge of earth

Toss Canadian corn-hole at the edge of Lake Ontario

in the mad pink of twilight earth

Hours become obscure, become ever-smaller units of time

Ontario

Miles become kilometers become a tread-mill  of double-yellow lines

Sunflower seeds and tea

Whitman poems and Vivaldi

Get petrol in the smelting city of Sudbury

Know that the forests that surround were once polluted to an acidic death

Wonder at the efforts to restore and repair

The trees, the soil, the people, the identity, the air

Get really frustrated that we can only find Petro Canada gas

As I boycott those primary pushers of the tar-sands oil over in Alberta

That black-tar heroin of our anti-climatic self-destruction

That needle in the veins of a body politic that only knows Profit’s instructions

Keep driving.  Keep hammering.  Keep caring.

Our bodies and vehicle embodying the velocity

The break-neck pace that could break a neck

And howling past Algonquin National Park, recall that wolves still live there, right now

Decide to make the all-night push for Vermont soil

Take turns driving, sleeping, staring at dash lights and star lights

Cross into Quebec, cross into Francophone country tres jolie

Listen to BBC history hour about Cuba and Kennedy

Forget to play corn-hole

IMG_1959

Re-enter America onto 87 in upstate NY

Back in the Champlain Basin!  Back in home territory!

Back to Red Sox hats and surly Yanks at Dunkins!

Back to the familiar forests of hemlock and maple!

Pump some corn-hole at the pre-dawn gas station, with maple in my coffee

Ny 2

Van-amble through the pre-dawn islands of northern Lake Champlain

Open the window and freeze my face in the sedges and rushes of Vermont air

Off 89, crest the Burlington hills right at sun-up

Watch the alpenglowing peaks of the Adirondacks light up

Go fling some acorn corn-hole at Oak Ledge on Champlain’s purple-iced shore

VT

Then we wander my city, my early-twenties city

My cut-my-teeth, meet-my-wife, meet-my-soul-brothers, meet-my-destiny city

My fall-in-love, travel-from, always-return-to, forever-indebted-to city

My gorgeous, lake-side, steepled and love-steeped peopled, sweet Burlington city

Too early for Pennycluse breakfast so we drink tea at Muddy’s and say “okay!”

Too cold for Church Street lounging but we stomp our feet on the bricks anyway

Too low a view for us, so we climb the parking garage to watch the world brighten

Finally Pennycluse breakfast way too delicious and nostalgic for poetry to enlighten

Let a montage of corn-hole swirl in my coffee’s creamy screen

   Black Hills PrecipiceWyoming Toilet

Ontario Sunet

2,333 miles and five nights

Four frigid sleeps and one all-nighter

Three Phish shows, Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley,” and heaps of Psychedelic Salon

One effusive feeling of again glimpsing the vastness of America, spinning

Finally get dropped off in central Vermont at home of Elder poet David Tucker

Clean out the van and say my goodbyes to feral genius Reed

Dive in with David, drink a Long Trail and swap long stories and short poems

Talk Devil’s Tower, the Iroquois’ “Good Mind,” how the Road is within & without Mind

Play no more corn-hole, and sleep very deeply

which feels, my friends, just, fine….

..••

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4 thoughts on “Corn-hole Across America

  1. Trevien,

    Followed a short rabbit trail from your image in my gmail to Google+ to your blog to this verse and photo essay. Read it aloud to the kids as I read.

    Bela, age 6: “It’s kind of sad. I like it. I bet a lot of other people would like it.”
    Zollie, age 8: “It’s good. I like the pictures and the writing, especially the Badlands, like in ‘Walk Two Moons.”
    Greg, age dad: “We are all traveling on different paths: intersecting, colliding, and near-missing. Was looking forward to the chance to chat with someone in the know, now looking forward to the chance to chat with someone in the Know. Greatly enjoyed your writing. Thanks for taking us on the journey with you. Perhaps a cornhole match is in order when I visit if you can track down the gear.”

  2. I randomly googled your name one day and found this gem of a blog! how magnificent! I love reading about your travels! We are driving back to NH this summer, perhaps we will throw corn hole into the back of the car to make the drive a little more entertaining 🙂

    1. Great to hear Becca! However, I’m surprised to realize that I know multiple Becca’s with NH ties– can you remind which of those laces are yours?
      Either way, have a great time!
      -Trevien

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