Saturday, February 13, 2010

Pondering Least Heat-Moon

Sitting in the sun during a break from chores at Rainbow Hearth, I begin reading William Least Heat-Moon's Blue Highways, borrowed from the library in the main lodge. Heat-Moon refers to his converted van in which he traveled the back roads of America as his "wheel estate", and I guess it's fitting that we consider adopting that term in reference to our eight-wheeled diesel that both houses and transports us.

In the first chapter of his book, Heat-Moon lists his traveling supplies in Henry David Thoreau-like fashion, and the list is humbling in its simplicity:
  1. Sleeping bag and blanket;
  2. Coleman cooler (empty but for a can of chopped liver a friend had given me so there would always be something to eat); 
  3. Rubbermaid basin and a plastic gallon jug (the sink); 
  4. Sears Roebuck portable toilet; 
  5. Optimus 8R white gas cookstove (hardly bigger than a can of beans); 
  6. Knapsack of utensils, a pot, a skillet; 
  7. U.S. Navy seabag of clothes; 
  8. Tool kit; 
  9. Satchel of notebooks, pens, road atlas, and a microcassette recorder; 
  10. Nikon F2 35mm cameras and five lenses; 
  11. vade mecums; Whitman's Leaves of Grass and Neihardt's Black Elk Speaks.
What strikes me about this list is how little Heat-Moon needed in order to make his dream of a circular trip around America a reality. He also lists "four gasoline credit cards and twenty-six dollars" as essential items, not to mention the $428 cash hidden under the dashboard.

If I were to list all of the possessions, tools, equipment, books and items stowed aboard our 29-foot rig, the list would be voluminous---and possibly embarrassing! (Don't get any ideas---there are no wads of cash hidden under the dashboard!) We have certainly downsized considerably from our previous incarnation as homeowners, living in a space most people say they couldn't tolerate for more than a brief vacation. Some say we're really brave (but do they mean foolish?)

Sure, we're traveling with a lot of gear, but we also bear in mind that the presence of that gear allows us an independence and freedom which would be otherwise impossible. The fact that we can park on the side of the road and cook dinner, wash dishes, shower, use the toilet, check our email, post to our blog, make phone calls, check the weather, and take a nap is astounding, and perhaps I personally need to connect with a deeper level of gratitude for the comfort and convenience that our 6-ton monstrosity affords us.

Mechanical repairs have been legion on this journey: axles, tires, suspension, shocks, leaks and other problems. The water heater is acting up, some of the walls are coming loose, an electrical circuit is blown, and a few other stray issues definitely need tending. No matter, though. This is our home---our only home, and it has already taken us more than 3,000 miles, and we've been living in it since the end of August when our house sold precipitously fast. And like Heat-Moon's Ghost Dancing, it's also a TV-free space.

For me, it's honestly a love-hate relationship, and perhaps there's something to learn from Heat-Moon's practical vision of his 1975 half-ton Econoline van named "Ghost Dancing". He says of his wheeled conveyance, "It came equipped with power nothing and drove like what it was: a truck." He eschewed the trappings of luxury: "no crushed velvet upholstery, no wine racks, no built-in television." It was "your basic plumber's model" and he was fine with that.

Fifteen weeks into our trip and I am still in the process of making peace with our truck that doubles as our only home. It grinds, it creaks, it leaks and it bounces. The bathroom and kitchen walls shudder ominously, the appliances occasionally give us grief, and the extra batteries don't charge like they're supposed to.

But it's our home, our magic carpet, and our sanctuary. Without it, we'd be homeless, and with it we're more free than I even realize. It's time to make peace, accept what is, and continue down the road.


1 comment:

  1. stay free! and love your home...and keep dreaming of a double decker! :) i used to have a double decker school bus that i created out of recycled wood. I cut out a hole in the back and climbed up! so fun! :)