Friday, February 10, 2012

Year In Review

Its been a long while since my last update. 

The nature of living high above the valley in northern California, far from the hustle and bustle of an east coast domestic life there is much to learn. Thirty five serpentine, bumpy, off road minutes up the mountain and off the grid of electrical and water convenience, I have been exploring the gifts of living much more intimately connected with and lovingly bound to nature. 

While this journey is not quite what I expected in that I am not immersed in months of removal from humans in "wild" land. My experiences have been rewarding in ways unexpected. It would make sense much of the wisdom I've collected this year is due to the very fact that I have landed here, under the roof of this partly converted barn rather than bumping around the national parks in some dreamy notion of writing, creating and exploring my connection with animals. (Which was the original concept that initiated the purging of my known life and the embrace of life anew).

The challenges of sorting through life's different requirements of me, living on this land as a caretaker, I've been challenged to learn what exactly it means to live a "simple" life. 

It has been a long held desire for me.. to learn about living "greener", leaving a smaller footprint behind. I recall living in the basement of my sister and brother in law's house in my early twenties, subscribing to the Whole Earth Catalog, hungry to learn to live life aligned with my deep love and respect for the natural world. Reading articles on solar and wind power as well as living structures made of recycled materials and home made solutions from everything to eating, medicinal support and heat. At that time I had a deep desire to contribute to the wellness of our planet in a way I could not yet fathom but the yearn to do this was strong. And yet, at that time, the idea felt unreachable. It seemed too dreamy and idea submerged there in suburbia eaking out my meager existence in graphic design. That concept was, over time, buried under 20 years of trying to figure out how to have a "career" as a professional artist along with sorting through a (far too long) list of details regarding my adjustment to life as a human.

Fitting into the rhythm and the "nature" of the natural world has always been as organic as learning to breathe for me. I merely stepped into it and "knew" my place within it. Immediately I knew it like I knew my hand before me. It felt to be an extension of me. I trusted it, believed in it and hungered to be immersed in it. My harder task has always been learning how to fit in the embrace of life within the confines of society. Remembering to brush my hair, my teeth, tying my shoes, keeping up with birthdays, communicating with others when fear would silence me, being socially appropriate, paying bills on time.. any task really related to life in the domestic world took far more learning for me. It is no surprise then that I would, at some juncture in my life, feel "called" to nature once again. (My first exposure to nature was a small collection of woods in Honeybrook Pennsylvania where I caught turtles, fish,(in a jar) snakes only to release them all moments later. I climbed trees, swam in deep pools of the Honeybrook creek, imagined myself a deer running through the woods and felt the truth of it all in the fibers of my physical being. It was in those woods that I felt, for the first time in my life that I belonged. But that is another story.) 

My key undercurrent feeling about the journey I embarked on with the purchase of my RV in 2008 was to return more deeply into the best of my childhood. It all began with my joining up with Attah, (you all remember that amazing girl). She helped me to regain my foothold in the midst of a particularly rocky marriage. I wanted to have children but was far too aware of the slippery slope I walked with my (now) former husband and believed if I brought a dog into my world I would have a being to nurture and in caring for her I would return to the woods where I belonged. True to my belief, my walk with her boosted my return to the best of myself and to that simpler approach to life. 

That walk evolved further as I made the leap from my last ditch effort at living a normal life with a husband and all and jumped like a starving orphan out of that idea and into a new place that was the leap of faith that initiated the awakening of the braver part of me.. who, it seems was the child in the woods all along. My first steps into that studio were my initiation into life off the grid. Thanks to living without a kitchen, without a bathroom (in my living space/ though one was down the hall) and without a heater I began thinking living life thinking on my feet where I had only tip toed in that arena in the past. I began to thrive thanks to this single detail since all good things extended from that. In addition, Attah and I spent every day in the woods for two to four hours a day. And so, when she passed, no surprise this trip would float into my conscious mind and pull at me to go more deeply into that walk.

Once I landed on the mountain top.. the first task was shaking my ideas further about what it is to live life as a nature focused human."How do I want to live life?" And so.. the actual living experience of that walk began last January. Its been a year now living life as a modern day pioneer and I love what I've learned.  I love that I've had the opportunity to dive so deeply into life off the grid. But most of all I love looking back and seeing how it all makes so much sense that I am here, now as I come full circle, back to life of one who is so connected to the earth and living that experience from every vantage point now. It feels to me that I am finally living life as the truest aspect of my inner self, where I love nature in all my decisions through the day and I see my connection to it in every choice I make about my daily tasks, about my comforts about all the details of the choices of my day. I am as close to nature as I was as a child in a fashion that is different and the same.

The education of off grid life has been essential for the next phase. I've had a lot to sort through and its kept me plenty busy. When loved once call, often they kindly begin with, "I hope I'm not bothering you, are you busy?" I have to smile.. because I am not at all bothered, if anything I deeply appreciate knowing that others think of me and have not rejected me utterly with the great distance I have created between us. But, frankly, every moment of every day except around actual breakfast, dinner and bedtime, I am very busy. Even during those rare moments when I am not physically active in doing something but, rather sit still either in front of the fire.. a beautiful natural vista or in front of a book.. I am silent and still and being busy only with being quiet. Otherwise I am a perpetual flurry of activity of diverse and complimentary tasks that either sustain my current life choice, (i.e. living under this roof on the property of my friends Tracey and Suze) or actively participating in the evolution of the next approaching steps, (i.e. restoring the new little travel trailer that will be my sanctuary, my studio, my mobile living space),

It took some time for me to fully accept the idea of taking on another vehicle, so kindred to the one I got rid of in 2009, You might recall I gave up the Toyota Dolphin, (my first big trip vehicle) a year after purchase feeling it was bigger than I needed. I don't regret having bought the truck. My diesel suburban has loads of power and a long life ahead of it.. and will surely do better on the hills than the teensie weensie little four cylinder engine that began my exploration. However, the idea of the purchase of a travel trailer required that I first come to terms with certain aspects of myself that originally the pioneer in me held suspect. While the idea of comfort was expanding in my mind, my long held belief has been I wanted to find abundance and comfort outside of the ordinary. I wanted to purge all old ideas including those attached to the definition I held regarding comfort and spirituality along with my minions of life's accessories. This all felt elemental with the journey I was to undertake.

I believe I have accomplished that. I found great comfort converting and traveling cross country in my big old suburban, (which gets as good gas mileage as the Toyota Dolphin/ 21 mpgs). I also found comfort in sleeping in my truck for nearly 6 months, while living on this land land with access to a toilet and kitchen. Doing so provided me with breathtaking views of the moon and land lit at night, not to mention my close encounters with coyote, deer and a large collection of smaller animals that inhabit this mountain. 

Over a year of periodic episodes of feeling pulled toward the purchase of a travel trailer, I have finally come to terms with the fact that this is a different part of my journey and I am ready to make the creation of my art my primary focus once again. Living as a mobile artist will require tools, supplies and a larger space to work for extended pockets of time than what my truck will allow, (in spite of the great conversion that has transformed that truck into the perfect, cozy space for boondocking from time to time). In addition, the fact that I am feeling the effects of approaching 50 and lyme's disease certainly plays its own role in my awareness of the body's desire for comfort and so, (at the purchase cost of $150!). I now own a vintage 1966 Ideal travel trailer that was in need of a new floor. 

It is easy to think that living up here on the mountain off the grid, essentially rent free, my life must be dull, perhaps lonely and boring with nothing to do. No TV, no radio, (til Dec/ I purchased a solar radio), no museums or cafes (except the ones 45 min or and hour away. What tasks could I possibly have before me you ask? Aren't I just camping up on the mountain? Fair enough. I thought the same thing at one point. I know how to camp. I've done it enough times, and California weather is beautiful, I thought.. this will be heaven.. just what the doctor ordered. Well, that may still be the case, however, the simple life is not as simple as it might seem on the surface.

Let me explain just how I've viewed my development in retrospect:

First off, it is known to rain seven months out of the year in northern California. It is a rainforest after all, hence the deliciously enormous trees of this area. As a matter of fact, at first site of them, driving north.. I wept. The trees, the high, rolling hills, their majesty moves me to tears. But enormous rainfall brings its own collection of daily life details that require adjustment if one is to live truly close to nature.

I arrived in late January last year and was gifted with three initial weeks of sunshine. Everyone tried to explain this was not normal. At the end of those three weeks, I began to understand just exactly what that meant. Finding my way through cloudy, unpredictable cell coverage and balancing life with a solar panel, battery, controller, equalizer and inverter during those same cloudy days would be enough to keep me busy for months, Managing the mud, the lack of warmth had to all be taken into account. But, figuring out the ampere hours necessary for living the most basic electrical appliance related life was its own conundrum for me. 

For those of you unfamiliar with this.. solar panels married to batteries that store the collected energy is with the right consumption limitless on perpetual sunny days, but in cloudy situations or were I to live as most people do I would have not managed on one battery all year. With that equation it is helpful to understand the ratio of usage of energy per appliance that draws energy daily. Laptop, cell phone, dvd player and cordless tools require daily or periodic charges. Understanding the relationship between watts, volts and amps is helpful. After periodic overwhelm on the topic I gave up the idea of calculating my unpredictable life into a table of amp usage. It seems to me that if you are not gobbling up much more than is delivered daily, which is your ONLY electrical "appliances" are those listed above, that it gets easy quick. One can actually FEEL their way into this process much more organically when consumption of energy is at its most basic. 

This is not a practice I would recommend if someone is particularly attached to typical daily life habits with heater, lights and refrigerators. If I had such items in my living space making demands on the energy I am able to collect the the outmoded photo voltaic panels on my roof and the single deep cell battery it is tied to, I would have had no choice but to make some change.. life would have demanded it. But, even with my low consumption of power, I run dry on those cloudy days that can last for weeks at a time. The saving grace to this is the wonderful little generator that was gifted to me by Sandy and Phil. With my tiny little 1000 watt generator I simply recharge the emptied battery as needed. Though I will correct myself here.. for what it is worth, truly one should never really empty their battery. And what kind of battery is important, we are not talking about a car battery but a deep cell battery/ or bank of batteries depending. I've learned they never should actually be emptied if you are smart.. discharging only 50-80% means prolonged battery life.. not to mention the waste of filling a landfill with toxic material or returning a battery for recycle is its own kind of waste, not to mention the high expense of a quality battery. So, I've learn to be aware, sensitive to the shifts not only of the weather but of my daily habits in conjunction with it. 

My primary point however, if I can bring myself back to focus, would be the interior exploration of just how much energy my contemporary habits require for support via battery, water tank, generator and fire wood could easily add a couple more months of education to my walk up here on the mountaintop. From sensitivity to solar and generator use, to moving water from the spring to the house or from one tank to another so I have enough to drink and wash with as well as the wood I locate, cut, haul, split, stack etc all require time and physical energy and skill to accomplish.
There is a beauty and ease in the "simple" tasks of weed whipping acres of land, grooming, feeding and maintaining the paddocks of the horses, doing the same for the chickens, (minus the grooming, thank God!), managing the garden and the interaction with the wild neighbors that reside here that my dog would do best not to confront such as rattle snakes create their own need for attention on my part. All of which I enjoy mind you, even relish I'd say. Often these tasks require so little of my mind, they boost my focus. The very act of engaging with these tasks feed my soul in a fashion that nothing else can. Perhaps I can go so far to say they sustain me, they assist my refined focus on what is most crucial for me. Which was exactly what I hoped for in 2008 when this journey was conceived. That being said, the fact remains that acclimating to and becoming an expert at the physical tasks required to retain the bartered roof over my head is, in its own right a long term task that consumes time and has pulled me so far outside any idea of how I was living life in the past. The ease of sitting on a couch and making a phone call to those I love becomes something just not afforded in the choices I made that got me here. The closest to that idea is sitting in a camping chair in a high, clear spot near the round pen, hopefully when it is not raining, risking cell coverage drop off. Great view but not the most convenient when my daylight hours are brief and there is more wood to haul into the barn for warmth.

What it all boils down to really is incorporating essential, time related tasks into this complex array of other daily life activities and how to balance it all. I am unaware if this is a Diane thing or an artist thing, but I am happiest when I am not looking at time. It feels inconsequential when i am focused on a walk that feels so visceral, so organic. Time, aside from the rising and setting of the sun feels like a joke someone is playing on me. The only during meditation and when divinely focused on a project, where creativity is required.. then any idea of time and its potential restraints slips from the fingers of my mind and fall away like dust. It floats away from me and in those precious pockets of experience I know nothing of time.. only the NOW. 

That really has been my goal.. to become more intimately acquainted with the NOW of my life. Rather than looking ahead or behind me.. just living in the now as much as possible. This keeps me free from stray thoughts that are more akin to my younger self that allowed worry and fear to slow and stop her completely. Let me be clear here. I am not suggesting I am here avoiding my thoughts. On the contrary, I am coming to new terms with my thinking mind and learning how productive it can be to master it versus it mastering me. 

While this less positive aspect of myself remains, she rests silently knowing her larger self "has her back". The stronger self has taking the front seat of my life and removed all need for decision making from that softer self. It has been a long journey to this point in my walk, learning to walk a more balanced life. Learning to observe my thoughts didn't suddenly appear by landing here on this mountain in the shadow of Bear Butte. Although, the practice of searching, listening and answering with my living experience has grown more refined with enormous acceleration since I've taken on life up here on the mountain. It began a long time before I conceived of this trip, with the jump into my Germantown studio a huge part but it started long before that. I could look back as far as Jujitsu and yoga in middle school or perhaps the first moment I was poignantly aware that the creator of all things was always present in all things without exception.It is hard to know where it all started.

We are complex, all of us. There is no single experience that brings us wisdom but it is always a journey always the interior journey and the observations we make of it all that define our growth and the wisdom we glean out of it all. Whether immersed in the beauty of this mountaintop or in the mountaintop of your own personal journey in Pennsylvania, Maryland, Florida, or wherever your heart resides. We are, in our current expression always a result of many delicious (and sometimes not so delicious) experiences and ever evolving points of awareness.. moving forever forward. For me, I have enjoyed a year pioneering into new places within far from the white noise of the fast paced traffic of the larger human world but feel by summer I will be moving closer to it once again.

As I post this.. the wifi cafe in which I sit.. here in Redway California is playing music I grew up with.. "Clouds got in my way.. clouds illusions I recall, ... " reminding me of my childhood.. I do believe I have come full circle.

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