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Reflections in the Silver Cup

FIRST NIGHTS OUT

My young neighbor, ready for a nibble of me

I'm happy to be taking to my life in the RAV4 slowly–testing things out one by one. My first trip was to the forest home of some friends who live in the Northern New Mexico Nacimiento Mountains. I already knew I planned to build an over-the-foot shelf for storage when I return to Albuquerque with my reward check (what a Navajo friend calls our Social Security checks) in hand. The need for such a shelf was definitely confirmed on this trip, as it will help so much with organization, which is essential in a small space.

 

The main thing I was testing was the comfort of my sleeping arrangement. The RAV4's back seats break down in a 60/40 configuration, so my 4-inch memory foam mattress is cut to the size of the 60 side, giving me plenty of width for turning to sleep on either side or my back. When the seats are folded down, they are referred to as "nearly flat." They do, however, slope slightly upward, which I thought would be fine, as such a slope is recommended for addressing reflux, which I do sometimes have. The place where the seat back breaks from the cargo area has a ridge that proved uncomfortable right away. I solved that by placing my self-inflating lumbar pillow at the division spot. In this way, I spent two nights of excellent sleep, but I noticed that gravity pulled me down toward the foot end enough that it created some low back strain.

 

On my drive across the checkerboard area of Navajo Country, the following occurred to me: I will be getting a 4'x8' sheet of plywood cut at the lumber store for my shelf, and there will be a lot of wood left over. I can make a very low sleeping platform–the head end resting on the top end of the folded down seat, and the foot end on supports that make the platform just level. That will be so much more comfortable, and at my age, comfort becomes ever more important. This will probably make exactly enough space under the platform to store my small aluminum folding table, too. Coming up with solutions like this is exceptionally gratifying. Of course the next step is the execution of it!

 

I had already done a dry run to test the ease with which I could get up and sit on the honey bucket during the night, and that proved to be easy in real life. I did experiment each night to see whether accesibility was better with the 40 seat up or down. Folded down, it turns out.

 

Both nights I spent the first few hours listening to the music of rain on metal roof–one of my favorite sounds. I felt snug inside my spacious new home. When I woke at 2:30, the rain had stopped, and the waning half-moon made the droplets on the windows shimmer. The Ponderosa pines were silhouetted tall and dark against the night sky. When I rose it was to the extraordinary smells of the high desert–rain-washed earth, pungent pine, cedar and piñon, sagebrush, and the dusky sweet of yellow asters. The world shone with the brightness of clean, and I was grateful to be alive in it.

 

The trip across Navajo Country involved a stop in Crownpoint at Basha's Diné Market to use the facilities and buy a few items. I grew up in the Navajo Nation (I'm white, in case you're new to me and my writing), and walking around the supermarket reminded me pleasurably of the old-time trading posts of my childhood. Every contemporary item you'd find in any US Supermarket filled the shelves, and the surprising luxuries of a deli and bakery stood to one side. And then there were the items you'd never find in a store in Albuquerque, NM or Grand Rapids, MI: galvanized buckets and tubs; bridles; saddle blankets; loops of stiff rope; salt lick blocks; Bluebird flour in sacks of all sizes; five-pound bags of dried, whole-kernel blue corn; sacks of blue cornmeal for making mush; speckled enamel kitchenware—coffee pots, basins, plates and bowls; and saddle bags, although these were made of nylon, not canvas. I felt at home and loved exchanging smiles and a bit of chat with other customers and the clerk.

 

For the next few days I'm staying in my brother's cabin in the Zuni Mountains, adjacent to the Cibola National Forest. My neighbors are thoroughbred horses– brown with white blazes on their foreheads. I am surrounded by pines and meadows filled with yellow asters. Grateful all over again to be alive.

 

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THE NOMADIC LIFE–AGAIN

I open with words from Travels with Charley (John Steinbeck, of course): "When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. ... Nothing has worked. Four hoarse blasts of a ship's whistle will raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping. The sound of a jet, an engine warming up, even the clopping of shod hooves on pavement brings on the ancient shudder, the dry mouth and vacant eye, the hot palms and the churn of stomach high up under the rib cage. In other words, I don't improve; ... I fear the disease is incurable."

 

A year ago I thought I would settle in a dwelling that could not be more grounding–my brother Rick's Earthship--and I moved there last October. By April I was gone, moved to live temporarily in Albuquerque with Catherine, my co-author on a new book project. But the plan, from the beginning, was to go back eventually to living on the road.

 

Yesterday, someone asked if I was back in Albuquerque (read to live permanently). When I described my plans, she said, "You might as well just say you're a nomad." I don't know exactly why I've been reluctant to say it. I think it's in reaction to people saying things like, "Oh, you're moving again? How many moves is it this time?" "I hope you're going to stay here for a while. A few years, at least." "You're a just vagabond." I always hear a criticism in these comments, though the person who told me yesterday to embrace being a nomad was laughing with pleasure at the idea. So some of it is my own opprobrium. Why can't I just settle down?

 

When Steinbeck took his trip in 1960, apparently there weren't a lot of pickups fully outfitted with self-contained campers. Before he left his home on Long Island and all along the way, people asked to see it and were impressed in a way that suggests it was a novelty. And it seems the wish to wander dwells in the hearts of many, at least in some form. People told Steinbeck longingly that they wanted to leave too, from wherever they were. One small boy offered to do all the chores along the way, if he could just travel with John and Charley, the standard blue poodle.

 

When I started off on my book tour, friends wanted to check out the van I'd made into my home in much the same way. I planned to live in it for the next two and a half years, which were ultimately truncated, but that's an old story. As they perused my cozy little home, folks got a faraway, wistful look in their eyes and applauded my adventuresome spirit. But they left the adventuring to me.

 

I suppose some of my hesitation to embrace the nomadic appellation is the fact that I haven't always felt that I was adventuresome. My peregrenatious tendency seemed more like a complulsion, a disability, almost, or an inability–to settle. An incurable disease, as Steinbeck put it. I'm getting closer to accepting and loving being a nomad, and I'm feeling excited about my–yes–upcoming adventure.

 

Steinbeck writes about all the preparations, deciding what to take and what to leave behind. By his own admission, and I agree, he took far too much. The vehicle I've chosen this time, still wearing the faithful YODA plate, limits what I can take, but so does my minimalist mindset. I got rid of all my big possessions except my art, my mattress, and my Lazy Girl this time. What is left fits into a 5'x10' storage unit with space to spare.

 

And now I'm reveling in the great pleasure of outfitting my little RAV4. The above photo represents the first stage, and on Wednesday I'll be doing a trial run, which will help me decide what else I need. I do know that when I return from this short trip, I will build an over-the-foot shelf to add storage capacity. So far I've gotten the mattress (4-inch memory foam), bucket for nocturnal use, privacy tent for changing clothes & showering, Solo Stove that burns twigs for fuel, back of seat storage pockets, solar laptop & phone charger, solar fan, and a comfy folding chair. Things I already had: folding aluminum table, cooler, camping kitchen stored in a clear plastic boot box.

 

I do recommend Travels with Charley, which I'd long been meaning to read. I'd forgotten how beautifully Steinbeck writes, so that was a simple pleasure. I found his way of engaging with such a variety of people along the way fascinating and admirable. He always came from a place of genuine curiosity about them–their thoughts, their way of life. He made observations in 1960 about the growth of cities in the US and our practice of using migrants for the jobs US citizens don't want to do and the inherent potential harm, showing astonishing foresight. His return to the Salinas, California of his birth and youth was poignant. There is a fair amount of overt sexism that he could likely not get away with in a book by someone of his stature today, but I could think "1960" and "travel stories" and thus be able to bypass those instances.

 

Stay tuned for more photos and my travel stories as things progress.

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