Joey Phoenix Media
Photographer • Videographer


Salem, MA Portrait and Event Photographer

Chasing Black Squirrels All the Way to Ohio (Part 1)

I Left Louisiana on the rail line... ~ "To Ohio" - The Low Anthem 

I spent the first nine years of my life in the cornfields of mid-eastern and southern Illinois. The familiar sight of silos, cows, and freshly tilled fields continue to fill me with a type of aromatic nostalgia that makes me feel like I'm about to turn double digits. 

It's a strange sort of magic, and I find myself at least twice each year making the excuse to ride back to the midwest by plane or train.

This time, I traveled by car.

The day I met Sierra I was feeling particularly bold...the kind of bold that entices you to grab an empty wine glass and attend a Women's-Only Wine themed networking event in downtown Salem. I blame the uncharacteristically odd winter weather for this act of madness.

This particular event was happening at Wicked Good Books, and when I walked in the door and saw that I only recognized two of the twenty or so faces my heart dropped into my liver. I almost walked out. I mean, the whole point of networking meetings is to meet people, right? Sureeeeee...however, I find this only works if you have a companion who knows more people than you and can introduce you. It's also feasible if you can travel with your alter ego, but that's a bit more tricky to pull off.

Frantically searching the room for anyone who seemed like a friend, my eyes landed upon a tall sprightly human with long brown hair and bright dashes of color dyed into the bottom. I knew I had found the only other weirdo in the room and so I decided to make an effort.

Our conversation went like this.

Me: Hi! *face full of odd enthusiasm*

Her: Well hello, do you feel as odd about being here as me?

Me: Yes *cling*

She told me she was a poet and also a chocolatier and a nomad and I knew that we would be friends forever. There was no question. There was never any question.

Flash forward three or four months and she announces that she will be quitting Salem forever and moving to...


--Um, you know there's really only cows and corn there?--

-Yes. She said. But I'll be near Cleveland.-

--Oh yes, they surf on the lake there.--

-They do what?-

--Surf. Seriously, they do. Check it out.--


After the initial shock of losing my brand new friend to the people of the corn, my senses found me again. I felt the warm flat husk-laden breeze calling me westward.

--Need help moving?--

-Oh god yes-

**Disclaimer: Yes, I am a crazy person. But this doesn't bother me much.**

Loading Up the Caravan

The original plan was for her to rent a 10ft U-Haul, tow her car behind it, and then she, her cat Sebastian, and I would ride in the cab from Salem to Kent over two days. Unfortunately, U-Haul gave her the wrong truck, a 15-footer, and she didn't quite feel comfortable driving that and towing the car behind. The situation wasn't ideal, but I offered to drive. I figured at least this way I could listen to Terry Prachett audiobooks the entire without bugging the cat.

Cats prefer Neil Gaiman.

She was supposed to be out of her house by 11 the morning of July 2nd. Kevin and I got there around 9 to help, but I think he mainly tagged along to make sure the car was roadworthy. It's a fiancé thing. 

The air was thick with humidity and the sun was bearing down. It was a sticky 93 and I thought I might die. It wasn't that she had a lot of stuff to move, in fact, most of it was out. It's just that she lived on the third floor and had a staircase that was steep and twisty and perilous.

I'm practically useless as a mover. My shoulder doesn't work properly and since I have fibro, I wear out easily. My purpose is morale boosting! Also I'm good at providing gatorade to dehydrated movers.

10:45 came around, and it was obvious that she wasn't going to be out in time. By 11 the other tenants had shown up and were lingering on the periphery. Realizing the inevitable, Sierra called her landlord and got into a brief spat with her before finally getting her to agree to extend the time to noon. The new tenants' moving crew, who had been sitting around bored, offered to help and before we knew it everything was done. I celebrated by taking selfies in the moving van.

During a much needed lunch in the shade at Gulu Gulu, she turned to me and said. "I'm going to make this up to you. When we get to where we're staying tonight, everything will be beautiful again."

I nodded, smiled, and kept eating my hummus bemusedly.

Westward Ho! The Ride to Rivendell


The biggest surprise about setting out in a westwardly fashion was that the A/C was broken, which was more than a touch disheartening. But! I had a usb-hookup so tunes and books, and also I had BMO, who has become my constant traveling companion.

Due to the windows being down, my right arm began to burn almost immediately. Yet, instead of doing anything about it I decided to let it be. It was going to be a fashion statement. I would be the half-red redhead!

I also bought a bag of ice to put in the footwell of the car, in the hopes that the rising cool would refrigerate the car. It only kind of worked. I ended up mostly eating the ice instead.


We were staying that night somewhere in the Catskills, and 1-90 took us west out of Massachusetts and into upstate New York, where we met up with I-87 and right into Rivendell. What's more, we were staying on Hearts Content Road.

Faerie Glen

I pulled into the drive and at first didn't think much of what I saw before me. It was a green cabin nestled into the woods. What I was most grateful for at the time was the shade. After dealing a day of near constant sun, I felt so much relief. After a few minutes of enjoying the cool air, I made my way inside.

Sierra greeted me instantly (we hadn't managed to keep track of each other that day so she arrived well before me) and ushered me in through the kitchen to the living room. The house is owned by her friend Jon, an extraordinary folk musician and all around lovely person. Although the house itself isn't particularly noteworthy (apart from being in one of the best locations in upstate New York), there is something about it that made it stand out to me quite dramatically.

Covering the walls and popping out of every nook and corridor were musical instruments of every shape and variety.

"So I see you're a musician." Stating the obvious is how I deal with delight.

"Yes." He smiles, "You could say that."

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After playing music together for a wee while a drinking prickly pear cactus infused ales, the three of us took a stroll into the woods behind his house. To say it was magical was an understatement. So here, let me show you.

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The evening was beautiful. We even got to meet Jon's parents (who live just across the bridge) and their lovely fur-family ---which you can read about Here.

I then slept in a super cozy bed, falling asleep to the sound of woodland mice going reepi-cheep-i-cheep as they ran about the walls.


We had to say farewell the next morning as Ohio was calling. After taking some pictures and drinking enough coffee to fortify our motivation, we loaded up our stuff and Sebastian the cat and headed on our way.

Upstate New York to the Shores of Lake Erie

We were in for a long day, but it was ultimately uneventful. We had originally planned to meet up for lunch in Buffalo, but outside of Rochester she called me begging that we stop in Rochester instead because it was a) right there and b) she was starving, so we did. We chose an adorable little place called the Red Fern - which is an all vegan restaurant and freaking delicious. Since, apparently, Rochester is known for this thing called a garbage plate.

According to the Rochester Wiki -

A Garbage Plate is a true Rochester delicacy. It is a disorganized combination of either cheeseburger, hamburger, Italian sausages, steak, chicken, white or red hots, a grilled cheese sandwich, fried fish, or eggs, served on top of one or two of the following: home fries, fries, beans, and mac salad. A plate is always made to order. Then, the plate is adorned with optional mustard, onions and Rochester's version of hot sauce. Some restaurants will charge for extra helpings of hot sauce, and the hot sauce varies widely in flavor and spiciness. A plate is usually served with a side of white bread and butter, though some restaurants charge extra for bread. It is said that the purpose of the bread is to soak up the grease left after you've eaten the garbage plate.

The Red Fern had a vegan version called the Compost Plate, so naturally I had to have it. I also had an enormous brownie and got donuts to go. So much happy. :D

She decided to hang back for a little while with Sebastian to give him a chance to drink water and do his business, and I headed off towards Pennsylvania. I-90 continued to be straight and even and mostly uninteresting, although there were a few mountains scattered throughout.

Once I crossed into Pennsylvania, something sensational happened. I came across a SHEETZ! Anyone who knows me understands my obsession with this gas station/convenience store combo...because the concept comes straight from the gods. It's not just a gas station, it's not just an enormous convenience's also got TASTY NIBBLES which you can order DIRECTLY FROM A KIOSK and it's open 24 HOURS and you can get gas and go the bathroom and drink soy chai and eat tator tots and burritos and acquire souvenirs and windshield wiper fluid all at 3 AM if that suits your fancy.

It's an oasis on highway deserts.

It is perfect.

I was still stuffed from lunch but I ordered a chai and a bucket of tots and sailed off toward Lake Erie, happy as a kid can be.

On the Way to Ohio

I have a tradition whenever I cross into Ohio, it's to listen to this beautiful song by The Low Anthem called "To Ohio." I made Caroline listen to it when we crossed into Ohio last January. You can listen to it now.

The sun was setting over Lake Erie when I crossed over the border, and the sky lit up like a rose and lemon beacon.


I pulled over into the welcome center to take this grainy didn't do it justice. The sky was poetry, it was lyrical, it was otherworldly.

Ohio is good like that.

Come Back Soon for Part 2!

© 2016 Joey Phoenix