Three unusual things happened recently:

1)   I lived out of my car for two and a half weeks while homeless (ok, not that unusual but considering that I haven’t had the car for a year, it counts)

2)   I started a job where I get paid to ride multi-thousand dollar horses on a 5,000 acre ranch owned by a billionaire whose name I’m forbidden by law to disclose. The land just happens to be situated at the at the base of  12,965 Mt. Sopris.

3)   I signed a year lease.

Whooooa, back up the train, a year lease? I can barely believe so myself.

What happened to the nomad? I used to be deathly afraid of any lease terms longer than one month. Where did the great idea to save money on rent by not paying it and using saved funds to travel around the world go? How can I stay in motion if I’m tied to one location?

But here’s the weird part: I wasn’t even that nervous. I didn’t sweat, get the shakes while scribbling my John Hancock, I might’ve even smiled. Brendan and I checked out the 1bd, 1bath with a loft early on a June morning and, days away from being kicked out of our current month to month situation (due to 30 days notice, not delinquency). We tromped through the overgrown yard, peered into the small kitchen (a gas stove!), bathroom, bedroom, wound up the wooden stairs to the loft where skylights lit the tiled floor and glass doors lead to a deck modestly adorned with a view of  Sopris. We’ll take it! And we did. The catch? We couldn’t move in until July 1, 15 interminably long days away.

The other two unusuals began simultaneously. On the day we moved into our vehicles, I began my ranch job. Suddenly I was thrown into 10 hour days in the saddle, spent wandering the aspen groves, open meadows, tumbling mountain streams and evergreen stands at the base of Mt. Sopris, but at the end of those 10 hours I had no place to go home to. Neither did Brendan after his 12 hour days setting up bear snares for the Dept. of Wildlife. And I realized two important things then about homelessness: it’s easier to be homeless when you are in the energetic naivety of your early 20’s, and it’s much easier to be homeless when you don’t add a boyfriend and dog into the equation of where to sleep each night. More bodies create complications.

But we made it through all 360 hours of the 15 days and here we are, in a home, collecting baggage, i.e. furnishings (ooh I cringe at the thought of owning furniture, mostly because I cringe at the thought of taking it with me to the next place), unpacking our boxes that have been packaged since California, and marveling at the convenience of having a kitchen once again (not only a kitchen but our kitchen, not our camp stoves or a kitchen shared among five). The weird thing: despite my phobia of commitment of belongings and lease terms, I actually kind of like this. I like the security of knowing I’m going to be in one spot, with one other person for a year. The loose structure of this arrangement creates parameters in which to plan, set goals and grow in a single location, single community, single space for a fixed period of time. Am I growing old? Maybe, whatever that means, or maybe I’m just growing up. And who knows, at the end of the year I could hop in my car and zoom off to the next location. Or I could zoom off for a couple of weeks and return right back to where I started. Motion is in the person afterall, not the place, and having somewhere to come home to isn’t so bad, not so bad at all.

Advertisements

Yesterday I joined two friends for a wander in among the dips and hills and wave-crashed coastlines of Tennessee Valley, just north of San Francisco in Marin. Our hike began beneath heavy cloud cover but before long we climbed above the fog. Our sneakers sank into the muddy trail underfoot, our eyes scanned the white cloud band below for intermittent glimpses of the Pacific. We tromped along the coastal path to Pirate’s Cove, stepping into and out of foggy patches that exposed glimpses of the rocky shores. A mile from the parking lot, our trail crested a high ridge and the rolls and rounded peaks of the Bay Area, the house dotted hillsides of Saulsalito, and the skyline of the city framed between the sides of a valley, were spread out before us. A gentle breeze blew past, a large bird sailed overhead. We paused for a moment, exclaimed ‘oh, it’s so beautiful!’ and then continued on our way, back to the packed streets, packed schedules, packed public spaces of city life.

After six months of San Francisco, I continually ask the question: how the hell do people do this? I keep hoping that with time the densly populated lifestyle will get easier, the concrete stretches more soft and giving, the many public park sufficient substitutes for real nature. If anything the experience becomes more challenging each day. I seek and grab any opportunity to escape to the world beyond the city, hoping that doing so will refresh my perspective and allow me to open myself to the city again. Excursions beyond the Golden Gate, Bay Bridge, or 101 South have become mental breaks but also painful reminders of how good life can be in quieter, greener, less populated settings, reminders that make return each time more challenging.

But, there’s something to be said for pushing yourself through an experience that challenges your every last resolve. If life were easy, it would be boring. My 45 minute daily walk to work is peppered with scenes I’d often rather not see–a crackhead lurching down the sidewalk at Market St. and Jones, his eyes rolling uncontrolled like marbles in their sockets; the bums that dot the lawns of city hall pushing their shopping carts overflowing with trash bags of their belongings, peeing, defecating in the bushes; rows on rows of buildings, sidewalks, streets, accompanied by the incessant swoosh, whoosh, honks of cars busses, trucks, cabs, trains passing by, so densly packed that the sun sometimes is hidden by the sky scrapers. But the walk is also filled with sights I enjoy–polished women in funky couture coats and every variety of knee high boot; the herd of bicyclists, many donning suits, that flood Market Street en route to work; the sophisticated storefront displays of the downtown Anthropology, Gucci, Versace; the white tents and mouthwatering local, fresh produce of the Civic Center Farmer’s Market. Despite the discomforts, witnessing this raw variety of life everyday makes me feel strangely connected to humanity and the human experience of life in this concentrated 7 mile by 7 mile square of the world. And that’s something I wouldn’t feel so easily in a small mountain town.

So maybe that’s how people do it: they take the bad with the good and simply live their lives. Or they just don’t get caught dwelling on it all like I do. Or they block out the less appealing facets of the city with headphones and an IPod (which I also have taken to doing), and celebrate the more appealing ones.

Or some people do this–they appreciate the culture, the diversity, the human connections, the entertainments of the city for a time. Once they’ve had their fill, they return to life on the quieter, greener, perhaps more mountainous other side with a slightly broader world view, expanded not by traditional institutional education, but simply by life.

I’m sitting on my inflated Thermarest camping mattress on the hardwood floor of my new room in Lower Haight. In the absence of furniture, my belongings are half-falling out of boxes and scattered around the hardwood floor, my yoga mat, Thermarest and sleeping bag are my bed, a box of books my computer stand, mug on the floor my water glass. I’ve entered the nesting phase of moving, that glorious span of days when my belongings explode out of their respective boxes, suitcases, containers and I can finally really see what I actually own. Much like the artist’s process of painting a rough outline of indiscernible shapes before filling in the details, this nesting phase is a vital part of the art of moving.

Moving, like creating art, is a continual process of refinement. We refine our understanding of ourselves and the world around us by observing  our reactions to new places and situations. We experience new things that we don’t like, that further solidify the things that we prefer. For instance, I once spent three months living in a yoga ashram. While it was an enlightening experience in more ways than one, it also confirmed that living situations that are far removed from the bustle and activity of the rest of the world do not suit me well. I like the option of being able to walk a couple of blocks, or right down the stairs, for a cup of coffee and hum of a coffee shop espresso machine. I enjoy witnessing others  living out their lives whether they are doing so on the quiet streets of Carbondale, Colorado or on the busy corner of Haight and Fillmore. Thanks to my experiences in a situation not ideal, I come closer to placing myself in a situation that is ideal. For some people this constant refinement of their opinions and desires is disconcerting, for others, it is fulfilling.

The most important thing to maintain while moving continuously is some sort of grounding force. For most people, a home, a kitchen, a bedroom, a lazyboy chair-those are the things that ground them. Location is foundation. For the nomad, foundation is more elusive, it needs to be fostered in ways beyond physical location. For me, a mug of fresh coffee in the morning–even when sipped to the chaotic rhythm of horns honking in Kathmandu–is foundation, gazing at my belongings spread out on an empty floor, the heart pounding effort of a long run through a new neighborhood. These are tangible pieces of connectedness that supersede a steady location.

Not to say having a solid homebase isn’t at times a wonderful and very welcome thing. That’s part of the art of moving, too: knowing when to stop. For now, even if only a six month span or so, I’m content to let my physical motion settle in the high ceilings of this old Victorian in Lower Haight, and for the refining process of this new living experience to begin.