Uninvited visitors in the night
It was 1:30 in the morning and I lay wide awake, though I craved sleep. I heard them gnawing on something, tiny teeth grinding and clicking, then Wanda shimmied a little as tiny feet shuffled along a surface I couldn’t see, though one that was close to my body. Flicking on my headlamp, I scoured Wanda’s insides with my beam, trying to catch the culprits. After several failed attempts to locate them, I closed my eyes and pulled my fluffy comforter over my head. Within ten minutes little claws scampered across the comforter where it covered my shoulder. I jumped and yelled loudly, flinging the comforter into the air—partly out of surprise but mostly to scare them from attempting to run over the top of me again. An hour later my headlamp beam caught them, peering out at me from the rim of the garbage bag hanging on the back of the passenger seat. Two pairs of beady dark eyes appealed to my heart (which goes soft for furry creatures) while little clawed toes grasped at an apple core and pulled it out from the bottom of the bag, pushing it up for it’s buddy to grab. Then another one, slightly larger, appeared from between the sink cabinet and the driver’s seat, and looked at me as if to assess if it should flee or continue it’s search for food. I must not have looked too threatening because it started smelling around, poking into this and that as if I was nothing to worry about. Riley watched for a moment, then tucked his head back into the curl of his legs. He’d spent many hours trying to catch them to no avail, so he was no longer interested in trying.
That was the second night I only got a couple hours of sleep because my uninvited guests kept me up. Kathy identified them as deer mice and pocket mice, and possibly a kangaroo rat. My biggest concern was what they were chewing on—electrical wiring? Important clothing? Supplies under my bench seat? Precious food? As Kathy and I contemplated our shapeshifting ritual the next day I wondered what mouse would come to teach me. I looked in Ted Andrews Animal Talk book: mouse helps us realize that we’re so busy paying attention to the little details we sometimes forget what the big picture is. Or mouse can remind us that we need to take care of the little details in order to make the big picture plan happen. Ahhh… both of those apply to me in different ways.
I spent a couple hours cleaning everything up so there was no place for them to hide, put my garbage on top of the van, and moved what I had under the van so they couldn’t reach the undercarriage so easily. I hung my bag of snacks (which they hadn’t touched) from the pop top, and checked all the compartments where I store food to make sure there were no access points. I went to bed that night anticipating a solid night of sleep. Around 2:00 am I heard the gnawing and grinding and felt Wanda start to shimmy. Where were those little buggers? I opened up the bench seat and peered under the dashboard, trying to see where they were entering and hanging out. Nothing. I laid down and pulled the comforter up to my ears and within 15 minutes I felt tiny feet scampering across my face. That did it! Totally awake and motivated now, I got the idea to check the internet for solutions. Thank God I had Verizon and decent cell service at our remote spot in Anza Borrego desert. I found many listings about how to get rid of mice in RVs and Vanagons. I watched a few videos with lists of solutions, and finally found one that I could do right then—mint oil was claimed to be an effective repellant. I had some spearmint oil for my smoothies, so I put several drops on some cotton rounds and distributed them where I heard activity. I finally drifted off to sleep around 5 am as things became quiet.
Kathy suggested I move my van to a new location, farther away from the boulders they like to scamper along at night. I did. And I spread cayenne pepper around all my tires. And refreshed the mint oil in cupboards and under the bench seat and dashboard. And I promised to take care of more details and keep my big picture in mind throughout my life. By this time I was so tired I was in an altered state of consciousness, which I’m sure helped me have a more spectacular shapeshifting experience with my raven totem! We also agreed that if I had mice again that night, it must mean it’s time to leave our beautiful Secret Spot. At 1:30 a.m. I heard it again, only it was just one mouse this time and it wasn’t nearly as busy as the other nights, so maybe all my efforts were helpful. I only heard an occasional clicking and grinding sound, which drove me nuts because I couldn’t figure out what was getting shredded. That one must have started a nest somewhere, but where?
Phone call in the desert
In the morning we decided to move to a new campsite, so I took my last solar shower and started packing up. We were about to leave when my cell phone rang. It was Lisa, a teacher I used to work with. “Hey Tamara, I was wondering if you would be interested in subbing for my school for a few months. One of your old students, Tony, thought you would be the perfect teacher to take over for me. It would be January 8 through maybe the beginning of April.”
My first impulse was to say of course not! I’m done teaching and enjoy my wonderful life free of a schedule and starting my mornings slow and spending my days writing. I don’t want to give that up to go back to something I left… But instead I said, “Let me think about it.”
“Well, let me dangle another carrot in front of you to sweeten the offer. I have cancer and need someone to take over so I can go through treatment. I need someone with a big heart who also knows how to do independent studies. You would be perfect.” Wow!! I was touched by her confidence in me, and for being wanted for the part of teaching I really did feel good about—accepting students for who they are and meeting them there. I thought about Wanda’s engine needing to be rebuilt. I had just printed out the paperwork for my retirement so I could start collecting some more income and have access to the lump sum I’ll get to cover the cost of the rebuild. Maybe it would be better to just work a few months and pay for it without cashing out that account. It was Wednesday and I had planned on submitting my paperwork on Friday. “I know you need to sleep on it and it’s either yes or no. I want you to have a full body yes if you’re going to do it. Let me know by Friday so I can tell my boss if I have someone or not.”
I’d planned on going to Big Sur for a month to write, but ended up camping there for just one stunning night (that’s where I saw the rainbow!)
My mind ran over all my possible plans for the next few months. There was really nothing set in stone. I thought I’d find a place to housesit for a month so I could focus on writing the memoir I started for my kids. I fantasized about a house in a quiet area overlooking the ocean—someplace with few distractions. I was ready to be in a bigger space for awhile, and some heat would be welcome on these long, cold winter nights. There was a training I wanted to sign up for to work with Gay and Katie Hendricks the last week of January. And I was already going to be in Santa Cruz the first half of February to meet with my tax person. In fact Kira, my daughter, planned to travel for February and March, so I was going to stay in her studio for two weeks and then find someone to sublet the rest of the time. Hmmm… that meant I had a place to live for most of the time Lisa needed me to sub. I didn’t have any firm plans until the beginning of April when Kira and I want to go to the Grand Canyon.
I pondered all these thoughts while I started Wanda’s engine and bumped along the long dirt road. Something felt a little weird when I put the clutch in, like it wasn’t fully disengaging the engine, but I was able to drive so I ignored it. When I came to a crossroad I stopped to ask Kathy if I was going the right way, but after she affirmed that I was, the gears ground and groaned loudly when I tried to shift into first. I tried several times, but could not get it to work, so I called my friend, Max, who talked me through shifting gears without a clutch. I was able to drive that way, with some rolling through stop signs, all the way to El Centro, about 45 minutes away. There were no VW mechanics, but there was a transmission shop open and willing to take a look. I became doubtful when the mechanic asked me to pop open the hood. He obviously didn’t have any experience with Vanagons! In fact, my cell phone told me the closest VW mechanic was all the way in San Diego, at least 2 hours away and through a lot of traffic. He at least drove it around and checked underneath and assured me that if I pump the clutch several times I should be able to continue driving for quite awhile, but needed to replace it soon.
Kathy and I headed back to the campsite we used the first three nights of our trip. At least that one was close to a paved road and towing service, if needed. I was beginning to realize getting stuck with a broken older vehicle in the remote places I wanted to spend time was not so fun. Maybe it would be a good idea to get my engine rebuilt sooner than later for my own peace of mind. Maybe this sub position for Lisa was a Divine gift, with perfect timing. I leaned in that direction. In fact, the more I thought about taking over for Lisa, the lighter I felt. Of all the programs in our district, I resonated most with the hybrid design that she created. Students can choose from several classes for part of the day and do independent studies the rest of the day, with the option of doing their work elsewhere as long as they keep on track. A perfect blend of structure and flexibility! The most important part, though, is that it’s a caring, safe place for students who are struggling in the comprehensive high schools for various reasons—mostly anxiety and health issues. I didn’t feel I had the ambition to start something like that up from scratch, but here was a chance to step in and try it on, with most of the wrinkles and growing pains already worked out.
On Friday I called Lisa and said, “Yes! I’ll do it!” We made plans to meet the following week so she could show me the ropes, and since then my life has taken a whole new course. I’m doing my best to go along for the ride, and so far it’s been quite pleasant with many delightful surprises! And some not-so-delightful surprises…
After treating myself to a couple of hours at a relaxing spa with a pool, hot springs-fed jacuzzi, and sauna in Desert Hot Springs (I really do miss immersing myself in water when I’m in the desert!), I drove 5 hours back to Max’s house to be closer to his friend and former employer’s repair shop in Bishop. Wanda did pretty well—the clutch worked most of the time if I pumped it a lot, but I tried driving without it as much as possible, taking roads without traffic signals when I could.
As I drove to Bishop early Monday morning, the snow-dusted Sierra dazzled me into a reverent awakened state. About 8 miles out of Bishop Wanda started to lurch. The gas gauge showed she still had a third of a tank. Soon she died on the side of highway 395. I thought she could be out of gas, but didn’t want to chance her breaking down again since I was going to be late in getting her to the mechanic. So I had her towed, wondering what else could possibly be wrong. After all, she was only 27 years old and still running on the original engine! It turned out she was out of gas and the gas gauge wasn’t working because the gas tank had a dent from our venture into Saline Valley a month ago. So now I run out of gas when the gauge shows ⅓ tank…
Camping south of Big Sur, waiting for my job to start
As I write this, another engine is being rebuilt for Wanda. We will do a swap of engines next month and she’ll be ready to go back to our wandering lifestyle. I should earn enough money by the end of March to pay for it. And I’ll still have that retirement money for something else in the future. Some dear friends offered to let me stay in their Burning Man RV until Kira leaves for her trip in February when I’ll move into my studio. The RV is a palace compared to Wanda, but I think I prefer driving and parking Wanda! My first week at work was a joy, and even though I’m going through withdrawals from my mellow lifestyle, I’m feeling quite content to follow the flow of what life has offered.
A sweet side trip to South Lake Tahoe for Christmas with Kira, Shawn, and his girlfriend, Taylor. We went crystal mining in Nevada on Christmas day.