So, not long after we got together, I mentioned to Gene how I had always wanted to “throw a pound of tea and a loaf of bread into an old sack and jump over the back fence.” This was a quote that came into my consciousness via Bill Bryson (A Walk in the Woods) and is attributed to the naturalist John Muir — who emphatically did just that, repeatedly, and had many grand adventures and a grand beard to show for it.
I didn’t want the beard, but I wanted the adventures. To do, as I once told my mom when I was in fifth grade, “go out and live by my wits!”
I’m sure it terrified my mother at the time, but I’m all grown up and stuff now.
And after many years of safer-than-that living, I still crave those life experiences. The life experiences out there in the world that teach you “peoples is peoples,” as Gene often says, quoting the Italian cook from Muppets Take Manhattan. Those that show you how much beauty and goodness there is in the world. Those experiences that make it worth the risks and dangers to find those moments of true human connection.
Why else are we here?
Gene has been reading and studying about sailing (with a bit of practical experience) for over a decade and his dream engulfed me, as soon as he mentioned it as a way to make that sack and the back fence into our home and (on the other side of that fence) the world!
So, we have decided to take to the sea and find our way to wonder, adventure, and the “ecstatic experience” Emily Dickinson said one’s soul should always stand ajar to welcome.
Our planning for this adventure has taken myriad different expressions this year. If you’ll indulge me the metaphor for a moment…some of our plans were Jackson Pollocks (formless, wild, but exciting), some were more like Kandinskys (more form, but two sided, which added confusion), and some were even like that elephant-dung-on-the-Virgin-Mary artwork thing (with deep meaning to the creator, but bound to offend someone).
We could move to southern California with my mother, learn to sail on the weekends, and find a boat wherever the right one presented itself…we could move to Idaho with Gene’s folks, or Portland with Gene’s sister and family and learn to sail on the lake or the river…or we could just sell everything, buy a boat, and figure it out as we go, busking in the park for our supper.
Every week we called our families with a new “we-have-just-thought-of-the-BEST-plan!” plan. And we could hear their collective heads shaking in wonderment as they supported our schemes as best they could.
They worried for our children’s well-being, they worried for our finances, for our safety, for our sanity. But, they listened to our reasoning with grace and for that we are grateful.
SO, the crazy, wacky, ever-evolving plan has come to this…for the moment anyway…we are planning to buy a small, trailerable boat in the late spring and visit boat accessible campgrounds along the Eastern shores. Moving north with the best of the spring weather. Letting our little hopefully-sailors grow their sea legs a bit, and seeing how we do as dual (or dueling?) captains of our floating fate.
Along the way, we hope to encounter the boat that will become our home on the sea.
The challenges, of course, are many. We need to learn the fine art of sailing, especially feeling confident before our two tiny sailors are aboard. We need to learn about cooking on a boat, probably without refrigeration. The intricacies of celestial navigation, weather reading, chart reading, nautical rules and regulations…
We have been living small for years, with very little stuff, learning how to preserve food and cook from scratch, and be comfortable on a small budget. Gene’s book-knowledge of boat and sail craft, his almost ten years experience as a canvas tent maker, and his physics degree — and my enthusiasm to learn the art of washing cloth diapers and baking bread at sea, a la Laura Engels Wilder, just wetter — give us some kind of foundation to build upon. We know these skills will aide us in the wild endeavor ahead.
As we see it, humankind is in a predicament that is getting harrier by the millisecond, with every beep of the Walmart cash register, and there are many voices whispering through the noise that we need to CHANGE OUR BEHAVIOR!
If we are to not bake in our own oven — like the witch in Hansel and Gretel that set out all those tantalizing baked treats but ignored her own flammable bits — we need to move back toward doing things on a human scale.
We need to realize there cannot be infinite industrial growth on our planet, there aren’t enough chickens for every pot anymore. To break away from the glass-gaze thrall we see many of our countrymen living behind. To reconnect with a time before everything was manufactured to fall apart and end up in the dump…before instant soup, instant entertainment, instant relationships. (and yes, the irony that I’m writing this on a MacBook to be published on the internet is not lost on me)
We want to be part of the solution. To fill our sack with local and foraged goods as we go, jump the fence of consumerism, and live on a human scale. To experience life at a human scale, while, hopefully consuming much less.
So we are embracing a life of greater simplicity. It may come with greater peace, greater worry, and hopefully a greater understanding of why we are here.
Having the audacity to be fueled only by the wind.