We are on a final camping excursion before the move into our new home. As I get ready for a hike, Melo watches me from her perch on the bed, her head framed by the mint-green plastic e-collar she’s forced to wear until next week. Or until she stops trying to eat the stitches on her leg. She had minor surgery two weeks ago – a small wart she’s had since puppyhood that, over the last couple of months, got inflamed and abscessed and had to be cut out. The wound was healing beautifully until, thinking it was safe, we skipped the cone one night and she ripped out the stitches under cover of darkness. The incision reopened and had to be restitched and we had to spend one more week in Kelowna than we planned for. Now, finally, we’re on the road again. Let’s go, I say to Melo as I free her from the cone (only needed at inactive times now) and she flies down to join Pixel, already waiting by the door. They can’t wait to get out.
We’re spending a few days at the Paska Lake BC Forestry Recreation Site near Logan Lake, prior to moving on to a couple of other places we still want to check out near Kamloops: Paul Lake Provincial Park and Tunkwa Lake Provincial Park (where we stayed last year in May). It’s not really boondocking here at Paska Lake because it’s not free, there’s a twelve dollar daily fee, but the only amenities are pit toilets, picnic tables, and fire rings. In the summer, we’re told, the campground is packed with boaters and ATVers but today, mid-week at the start of June, we’re almost alone. An older couple in a large fifth-wheel are camped at the opposite end of the campground in a secluded corner of their own – we only know they’re over there by the smoke of their campfire rising in the distance.
Our site is right above Paska Lake – wind-rippled, gun-metal-blue and clear – and surrounded by a belt of dark green pines on its opposite shore. It’s beautiful here. So beautiful that, hiking through a silent sunlit and pine-scented meadow speckled with wild strawberries and lupins yesterday, we began second-guessing ourselves. Was it a mistake to buy another home and give traveling a rest for now, after only one year on the road? Should we have kept on going, and going, and still going?
I look back on the year behind us and memories of places we found come back with such force they’re almost tactile. I consider what it might be like to keep to the road, seeking out more such gems. In a setting such as this, sunny and serene and just at the doorway to summer, it’s easy to start doubting our decision to put down new roots. A slight variation on buyer’s remorse.
Last night at twilight, the magic time of day when colours soften and light fades, I sat inside watching the lake from the dinette window. The sky was a soft powder blue streaked with bands of pink and cream and the lake a mirror for it all. Every two seconds a lake trout vaulted a foot into the air to grab one of the hundreds of flies landing on the surface and a ring formed on the water stretching out and out and out until its fade-out. It was perfect. A chorus of frogs sang and a loon cried and it was like that TV commercial from years ago – I can’t remember if it was for beer or for an SUV.
This may very well be the last time I have this sense of being unencumbered, I suddenly realized. After this final hoorah, even if we do again come to a place such as this, it’ll be different. We won’t be the couple living in a truck camper just roaming around from place to place anymore. The next time we’re in a setting like this one, there’ll be an invisible string stretching back to Warfield, to a small lavender-coloured house we’ve named Heron Haus – a nod to the year-long Heron’s Quest which led us there. Even now the house is already there, waiting, although we haven’t taken possession yet. It might not be ours yet and there’s still another family there, slowly disengaging themselves from it, but it’s a done deal. How strange to consider we’ll again have a home secondary to the truck camper. How do I really feel about that?
There is, most surely, a romance linked to the nomadic life. And a freedom. No chains, no responsibilities, no house-related worries or bills to pay, just go where the road takes you. Tell people you’re living in a truck camper for six months, or ten months, or a year and most of them, their eyes momentarily glossy and wistful, will tell you it’s exactly what they dream of doing. But everything, EVERYTHING, has a flip side. The yang to the yin. And even though right here and now I’m feeling some separation anxiety from this way of life, deep down I know it’s time to ground myself more firmly.
I spent the last few mornings here watching the ripples on the lake and reading my book. I made lunches, we took Melo and Pix for hikes, and then I spent the afternoons going through my photos and reading again until it was time to make dinner. After dinner, you guessed it, more reading or maybe watching an episode of something loaded onto our portable hard drive. Lots of leisure time. But also time to reflect. How many days of this past year have been like this? Many. I consider how much “hanging around” time we’ve really had and I realize this might be the main reason we’re looking forward to the new house. Because there’ll be work to be done there.
I’m not complaining. We are, as I’ve said before, fortunate beyond measure for the opportunity to go on a journey such as ours. But it’s been, for the most part, a year of absorbing stuff. Of input – always new input. And as much as I liked being the grasshopper in the Grasshopper and the Ant fable for a while, my true nature is that of the ant. I like to keep busy: to sew, to carve out images in woodblock or lino and turn them into prints, to bake bread and prepare slow-cooked meals. All things I didn’t have much time for in my past working life but hope to have time for now.
I think human beings are generally meant to be doers. Our role is not merely to absorb but to create and to give back:
Creativity is God’s gift to us;
What we do with that creativity is our gift back to God.
That’s why so many people who retire after years in a career and without a hobby or something else to occupy their free time, go back to work or go crazy. Or they die. According to statistics, many retirees die within a year or two of retirement. We need to have things to do. Maybe this is why so many full-time RVers take on work-camping/camp-hosting jobs. I used to think it was about reducing the cost of a full-time RV lifestyle but I now suspect it’s got more to do with the need to feel active and productive in some way.
When we first set out on this trip we did so with two things in mind: 1) to get away from what we saw as stagnation creeping into our lives and 2) to reconnect with deeper aspects of ourselves we felt out of touch with. We figured a year on the road would give us the opportunity not only to explore some of Canada and the US, but also to get a clearer sense of who we wanted to be going forward and what we wanted to do with the rest of our lives. We joked that we’d fall in love with the RV lifestyle so much we’d never want to stop but I doubt either of us fully believed that would happen. We always saw another more permanent home somewhere at the end of the road.
Now, in a way I feel our journey has aspects of the traditional Hero’s Tale Joseph Campbell talked and wrote about: the hero setting out on some kind of quest, facing fears, overcoming obstacles, meeting guiding spirits who help him, and then, inwardly altered, returning to the world he left to put the things he learned into action.
Back from our hike, Pix and Melo crashed out, Melo resting on the green e-collar back on her head again. She’s gotten used to it. I think about that. About how we, too, get used to things. All kinds of things – such as a way of life different from one we previously knew. To doing laundry at laundromats, taking army showers in a bathroom the size of a small closet, packing up house every morning to take a road that might lead somewhere glorious or only to a grubby little RV park. We even get used to sometimes feeling a bit lost and displaced and unsure of where we belong. Or, as now, learning to fit into a strange new community further from family and everyone we know than we’ve ever been. Some of these things, like Melo’s e-collar, are uncomfortable at first. Scary even although, ultimately, the discomfort might make us stronger. It might even heal some part of us we weren’t aware needed healing until, suddenly, we realize that we can run again, and leap, and play.
Today it’s overcast, windy, and colder. Only 11C. The lake is choppy and dark and it’s good to be inside now, watching the waves flow and the trees sway, wondering if there’s a storm coming. I think about the year that’s gone, and the new home to come, and wonder when we’ll next be at a place like this. But one thing I do know for sure – even though the behind-the-scenes logistics might be different, there will be a next time…
[A most heartfelt thanks to all of you who have followed this journey along with us, who have sent us your comments and encouragements, and who have made us feel less alone than we sometimes felt ourselves to be].