CRUISING AMERICA - HALCYON DAYS

Nomads

WANDERLUST

 

-----There are positive and negative aspects of being nomads. It is easy to focus on the romantic appeal of a nomadic lifestyle. However, to be realistic, you should also recognize and evaluate your ability to cope with the negative side.

SOME THOUGHTS FROM COOPER HOLLOW

Cooper Hollow, Tennessee River, Alabama

-----Nomads. This word brings different images to mind in different folks. Some see hobos. Others feel the romance of being footloose. Wanderlust or just bums? We have received queries from folks, some with C-Dorys, about our nomadic lifestyle. These are two replies to the same question you might have: Should we do it?

The Open Road

-----Steinbeck wrote "God made hobos to make other men yearn." Some years ago, a Texas C-Dory owner took his boat easterly along the Gulf, around Florida and up the Atlantic coast to Chesapeake. There, overcome by homesickness, he turned southerly for home. We met him as we cruised the Texas coast - a charming gentleman. Now he is grounded by his wife's health problems. He loaned us his charts and more importantly, took the time to write out ideas and cautions for cruising "his" coast. He asked us to keep writing him about our experiences, and we have. He wrote back, "When I was on my trip, folks often said - 'I wish I could do that.' Today, when I read your letters, I say to myself those same words."

-----For some this lifestyle is impossible - physical, age, family, or financial constraints prevent it. We write our tale of Halcyon Days for them - for our friend Leon, in Texas - so we might vicariously enjoy this voyage together. He "can do that" with us. His warm smile and infectious generosity we carry in our hearts - he is surely with us.

-----For some few of you, however, this life seems a possibility. "Maybe some day I can do that," you think. Swinging on our hook in Cooper Hollow, we decided to write these thoughts for you.

-----Work life seems to present a conflict not easily resolved in 21st century America: time vs. money. Our first five years of marriage, we had jobs that paid well and promised security, but they didn't allow much time for fun. So, we quit them and took teaching jobs that paid half as much but gave long holidays. It didn't seem possible we could ever have both time and money together, nor was it. We lived in Nevada -- we knew casino odds. We could either play the red or the black.

-----Then we had a flash of insight - it isn't how much you earn that's important, but how much you spend. If we could resist the temptation for material things, we could reduce our expenses. Friends told us that was "positively un-American," and we certainly weren't the norm. We learned to live simply. We love the outdoors. Backpacking and bird watching can be inexpensive hobbies.

-----When my Dad was approaching retirement, he and Mom were planning what they would do in their new lifestyle. They had opted for security in their lives, and now, with retirement, they would have time and enough money. They could do all those things they had put off during their years of work and raising kids. We talked late into the nights about his plans. At sixty-three, he died on a business trip.

-----When we reached fifty, our last kid went off to college. We had no family responsibilities to tie us to a home. We were blessed with good health. We were physically strong and young enough to backpack and still, puffing, climb a mountain. We continued to live a frugal lifestyle.

-----The trap, however, was set. The "earning years" were ahead of us. In fifteen years, we could vest our retirement and draw the maximum return. We would finally have a bundle and time. We could "take those trips." Then, it struck us - those were Dad's words.

-----We quit our jobs - professions we loved. We sold our house, gave away everything (but the photo albums) to the kids who were starting homes or to Salvation Army. We bought a little used motor home and hit the road. We quickly found our expenses were halved without a house and things. More importantly, we discovered we never owned those things - they owned us. They were anchors in life. Anchors hold you in a storm, but they keep you rooted in place. We pulled the anchor.

-----We have since traveled to every continent. We have kicked around in youth hostels, driven around in used cars, and followed our dreams - crazy dreams. We lived in a cabin on the shore of Hudson Bay in February to experience the north in winter. We paddled 1,300 miles and two months down the Missouri River in a two-person kayak - the first three weeks we didn't see a soul. We put on our backpacks and for six months everything we needed was on our backs - we hiked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Trail-toughened, we headed for six months exploring and hiking New Zealand (yes - we did the Milford Track) and then another six months banging around the "back blocks" of Australia. We weren't 'on a tour.' We lived in cabins, youth hostels, and the back of our used station wagon.

-----We watched Leopard Seals from an inflatable off the Antarctic Peninsula, and then, afterwards, spent another few months kicking around Patagonia and the Chilean fjords in rental cars, buses, boats, and youth hostels. We spent a Christmas in Oaxaca to see the Radish Festival (yep, there is such a thing, and it is marvelous). We trekked in Nepal and then crossed the Himalayas on foot, bus, and Chinese Army trucks to see the Portala in Lhasa.

-----Two years ago, we boated up part of the Amazon with a local Indian fellow. That same summer we paddled canoes down the most remote river in North America - the Thelon - with our son, wolves, and musk oxen. Foor the past two years, we decided to ferret out five hundred species of North American birds - you wouldn't believe the places we had to go and what a feathered treasure hunt it was. We got #500 in Texas on our first Gulf coast C-Dory cruise. Have we seen it all? Lordy, no! Thoreau mused that the whole world was in his back yard and he was right. Many lifetimes could be spent out there without exhausting the possibilities.

-----What it requires is what we had in our youth, and can still muster in our older years - imagination, energy, and good health. SSo, was it a good choice to quit? For us, unequivocally, yes. It is a choice with risk. We have been lucky - especially, for good health.

-----What about our family? They, like most, have scattered from their home state. We see them more often, being footloose, than would have been possible if we were still in Nevada. We have been to the birth of each grandkid, helped families during illness or moving days, shared a week each year all together, and remained close.

-----And, for us - like Mehitabel, "oh, the things we've seen."

The Flip Side

-----For every yang, there is a ying. The reason few people are hobos is simple - it's a life of uncertainty, insecurity, and sometimes, simple discomfort.

-----Along with the litany of romantic-sounding travels, we can as easily relate the tales of the black flies, on that arctic canoe trip, so thick the horizon danced. Or the piranha in the Amazon, the ice storm in Antarctica, and the lumpy, hard beds in a Japanese monastery. Then, there were the screaming muscles exhausted from toting a 35-pound backpack up yet another mountain - or the harshness of a Texas norther when all that keeps you from shipwreck is a small anchor line - and you're sleepless much of the night knowing that fact.

-----Yep, there's a flip side. We find the challenge, closeness to nature, time for people and adventure compensates for that down side, - most would not. And lest you think this is a guy-thing, El is the one who wanted the small-scale, simple, boating life. Nothing gets El more quickly to her flash point than some macho dude on a Sportfish saying to Bill, "How did you get The Wife on the boat?"

-----We were tandem cruising on the Connecticut River with friends on their boat. NOAA radio said four days of wind and rain. We were holed up in a beautiful cove, weather protected, off the river. We saw four days on the hook as a delightful time to read and write and watch the beauties of storm from the intimate view of the water - they saw four days of prison - and headded to town for a house. Of course, we were the only ones swinging on a hook in that cove. It ain't for most - the smart ones bolt - for good reason.

-----Recently, we were tied off in a marina. A gal, strolling the marina, wanted to see inside our boat. On peering inside, she asked, with raised eyebrows, "You live on this boat?"

-----El replied, "Yes, for the past year."

-----She slowly shook her head, saying, "If I lived on this boat, I'd kill my husband."

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THE DOUBLE LIFE

By Don Blanding

How very simple life would be
 If only there were two of me
 A Restless Me to drift and roam
 A Quiet Me to stay at home. 
A Searching One to find his fill 
Of varied skies and newfound thrill. 
While sane and homely things are done
 By the domestic Other One. 
And that's just where the trouble lies;
 There is a Restless Me that cries
 For chancy risks and changing scene, 
For arctic blue and tropic green, 
For deserts with their mystic spell, 
For lusty fun and raising Hell, 
But shackled to that Restless Me 
My Other Self rebelliously 
Resists the frantic urge to move.
 It seeks the old familiar groove 
That habits make. It finds content 
With hearth and home dear prisonment, 
With candlelight and well loved books 
And treasured loot in dusty nooks, 
With puttering and garden things 
And dreaming while a cricket sings 
And all the while the Restless One 
Insists on more exciting fun, 
It wants to go with every tide, 
No matter where…just for the ride. 
Like yowling cats the two selves brawl 
Until I have no peace at all. 
One eye turns to the forward track, 
The other eye looks sadly back, 
I'm getting wall-eyed from the strain, 
(It's tough to have an idle brain). 
But One says "Stay" and One says "Go" 
And One says "Yes," and One says "No," 
And One Self wants a home and wife 
And One Self craves the drifter's life. 
The Restless Fellow always wins 
I wish my folks had made me twins. 

(11/01)

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