This blog follows the journey of Sarah and Greg as they made their film. To see a trailer, read more, learn about the progress of the film or share your story visit AMERICANBEARFILM.COM

60 days. 25 States. 5 Bears.

Sarah and Greg are setting out on an adventure exploring American trust and fear through hospitality. Armed with their charm, courage, and a camera, they will rely on the kindness of strangers for a home each night, and if they're lucky, a few meals along the way.

The story began in summer 2009 when Greg exclaimed in his sleep, "We have to go to Bear, Colorado!" Unfortunately, no Bear actually exists in Colorado. However, there are five Bears in America, fortuitously located in a perfect a 'U' around the continental U.S. - in Washington, Idaho, Arizona, Arkansas, and Delaware. Following the trail of the Bears, Sarah and Greg will travel through 25 states of all different cultures, demographics, populations, and Americans.

Through conversations with locals, we will explore our themes on a personal level and embrace the stories that turn strangers into neighbors. Our discussions with scholars and professionals will dig into the philosophy and nature of a core aspect of what makes us human. We will understand why (or if) we let people into our hearts and our homes.

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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.

Day 4: Oberlin, Ohio

The drive from Ashtabula to Oberlin was a breeze. Less than two hours down the interstate, curving around Cleveland, catching glimpses of Lake Erie with the tall buildings looming above. I drove for the second day in a row and Sarah conducted a pre-interview phone call with one of the professors we're meeting next week. We're averaging about ten minutes of radio or iPod usage a day. The quiet and conversation just seem to fit the passing landscapes.

Oberlin is a pretty typical college town. I'm not trying to knock it, and I'm sure there are staunch advocates for its unique qualities, which are probably discovered over more time than one night. That's just my impression: the cute, small downtown with a few restaurants, a few stores, a lovely quad, decorous older buildings -- it's great, but I sort of felt like I had been here before.

We spent most of the afternoon working without the camera: a long creative conversation sitting on the grass, some phone calls, using the internet in a coffee shop. We did sneak in some ice cream from Gibson's, and my Frosted Cookie ice cream brownie hot fudge sundae was pretty phenomenal.

Sarah got the camera out of the roasting car and cooled it off in an air conditioned bead and art store while I called my mom. We finally set out to find our home for the night. We talked to a few people, and heard different opinions about the much-touted diversity in Oberlin: an African-American woman who moved here from Los Angeles was on a mission for truth, as she put it, and the truth is that diversity is a myth; but a Caucasian high school student immediately praised the diversity and open minds that make Oberlin a wonderful community for anyone.

We were directed to the Bike Co-op, where anyone in the community can pay a small fee for renting bikes and repairing bikes (they even have great programs in which you can build your own bike in exchange for helping out). We got a tour from Stella and Peter, college students who are some of the Co-op's hardest workers. Most fascinating was the bike graveyard, where dozens of unfinished bike projects are hanging on the wall or piled together in an unfinished space underground. When all was said and done, we had seen a wonderful example of community sharing, and we had found a place to stay: Stella and Peter live in a house with Becca, and they immediately offered their space.

Sarah and I wandered a bit more as the sun began to set -- we sat in the park again, where I continued cultivating bug bites and Sarah lay down in the grass, a relaxing moment as the day turned into night.

We headed over to the house, which slopes in the kitchen and bathroom and has cracks and holes in the walls that suggest a long history. If Patti from Avoca was here, I bet she would feel the ghosts.

Peter made a wonderful dinner of noodle and vegetable soup with a vegetable stock they had made a few days earlier. We brought in our remaining half of a loaf of bread that my neighbor Mr. Goode made and gave to us as a departing gift -- it had served us wonderfully as a daily snack, and now we could contribute it to a hospitable meal, literally breaking bread with our new friends.

Stella, Peter, and Becca were great to talk with -- when we did a more formal interview with them, Sarah was very impressed with how articulate they all are, discussing their belief in trusting people within our American culture of fear. Peter, a music composition major, described his creative process with us and gave me some music by his favorite composers -- modern, Italian, pushing the boundaries of instrumental music and perception of sound -- I can't wait to listen to it, but the car might not be the most hospitable place.

After a long night of conversation, we set up our computer work space (computer, two hard drives, camera, sound, all transferring, lasting almost three hours). Our hosts headed out to a friend's house, leaving us alone to wrap up our work and set up our sleeping bags. It was around 2:30am that we finally eased into sleep, the room softly illuminated by white Christmas lights hanging above the windows.

Now we're back in the coffee shop, about to find some snacks at the Farmer's Market across the street, then heading off to Fort Wayne, Indiana for -- well, we'll tell you in our next post.


American Bear, Day Two: Avoca, NY

We're taking advantage of free internet at a Krispy Kreme in Erie, PA, on our way to Ashtabula, OH -- okay, we took advantage of the donuts too. We're looking forward to our third night, this time on Lake Erie.

Yesterday began with eggs and toast with Joe, and then we were off. With only a 2 1/2-hour drive to Avoca, we were able to take our time a little bit, visiting the Corning Museum of Glass, the world's largest glass museum. We didn't actually go in, but they had excellent bathrooms, and Sarah tried to tickle me a lot. In other words, it was like a break before getting back to work in Avoca.

Avoca technically has a higher population than Roscoe, but it sure felt smaller. Maybe it was the strictly logical arrangement of the town: the two-block downtown, with exactly 2 stores and 2 restaurants, is exactly in the center of the small grid of roads with houses. The house we ended up staying in was built in 1902, and most of the buildings look just as old, with signage reminiscent of the 1950s. A cute, slow-motion town.

We started in the Avoca Cafe, where one older resident was enjoying his lunch, and the waitress was always smiling. We spoke to the head of the kitchen, Robert, and ended up with a piece of carrot cake (their recommended dessert) and chicken cordon bleu casserole -- for free. For whatever reason, our out-of-town charm and interest in their town won them over. It would have been especially great if I ate meat -- but Sarah enjoyed some bites of the casserole before we gave it to our eventual hosts.

We soon ran into Randy on the street while he was walking Bobo, a German shepherd/beagle mix. Randy is a veteran of the Vietnam War who turned down a Purple Heart medal, and although he seemed nervous at first, he welcomed being on camera and quickly offered up his house for the night, mentioning that he and his wife had two extra bedrooms. But it was only 1:30, so we decided to continue exploring before we joined Randy and his wife Patti at their home. We would actually see Randy again before that, when he walked down the street with Dickens, their larger dog, while we ate some snacks in a gazebo in the small town park.

We spoke with some young people hanging out on their front porch -- with a "No Trespassing" sign complemented by a "Welcome" decoration next to the door. Two had dropped out of high school, and another had graduated and continued to hang around as one of the few people who claimed to love Avoca. We heard a lot of small-town drama, and saw many more teenagers walking around in groups, smoking, and otherwise enjoying the day. Kind of a strange energy in a town whose two churches were advertised from the highway.

We drove out of town and down County Road 415, until we glimpsed wind turbines over a hill -- Sarah and I have been fairly obsessed with the visual elegance of wind turbines since we drove by a wind farm in Kansas last summer. We turned off 415 and drove past several farms, chasing the turbines. As if by destiny, we found ourselves on an unmarked dirt road that led us right to the turbines themselves. There were three right there, and we counted 39 more on the hills in a several mile radius, which we could only see from the top of our hill, way up with the turbines. So huge, so graceful. 

We headed back to Avoca and straight to Randy and Patti's house. We had a fascinating evening with them -- Patti has been married eight times, and two of those are to Randy. Their house had its own energy, as Patti told us about the three spirits that live there -- a woman and a dog with good intentions, and an evil man who pushed her onto a piano, requiring stitches near her eye. We saw hundreds of pictures of the house in which strange orbs appear, and even had Patti's friend Judy e-mail us pictures of the spirit woman, complete with red lipstick. Patti says they're most active between 10pm and 3am, and maybe someday we'll come back to hunt the spirits with our camera.

We bought a pizza and hot wings from the Avoca Pizzeria and shared it with Randy and Patti. They told us about their history, all those marriages, Randy's time in Vietnam and his brother who served with him and passed away just a month ago. Randy and Patti are both born-again Christians, which has made the kindness of strangers an ideal they hold high, with many charitable donations as well as other experiences taking people in for the night. Christian images and phrases were all over the house, as plentiful as the images and figures of Maine and lighthouses, one of Patti's favorite things. We had our own bedroom, complete with brand new pillows that Patti was excited for us to break in.

This morning, Patti made eggs and toast (quickly becoming the most common breakfast in America), and I howled with Randy, Patti, Bobo, and Dickens in a beautiful chorus of dog noises. We didn't say goodbye, but simply farewell, and see you later.

Our donuts are long finished, and I think we're going to get some lunch before getting back on the highway for about an hour to Ashtabula. We can't wait to see how our adventures continue to surprise us.


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.
Peace out Morristown. Hello America.


13 hours. Tick tock. We hit the road, drive through New York City, and curve west in upstate New York till we hit Roscoe, our first small town! The car is 95% packed, practically airtight!

Our rig includes our Canon 7D, our sound recorder with three microphones, and the shoulder mount, as well as a light and bounce for the planned interviews. It actually gets pretty compact in a handy Canon backpack, and when assembled, it's not only remarkably convenient, but looks both homemade and technologically advanced. Then again, it's all in the eye of the beholder. But we love it!

Our sweet ride with sweet magnets. Hopefully it won't cause too much rubbernecking.