So, what IS the highest art of living? …

“The highest art is the art of living an ordinary life in an extraordinary manner.” – Tibetan proverb.

Mmmh. Does that make the lowest art the art of living an extraordinary life in an ordinary manner?

If so, then I’m afraid that’s exactly what I’ve been up to.

I guess, first I need to define “ordinary”.
Ordinary – a life that resembles that most commonly lived by the majority of people in one’s culture and society. In my case, I associate “ordinary” with working a 9-5, getting a paycheck, having an immobile home, with flush toilets, and a stove that requires neither denatured alcohol nor lighter. In an ordinary life, people wake up, get dressed, commute to work, spend the day on tasks possibly unrelated to their felt or imagined life-purpose, then maybe fit in some exercise for an hour or so after work, connect with friends, eat a meal, fall asleep, repeat.

(Please note that I count among my friends many who fit this description, yet each shine in a precise, unique way as to never EVER make their lives any less remarkable or fascinating than that of my other friends’, the wildlings, the transients, the roamers. But for the sake of labels and description, let’s use this definition for now.)

For the past 5, 6, or maybe 7 years, I have lived an “extraordinary” life.
Extraordinary – The opposite. No 9-5, no paycheck, no shower, flush toilets or kitchen, unless provided by providence, no schedule, dress-code, lunch breaks, coworkers, boss, time-sheets, no place to which to return at night, because home was with me all along.

Recently, after roaming the reds, tans and browns of the southwest desert for a few months, I began to crave green, as I often do this time of year.
I have that extra bit of hematite in my pineal gland, the same kind that launches flocks of wild geese across the globe. Twice a year, migration knocks on my mind’s door.
And when it does, I can think of little else.
So, I flew north. As they do.
Green meant New Hampshire this year.
New Hampshire meant driving 3,000 miles.
3,000 miles meant the complete bottom end of my saved funds.

Now, I could have, and have in the past, just tighten my belt, followed my whims and expected a miracle. This has been my M.O. for all of my extraordinary years. But this time, something was different. It wasn’t the fact that I got here fasting (and dropped about 10 Lbs) so that I’d have enough cash for fuel to even get here. I’ve written that particular story-line in my life often, and always with a happy ending. It wasn’t the fact that the Catmobile is approaching 280,000 miles and can barely break 35 mph uphill. My love needs love of the mechanical kind. Again, a familiar story-line, harbinger of miracles. It wasn’t, either, the pressure to conform, the need for security, or anything of that sort. I wasn’t tired of roaming, or confused or shameful about my lifestyle. No, none of these … my extraordinary had just become my ordinary, and I needed to shake things up.

So, I did something out of my ordinary – I got two jobs, and parked the Catmobile in a stationary spot. A spot where I have access to friends, a lawn, flush toilets, a shower, a shelf on a fridge and a 4-burner stove (and also, of course, mountains, rivers, woods, etc). Oh my!

I get to be a barista and a yoga instructor for the summer (at least). I am loving waking up in the morning and knowing exactly what I’m doing – I’m going to work. Yay! Normally, I sit on my tailgate for a while in the morning, pondering what, out of an infinity of possibilities, I should do with my wild and wonderful life for that day. Oh, the freedom of not having to decide or even think. I wake up with an alarm, at the same time every day – not when I feel like it or when the sun has made the truck too warm to continue sleeping, but at a precise number on the wheel of human arbitrarily segmented time. I then get to walk through the woods for 35 minutes. That’s my commute. I have to keep a fast pace or I’ll be late. If I’m late to clock in, even by a few minutes, a notice dings on the manager’s phone – because technology now allows such things to exist. Because I work for kind people, it isn’t an issue, but still, if I’m going to have a 9-5, I intend to do it well.
The next 8 hours of my life are not mine to ponder or manage. I make smoothies and fresh pressed juices for health-conscious, wealth-comfortable people. I create espressos, lattes, mochas, iced and steamed, and practice my budding latte foam art. I arrange health food on the shelves and ensure the cooler of iced teas and kombucha is fronted – which literally means bringing all the bottles to the front, in an OCD fashion. When the flow of customers allows it, I retire to the back parking lot with a plate of food from the selection we serve, for 30 minutes exactly. There is a beautiful field we call Narnia and a small beach by the Saco river down a dirt road from where I sit, but it would take about 15 minutes to walk to the river, so 30 minutes there and back, my entire lunch break. So instead, I just sit in the parking lot, in the sun, often with friends, who are also co-workers, and enjoy it. I have a boss. He tells me I’m doing a good job. I get a paycheck. It’s not a big paycheck – it’s not like guiding Grand Canyon or trimming 650 Lbs of marijuana. And because it’s a legal job, I have to give some of it to Uncle Sam. But, it’s a regular influx. And I don’t wonder what miracle will feed me next, because I know there’ll be a paycheck. And that is relaxingly nice, for a change..

So,
I can live and hike in the most mind-bogglingly beautiful desert and barely notice, because my child-like awe for the world is filtered through half-closed eyelids, weighed by personal existential quandaries.
And/Or
I can make each latte, each smoothie the best I’ve ever made, with exact proportions and an extra dose of love with each added scoop of pea protein or spirulina, and align each kombucha bottle with precision, and feel as alive as I have in my most epic moments.

Was I living an extraordinary life in an ordinary manner? Am I now living an ordinary life in an extraordinary manner. What is the measure of one’s life’s normality? And does it even matter? What story do I create for and about myself when I meander the world or rush through the woods to clock on time?

Do I bring any added value to the world when I live one way rather than the other? Does it matter to the world what I do? Does it matter to the woods? Do trees find me less extraordinary because they suspect my destination? By a tree’s standard, am I more ordinary when I act like a wildling? Isn’t that what all the creatures of the woods do? Don’t they also just wake up when they do, look for food, and wander? If the paycheck allows me to buy a bag of nut I share with a squirrel, do squirrels find me extraordinary?

On the day when I had my interview and was hired as a barista, I walked across the parking lot – the same one where I have lunch now – back to the Catmobile. Right there on the ground, as though left for me, a humbly muddy piece of paper with an ancient-scroll-like handwriting caught my eye.  “The highest art is the art of living an ordinary life in an extraordinary manner. – Tibetan proverb” it said. I thought it was so fitting for the occasion that I pinned in on the inside wall of my bedroom, in the back of the truck. But with each passing work day, the less I feel this is right.

If the trees and squirrels don’t care what I do, and I don’t care what humans thinks about what I do, then the judgment is solely internal, a direct reflection of conditioning, a learned reaction to the perception of “ordinary” vs. “extraordinary”. And suddenly, both loose all meaning.

All lives are ordinary, all lives are extraordinary, and the amount to which we are able to love our lives, beyond any labels, I think THAT is the highest art of living.

Isn’t it?

 

witaker
(My daily commute to work. 🙂 )

 

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My 32 square foot bedroom – Circa 2018

Bed of truck (bedroom)- 6X4 = 24 sq ft
Behind the seats in the cab – 2X4 – 8 sq ft
Total leaving space – 32 sq ft
Years living in the truck – 7 yrs
Years full time – 5 yrs
Desire to move back indoor – 0%
Van-dwelling envy – 15% (having an indoor cooking space is mightily nice).

Putting it out there, I’m looking for a roaming partner. Male, bearded, able to withstand 360 degree Shakti energy, with Van setup for cooking and chilling – please send photos of van. 😀

Here’s mine.

Part 1 – the stuff.
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The belly of the beast. And now, for my next trick … I shall fit a large two-car-garagefull of treasures into the truck. Harry Potter style. If you don’t know what I mean, you really should pick up a Harry Potter book, seriously!

IMG_4162Blank canvas. Almost … 6X4 truck bed outfitted with Vision high ceiling cap, 6 climbing bolts (3 on each sides, to hang recording microphone, sunglasses, or whatever), and metal wire shelves (installed by Richard for the cost of a Thai food meal.)

IMG_4163Bed support constructed of heavy construction plywood. A gift from Jimmy James. Custom-made for my truck.

IMG_4164Side shelves, design of my own, leftover from the original design where the bed was sunken in between, as opposed to flush with the windows are it is now – thinner plywood sheet cut and joined with piano hinges – fit even with the new bed base.

IMG_4169Magical bed on top of waterproof barrier. The bed is composed of an Ikea Sultan firm mattress and 1.5 inches of memory foams – and yes, there are memories in that foam. No, not like that … you dirty minds. Covered by a sage-colored jersey cotton super soft and posh stretched-to-fit sheet. Yummy sleeping. (for detail views of the mattress setup, see the 2016 step by step, it’s the same.)

 

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Before Jimmy James, very little treasures were able to come with me, or if they did, they were packed in bins I had to lift up and down, and stash outside when I slept. Now, I have 2 6X2 drawers under the bed. What goes in there changes to fit my need. Here, on the left, I have compressed winter clothes and a few backpacks in the back,  the “pharmacy” (natural supplements) in the middle, and stove and condiments in the front. On the right I have ice climbing gear in the back (I always have my ice climbing gear – even in the desert – I don’t claim to make sense.) Pantry in front, with a full rack of spices and an impressive selection of teas.

These slide under. It take a little muscle, but I don’t mind.

IMG_4170A few extra crates fit perfectly on the side of the bed. The little wood chest in the back holds my tee-shirts and underwear. The middle back crate usually holds live plants I love and water every day, but in this picture I had a place to keep them, so I used it for extra books and clothes. The front middle crate holds cooking gear, and the one closest to the door holds the Ninja and Monster, both 1 gallon glass water bottles I love love love, some paper towel and my pee cup, for those nights when I really don’t feel like getting up.

IMG_4174So, there you go … home sweet home. On the top shelves are my books, my clothes and a box with toothbrush, toothpaste and my little friend the wolf. I also have curtains for the windows, for when I sleep in town. Now that my bed is even with the window I get to see the world as the first sight when I open my eyes. I really like the new setup. I can’t imagine how I’ll improve on it … maybe lighter drawers.

Before 2016: (for comparison)

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Always better, always better.

XOX.

The roaming bobcat.

Top 5 reasons why I know I have the best sleeping bag on the face of the planet.

 

Right here … Here’s my love, the Western Mountaineering UltraLite 20 degree bag:

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#1 – Weight. When I first ordered this beauty, back in 2011, as I was getting ready for a PCT Thru-hike, it came in the mail at the same time as some hiking shoes, mini gaiters, a headlamp and other small miscellaneous objects. When I picked up the box, my face grew long … they hadn’t included the sleeping bag. I just knew. The box was too light. Then I opened the box, and lo’ and behold’ the bag was in there! I tossed it in the air, and it fell back gently in my arms. Yep. Love at first sight! Then a week ago, sending it to the WM factory for repairs, I was charged extra because “the package was too light.” Customers in line at the post office suggested I put a rock in the box – That’s light!

#2 – Comfort. The 20 degree UltraLite is not actually a bag, it’s a regeneration cocoon of love, fluff and warmth. I slept in it for 105 night straight of cowboy camping (no tent) on the PCT, without a wash (I have dedicated sleep clothes and socks), like in the arms of Angels. When I stopped walking and moved back into the truck, this was still the bag I used. If it was too cold, I added a blanket on top, if it was too warm, I used it as a quilt, or rolled it into a small body size friend and hugged it all night (yeah, single life in the truck …) It’s been damp and wet a few times, and I expected it to let me down, as down bags are wont to do, but no, a space blanket around it, and it was back to excellent zzzzzs.

#3 – Durability. When I didn’t know anything about gear and read all I could about it, I learned that one cannot expect a bag to last more than one thru-hike. That’s just one of the costs the repeat thru-hiker must factor in. Well, mine’s looking at a full PCT, several AT sections, all the New Hampshire 4000ers, 2 San Diego trails, a trip to humid Cuba, a trip to dusty India, Alaska, Canada, etc. … and 6 years in the truck, in some fashion. And that bag is not even close to being done yet.

#4 – Customer Service. Okay, so, with the oil from my body and the constant use, the bag did eventually lose a lot of feathers – I mean, you would too after 6 years of almost daily use! So I called Western Mountaineering. When I was on the AT, they were able to give me an emergency refluff – I think they mostly washed it a bunch of time. It wasn’t completely back to its former glory, but I was still impressed with WM tracking me down on the trail and getting the bag right to me without impairing my walk at all.  Now, 2 years later, I contacted them again after spending a few cold nights on the San Diego trails. Boom! Refluffed, broken zipper is fixed, all in a courteous, understanding, expedient fashion, and again they were able to work with my nomadic lifestyle and are shipping the bag right where I’ll be able to get it.

#5 – Everything else. I love its gorgeous deep blue, that hasn’t really faded. I love that it’s quiet when I sleep in it, no annoying nylon rustling. I love how small it compresses. I’ve even carried it in a day-pack to spend the night in a cave once. I love how it smells – oh, wait, that’s just my smell … I love that my best trail family members have the same bag, so we can feel like a special clique of people who scored in the gear department. I love the two drawstrings that keep the chill of the night away from my body, but my face still out to see the stars and breathe clean air. I love that the 6′ length gives me wiggle room for my feet, and extra storage for my clothes (I’m 5’4″). And … actually, there isn’t anything I DON’T like about this bag.

I get no kickback of any sort from Western Mountaineering for shamelessly bragging about their bag. I’m just assembling gear for my next adventure, and felt my gratitude and love for this loyal gear-friend needed to be passed on.

Love!

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Note: You’re actually looking at my bivy bag covered in dew here, the sleeping bag is inside. It turns out, I don’t have a picture of me in my bag, because either I camp alone, or I protect it with the bivy. You get this idea though …

All Hail the Power of the Mighty Flu! – and a bonus story

I enjoy the flu. It’s not like its politically-correct cousin the cold. It doesn’t make you sniffle for weeks or let you dwell in the illusion of being functional while slowly draining your life juices away. It doesn’t care that you have prior plans or commitments, responsibilities, duties, chores or a life. It walks in like a cocky Senior IT tech, looks around and says “Little lady, you’re about to experience a complete system shutdown. Grab what you need and stay out of the way. We’ll let you know when you can resume.”

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[That’s the guy – pretty, isn’t it?]

I got the notice on Sunday, but my magician of a mechanical friend, Richard, had dismantled the Catmobile’s leaky air-intake system, and the new fancy replacement parts weren’t due to arrive until 3 pm. I crawled in the back of the truck stranded in the grocery parking lot – One of Richard’s many “repair shops” – and let the man speak to my engine while I made mental plans to accommodate my imminent and unavoidable collapse. The way this one was coming on, I knew I’d likely be down for days.

In non-nomadic life, I imagine people prepare by arranging for their kids to be taken to school, for food to be available for their pets, for bills to be paid, and so forth. In my world, the key components are 1) Find a place where I can park for days without a ranger asking me to move. 2) Orient the truck so that it is not only level, but also with its head to the east and back to the west. If the back points south, too much sun beats on the bed during the day, and I get too hot. If the back points north, I get no sun, and I get cold. And because I grow plants in the truck (Mint, Rosemary, Sage and Aloe Vera) and they prefer morning sun and afternoon shade, there’s just really one orientation that works. 3) I need two gallons of water for about 3 days. 4) The moon is about to be an exceptionally potent blue-blood-supermoon, so prepare for moon-time-female shenanigans (and double it). 5) That’s it. Everything else is already built-in. I have my whole life with me.

view

The Catmobile got its shining new parts in. I drove up a hill, parked at the top, with the bed level and the back to the west, overlooking a huge vista of desert expanse from the red cliffs of Sedona to the Cottonwood-lined banks of the Verde River. I lodged a large rock behind each wheel, crawled in my den, and was instantly gone.

skinny slit separator

I ran out of water Wednesday morning. I don’t remember much in between. Or rather my memories of the interim days and nights are like a jumble of slides in a dusty box. There’s no date or time stamp on the slides, and the dust in the box is mathematical. My fever dreams are always mathematical in nature. My brain forms and gets caught in loops it must then exit. It believes its survival depends on it. And the only way out is to painstakingly attempt to organize the fractal nature of Life into clean, measurable, Euclidean shapes. The slides are those moments in between when I come up for air out of the mathematical madness, open my eyes to the world and take stock that it’s still there, in all its fractal beauty, and remember that it requires nothing from me.

One of the slides is of the blood moon, a perfect full lunar eclipse, positioned exactly in the center of my back window as viewed from my pillow, as though it were hanging on my wall, and the truck was its frame, and its shade of red had been carefully chosen to match the new comforter my friend Frieda gave me for my birthday last year.

lunar-eclipse
Another slide finds me angry, because somebody said I couldn’t have a Spirit Animal because I am a nonnative (A Facebook post from a few days prior). I see my brother Coyote, my companion of so many dreams and quite a few waking moments. It always visits when I need. It reminds me I’ve chosen to live nonsensically, and to just have fun with it. He’s a tiny shadow in the distance in a big desert, but I know his movement pattern. “Go ahead, tell Coyote he cannot be my Spirit Animal because my skin is white.” I think I say it out loud. And back to sleep.

Another slide is of gun shots. The gun shots are there the whole time, because at the bottom of my hill is a shooting range . There are acute metallic high pitch shots, others with drawls and rumbling voices, yet others boom up the hill and shake the truck and my bones with their shockwave. They’re at it all day. One man is less than 10 feet from his target. A puff of dirt to the left of the target. Half a second later, I hear the shot. Half a second delay between sight and sound, how far am I? The next mathematical puzzle. I check on the man a few hours later. Puff of dirt now to the right of the target. A few hours later, he’s hitting the target. Good job! At sunset, he packs and leaves. Quiet returns.

Another slide. My warm water bottle against my body keeps all the chills of the night away. I wake up at sunset for a few simple well-rehearsed gestures. Stove on. Water in pan. Boil. Water in Nalgene bottle. Put stove away. I can do it all from my bed, yet it’s the most exhausting set of gestures I’ve ever performed in my life. The Flu and the medicine run through my body. My heart thumps in my ears. My fingers tingles. I feel I am journeying elsewhere, out of my body. But the water bottle is my anchor in the waking world. Whenever I feel its warmth, I know I’m still here. I’m safe in the truck.

skinny slit separator

I dropped down the hill on Wednesday. I wasn’t fully coherent yet, but functional enough to drive to the store. I filled up my two one-gallon jugs and bought a yogurt – first food since Sunday. Richard had settled in the parking lot of a long-gone Denny’s restaurant and boldly posted a Facebook invitation to anyone in need of mechanical consultation to stop by and visit. He’d check the leak he had repaired in my power-steering hose, he said, but only if I kept my flu at least 10 feet away from him. I stayed in the driver seat while he slid under the engine. But, Donnie Darko, his canine sidekick, did not understand why the usual petting was being withheld. He jumped out of Richard’s van and came to my door to demand his dues.
“Great! Now I have to disinfect my dog.”
Richard ran some alcohol wipes on Donnie’s coat where my infected hand had made contact, and sprayed a generous cloud of Lysol in both our directions for good measure. He made me laugh, which made me cough.

skinny slit separator

I drove back to the desert to heal for another couple of days, but this time away from the shooting range, into the red dirt I used to call home. I found “my spot” was still occupied, by the same hunters. The large tent was gone, but a stinky pile of antlers and nondescript animal parts informed me that this particular “spot” might never be mine again. Even if all traces of them were gone, I’d remember that pile and the energy about it, and it would make me sad. So, I drove further.

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The first twenty or so spots I found along road 525 were occupied by either a van, a tent or an RV. In all the winters I’ve spent in the Sedona backcountry, I have never seen so many desert-dwellers. I finally found an unoccupied level area, but upon inspection discovered the prior occupants had pooped all around the campable spot, and left their soiled toilet paper for the desert maid to clean up. Same story in the next few spots. In fact, I hadn’t noticed prior, but there was toilet paper all over the desert – caught under the mesquite  bushes, in the juniper branches, and startlingly white against the red dirt everywhere – this is a different topic than the one at hand, but seriously, hasn’t anyone heard of Leave No Trace ethics anymore? Anyway, I finally settled on a little secluded piece of dirt, crawled in the back, and resumed sleeping for another day and one night.

skinny slit separator

BONUS STORY:
I was awoken on the second morning by the sound of a man’s voice. A very close sound of a man’s voice! I had been out of it so completely that I didn’t exactly remember where I was, so I sat up to see whose voice that was, and how far from the next encampment I had set my home. There was a small city-type car about 500 feet away, but nothing closer. Then I heard him again.

He was less than 20 feet from my truck, a man about mid-fifties, with a grey hoodie over much of his face and cut-off jean shorts, sitting in the dirt. His legs were crossed and his hands in prayer position in front of his face, which I couldn’t see. His hands shook with each desperate incantation as though the man was pleading God to spare his very life. This was a new one … I wasn’t sure what to do, so I lay back down. He must have known there was someone in the truck, and this is a very big desert, so why pray right here, next to me? Out loud?

You’d think I’d have been more worried about it, but for one, I always feel safe in the truck, and for two, I was still sick and actually just fell back asleep immediately.

His prayer woke me up a second time. Still only 20 feet away. This time he had knelt in the dirt and placed his forehead onto the ground, facing the red rocks of Sedona in the distance. He whispered his wails, but I sensed he wanted to be heard. I turned my phone on, just in case, and got dressed with minimal movements within the truck, all the while keeping a discreet eye on him, but also allowing him some privacy for his prayer.

He finished his second round of imploration, walked a wide arc around the truck, got in his car, slammed the door, and stayed there for 5 minutes. He then got out of his car, walked a wide arc around the truck, sat back in the dirt, same spot, prayed, returned to his car … and so forth.

On his fourth of fifth visit, I decided my curiosity was greater than his need to pray right next to my truck. I waited until he was just within earshot, and pushed the back open to reveal myself and my home. He stopped dead in his tracks and stared as his feet with his hoodie pulled as far down as his nose.
“Good morning.” I yelled to him.
No answer. No movement.
“Are you okay?”
He shook his whole body “no”, then said “I go over there to pray.” and immediately turned around in place and still stared at his feet but facing away from me.
“Okay. That’s okay. You can pray here, I don’t mind.”
He shook his whole body “no” again, and walked away towards his car. He got in the car, slammed the door, waited 5 minutes, and came out. Same routine. This time he walked a very wide arc around the truck, then changed his mind, walked a very wide arc back to his car. With gentle, non-threatening nor fear-based gestures, I began preparing the truck for departure. I was about ready when I noticed him approach the truck with a large Tibetan singing bowl. I had crawled in the back to water my plants, so I met him right at the entrance – the tailgate.
“Hi!” my friendliest voice.
He shook “no” again, and moved his hand along the Sanskrit on his Tibetan bowl. I grabbed my notebook and a pen and handed them to him with an inquisitive look. Is that what you need?
“I broke my vow of silence.” He wrote very slowly in small caps, and I watched as he wrote trying to decipher the letters as they appeared.
“Ahhh. I understand.” I told him.
“I am not in a good way.” he wrote on the next line.
“Okay. I hear you.”
“I can only be friends with spiritual people.” on the next line. And upon writing it, he looked at me for the first time, with an apologetic look, as clearly, I didn’t qualify.
He then bowed and returned to his car.

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And I drove out of the desert, to Chris’s, to get a shower and attend to the aftermath of the flu – melted chocolate and wilted greens, fever-smelling sheets and clothes, and stories to tell.

The end.
For now.

XOX – Roaming Bobcat.

fractal

Fractals!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ugly Truth about Living Life to the Fullest

I hear it all the time … “YOU truly live life to the fullest!”
Yeah, way to go, Roaming Bobcat! You are such an inspiration. Way to be free from society, jobs, obligations and Old World expectations, roaming by the will o’ the wisp in your valiant Catmobile, all smiles, gratitude and high vibrations.

Well, I’ll tell you what: I DO live life to the fullest. And it is not all you’ve cracked it to be…

2 days ago. My facebook status read “Sometimes, I feel so blessed, that my only hardship is humility.”
Last night. A friend offered I sleep in his driveway because I was cold, hopeless, and crying.

Crazy Free - new cover from Scott.

“Hi. I am doing a study on the homeless population in Sedona. May I ask you a few questions.”
The lady with the clipboard picked me first. Maybe because I was standing nearest the entrance at the Food Bank, waiting for my number to be called for a free bag of food to sustain me for the week. Maybe because of my three layers of down vests and jackets, the classic look of those of us without a heated space on cold winter nights. Or maybe it was my matted hair – she couldn’t guess of my choice to grow dread locks to celebrate my passage through menopause. Or something about my unhurried pace – letting mothers and people with jobs get ahead in line. I have nowhere else to be, and nothing else to do.
“I’m not homeless.” I told her. “I live in my truck, so I always have my home with me.”
She had a checkbox for that on her form. Vehicle dwellers count as homeless.
“No, I have no income.”, “No, I don’t have health insurance.” “No, I don’t pay taxes” “No, I don’t have electricity.” “No, I don’t use any substance, no drugs, no alcohol” … She had a checkbox for each of my answers.
“Well, I’m not your typical homeless person though,” I could hear the defensiveness in my voice. I mean, I live the way I live “by choice.”
She had a checkbox for that too.

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2 days ago, the Catmobile and I pulled into Slab City, California. The “City” appears on Google Maps as a small cluster of square blocks, complete with streets (Loners on Wheels Rd, Tank Rd, etc.) and neighborhoods (East Jesus, West Satan, etc.) But, in fact, it’s little more than a haphazard congregation of  “homeless” people of the wheeled kind, a mingling (not mixing) of nomadic hippie artists, air-conditioned northern sun-seekers, off-season disoriented burners, and Alexander Supertramp followers.


I fall slightly in all categories, but mostly in the latter.
The first time “Into the Wild” landed in my hands, I was a National Science Foundation Fellow with more annual grant money for my geophysics research than all the paychecks and under-the-table money I have earned combined in the 7 years since I threw caution to the wind and leaped into this strange life I now call my own. That book sparked something wild and unstoppable in me. I didn’t see the tragedy of a troubled young man’s untimely death; I read of a vibrant explorer with the balls to go for it, explore the edges, and follow only his own footsteps, to whatever end.

In time, I’ve become my own Alexander Supertramp. I’ve lived as I pleased, following nothing but my own wishes. I’ve run out of money, repeatedly – to a documented low of $2.62. I’ve slept in the dirt (as a thru-hiker) and on sidewalks (in Cuba). I’ve forgone showers and piled hundreds of thousands of miles on my odometer. I collected friends all over the country, with names as strange as Last on the Bus, the Big Elf, Grey Wolf, Weathercarrot, Quest or Rapunzel. Enough money has always appeared when needed, and not once did I use any one of my 4 college degrees. I taught yoga, posed as a nude model for art classes, worked as a Grand Canyon guide, painted buildings and houses, restored historical windows, dug trenches, shoveled pig and chicken shit, weeded organic gardens, trimmed marijuana, wrote a book about my adventures, and lived off the royalties for a while … and, I’ve had to borrow money, dumpster-dive (mostly for pies). I’ve sung Hare Krishna songs for a free meal, and occasionally relied on food banks and the kindness of strangers. Like Alexander, I joined the ranks of society’s misfits, roamed the desert southwest, and even moved to Alaska.

But our parallel stops there. Because his life stopped then, and mine hasn’t.

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Standing on top of Salvation Mountain, I sent Alexander Supertramp my love and gratitude for the inspiration. gratitude for all the adventures, the friends and the overwhelming freedom inherent to living life this way – our way! I then parked the Catmobile among my misfit peers, and basked in the glow of a gorgeous sunset from the comfort of my pillow. I felt like the Grand Winner of the Jackpot of Life, and fell asleep fully contented about everything in my world.

Alexander was older now. He was walking through the desert, but only I could see him. The rows of RVs had their generators going. That was in the world. So, the noise from the world was in my dream. I was relatively sure this was a dream. I could date Alexander since I could see him. He’d be my invisible boyfriend.
“You died just in time.” I told him. “If you had continued on, you’d have run out of steam, eventually.” He wasn’t listening, but he held my hand as we walked. “All that freedom, it’s exhausting after a while.” Still not listening. “It’s like having so many options paralyzes you, because how can you choose when everything is available?”
There was a banquet for a wedding. A table covered with delectable meals. All of which I had tasted already. He sat and ate.
“Alexander, I think I don’t want to be homeless anymore. I want a kitchen, and a bathtub, a garden to grow my own food, a room for my sewing machine, and a yoga studio nearby where I can teach, and a steady income to buy gear and pay for adventures.”
“Then stop.” He kissed my temple just before I drifted elsewhere, to another dream.

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skinny slit separatorThere were no restrooms anywhere in Slab City, and no bushes thick enough to hide behind, so I left before sunrise, at the urgent request of my bowels. Then I drove 2 hours and almost ran out of gas before finding both gas and a bathroom.

“Then stop.” he had said. Well, but, I can’t. Just like I can’t stop in Slab City if I need to poo. There’s this urge to always move on. A fear of missing out if I don’t. I can’t go back to where I was before I got on this journey, because, at this point, it’s so far ago and I’m such a different person that I wouldn’t even fit at all “back there.”
And, also, I don’t want to stop for the sake of stopping. I want to stop because I find a spot or situation that I deem worthy of stopping. I’m not just gonna pull in the middle of the desert and say “I stop here. Here’s just fine.”

And what if I did stop? There were towns along the way where I’ve considered stopping, like North Conway, NH or Sedona, AZ. Would I build a peaceful hole to call my own? Get a steady job? A job would bind my daily hours, and the assorted taxes, insurances and utilities would bind my income. So I’d have the money for adventures and gear, and no time to partake in them. The eternal dilemma … I think I’d just shrivel up under the weight of a life ill-fitted to my particular genetic makeup. In fact, I’ve tried to stop in each of these towns. It didn’t take.

When I finally pulled into Sedona, and caught my first glimpse of Thunder Mountain, tears welled up in my eyes. Tears of sadness. An overwhelming sense of stagnation washed over me. I was here again. I always returned here when I didn’t know where else to go. Why? Why always Sedona? Because it’s easy. Because I know I can camp out in the desert, and get my mail at friends’ addresses, and meet people for tea, and hike trails I’ve hiked a hundred times without having to buy a map or ask strangers. I have a “spot” here. Just having this “spot” made me feel stagnant. So, not only I can’t stop, but I can’t return too often either. A pretty dire case of wanderlust!

Then I drove through town – for the first time in over a year. My favorite yoga studio is now closed, as is my favorite coffee shop. Most of the pullouts in the desert now have “no camping” signs, and worse … there is a “camping” sign on my secret road, leading straight to my secret spot – “My” spot, where I have spent months, where I know each cat-claw bush, coyote song and firewood pile. There was a massive camp in “my” spot, with enough water to last an entire season.

So, here is where it stands. The Sedona I always return to no longer exists. It changed while I was gone. So, I can stay here and pretend it’s a new town. and I know I’d discover new “spots” and meet new people. I could even find work here – I have contacts- and save enough to hike the CDT – my next dream adventure.

Oooor … I could go somewhere else, someplace new. Anywhere. I can go anywhere at all. I can go soooo anywhere that I don’t even know where I’d go.

And THAT is the ugly truth about living life to the fullest. How do you define who you’d like to be when infinity represents the boundary of what you can create? How do you narrow it down? How do you remain content with your choices when you can just look over the fence and see the green grass of a small home with a kitchen and a bath? How do you ward off stagnation when movement becomes your norm? How do you reconcile growing your own organic vegetables when you are addicted to the view outside your 32 square foot window to always, always, always be different?

What would Alexander have done, if he hadn’t died?

desert

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P.S: So … I started writing this posted “The Ugly Truth about Living Life to the Fullest” intending to write about how, often, people think I live in a state of La La Land-happiness about how awesome my life is. And anyone on Facebook could easily think that, because I only post when I’m happy. The “Ugly Truth” I wanted to write about is that life comes with great joys and deep sadness, moments of despair and confusion, the whole gamut. The key to “living fully” is NOT to be happy all the time, it is to live everything that happens. Reject nothing, it’s all good … that’s what I came here today to write about, and then, my fingers wrote something else entirely. Probably something I needed to read myself, to know where I’m at. Live Blog Therapy, of sort.

And also, this morning, as the story was writing itself, I got an offer to go live in a cob house with a friend in Colorado. I’d still have the truck as a bedroom, but there would be a kitchen and bathroom, and a wood stove, and a room I could make into an office to finally record that audio book I started years ago. And it’s in a spot I’ve never visited before. So … ??? Stay tuned.

Thank you for reading! XOXOX

[drawing of the two ladies on the cliff by my friend N.Scott Driscoll as a potential new cover for Crazy Free]

 

 

 

 

 

Trail journal from the most beautiful highway in the world

Day 1 – 10 pm. Both Kristo and I got lost right after crossing the border, and that was the last of our hardships. Traveling up the Cassiar hwy was a dream. No unfamiliar places. I have been up these parts before. But my eyes are different – these eyes now are on their way to Alaska. And everything tastes just that much more delicious.
We are sitting on coolers and tailgates in old western caravan style with Ally, a new vehicle-dwelling friend from Victoria. Kristo is strumming the guitar,  elks are singing the song of their people. We have shared bear stories. Summit Lake is pure Stillness. All is peace and quiet … Except for us, according to one local. He came up the hill to see “what the ruckus was all about”. He said he’d worry about us more if we were quiet. Obviously, if we were up to no good, we’d be more discreet. In other parts, this would have been a “you can’t park here. Move along.” but, this is Canada. Instead, he gave us recommendations on what not to miss on our journey north (Liard hot springs, a must-not-miss) and welcomed us to use the toilet behind the hall. “There’s even toilet paper.” Oh Canada!
The 10 hr drive went by in a flash. Every ten minutes BC outdid itself in beauty. Especially down by the border where the road climbs up in pines trees along the Fraser River and the freeway clings to the flanks of snow-capped mountains. And that sunset. It went on for 3 hours with 2 sets of double rainbows. For a while, it looked like the end of one rainbow was right on Kristo’ s truck.  It probably looked like it was on mine from Ally’s, whom we hadn’t met yet.
Today was a very good day.
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Day 2 – I kept a list today. 12 bears (including one in a tree), 3 cubs, 7 moose, 5 elks, 4 bighorn sheep, 7 porcupines … then I realized how ridiculous. How very human of me to reduce this experience of pure happiness to a list. It cannot be comprehended, so let me catalog it. Numbers are safe. We drove for 14 hrs. It felt like 2. Kristo’s truck passed 250,000 miles. Meanwhile, the spectacle explodes my mind. I already now it is futile to try to describe it with words and possibly rude to try to capture it with a camera.
Gratitude for perfection. We are parked across the road from the Liard Hot Springs.
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Day 2 – I want to meet a man who makes me feel the way the Alaska Highway makes me feel. I would marry that man.
It goes beyond the hot springs before breakfast, the remote untamed wilderness, the glaciated peaks, the forest, the lakes, the adventure, the freedom, the quiet stillness when the engines are off, and that space, so much space … It’s not about any of that. I don’t think it can be explained. It only can be experienced.
A magic journey anchored by dramatic landmarks. “welcome to the Yukon” Yes, Yukon, you are indeed larger than life. A reunion with the Yukon River, like a visit to a former lover for whom I still have feelings – too brief, too superficial, too much time has gone by. My favorite coffee shop in Whitehorse was closed. I found a baby pine tree in the trash at the gas station. I will plant it at the ranch.
It’s 11:30 pm, broad daylight. The view from my pillow is of the Kluane National Preserve, with the Wrangell mountain range framed in the opening of the truck.
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Day 3 – “Pinch me” Kristo said when we got here. I don’t think he’s leaving – ever. Today was a short driving day by our standard. We got into Tok in mid-afternoon and stopped by the grocery store. Goose and Pinky recommended the 3 bears grocery store –  5 aisles of guns, amno, fishing gear, camo clothes, bear spray, 1 aisle of potato chips, 1 cooler of beers, 1 cooler of ice creams. I expected as much. It felt like a stamp on my passport. Yep, I’m in Alaska. I walked around minding myself to not look too much like a tourist. I looked at all the guns, and all the knives, got some fuel and drove on. 100 feet further a second 3 bears grocery stores, with actual food. ahaaaah!
We are here.
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2,800 miles in 3 days later. I live on a ranch in Alaska.

Wow.

And so it begins …

Alaska!

Wow, this is it! Tomorrow morning, first thing, the truck points North, up the Al-Can, across Yukon and to Alaska. Destination known. Return uncertain.

I still can’t believe it.

Seriously, 2 months ago, I changed the background on my laptop to a picture of Denali. I figured the constant visual reminder would help me manifest a trip north. As the Roaming Bobcat, I can go anywhere, anytime. But to Alaska, I didn’t want to go alone – because such beauty should be shared – and I didn’t want to go as a tourist – because I’d quickly run out of money, and then what? And it all landed on my lap perfectly, better than I could have asked. Someone quit, a team of two was needed, Kristo (one of my favorite people in the whole wide world) was on his way to take one of the positions, and I was at the exact right place, along the way, at the exact right time, when the other man quit.

Our destination is a yak-hog-alpaca ranch in Gakona, ran by a couple of thru-hikers. They were 3 days behind me on the PCT in 2012. I never met them, but Kristo did. The Cats (Lion and The Bobcat)’ first task will be to build an outdoor shower – it seems we need to build it, if we want to shower – then a long fence around a large pasture, then we’ll get the pasture ready for the animals.

The couple at the ranch, Goose and Pinky, systematically tried to dissuade me from taking the job. There is no social life whatsoever, they said. The nearest town is 5 hours away. Trips to town for groceries are once every six weeks. The ranch is at the edge of the St. Elias mountain range – the largest continuous wilderness preserve in the world. There are wolves, grizzlies, and mosquitoes so fierce that I’ll go crazy before the large predators can get to me anyway. The perimeter of the property is guarded by geese (which scare me more than wolves or bears), but any intrusive predator will be shot on sight (to the girl who feels murderous pulling weeds out of a garden!) Also, the sun set for the last time 3 days ago. It will be daylight 24 hours a day when I get there, and the sun will not set again until after I leave. Most people feel too isolated, and quit.

I heard “adventure, more adventure, best adventure ever!” and my heart almost exploded from excitement. It’s like my life was waiting at the train station, feeling a little stagnant, and looking at the time table and wondering which train, out of the infinite number of possibilities, it should jump on. And then I saw it. It was blindingly shiny, and I ran and yelled “I want on, wait for me” and jumped up at the very last second. And I can’t even believe how lucky I was to catch it. But now, it’s going and all my life choices have been reduced to one certitude.

Rapunzel, the lady of the organic farm where I spent the last 3 months, prepared for me an assortment of seeds and plant starts. There will be no fresh greens at the ranch, unless I plant and grow them. I also have some mung beans sprouts growing in a tupperware and a fresh batch of kombucha brewing in a crate next to my bed in the back of the truck. It should be ready right when I get there, and I’ll be discreet about it.

Goose and Pinky warned me, “We don’t want to be the weird hippies up on the hill”. The county of Gakona is home to conservative authentic Alaskans, about 3 of them per square miles. I can expect big trucks, wolf skins and “Vote for Trump” signs. We make no waves. We don’t engage in political debates. This is important. I’m thinking that if I meet a man wearing a wolf skin, I will likely have a lot of questions, and none of them of a political nature.

So, that’s a full inventory of what I know about what I’m getting into. I should have wifi at the ranch. And I am expecting there will be stories.

In about 10 minutes, five friends from the PCT, class of 2012, will arrive at the farm for a mini family reunion and to send Kristo and the Bobcat off to Alaska in style, so I leave you here for now.

May all your adventures be spectacular.

Wooohooooo hoooo hoooo!

XOXO – TRBCMount Mckinley
(the picture that started it all – from Google)

Fearless – 5 secrets to survive your new love in a tiny home

“2 people. 32 square feet. And barely enough cash to get to where we’re going. What could go wrong?”

Previously, on the Roaming Bobcat … remember how I met a man in Maine, a new sparkly love, and invited him to travel back to the desert Southwest and live in the truck with me for the winter? Right, because living in 32 sq feet wasn’t challenging enough by myself, I guess.
I seriously questioned my sanity at the time, and I panicked a few times before departure. But in the end, you know what killed the cat … There was no way I was leaving without him. We left fearlessly on December 1st and traveled “all over this great Earth”, as Jim liked to say. Here’s a map of our roaming adventures. jimandmeltravels

8,700 miles in total we traveled. From the sand dunes of Death Valley, to the gigantic Redwoods of northern California, via the Sierra Nevada, the rocky mountains, the Cascades, the wind-swept Wyoming plains, through a couple of hot springs, a sunset over the Pacific Ocean, a years’ worth of Brussels sprouts and a new love for green chilies.

Jim flew home a week ago, a month later than he had originally planned.
“Come here, Lovey Bumpers.” he said right before crossing the TSA queuing line. I cried as I watched him leave, and that was a good thing. That meant we still loved each other, after all this.

So here is a short list of advice for you, if you wish to embark on such an adventure. 5 lessons I’ve learned from our wild journey, and also a few insights on what I wish I had done differently.

  1. Unjustified confidence.
    Before we left, Jim predicted we’d make it. When I asked how he was so sure, he replied “unjustified confidence.” He was right, as long as we both chose to believe that we would make it, our perspective-goggles remained focused on what did go right instead of what could go wrong. This self-congratulating attitude set the stage to create more of the same. If there are ups, there must be downs, and vice-versa. So as the roller-coaster goes, keep your eyes on the horizon. I failed at this a little bit. When it was up, I assumed it would keep going that way. When it was down, I quickly jumped to cutting bait conclusions and threatened to fly the man home. I wanted justified confidence, but sometimes, I’ve learned, keeping the peace just takes good ol’ blind faith.
  2. Com-mu-ni-ca-tion.
    You cannot sit and stew, when you live in 32 sq. feet with someone else. You might think you’re avoiding an argument, but your heart is emitting the energy of the unspoken words you’re attempting to save your partner from. And said partner picks up that energy unconsciously and projects onto it much worse than the actual problem at hand. So speak up, whatever it is. Clear up the air early with truthful, calm, open communication. After a month of adapting to each other, Jim and I established a daily “check in” – a safe place where whatever was coming up or moving through us could be shared. I loved the daily check-ins. In hindsight, I wish I had learned sooner that if frustration reaches a boiling point, it is best to walk out into the desert or the forest and discharge that energy first, before the check-in. I mean, isn’t that why we live in our vehicles? So we can have all this open space at our disposal? Use it. Open space doesn’t mind loud noises, but your partner does.
  3. Respect all Alien life
    Living with someone in the truck’s tiny space is like having a microscope on full zoom on each other’s quirks. 90% of the time, these quirks will make no sense to you whatsoever. Why do you need to keep this desiccated piece of wood? He just does. Why must I wear pajamas in bed? Because it’s my bed and I said so. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, but your beloved will suddenly seem straight outta Alpha Centory’s third left moon. This is a good time to sit back, relax, and dismantle. We are all programmed from birth to what society and our parents deemed right and good. Others’ programs might overlap, or they might not. We only get upset if we believe that our programming is superior. Understand, it is not. On the partner’s home-world, that quirk is what is right and good. And if you can laugh at the differences, you get bonus points.As a recommended extra step… Reinforce respect with daily small appreciations.
    “Thank you for packing the truck this morning.” “Thank you for the hot water for tea.” “Thank you for driving me all over this great big Earth.” Feeling seen and appreciated fills up the space with good vibes and makes the aliens feel at home.
  4. Space and your personal frontiers
    No matter how tight you like to snuggle, you will need breathing space to survive. And it might happen that it is pouring rain out, for days, and that neither of you feels like walking out into the cold. In such times, a good skill is the ability to create a bubble of privacy in your mind. Quiet space is private space. You can also sleep in opposite directions. Having someone’s feet by your face somehow feels more private than breathing their breath. Keeping a private journal and separate social media are essential. One partner can also get dropped off at a coffee shop or a library for a few hours. If the rain stops, then go ahead and walk away. Hike different trails, find each other at the top. Consciously choose different experiences to ensure that you always have some exciting stories to share with each other.
  5. Strap yourself in and feel the Gs.
    If this was a “normal” relationship, one or both partners would go to work all day and reunite for a few minutes between dinner and some TV show in the evening. On the road, a two-year relationship gets crammed into each week. So, you can expect two years worth of “stuff” coming up in that time-span. Here you are, thinking you’re on a geographic journey … 8,700 miles, 20 states, 5 national parks, etc. That is nothing compared to the internal space explored. The person with whom you started at mile 0 is gone by mile 1,000, and they’re not coming back. They were changed by the shared experience and by the constant contact with you. And you are different too, even if you don’t see it. Feelings, expectations, plans, preferences – everything changes. Your partner is not inconsistent, he or she is evolving. So, support their growth with love, and honor yours with self-respect, because in the end that is what the journey is all about – that, and nothing else.These are the biggies on my mind at the moment. But Jim only left a week ago, and I suspect I will continue learning as layers of memories are revealed in order of increasing subtlety, like layers of an onion.

    Until the next adventure …
    Jim and I
    To Jimmy James. Thank you!
    XOX – Loves.

What happened to the professional Marijuana easy gravy train?

So you want to be a trimmigrant? You’ve heard the stories – girl trims weed for a few weeks in October, makes $5000 and writes or travels for the rest of the year, every year. Or maybe you haven’t heard the stories. Maybe you’ve been following blogs and instagrams of adventurers from behind your desk job and wondering, “How the hell …?”

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Well, it turns out most of us are not independently wealthy. Somewhere along the line, we just got lucky, fell into an experience at the right farm, at the right illegal time. We found the rocky Marijuana trimming gravy train, and tried our best to stay on it.

That’s how it started for me anyway. I had never heard of trimming, and as a non-Marijuana user, I had no reason to run into anyone in that world. A friend of mine got the job – a “job down south”, he said, vaguely – and asked if I could watch his cat during his absence for a few weeks. When a bar-tending job appeared for him in Portland, my cat-sitting gig disappeared, so I jokingly asked “Can I have your job down south then?” I wasn’t expecting “Maybe. Let me see.” … 24 hrs later, I was pulling into the farm, still completely clueless as to what “job” I had just landed. I didn’t care. I had just finished walking the PCT, was riding the greatest spiritual high of my life (yet) and had absolute trust that anything the Universe provided was for the Greater Good.

That fall, I worked at 4 different farms over the course of 2 and a half weeks. The pay ranged from $17 to $35 an hour, depending on experience. I fell into the good graces of the main man on the first day and started at $20/hr. This was standard at the time. Smaller farms paid trimming by the pound. $200 a pound was not uncommon. Either way, at $20/hr on 12 to 17 hr long days, or several pounds a day, money flowed fast and easily, no experience needed, just tenaciousness and stamina.

I loved the work instantly. As a provider of medical marijuana, the outfit was legal by the laws of the time. Card-holding medical marijuana patients could defer their growing needs to a professional grower. 6 plants per patient, 4 growers per farm, so 96 plants per farm. We worked outdoors,  in forests of luxuriant, beautiful, 10 feet tall plants. I felt an instant kinship to these plants, a natural heart-bond. I learned about cannibanoids, turpines, CBDs, and how they match the human brain’s receptors. I saw how tinctures and teas made from the THC-free leaves can cure cancer, aids, glaucoma, etc. I understood the spiritual significance of the plant in human evolution, and bemoaned the mundanity with which most stoners approach the medicine. I became an advocate for the complete legalization of the plant, even though, to this day, I cannot myself partake in the smoking or eating of it – (see Tripping Balls). Little did I know I was supporting the death of the Golden Goose.

The outfit was legal and the plants were legit. Sort of. Any surplus after the medical patients had their need fulfilled was wrapped in vacuumed sealed packs inside dog food bags and driven off to more prosperous places to be sold on the black market. That’s how the farm earned enough to pay us so much. And that is why utter discretion about the work was mandatory. Helicopters flew overhead daily, sending most workers to hide. I have no doubt that our license plates were noted, checked and tracked. I never felt unsafe – exhilarated by the danger, maybe, but not unsafe. I felt I was “sticking it to the Man”, part of an sub-culture of free-thinkers, and out of “the System”. I left the farm with a fat $3000 envelop and an invitation to return the next year.

A few weeks later, the main man was held at gunpoint and all the weed was stolen. Complete ruin. The main man paid us all anyways, and new plants were planted.

The following year, weed trimming wasn’t even on my mind. By harvest time, I was working in Colorado restoring historical windows when an invitation came in from my favorite grower. There was a special plant – the Ice Princess – a rare strain of 100% Sativa straight from Jamaica. She was grown for ceremonial purposes only. She was sung to, praised and loved every day for her whole life since seed. And she could only be harvested by women who understood Her sacredness. I grabbed my Colorado coworker and little Soul Sister and drove straight to the farm where the Ice Princess lived. The main man assumed I was there for the general harvest and I thought, “why not? I can use a few thousand grands.”

But things had changed. Stress was about the farm and much money needed to be recouped from the theft of the previous year. A trimming machine had been purchased, so much of the outdoor work was already done. We were just there to clean up the buds. like this …

We sat 50 trimmers on long tables in a closed room under neon lights and the uncompromising eye of one of the main man’s watchdogs. The main man had much else to do and rarely showed, but, on his behalf, the watchdog made sure that the task was as abject as possible. Gangsta’ rap was blasted at full volume to ensure we could not chat – chatting makes you slower. Breaks were timed, greasy food was provided, and if you dared to stretch your neck, a resounding “KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE” greeted your elevated gaze.

Under other circumstances, I might have lasted longer, but I had brought a little sister into the madness, and I felt responsible for her well-being as well as mine. I explored the situation for a few days. I almost quit several times, then found silver linings. I could take this opportunity to learn to trim faster – the watchdog was, after all, one of the fastest trimmers I had ever met. I pleaded for different music, and different food. Some accommodations were made, reluctantly. But my greatest sin was to take a “personal day” off to harvest the Ice Princess. I was not just sticking it to the Man, I was sticking it to the main man. “Bobcat, I love you, but you’re causing trouble.” he said. “You can’t be coddled while everyone else bust their asses.” He tried to fire me, but I quit simultaneously – possibly making me the first person in history to be fired from a pot farm for instigating a rebellion. “What? Do you want a union?” It seemed ludicrous then … but that was then.

The little sister and I drove away that day with a fat envelop each. A few weeks later, the main man was again held at gunpoint and all the weed stolen. Once again, he paid all the workers. Those sure were crazy times, and I was done with that scene. I truly believed I would never trim again.

But that heart-bond the plant and I share magnetizes situations to my life. I never seek it out; it finds me and permeates my world. If I meet a man randomly, he invariably turns out to be a grower or a medical patient or one of the key campaigners in legalizing the plant. How is that? Is there a particular pheromone that people in the weed industry give off that I am particularly attuned to? When Colorado passed legal full recreation Marijuana, one of my best friends quit his daytime job and became an indoor grower. I became his trimmer. I had a whole room filled with veg beauties to myself, my music, my food, my schedule, $20/hr, 10 hr days, for a week … enough to hike the AT. A few months later, I fell off hiking the AT, knocked down by some mysterious disease, and the first job I landed was a trimming job in Maine. That job paid in weed, which I couldn’t smoke, so I sold it to a friend and made just enough to move back out west. The very definition of a trimmigrant.

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California, Oregon, Washington and Maine passed legal full rec. That’s right about when the gravy train derailed. By then, weed trimming had become a staple income in my wallet. If the Grand Canyon tourist season didn’t pan out, Colorado was only 12 hrs away.

Down the street from where my CO grower lived, a couple was shot dead because thieves thought it was a grow house. They had the wrong house, but that incident sparked severe and likely justified paranoia in anyone with more than a few plants. When the plants flower, when they are ready to harvest, the smell is so potent that even from a closed room with incense burning the whole neighborhood is alerted of what lurks in the basement. It is legal, but it is also highly prized, because other states still have flourishing black markets. The speed of harvest is a grower’s best safety. And young stoners are catching on. Colorado now has teams of professional trimmers. $15/hr. They bring enough people to do the job in a day. They work all over the city, a different grow house every day, and therefore have a steady income. But not me – I only had one grower, and if my load is shared with a team of $15/hr trimmers, my income drops from $2000 to $200 a harvest.

Meanwhile, in Oregon, many of the 16,000 growers in Jackson county lost the legal right to grow. Weed is legal, but farms and grow-houses cannot be in residential zones.  The main man for whom I once worked was able to place himself on a commercial zone just in time. He now runs the largest legal grow operation in the area and has a small army of full-time trimmers/operators on staff, whom he pays minimum wages.

And in California’s Humboldt County, once the scene of a mad Green Gold Rush, trimmigrants from all over the states are washing out in towns, jobless and penniless. In Eureka, they gather behind Wall-mart, on the Devil’s Playground, where hundreds of homeless hopefuls have set up camps. I only saw it from a distance, but close enough to break my heart.

After a sad journey through the fallen glory of what once was a lucrative black market, I once again figured I would give up trimming. But just then, Tabitha found me.

Tabitha is a placement agent. Unlike the loose assembly of trimming stoners I met in Colorado, she creates teams of people with skills and respect for the plant. Her vision is to provide adventures and artists a means to finance their dreams, and to supply farms with a sort of elite skilled labor force. She contacts farms, signs contracts and provides paychecks. She offers her teams available gigs, and we get to pick when and where we want to work. She charges the farms more than they pay their own employees, but we make the sticker price worth their while. She pays us $14/hr, much less than the black market, but how many jobs let you travel all over, sleep in your truck, work when you want, and surround you with free-spirited like-minded people?

So, I gave it a shot.

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I did. I actually had to file a W4 and a job application for the first time since 1997. On site, we have to wear gloves and hair cover when we handle the plants. We have mandatory breaks and we pay taxes. I even have my own fiskars and a dedicated work apron. I am no longer a trimmigrant, I am a “professional marijuana processor”. Oh, that Man! He sure knows how to get you back into “The System”.

So, all that to say that if you are one of the people who contacted me, asking if I could “get you in”. Be aware that the gravy train was loaded onto a ship, and that ship has sailed. In those states where it is legal, trimming weed is now a job just like any other one. You won’t make $5000 fast, and it will likely not pay for your next adventure.

There are, however, still a few good reasons why I love doing it … but I’ll save that for another post. 🙂

cann

(top image by Katie, middle images by Jimmy James and myself, last image by Google).

Lunacy

​Lunacy. A real thing.  Alone on the Wolf Moon in a desert I love,  like so many other nights.  Midnight. A truck full of screaming drunken men races up my dirt road. There’s metal banging.  The engine roars. I can’t tell if the scream is of pain or joy. I feel the fight or flight hormones rushing through. The truck is now open and I’m ready. I could run and hide up the hill.  I know this desert better than they do.  And leave my truck open to vandalism?  Never. What weapons do I have? 1 ice axe, 2 fire staffs. No gun. No need. I wouldn’t shoot. I know this. The screams are closer now. Pots and pans must be tied to the bumper. What feeling is this?  The opposite of feeling safe. Would I feel safer if Jim was here?  I can’t rely on others for my feeling safe. Would I feel safer if I believed I was safe? Yes. I used to believe. I don’t know why it changed. Would I remain aware and believing in a loving, kind universe if these men got here? Fascinated by the inner dialog, I feel it all,  like an observer and a potential victim both.  

They turn around less than 20 feet from the truck. I am parked on a muddy dead end road.  They never saw me.  I find their tracks in the morning. They drove back and forth through the thickest of the mud. They broke some trees and drove over cacti. 

I follow their tracks all the way to the paved road. They were on a rampage. Mayhem and destruction everywhere they drove. I knew their path before I saw it. As they left the desert, I could hear their screams and see their red fading lights for miles. I wished those lights stay red.  Don’t turn around. Don’t come back here,  lunatic wolf moon madmen.

[Reposted here from a Facebook post from a few days ago]

*the Wolf Moon is the first full moon of the year.