Coming Home

Last summer was a blast of adventures of all kinds that I wanted to experience: trekking for gorillas in Uganda with my daughter, Kira; touring around Rwanda–land of 1000 hills and the cleanest country in Africa; attending a 10 day Hendricks training; canoe camping with old friends and Kira on a Sierra lake; housesitting at my son, Shawn’s, in Tahoe for two weeks; and attending a writers’ work weekend in Santa Cruz. I didn’t pay rent for over two months, living out of Wanda with Riley and moving every couple of weeks or so. In a blissful state, I took the scenic route from Tahoe to 395, then headed south through Markleeville, Bridgeport, Lee Vining, Mono Lake, and Mammoth. Mmmm…. this route has become so familiar to me. I feel like I’m coming home every time I drive on this delightful highway.

Kiva beach at South Lake Tahoe–one of our favorite places to take the dogs (photo courtesy of Kira Halpern)

As I neared Darwin, nestled between the Coso Mountains and Argus range that borders Death Valley in California, my whole body smiled. I felt giddy at returning to the tiny community that is feeling more and more like home for me. It seems easier to breathe. The expansive skyline invites me to expand into myself, and the simple lifestyle calms my nervous system. Here I live in my essence pace, which I’ve learned is slower and allows me to be more present than what I used to think I thrived on. The hardy, independent women of Darwin and the eastern Sierra feel like my kind of people. I can’t ever imagine going back to living in a busy city!

Fanciful lenticular clouds while passing through the Alabama Hills near Lone Pine
Sunset and expansive sky right before I arrived “home”

The deep, peaceful quiet envelopes me as I walk with Riley up the dirt road to Jackass Mine, one of my weekly ways of getting some good exercise. I begin to wonder, is Darwin where I really want to settle? Buy a house? More fully immerse myself into the community? I feel so much potential for me to flourish here–the peaceful solitude, a population eager for things I want to offer (like my weekly Qigong classes), a place where I can find more freedom to create a more sustainable way of living on our Earth–and a place to live that won’t consume all the money I made from the sale of my Santa Cruz home.

There are some considerations that I wonder about: being so remote means that health care, the kind of grocery stores I like to shop at, and things like movie theaters and restaurants are all pretty far away. No one can recommend a good dentist in the area, nor a dermatologist, so I plan to schedule those appointments when I go to Santa Cruz a couple times a year. The closest town is Lone Pine, featuring the magnificent Mt. Whitney, but that’s 40 miles away. A small town with limited shopping possibilities (meaning no organic food choices). Bishop is where I go to do my grocery shopping–the drive is gorgeous and there are several stores to choose from, including a tiny health food store with a very enthusiastic and accommodating owner. I have a favorite coffee shop I stop at for lunch and the most delicious, thick and creamy pumpkin pie chai with coconut milk. On my way home I usually stop at Keough’s to swim laps in fresh hot springs water. I’ve discovered that being out in a more active place with lots of choices is perfect for me once a week or ten days–the rest of the time I enjoy the simplicity, ease, and solitude of the tiny semi-ghost town of Darwin.

Driving up Whitney Portal Road out of Lone Pine. Mt Whitney is framed in the V in the center of the photo.

I’ve been looking for a house or piece of land to buy in Darwin, but surprisingly, that is not such an easy thing to find! Even though people who own a lot of the houses or land have not even been here for years, they do not want to let go of their property. There are only a certain number of water rights since the water comes from a spring seven miles away and is considered a limited resource, and there are no more available. There is one house I thought I was going to buy a couple of months ago, but when I went to talk to the owner, she said she was not interested in selling. Last week she told a neighbor she wanted to talk with me.

I walked into the house with peeling peach and turquoise paint. The front screen door scraped on the stoop, due to the wood frame coming apart at the joints. As I lifted the door handle the door moved up an inch so I could open it. Hmmm…. I think–I wonder how many other things need fixing? Am I up for that? Even though there are many signs of neglect and things in need of repair, the house feels regal to me. A two story, three bedroom home with many appealing features, like an unobstructed view of the Coso Mountains from the kitchen window, lots of light coming in through large windows in the dining and living rooms, a spacious feeling inside, a lovely fenced in patio in the back, and two bedrooms upstairs and a deck with a gorgeous view. The acre lot includes several large shade trees, a large garage/workshop, and a tiny old historic house made of scraps of metal and stone, probably from the mining days in the past. The whole lot is fenced in, so Riley would have an acre to explore without me worrying about him chasing coyotes up D hill or running after motorcycles headed to Darwin Falls.

We had a couple of cars left behind just outside of town–turned upside down so the wheels and axles could be removed!

This house feels like me–the light, the spaciousness, the bright-colored outside walls. I can see myself thriving here, but as I look at the waterstained ceiling with a big blue bucket on top of the desk underneath, the peeling paint, the rickety railing around the decks upstairs, I wonder if I really want to take on this big of a project. I left my home in Santa Cruz partly because of the high expense and continual maintenance. Would I be stepping right back into that trap? On the other hand, I love fixing up houses! And this one I could move into without fixing anything, except maybe the roof fairly soon, and then choose small jobs to do as I feel like it. Painting one outside wall for a week, then waiting another month or so to do the next. How much of my small savings would I sink into it before I’m satisfied? I know myself! It’s hard to stop when I have a vision of what I want, but this house has so much appeal already. I could even do airbnb in the upstairs rooms or have them available for some other way I design to create more income for myself.

This is a good place to exercise my self care and listening-inside skills. How much money am I comfortable spending on a house? Do I want something big with lots of potential, or to build a more sustainable tiny house, or maybe an earthship, or something built mostly underground to retain the natural heating and cooling functions of Earth? One thing is clear–I feel fully welcome in this community. There are lots of places for me to spread my roots, grow into myself, and connect with creative, nature-loving people that I already feel pretty close to.

Chasing the fall color with my Mom along highway 395
Mom enjoying the streaks of golden aspens dripping down the eastern Sierra peaks

Even if I do buy this house, my wandering days with Wanda are far from over! I envision spending several weeks in the spring chasing wildflowers, camping in the Sierra or other places where I can play in water and hike in cooler climates during summer months, visiting hot springs and enjoying the spread of fall color across the eastern Sierra, and maybe heading to Baja for some winter adventures–all in the comfortable and simple hominess of Wanda. I feel ready to manifest this!

Desert creosote sunset, captured in Darwin
The Reclining Maiden of Darwin–see her in the silhouette of the Argus Mountains?

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