A little over 6 weeks ago I turned my home and garden of 18 years over to a family I’d barely met, left a secure job with a supportive staff I enjoyed working with, had my last meeting with the women’s group I’ve been inspired and supported by for 12 years, took a leave from the women’s choir I cherished singing in for the past 4 years, sold my car, and said goodbye to my amazing daughter who lives in the studio behind my house. I wasn’t sure if I was crazy to be leaving behind a life that was pretty sweet and wonderful in so many ways, or if I was more sane than ever to be stepping out toward a life I’d dreamed about for years. Was I running away from something I was afraid to face, or moving toward a life that had been patiently waiting for me to discover? These questions come up for me regularly, and I do not know the answer. I think now is a perfect time to look back at what I’ve experienced and learned these past 6 weeks through living a nomadic, simple life where each day is an opportunity to create something new and to go a little deeper in getting re-aquainted with myself.
The most challenging part of this journey has been sharing a tiny space (my VW Westfalia, named Wanda) with another person, and being together almost 24/7 for most of six weeks. Max has been amazingly easy for me to get along with, even though we have our different perspectives and preferences in some areas. His easy-going, go-with-the-flow nature, as well as his intrigue with seeing new places and learning everything he can about the places we’ve visited have been an unexpected gift. Sometimes I think I “should” really be all alone for the full experience I was looking for on this journey, but his companionship and love of driving and reassurance when deciding where to go next have helped me feel more comfortable- and have given me more opportunities to write and edit photos than if I was on my own. The hardest thing was juggling all of our stuff around when we wanted to sleep for the night- my guitar, his autoharp and large format camera gear, his heavy tool bag, solar panels, a bag of song books, our computers, backpacks, and clothes (he brought a suitcase so he could take a train to New York to visit his father and son) all had to be moved around when we wanted to set up camp. Since we were in a new location almost every day while driving back and forth across the country we slept on the upper bed, which wasn’t as
comfortable as the lower one, but was so much more convenient. From now on, I plan to spend more than one day at a time when I stop to sleep somewhere, but I ordered a 2 inch memory foam mattress to put on top of the upper mattress, just in case. As Max suggested the other day, six weeks in a little van together, getting lost a few times, deciding where to go and what to do and eat each day, and we’re still smiling at each other. And as we pulled into his driveway in Keeler, California last week he looked at me and put up a high five, saying, “Well done!!”
It sure has been more fun sharing the places we’ve been with someone else, but I know in some ways I let his presence be a distraction for accomplishing some of my goals for this year. I often decide to get into a long conversation in the morning rather than write, or to have a glass of wine with Max instead of go for a walk to get some exercise before dinner, or stay up late talking instead of going to bed early so I can make the most of the daylight hours with some of the curriculum I’ve planned for myself. I wonder if that IS part of my journey- to let go of some of my drive and planning so I can be present with what and who is right in front of me at the moment. To blend my life with another person and to learn how to love more deeply. A friend told me awhile ago that I’m doing the Eat, Pray, Love adventure, only I started with the love. I thought I needed to take this time to learn to love myself better, but Max’s gentle reflections back to me are helping me grow in ways I had not anticipated.
I once read that the main purpose of being in relationship is not for what you get from it, but in how you learn to give love. In that case, the mirror of a relationship can be a helpful tool to see new opportunities for growth. I’ve seen a lot of them these past weeks!! My mantra lately is “Be the love you want to receive.” When I think about what that means, I’ve got a long way to go!
A common theme for me these past few months has been “less is more,” and that realization has come up over and over again with this nomadic life. I get so excited when I empty a bottle or package of something I brought so I can lighten my load and open up some space just a little bit more. Food is one thing that I’m continually stymied by. Every time I go into a store I make a list ahead of time and promise myself I won’t buy more than I can eat until I’ll get to the next store with the kind of food I like, but when I come out and try to fit my purchases into the little Engel fridge, I realize I overbought again…. Our stores just aren’t set up for people to buy small quantities! And there haven’t been many farmer’s markets along our journey so far.
Though it’s easier than ever to find organic produce in most stores, it’s still hard to find the variety I’m used to from the central coast of California. The food I keep in my fridge or cupboards are my artist’s palette of gustatory creation, so it’s hard to pass up an item I’d like to use someday. I’m letting go of some ways I liked eating, and there is a certain amount of freedom in that decision, along with less clutter in the Engel. In addition, I’ve given up many of the supplements I thought I needed, quit wearing eye make-up, and quit getting my hair cut at expensive salons- all to cut down on expenses so I can do what
I’m doing, and to lighten my footprint on the Earth. When I walk down the aisles of most stores I see very few things that entice me to put them in my shopping cart, other than the fresh food that’s usually around the perimeter of the store- produce, meats, dairy, and eggs. I feel a sense of smug satisfaction when I pass by all those aisles of boxes and cans and bottles of processed food- so many things I don’t need! Still, if I was to start this trip over, I would have left a lot more behind.
In the beginning of September Max, Riley, and I drove through Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada in six days. Each place offered a unique beauty, and it was fascinating to watch the landscape change from the lush, green, flat fields and wide, slumbering rivers of the mid-west, to the stunning mountains and rushing rivers of Colorado, and to the other-worldly, striped rock outcroppings of Utah. Nevada’s high desert scents and tumbling sage brush along the loneliest highway in the US (Highway 50) hinted we were getting close to home, but seeing the Eastern Sierra Nevada
Mountains were a sign to me that I was home again. Highway 395 is my very favorite road ever! We enjoyed friendly and helpful people, a few good meals out, a fascinating tour of the Mark Twain Cave near the Mississippi River, a couple of nurturing hot springs, and some truly delightful and mostly private campsites. Half of the time we were able to camp for free on National Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management land in dispersed camping areas. In fact, for the entire six weeks we only spent $123 on camping! Of course, for twelve days we stayed with family, which was also thankfully free!! Those beds were all so comfortable and luxurious! My friend, Kathy, taught me to look for rec centers in bigger towns so I could go for a swim and take a nice shower.
Now, this is not the way I wanted to travel- putting on so many miles each day that we didn’t get much time to explore and just “be” where we were, but we were heading back to California to attend a music festival, so did have a bit of a timeline to keep. Max and I developed a pattern of lingering each morning so that we rarely were on the road before noon, so it was certainly not a rushed trip- and eventually we figured out how to minimize moving our stuff around. Westfalias are amazingly well-designed so we had multiple possibilities for sleeping and storing things, even though it’s a tiny space.
Something that has surprised me is how I choose to spend my time. I had ideas that I would develop a routine with some structure to honor my desire to write and to instill some healthier habits for my body. Instead, I seem to get caught up in cleaning and organizing a lot, similar to what I did back at home before I could start any major project- even if it was one I really wanted to do. I have already emptied out several of Wanda’s cupboards and re-assessed what should go where, now that I see what things we rarely or never need and what things are a hassle to get to when we do need them. Maybe all that organizing is what keeps me sane- I know it’s essential to keeping the floor space opened up so it’s easier to move around, but I’m gradually letting go of that obsession. In fact today I spent most of the morning watching the clouds pass over the mountains and writing. And then I did yoga followed by a long hike with Riley. I was proud of myself!! I guess it takes awhile to get into the being vs. doing patterns after so many years of living with a full schedule. Why do so many of us comply with that pressure to “do” and stay busy? I have to say I am feeling so content and peaceful knowing that my days are mostly open to do whatever I want.
So yes, I am very happy these days- happier than I can remember since I was raising young children as a stay-at-home mom, but there are a few things I miss if I really think about it. One is an oven. Oh, how I would like to roast some cauliflower and butternut squash, or make my own granola again!! And picking things out of my garden to eat each day- that I miss more than anything, though it has been pretty sweet to eat the produce from my family’s gardens, too. Maybe I’ll figure out how to do some work trades on farms in the future. I miss seeing Kira almost every day, but I have had internet connection (so much more than I thought I would) and we’ve been able to text or talk on a regular basis. I’ve even seen my son, Shawn more often than when I lived in Santa Cruz. I hope that other friends will join up with me here and there so we can stay connected, too. I also miss being able to recycle and compost- it’s actually painful for me to throw in the trash items that are still a usable resource, but there are many places that don’t offer recycling- especially at campgrounds and gas stations, and there is only so much room I’m willing to commit to lugging around recyclables. Another surprise for me is that after I switched cell phone providers right before I left Santa Cruz I discovered that I’m able to use my phone as a hot spot and actually have wi-fi for my computer- even way out in the wilderness of Wyoming and right now in the high desert of the Eastern Sierra. Living on the road is so different than it would have been ten or twenty years ago!! Each morning, at the beginning of my meditation, I ask myself what my heart desires, and lately I can’t think of anything. I actually go blank! I finally accepted that I have what I desire and I’m living the life I want to live. Hallelujah!! It is such a satisfying feeling!
I’ve noticed a few other changes in myself, too. One is that my eyesight seems to have improved. I don’t strain as much and am reading more often without glasses. My guess is that my eyes are getting so much more exercise now that I’m surrounded by the natural world and have to focus at different distances all the time. I think I may have less gray hair, too. Being dependent on solar power to run the Engel fridge and to charge my cell phone and computer when I’m not driving has made me constantly aware of the sun and weather. My friend, Brian, said to me before I left (and when I was feeling pretty stressed and uncertain about my decisions) that Mother Nature knows how to take care of us, and to let the outdoors guide me. I remember his caring statement often, and now feel more open than ever to the wisdom and nurturing of the natural world. Spending time in nature always leaves me with a sensuous feeling, which is pretty constant now. My senses are heightened with the caress of wind, sun, and rock on my skin, birdsongs and scented plants in the air, and the beautiful sights of nature that touch my soul, and I feel myself glow from deep inside. Since I no longer wear make up, am letting my hair grow long, and I rarely look in the mirror, it’s a shock when I see the new me at a gas station bathroom, but I feel beautiful inside even if I don’t look it on the outside. It’s a relief to not have to think too much about what I’m going to wear- it’s all about function and comfort now, which is so much easier for me to figure out.
Fall is in the air- I can smell it as well as feel the crispness, and last night I slept in my fleece jacket, spooning with Riley under my down comforter to stay warm. I miss the long days of summer, but I welcome the longer time of darkness and increasing cold as a reminder to go within, according the the natural cycles represented in the medicine wheel of many indigenous cultures. I can see the time is coming for me to find more ways to be indoors at night- or to move farther south! I am looking for housesitting possibilities in California during the winter months if anyone knows of any that would welcome a well-behaved dog. For the second half of October I will go to Peru for a writing workshop, so my blog may take on a new flair after that!! Of course, I’ll also see Machu Picchu- another thing to check off my bucket list. Ahhhh…. life is so good right now!!