Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Mouth of the Train Back West?

The oceans and the rumbles of St. Helens keep calling me in my dreams to go back West. I have been weighing what it means to leave the desert. It means drawing myself inward, to glean from the cities what I can while they stand in their present form. It means finding something new about this thing called civilization that I've demonized so much in my mind. Isn't civilization just another structure of nature, like mounds of termites, hives of bees, hills of ants? Does it have to mean separation to live in a city? Frequent changes in geography help me understand my perspectives. What does it mean to live sustainably, really? Sustainability is a word that has been so overused and I think misses the point a bit in that it does not include the sheer passion for living that fires the simple life. It does not describe the cold slice of water from the well in the desert winter sun. It does not describe the feeling of triumph that sears through you when you have survived another sub-zero night without a heater and dawn sets the sky on fire through the frosted trees. These are things that don't have the same meaning when you can just turn on a faucet and crank up the central heat.

A year of living mostly without electricity and completely without running water has changed my life. This winter has been one of the harshest winters the old-timers of this place have seen in years and definitely the harshest winter I've ever experienced in my life. Multiple snowstorms left us stranded for weeks. We still sled water from a neighbor's tank and hike over a mile to the truck to pack groceries and feed on our backs. I got frostbite twice. Wet socks: don't do it. We haul water and split wood every few days. I bake four loaves of bread from scratch a week. Coyotes keep us up yipping during the fullest moons all night. I would do this every day of my life. I have felt so empowered by this experience. I feel a new confidence in all of the things life can throw me. Larger and larger things seem to be little inconveniences now, if not transformed to become something other than inconveniences altogether, but rather a challenge to live creatively!

I'm ready to see how this experience has transformed my perception of civilization. I know I'll be back, if not to this particular place, then back to the hills or the forest. Would I spend another winter in the mountain desert? Oh, hell yeah!


  1. I was just starting to come round from my wintertime hibernation mode and thought I would write you a letter (a real one, that is). In the week or two it'll take the post to make it over there, are you still going to get mail from the PO box address I have for you? You are brave about the cold, by the way! I have been hating this winter in our freezing, drafty, damp flat. I seem to remember being much warmer when I lived in an old ambulance with a little wood burning stove.

    p.s. To paraphrase Carl Sagan - to bake a loaf of bread from scratch, you must first create the universe.

  2. I will indeed get mail here until the end of the semester...after that, I'll be living out of my backpack for a while, turtle style.