When the world came to a standstill last year during the pandemic, Joe Mykut set out on a cross-country trip with his dog, Yogi.
Mykut, a 2000 graduate of Walker High School, spent over six months traveling through 22 states, paying his way by making and selling art and spending many nights in a tent in some of the most beautiful places in the country.
"I felt the craziness and the chaos building around us. Quarantine was the catalyst that pushed me out the door. It was the thing that whether through fear or frustration became the straw that broke the camel's back," he said.
For Mykut, the pandemic year coincided with a spiritual and emotional awakening, or kundalini. Poetry helped him process what was going on in his own life as well as the society he had left behind and was then observing from a distance.
The poems became "Cosmic Poetry: From Darkness Comes Light," a self-published effort that is available now at www.blurb.com as well as on Apple iBooks.
The title is reflective of the poems themselves, which contain whimsy as well as darker experiences common to human nature, as well as the unexpected opportunities that some people found during the pandemic.
"There was a lot of leeway with that time, and it was up to us to make the most of that experience. We could sit at home and be a couch potato and let the news feed us, but I've been inspired by people who taught themselves new trades or did things they have been putting off forever. For me, it was travel. I had put it off for so long and had waited for someone to do it with me, but then I realized there was no time like now when reality as we knew it had shifted. The idea behind the title is what we did with this really dark, uncertain time," he said.
Mykut, a first-time author, is already looking ahead to future book projects, including a travel memoir, a coffee table book featuring his photographs from the trip and a children's book.
The latter is inspired by a poem Mykut wrote about a Suess-like character called an Umbrellox that has the face of a fox, the body of a dragon and an umbrella tail.
As winter set in, Mykut decided to move back to Jasper for the first time in his adult life. Though he had plans to continue his trip in the spring, he ultimately decided to stay.
He is currently living close to his family and working as a server to pay the bills while spending the rest of his time working on his books and his art under the company name Cosmic Creation Station.
"I never saw myself being here at the moment I published my first book, but I've come full circle to end up back in my hometown and living a block away from the high school I graduated in," he said.
More from Mykut can be found on Facebook pages for Cosmic Poetry as well as Cosmic Creation Station. Photos from his travels are on Instagram @timetravelerjam.