Preparations are Underway

As our weeks in the DC area are winding down, we spent a fantastic weekend continuing our travel preparations and spending time with friends.  Due to the incredible generosity of friends we will miss greatly, Alan and I were able to enjoy a date, sans little boy.  This is a rare occurrence and was greatly appreciated.  We decided to spend the afternoon at the National Gallery to see Michelangelo’s David-Apollo and the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition.  We were both underwhelmed by the former, but the latter made up for any disappointment we had that this was how we decided to spend our valuable date time.  Conjuring up my years of art history training (one “official” year and seventeen years of living with my father, each of which was seventeen times more enlightening than a course or a book) and viewing this artwork in context of the art being created elsewhere during this time period made me realize just how “out there” this artwork was for the time.  What an eclectic and gorgeous collection of paintings!  I’ve posted a photo of one of my favorites from the exhibition, below.  This was perhaps one of the more traditional paintings, but I found the artist’s take on young Jesus juxtaposed with the rabbis to be quite extraordinary.

The Finding of the Savior in the Temple

The Finding of the Savior in the Temple by William Hunt

After we finished a leisurely tour of the exhibition without needing to duck out to quiet a boisterous toddler (thank you again, Lauryn and Brendan), I convinced Alan to eat an early dinner with me at the National Museum of the American Indian.  On my list of things to do before we leave DC was eat one of their Indian Tacos.  We had a great dinner – and mental notes were made so that we can compare our meal to Indian tacos on our trip.  Of course, nothing will ever compare to the Indian Taco I had with my family at the Tuba City Truck Stop Café – one of the best meals of my life – but alas, that meal cannot be replicated as I understand that the truck stop café is now closed.

After fun with friends on Friday and Saturday, we spent all of Sunday buckling down to get things ready for our impending departure.  This included learning how to replace screens in seven (yes seven) windows that our lovely cat Hickory intentionally destroyed after plotting with her bird friends to ‘distract’ her and make it look like it was all an accident.  It was surprisingly easy after we got the supplies, and in no time we stripped out the old screens and replaced it with fresh screens, all while Hickory paced around us menacingly.  I don’t care how hot it gets before we leave Maryland, we are not opening a single window for the rest of the time that we are here!   Next order of business is making screens for our van, but that will wait until another day.

Details, Details

As our departure date quickly approaches, we’re starting to get down to the nitty gritty details of what we need to figure out before then.  Today, it was tackling the first aid kit.  We put together a long list of what we thought would need, and Alan proceeded to collect what we had from our various emergency kits and the like and cover the living room floor with piles of supplies.  We determined that we have enough band-aids and first aid tape to last us until 2024 (and then some), but we still needed some of the basics, like a snake bite kit and activated charcoal.  Apparently, doctors don’t recommend using syrup of ipecac if your child eats something poisonous.  Instead, we’ll have to force feed Van a bottle of activated charcoal, what I can only imagine is a disgusting, black, chalky liquid, if he decides that that enticing berry over there looks just like a blueberry, only red.  Do you hear that Van?  If you eat something you’re not supposed to, the activated charcoal is your next treat.  Maybe that will deter his curious nature in the face of poisonous berries.  The hope, of course, is that our first aid kit stays packed away and in a year we laugh about all the things we brought with us – but we all know that won’t be the case.

In going through our first aid and emergency kits, we also discovered that we actually have a really great folding metal shovel.  Too bad we discovered that after we bought a not nearly as great folding shovel a couple months ago.  Oh well, lesson learned.  We need to keep better tabs on our things.  One thing that we do not own, but will in a couple of days when the package arrives, is a big bottle of bear spray.  Again, we hope this is something that we never have to use, but if we do, we’ll now have five seconds of non-lethal fire power right at our fingertips.  I’m not sure if that makes me feel better or worse.  It was interesting to research the different types, but I began to realize that too much research would just make me paranoid.  Bear spray…check.  Our list of things to do before departure is getting shorter by the day.

Traveling around the country in a van? But why?

When I think back on my life and recall many seemingly disparate events or interests I’ve had over the years, it is clear that while I may grow and learn and develop new skills and interests, the essence of who I am and what drives me has been with me long before I could articulate my passions.  When I was a small child, I had two favorite books: Messy and The Man Who Cooked for Himself.  Reading the latter of these as an adult after many, many years of forgetting the details, it was incredible to realize that what captivates me as an adult captivated me as a preschooler.  In it, the main character lives alone in the woods and is lazy, very lazy (ok – that part is not captivating) and after eating an awful, terrible, no-good stew of the remnants of the contents of his cupboards, he goes for a walk and discovers his ability to forage and fish.  He cooks several amazing meals made of apples, blueberries, fish, acorns, and watercress.  He is inspired and begins a garden and realizes how much he can do for himself.  If you know me well, you would not be surprised that this would be a book I love today, but isn’t it crazy that it was also a book I loved when I was three?

Fast forward several years later in life and I attended my very first book fair in third grade as a part of the Reading is Fundamental program.  At the end of the program, the teachers arranged a table full of books (mostly) suitable for third graders and allowed each of us to choose one book to keep.  It was truly heaven for a reader like me.  I remember studying the books at the table for a long time, wanting to pick the perfect book.  If I recall, they were almost all children’s books of the sort you’d find in the school library.  And then I saw it – How to Survive in the Woods – a book for anyone (mainly geared towards an older audience) about exactly that, how to survive in the woods.  To this day, I’ll never know how that book got mixed up on that table, but it continues to hold a place of prominence on my bookshelf.

But what does this all have to do with traveling around the country in a van?  This, too, has been lurking beneath my ordered life, surfacing every now and then to remind me of my deeper passions.  I camped a lot with my family as a child, which I absolutely loved.  Some of my favorite memories are from our time spent in our pop-up camper or the tent that my brother and I bought with money we pooled from saving many, many months of allowances so that we’d have our “own” place to stay on camping trips.  Whenever I hear tires crunching on gravel, I recall the sounds of campgrounds as a child.  I lived with a gravel driveway for several years as an adult and I never got tired of that sound.  If it were up to only me, that would be the sound that greets me every time I return home.

Getting back to the van…  I’ve always had a penchant for untethered traveling, but I recall the first instant I knew I had to take a long and unstructured trip around this great land in a van.  I was on a trip through the south with one of my closest friends after having just graduated from college, and we were getting gas at a station in North Carolina or Georgia (somewhere close to the border).  I saw two women just about our age or a couple of years older hop out of a large brown panel van.  When they opened up the back of their van to rearrange things, it was clear that they had been living and traveling in the van – by choice.  In that instant, I knew that it was something I had to do.  The image of that woman opening the back door of her brown van holds a place in my memory’s highlight reel, not typically a place I keep memories of perfect strangers or their (yes, I’m saying it) not-so-attractive vehicles.  A year later I found myself in the Yukon Territory during a month long trip around Alaska and its environs.  I met some folks up in Dawson City (a cool, cool place, albeit about eight hours from the nearest city of 25,000 people) who came up for the summers to work and live and hang out – many in small cabins without indoor plumbing.  It was here where I met a guy who was living in a converted school bus.  That moment too was captured forever for my file of random moments that have led me to this point.

I’ve talked about traveling around the country in a van.  I’ve even planned to do it – more than once.  But now these dreams and plans are turning into something tangible.  As I pay attention to the clues I’ve left myself over the years, I begin to realize that my current interests are not as haphazard as I may have once thought.  And when I stop to listen, I can hear the Staceys of yesteryear telling me what I need to do.

Bottling Moonlight

Every so often I pull out the little brown notebook I carry around with me and make a list. Usually it’s a ‘to do’ list filled with things that need to be done now (mail thank you notes), things that needed to be done yesterday or last year or two years ago (buy wedding rings), and things that I’d like to do but know I’ll keep adding to the next hundred ‘to do’ lists I make (finish making scarf). But then, there’s the other ‘to do’ list. These goals are a bit more ambitious, a bit less likely to be crossed out anytime soon, and a bit more likely to feed the soul rather than my family. It is an entry on one of these lists that led me to the name of this blog.
About a dozen years ago I ventured up to Alaska with twenty or so other travelers. Having never met before, we shared a 1969 converted bus as our home away from home. Unless we were driving through the night, we usually camped out in our tents. I’ve been camping since I was a wee one, but I’d never been camping for a month straight. By the end of that month I was dirtier, more carefree, and a lot more in tune with nature. Just like I can usually tell you what day of the week it is when I wake up in the morning, during that month I could tell you the phase of the moon and how much moonlight we could expect later that night. I didn’t do anything special to follow the phases of the moon. Instead, I lived closer to nature and it just happened. Since then, it’s been a goal of mine to begin living closer to the natural rhythms of our world, to always know the phase of the moon and whether I need to carry a flashlight to close the barn door at night. Of course, put aside the fact that I don’t have a barn door to close at the moment.
Moonlight is ephemeral. Nature’s rhythms are just that – rhythms. Nature is not static. To live in closer harmony with nature’s rhythms, I need to live mindfully in the present; I need to live in nature. And while I’m not audacious enough to think that I can bottle moonlight for consumption later, I’m just audacious enough to think that I can bottle moonlight if I’m fully present right now. This blog will give me the opportunity to share my family’s experiences as we travel around this beautiful country, sleep beneath the stars, trade our central air for warm breezes, lose the day of the week but gain the phase of the moon, and try our hand at bottling moonlight.

New Directions

No – we didn’t decide to join a high school singing group.
I expected this past weekend to provide us with some good conversation fodder and get us thinking more concretely about our plans for the next couple of years, but I’m digging that it also propelled us in a slightly new direction for our travels.  We attended the Mother Earth News Fair – plenty to talk about there later – and camped at Laurel Hill State Park in southwestern Pennsylvania.  The camping is what really gave us some direction.  Let’s put it this way.  There is no way that we will survive without going crazy from sleep deprivation or being beaten senseless by neighboring campers if we decide to camp for three to six months with Van in a tent.  Car alarm – waaahhh!  Flashlight from neighboring camper – waaaahhh!  Scratch an itch – waaahhhh!  Coyotes – waaaahhh!  Subtle readjustment so my arm doesn’t fall asleep – waaahhh!  We love our tent, but I think we’ll save it for shorter jaunts until Van gets a bit older.
Time to start researching camper vans and RVs…