Saturday, January 16, 2010

We keep waiting for your footsteps

Lonely tent in morning light

It’s January and I’m camping alone, at Bucks Pocket State Park. I’ve done this once before, a solo overnight in January, as preparation for the Appalachian Trail. This time it’s just a lark. The advantage of camping in Alabama when it’s below forty degrees, and there are isolated patches of snow on the ground, is that I have the campground entirely to myself.

What’s incredible is how easy it actually is to do. I just threw my gear in the trunk, hopped in the car, and drove. I didn’t even know where I was going to end up. I followed road signs and GPS to a likely-sounding spot. Now I hear a rush of water to my right. My little fire holds back the darkness. The stars burn bright. I’m writing on actual paper, not keys, and the whole experience makes me feel like did on my boat, when I was actually living, not just putting in time.

It’s amazing how many more experiences fit into the same 24-hour day when I choose to live and not just exist. I haven’t been this alone, truly alone, in a long time. I haven’t proved to myself that I can do things alone. Things like pitch a tent in the dark, a tent that I stuffed in its sack and forgot five years ago. Things like build a kick-ass fire in under five minutes. Like survive outdoors in the winter.

I’m here because I’m hunting a piece of land. I want to see if I can find a home here, a real home somewhere in the middle of nowhere. On my drive today, the radio played me Roseanne Cash’s new version of “500 Miles.” I don’t want to be 500 miles away from home anymore. I don’t want home to feel forever out of reach, just beyond the next bend in the trail, across the next swell, over the next ridge. Home can be here, if I let it be.

Or can it? This state is notoriously hostile to outsiders, and I have exactly the wrong accent. Here I claim Maine, as it seems the closest state in ethos if not in voice, and no one down here has the least idea how a Mainiac sounds. In Maine, I was told I had a Southern accent. If that’s not irony, I don’t know what is.

Why is it so hard for any of us, me included, to do this? To jump in a car and cut ties with the known world? Because once I do it, it’s not hard at all. All it requires is a pair of figurative cojones and a good sleeping bag. But it’s still so, so hard. I fought against my own plan for days. I’m not sure if I was more afraid of wandering through the backwoods alone, or of allowing myself to find a place to put down roots.

I know, you’ve heard it from me before. And you’ll hear it again, I’m sure. My quest for home, unlike that of Ulysses, may be one that doesn’t have an end.

It’ll drop below freezing tonight. It may rain. I have twelve acres on a dirt road to survey tomorrow, and six acres outside Tuscaloosa on Saturday. Tomorrow I do the hunt for a campsite all again.

I can do it. I know I can--both the hunt for a home and for the road less traveled. Once I set out, the easiest thing in the world is doing exactly what I should do. If I believe and don’t doubt. If I allow myself to make mistakes. If I refuse to allow other people’s opinions of me to matter. It’s the hardest thing in the world, too.


Ellen D. said...

Interesting thoughts on looking for and wanting to find a home, Melissa. (Two different things, you seem to be saying.) I wouldn't worry too much about being an outsider. I think what Alabamians object to in 'foreigners' is 'know-it-all-ness'. An interested, humble attitude,and willingness to work and pay your own way goes far. You may never be an insider, but you can be loved and admired and sometimes included, and that should be enough.

I recently read (wish I could remember where) a quote that said, 'It is none of your business what other people think of you'. I've been turning that over, trying to decide if it is true. It is certainly a liberating thought.

Melissa said...

You know, I wrote this post before I had spent much time down there, and I found all of the stereotypes about Alabamians to be wrong. So far, at least. I loved the people I met. They were gracious, kind, unassuming, welcoming. The thing I did find to be true was that things moved at a different pace down there, in the country, a slower pace. I could really get used to that.

Rachael said...

Hi Melissa,
I ran across your blog today and really enjoy it. I've only read a few of your most recent posts but a lot of it sounds a lot like me. I also like your post on how hard it can be to be around your family and to constantly be reminded that you are still between step 2 and 3. Actually I've liked all the posts I've read thus far, they resonate with me and discuss the depth of life that I am not brave enough to post on my own sight.

One of my favorite movies has a scene where this young lady was explaining that she was always moving around as a child and that she really like this old ladies life, who had always stayed in one place. In response the lady said "Well that's ok, some people carry home more on the inside." It is a phrase that has always helped me when I am bothered by not having a place to call home. So maybe you don't need to make an eternal quest out of finding a home and just realize that maybe you are already home.

Give Alabama some time. I really grew to adore it. I enjoyed the people a lot but the land is where true beauty of the place lies. I grew up in Michigan and then went to UofA for school so I understand the experience of being an outsider.

Now I'm still a little unsure of how your life works and if you are constantly camping and moving around or if you stick around in a place for a little while. If you are staying around Tuscaloosa for a bit and want to meet some cool people I would suggest going to the Downtown Pub on Friday nights. They have a club called the Druid City Drinking club and they are usually there on Fridays. They also have lots of other fun events. You can also check out this website. It will tell you all the different things going on around town. Also if you are going to stay in Alabama for a bit I would suggest you canoe the Tensaw Delta. It's absolutely amazing and they have a lot of nicely marked trails you can go on and place to camp along the river.

Sorry this might be too much information, you might not even be in Alabama by the time you read this, but I figured I would pass along the information just in case.

Lamanda said...

Hey Melissa! You quest for land sounds wonderful, and camping in the winter, brings back memories of our camping years ago in a deserted campground! I miss you dear one, and hope that you are well! I'm moving into my village tomorrow, starting to settle down for two years, so very strange to me! Write when you can, Amanda

Melissa said...

Thanks for the comments, Rachael! I see you are in Taipei.... Lucky you. And lucky my friend Amanda--who gets to spend the next two years in Madagascar! (I'm working on a vast package, with CD and letter and hopefully candy. You might get it sometime this millennium.)

I'm actually planning another vast camping trip and land-hunting expedition through Alabama in March, so thanks for the tips!