At 9:43 am this morning, Mountain Standard Time, I was supremely happy.
I took a bowl of hot cereal and a cup of tea outside and sat on the sagging wooden step at the bottom of the front stairs to catch the last rays of the not-quite-winter morning light, before the sun makes its way around the corner to the southern side of the cabin. Although the air is nippy, in the mid-50s, the direct sun still feels intensely warm at this mountain altitude. Everything was perfect…the view of my ragged yard, pine neatly stacked and ready for the woodstove against the backdrop of a mistletoe draped old juniper uncomfortably embracing a fading grandmother cholla, the uniquely blue sky overhead, the delicate flavor of the artisanal rose-strewn black tea in the brightly colored Mexican pottery cup I scored at the freepile at last year’s Rubber Tramp Rendevous in Quartzsite, the comforting taste and creamy consistency of cardamom-spiced wheat farina.
I was overwhelmed with a fierce yet quiet gratitude, just for this very moment, precisely as it was, the comforting, simple, natural joy of it all.
And then the familiar cloud passed over my internal sun, just a faint and momentary darkening of the sunny mood. The insidious internal critic was chiming in, as usual: surely, isn’t this heart-stopping joy, in large part, a product of being temporarily rooted here, abiding in sticks ‘n bricks, in this very particular place in northern New Mexico? I glance up at The Queen Maria Esmarelda, parked forlornly in the driveway, patiently awaiting her next big road trip and I feel a twinge. Because I know, deep inside, that I may soon be giving this all up permanently to resume the life of a full-time road gypsy. Secretly, some part of my soul longs for the moment. If I have to choose for practical reasons to give up one lifestyle in favor of the other, the van will trump the house. This is an unarguable fact.
And that thought brings me joy, as well. And so I ponder: is this perfect moment of soul contentment, here in my half-wild front yard, really dependent on being a house-dweller? Yes, it’s true that there is a unique satisfaction in being outside on this little plot of land that has shared it’s magic with me, off and on, for the last 14 years. The intimate messages from the natural world are perhaps more accessible in a place we know, that knows us, over time.
And, some inner voice whispers, there is a different, although no less potent, kind of magic in offering oneself to a less familiar landscape. The excitement of new relationships, the frisson of excitement that comes from the inherent danger of the unknown, the knowledge that we are not in entirely safe territory here.
But, I ask myself, apart from these slight differences, isn’t this morning’s gift of joy rooted in the exact kind of experiences that my soul hoped to encounter in this grand experiment of becoming a road warrior for love? Am I not more likely, not less, to sip my tea outside in the morning when I am living in the confined space of a van? I brew the same tea and cook the same cereal in my makeshift van kitchen. And just imagine what currently unknown-to-me landscapes I might share sacred space with as a result!
Yes, it’s true that it seems to take longer, and be a bit more inconvenient, to do most everything in a van. For instance, today is laundry day in my rather crude, by society’s standards at least, former miner’s cabin existence. However, the friend who was living in my place while I was on the road left me a washer when she decided to move on. So, I will be able to do my laundry as I write this as well as perform other domestic chores. If I were on the road in the van, I would have to pack up and go to a laundry mat. On the other hand, it has been my experience that I tend to do more laundry over the course of a week or two, when I am here and stationary. More towels, more table linens (those dinner guests mentioned above!), more clothes, more bedding. Everything a little cleaner in general, it’s true, but at the price of more use of water and other resources. So, maybe not all that much difference in time, in the end?
My wandering thoughts are interrupted and I laugh out loud as Layla comes racing in crazy wild cat fashion from around the corner of the house and launches herself at the dying Chinese elm by the birdbath just in front of me, and propels herself to the very top of the dead trunk. Watching the cat cavort in the tree, I ask myself, how would her experience differ if this were a temporary campsite in an unknown landscape instead of ‘her’ yard? She will be very tentative when we first explore a new place. If we stay awhile, she slowly expands her boundaries, increasing her sense of safety, until it’s time to move on. And she is less safe, presumably, in new surroundings. Moreover, I believe, road-warrior, half-wild creature that she is, she knows this. Her acute perception of the inherent dangers in any situation and her ability to respond appropriately are what have allowed her to survive and thrive these last four years on the road and in our more-or-less temporary camp homes as I worked my itinerant jobs.
But is that an entirely bad thing? Who can say, for humans or felines, where the line is drawn between healthy and unhealthy stress? Just last week, one of the local DJs here in Madrid shared recent scientific findings indicating that our perception of stress–that is, whether we see it as life-shortening or as a welcome spur to be our best–is the main determining factor in whether, indeed, it is good or bad for us as individuals. In a lifetime of sharing my life with serial alpha-female domestic feline companions, I have never known a cat as vital, intelligent, alive and in her own power as Layla. Partly, that’s just who she is, of course. A serendipitous gift from the Cosmos. But I suspect that is also has something to do with the opportunity she has been given to access her more primal, natural self. But is this worth the increased stress and the inherent risk?
Today marks the seven year anniversary of the life-changing moment when I decided to sell my house and go live on the road. Although I have spent the better part of the last four years traveling, working, and living out of the van, as fate would have it (although I did try to sell it) I still have the house as well. I moved back in this past August, determined to finally sell it and use the proceeds to fund a marginally more financially stable life on the road. But I was immediately seduced by the relative creature comforts of hot running water and space and a stationary community, and decided to just let myself enjoy being here for awhile, not-so-secretly flirting with the idea that I might get to have both. The beloved cabin in one of the most beautiful landscapes on earth, the community of folks I know and love, the opportunity to create a weekly radio show, soak in a claw foot tub, and make meals for friends in a full-sized kitchen. A place to store stuff so I can travel leaner and meaner when I do go. The opportunity to pursue road adventures, to taste the joys of the unknown and share time with my beloved van dweller tribe, without totally giving up this anchor of the familiar, of sedentary space and time.
But it seems that I do have to choose. Although I remain open, as always, to whatever unknown miracles the Universe in its infinite wisdom and compassion may offer, I am not currently living within my means and the status quo cannot continue. And so I have decided that I will be leaving. And not just in a “I have to make a choice but I’m not really happy, it’s a bad compromise” kind of way, either. Because in the final analysis (as my mother used to say) there is a purity to my original vision, the desire to radically let go of what is non-essential in order to live more fully, more in touch with nature, more in the moment. There are no right answers, perhaps no answers at all, to the questions I have posed in these few paragraphs. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. The salient fact that emerges from this morass of conjecture is that, after seven years, this vision still calls to me in a powerful way, beyond reason. And the realization and acknowledgement of that makes letting go of the very natural (especially for a Taurus sun sign like me!), everyday pleasures of living in a house not a sacrifice but a benediction. I am following the calling of my gypsy soul and I am grateful, for all of it. In this sacred moment.