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28May/190

Red Bird; one of Oklahoma’s original all-black towns

52 Days of Paleo, Day 18

I had a pretty good Paleo day (see below for details), but the mission today was to see, in person, the mythical (in our family) town of Red Bird and connect Keli to some of her family’s history.

We’re practical enough to know that connecting with one branch down one line of one of our family trees is not a definitive exploration of what it means to be who we are, but I enjoyed what I was able to contribute to the exercise.

We started at the nearest library, in a town called Coweta. I hoped to learn a little more about the town’s history, if possible. The librarian wasn’t sure what she had available when we asked for anything that might tell us about Red Bird, but she pulled a memoir written by a local rancher, a listing of all the cemeteries in the region, and a book called the Wagner County History.

A thick reference guide, the book was produced in 1980. It was full of short articles about local social groups, county and city governments, churches, schools, and the like. Each listing was comprised of at least a paragraph. Some were pages long. I assume these articles were supplied or produced by the guides’ staff. They represent a snapshot of the country at the time, and a record of the highlights of history to that point as the people who wrote it saw it.

Also included in the book were sections about towns, including several columns of text on Red Bird. The town, it turns out, was formed by black men with a vision, and a business plan.

Constructed on a section of land owned by a Creek Indian native named Fus Chata, which means Red Bird, the land was first settled at the end of the 1800s by two families; the Barbers and the Ruffins. More families joined them and a community formed. E.L. Barber founded a church and became Justice of the Peace and eventually Mayor, coalescing the community. The railroad came through the land, a post office was opened, and a development company formed (spearheaded by Barber) promoting investment in what would be one of thirty all-black towns in Oklahoma. This was all before Oklahoma became a state (the town was officially in Indian Territory).

The Red Bird Investment company promised land and opportunity to free blacks escaping the deeply-racist south. It’s sales agents, who traveled the South promoting the town, drew 600 people from sixteen different states to the grand opening (August 10, 1907).

Over its history, the town has prospered, faltered, then stabilized. Today, Red Bird is home to something like 200 people. Over the course of its history, Red Bird built and ran its own small schools and properly incorporated in 1963 to get loans to add services the town needed. There are many descendants of the towns founding (or early settler families) still living in Red Bird today.

The town as we found it is a checkerboard of disintegrating white/gray roads lined with dense forest. The streets are made up with one part sweet, small and well-maintained homes, one part abandoned and overgrown buildings, and one part mobile homes on debris-strewn lots.

We walked the local cemetery, looking for familiar family names. We spotted those of a line of my wife’s cousins, but none from her direct ancestors.

At the center of town are a couple of cinder block buildings that make up the town's infrastructure. One building is city hall, a one-room, two-window structure with steel mesh grates over the windows. The other is half post-box cluster (the post office was decommissioned some time ago and mail service is now dropped to the old post office building but delivered to individual mailboxes), and part utility office. That’s where we met Ms. Wilma Mosley. I guess her age somewhere between 75 and 90. When my wife mentioned her family history, Ms. Mosley knew of it. And had stories of Keli’s Grandmother and Keli’s Grandmother’s sisters. She even had a story about a character Keli met when she visited Red Bird a few times as a child; a precocious adult that courted her grandmother and who drank and made enough of a fool of his harmless self that two women a generation apart both had stories that connected them.


There is a metal sign mounted just in front of what I assume is an abandoned court of jailhouse (it has two rooms, one with thick concrete walls and a steel door). It told us more about the history of the town. It speaks of how freed black men came together in farming communities when fertile land became available in the Indian Territories. Towns formed around these communities. The movement for all-black towns developed as a way for these communities to self-govern, but Jim Crow laws suppressed the rights of African-Americans to vote and stifled these communities’ ability to flourish. Many, as did Red Bird, stagnated. The communities and towns formed during this era still exist, and signs like the one in Red Bird are the last reminders of this amazing history.

What I found next made the trip worthwhile.


Breakfast: Turkey slices, apple, banana, coffee sweetened with raw honey.

Lunch: Meatloaf, twice-baked potatoes, corn and a sliced muffin at a diner.

Dinner: Gluten-free cauliflower flatbread with ground beef, sweet pickle, and cheese. French fries. A homemade snicker-doodle cookie.

Snacks: None.

Exercise: None.

27May/190

52 Days of Paleo, Day 17

Grocery store salad bar, with some deli turkey thrown on top.

This isn’t going to be much of an update because it’s late and I drove 10 hours instead of sticking to my gameplan.

I started out the day with a lovely Paleo breakfast (bacon and eggs). I hit a salad bar for lunch. Still Paleo. But then it all fell apart again at night.

Our plan was to get to the OK border then make a call on where to stop. Red Bird just called to me so I pressed on. We are in Tulsa tonight. It’s 10:30 pm local time and rather than fix a meal, I opted for a banana, some gluten-free oatmeal, and a slab of dark chocolate. The hell with good intentions.

I did stock up on a couple of days worth of ingredients at that grocery store though. We’re planning to stay in Tulsa through Wednesday morning, so unless I get a bug up my ass about driving on, I’ll east plenty clean the next two days.


Breakfast: Black coffee sweetened with raw honey.

Lunch: Salad from the salad bar at a grocery store. Stuck with all the good options.

Dinner: Gluten-free oatmeal, a banana, some dark chocolate, and a beer.

Snacks: Well, dinner was basically snack food. But it’s already covered.

Exercise: Unless you count wrestling the steering of a 23-foot Class C RV with a loaded motorcycle trailer against 25 mph crosswinds exercise, none.

26May/190

52 Days of Paleo, Day 16

There was no escaping relentless wind today. I'd like to blame it for my Paleo crash, but the truth is that I just fell off the wagon.

Wind is a bit of a dick!

The wind was the story of my day today. That and a shameful (but temporary) abandonment of Paleo.

We never did make it to Roswell and the International Alien Museum and Research Center. Why? The wind is why. God-damned wind.

Interstate 25 cuts a mostly straight line right up the center of New Mexico. We started our day by pointing the RV North on I-25 and had a glorious tailwind to drive us along. To get to Roswell though, you make a hard right at San Antonio onto Highway 380 and head just slightly south of due East for 150 miles. That tailwind turned into a powerful, gusty, high-volume side wind. I had to steer into it like a pilot trying to land a super-light single-engine Cessna into a crosswind and almost got blown off the road a couple of times.

So we gave up on Roswell and headed North up Highway 54 instead, a route that took us through a procession of towns in various stages of abandonment. That led us to the Interstate gas-stop town of Santa Rosa, where the winds were so strong we were put under tornado-watch at the RV park (asked to hunker in the bathroom until the danger passed).

The whole day was like that; a battle. The wind bullied me like the big kid with the parent issues in a middle-school play yard; it taunted us and shoved us just when we got our balance for a moment, shoved us again. It was stressful and tiring and affected my resolve when challenged to find Paleo options for the day.

I still hadn’t stopped and stocked up on Paleo-friendly ingredients, so I had no options for breakfast and ate the oatmeal we stock in the camper. It’s gluten-free, but even though that’s better than the real thing, it’s still a grain and therefore not Paleo. That set a bad tone for the day. Losing the first skirmish weakens you for the battle to come.

I tried to get back on track by eating nothing for most of the rest of the day, determined to wait for a Paleo meal. But when town after town passed by with no grocery store (it’s a shame, but rural America is served it’s grocery needs by dollar stores and mini-markets), I struggled with hunger. I grabbed a banana and a Kind bar (all nuts and honey, so probably Paleo) at a gas station to try and hold on a little longer.

My last hope was the grocery store in Santa Rosa. Which (and I’m sorry Santa Rosa) had the crappiest produce section I've ever seen. Everything (I mean everything) was past it’s prime. There was nothing fresh or healthy for me to add to a chicken breast to make a meal so we ate out. I had a hamburger with no bun and French fries, trying to keep things close to Paleo, but I win no prizes for today. And after the stress of the constant wind and the tornado warning, I threw out the whole Paleo plan with a slice of chocolate pie and two canned beers as my final meal of the day.

I hope to redeem myself tomorrow. We’re not giving central New Mexico a chance to redeem itself though. As soon as I’m up and ready, I plan to aim the RV West on I-40 and not stop until I hit Oklahoma soil.

We did see one cool, interesting, and unexpected thing.

A satellite image of the lava flow that makes up the Valley of Fires in central New Mexico

Driving across the middle of New Mexico, the terrain suddenly changed from grassland to a field of rolling, cracked lava rock. We spotted a pull-in called Valley of Fires recreation area, paid our five bucks, and took the short guided walk to learn about this strange phenomenon.

I’d recommend a visit to see it in person, but the basics are that 5,000 years ago, lava vents spewed a molten river down this central New Mexico valley. As the river flowed, the outer layers cooled while the core continued to flow. When the vents stopped producing, the out layer of the lava river cracked and collapsed, leaving a forty-five-mile long lava debris field.

The rough black rock is brimming with life and a complete contrast to the rolling scrub-and-grass lands that make up (from what we observed) most of the middle of New Mexico.

This is why we travel this way; to come across things we would write off if we planned the trip ahead and read about them first. You cannot know how much of an impact a local point-of-interest like the Valley of Fires can have on your soul without seeing it yourself. If you want to be humbled by the awesomeness of the world we live on, get away from the city in any direction and keep your eyes open. If there’s something worth seeing (like the Valley of Fires), someone will have turned it into a park, or at least put up a sign to lead you to it.

Follow the signs people.


Breakfast: Black coffee sweetened with raw honey. Gluten-free oatmeal.

Lunch: Hamburger with bacon, Swiss cheese, lettuce, pickles, and ketchup, with French Fries.

Dinner: A slice of chocolate-cream pie. Two cans of beer (lager).

Snacks: A kind bar. A banana.

Exercise: None today, unless you count the 1/3 mile hike on the walking path at Valley of Fires State Park.

25May/190

52 Days of Paleo, Day 15

Grilled Chicken wrapped in bacon, with bell peppers and onions and sweet potato mash.

Traveling Paleo

Today was the first chance I’ve had to eat Paleo while traveling. I lacked imagination and neglected my preparation, but I got the job done.

We are on vacation, the wife and I. We loaded the RV and pointed it East. We are on the road for eight days and the fixed destination we have is a small town in Oklahoma where Keli’s father has ancestors.

I’ve heard about Red Bird, Oklahoma, most of my adult life (I got married at 23). It’s always been a little mysterious and romantic to me. My wife’s grandmother and her grandmother’s ancestors are from there. Her father has told us a few times a story about visiting cousins in Red Bird when he was a kid and remembering it as a strange experience (he and his brother being a city boy, Red Bird being the natural home of the country mice in his family).

We picked Red Bird as a destination just because, for no other reason than we’re curious. We want to experience that alien-ness Keli’s father spoke about for ourselves. We want to meet these cousins. We want to connect with Keli’s father through this drive.

We also picked it because the distance seemed about right for an eight-day wander in the RV, a trip that has only one goal, but dozens of opportunities to explore and discover a bunch of other hopefully unique and interesting along this swath of the country.

For our first day, we wanted to bust out of Arizona. That meant a long drive and an overnight in Elephant Butte, New Mexico, which, it ends up, looks and feels too much like home to be exotic). Tomorrow, we are headed for the International Alien Museum and Research Center in Roswell, New Mexico before crossing into Texas to hunt for an interesting, never-been-there-before campground for the night.

Traveling always puts a burden on a healthy eating plan. When I travel for work, I revert quickly to the junkiest of eating. Breakfast comes from the food-shaped products at whatever hotel I’m staying in (how do they manage to make eggs, a naturally-occurring superfood, taste like they’re made from an artificial substance?). Mid-day meals come from gas stations. Dinner is handed to me out a drive-through window. Traveling by RV at least gives me the luxury to stock a cupboard and refrigerator with ingredients, and a kitchen to prepare and cook my own meals.

I was lax in preparing ahead of time (closing out all open work in both my jobs so I could leave for a week without feeling like I was burning both businesses down on my way out the door) meant I didn’t take time to shop. I started the trip with whatever I had left at home from my first two week's meal planning.

And although I’m getting a little burned out on bacon, sweet potato and eggs, I know we can hit a grocery anytime and re-stock, so I brought along Kenzie Swanhart’s Paleo in 28 for inspiration. I'm determined to not let a little road trip break my 52 Days of Paleo.


Breakfast: Black coffee sweetened with Sweet N Low. Sweet potatoes, onions, bell peppers and eggs, scrambled. Bacon. Again.

Lunch: None.

Dinner: Grilled chicken breast, wrapped in bacon, with onions and bell peppers. Sweet potato mash (butter, salt, pepper).

Snacks: None.

Exercise: None today (today was RV-driving day)

23May/190

52 Days of Paleo, Day 13

This. Was. An. Amazing. Breakfast.

Not winning at Paleo

There is a tendency with this kind of writing to emphasize the positive and de-emphasize the negatives. I'm on a journey to clean up my nutrition in support of my goal of health, vitality, and longevity. Being public about a personal goal like this one brings up (for me anyway) issues about wanting to appear put together, strong, capable. This leads to a tendency to only share when things are going well.

But I’m sharing this journey only because I hope to help someone else who struggles with choosing food that makes them feel terrible for all the wrong reasons and wants to follow an example of someone who got themselves clean (so to speak). To be completely honest, at Day 13 of my 52-Day Paleo pledge, things aren't going as perfectly as I might have led you to believe. And it's all my own fault.

My youngest son finished 11th grade today. My wife got us all together to take us to lunch. His choice. Unfortunately, that choice was the kind of place where no matter how hard you try, there were no Paleo options. It was a Louisiana Fry restaurant.

I ate chicken strips and French fries. Chicken strips battered in white flour. With ketchup. I limited myself to that, but none of that menu (except the chicken itself) fits into the Paleo structure.

It’s not the only time in the last thirteen days that non-Paleo food has crept in. I've eaten lunch a couple of times at fast-casual restaurants where the lean-protein-and-veggies bowl I chose also came with rice. Rice is a grain, and all grains are to be avoided in a Paleo lifestyle. I've eaten at a couple of other restaurants where the sauce that came with the meal couldn't possibly adhere to Paleo ingredients.

Worst of all, yesterday, I didn't eat breakfast and made it all the way till about two in the afternoon, when hunger overtook me and bought an eight pack of mini Donuts at a Circle K gas station. Mini, chocolate-covered donuts are definitely not Paleo.

The point of Paleo is to eliminate processed foods from our diet and allow our body, which is only evolved to the point when we can easily process foods that appear in the natural environment; vegetables, nuts, and seeds, lean proteins, tubers like sweet potatoes and parsnips, fruit, etc. Paleo is pretty much any whole food and no grains, sugar, or heavily processed foods.

There’s all kind of dialogue online about whether or not to mix in a few non-Paleo meals when adhering to a Paleo diet. The original book, The Paleo Diet by Dr. Loren Cordain, addresses it by saying that as long as the majority of your meals are Paleo, you’ll reap practically all the benefits. On the website Paleoleap.com, they put it this way:

If the occasional cheesecake or ice cream sandwich helps you stick with a mostly healthy diet for the long haul. 95% Paleo for good beats 100% Paleo for 2 weeks before you give up in despair. In this case, non-Paleo food is actually benefiting your health in the long run. If the food is a central part of an occasional social, cultural, or religious experience that’s important to you. In this case, the food is benefiting your mental and emotional well-being.

The bottom line is this: be kind to yourself, do the best you can, and stick to your Paleo plan as much as possible, but accept that perfection is unattainable. If you make a misstep, correct it on the very next meal.


Breakfast: Black coffee sweetened with Sweet N Low. Two eggs, over medium, sausages, country potatoes, and a cup of fruit at the Black Bear Diner.

Lunch: Chicken Strips and Fries at Flavors of Louisiana.

Dinner: None.

Snacks: A Base Culture Cashew Butter Blondie. A banana.

Exercise: 150 minutes of intense road cycling.