This summer has been wrought with smoke and fires in the Pacific Northwest and with no real relief in sight. Here are a series of pictures from our days here in the Methow Valley of north-central Washington. When its very smoky, we mostly stay indoors but at times we just gotta get outside for a bit. Most mornings I wake up and think “coastal fog” like our days living on the North Coast of California. Unfortunately its not the coolness of coastal fog but wildfire smoke from British Columbia, Montana, Oregon, and here in Washington.
For the full experience, go light a campfire, if you are on the east coast only, and take a deep breath. That’s what is smells like and this is what it looks like. It sure does make me appreciate clear air and gorgeous mountain views!
We bought this beast of a bus over two years ago, and spent so many hours and long nights tearing it apart and then putting it back together again, in a way that we dreamed up and designed and built. Did we finish it? Not quite. So many loose ends were flapping in the breeze when we pulled out of that tiny side-yard she’d been parked in for so long. There is trim missing, a tiny half-wall still to build so no one scoots their chair back and falls into the entry stairs, a door on the girls’ room, the tiny magnets that hold the pantry doors shut, drawer pulls on all the drawers that had been custom-made (some of which could still stand some tinkering). The plumbing wasn’t done (we installed the steel cages that hold the tanks under the bus the DAY before we moved – nothing like waiting til the last possible minute…), and the propane lines weren’t installed. But we packed the bus to the gills (didn’t realize just how much stuff we were taking!!), put the canoe and bikes and a plastic slide on the roof rack (also installed days before departure), said so many goodbyes and shed tears, and then took off, because it was time to go.
The drive north was so much smoother than I dared hope for. Slow – YES. SO SLOW. We averaged 45 miles an hour. But dang, that bus was so heavily loaded, but that Turtle just kept on going. There was not a single hitch in the drive up.
And so now we are here, and what is it like? Well, at first it was more like vacation – we parked at the second-home of dear friends, who generously offered up their driveway. It is the property that we came to first, and where we first looked at each other and said, “Well, this feels like home. How weird that we’ve never been here before.” And so we slowly unloaded the bus into a storage unit. I drove the bus to work for TWO DAYS – not exactly the ideal commuter vehicle. Then we slowly started working on the propane and the plumbing. And I mean S-L-O-W-L-Y. Heck, we STILL haven’t finished the plumbing. Between starting a job and getting to know the area, and visiting with friends who came to the valley, and trying to make new friends, there has been shockingly little time for finishing our new home. This fact in itself has been very frustrating for us – already it is August and we don’t have the sink plumbed or the tiny trailer bathroom even CLOSE to completion! In mid-July we moved from our friends driveway – the bus was parked in full sun and was getting ridiculously hot during the day. We are parked about one mile down the road, on the property of friends of friends of friends. It’s that kind of place. We are calling our new spot “Wolf Creek Woods” – we are in Ponderosa pines and keeping much cooler in general. One great thing about dry heat – the shade is so refreshingly cool. At our new parking spot we do not currently have electricity. These is power on the property, but it hasn’t been hooked up in years and the process of getting it connected is taking awhile. So, even if the sink was plumbed, our water pump wouldn’t work anyway, so we don’t have running water at present. Instead we use a big 5 gallon rubbermaid on the counter and a bucket under the sink to catch water. Rudimentary, but functional for the moment.
Some of the really joyful parts of living in the bus so far… the girls LOVE IT and are so excited to be there. On days when it was in the 90s inside the bus (parked at our friend’s house we were in full sun), those girls would be in there playing in their underwear! Their enthusiasm is quite a marvel to behold. At Wolf Creek Woods, amongst the pines, we are woken EVERY morning by the shockingly loud chitterings (how do you describe their sounds??) of red squirrels. We were actually woken the first two mornings by a red squirrel INSIDE the bus – we finally realized the driver’s window had been left wide open! Ah ha! Living in the bus feels very similar to camping. There are so many windows, and so many of them are open, the separation between inside and outside is very thin. We can hear so much of what is happening outside, and the wind blows through the whole bus. While we like this aspect of bus living, it is also making us think about all the ways we can make the separation greater in the winter months. We will have to make insulated curtains to cover the windows and the driving area. We will put plywood around the perimeter of the bus to stop wind from blowing underneath. We are about a day away from ordering our wood stove – the propane heater is installed already! Lots to think about. And one last thing about the joys of tiny bus life – it is much quicker to clean!! Although, as you can see from the photos, the girls desk is pretty much a cluttered mess (you can’t actually SEE the desk), but one can only spend so much of the summer days cleaning up after kids.
All in all, we are excited to be finally living in the bus – we’ve set up an outdoor kitchen, and the hammock and canoe often act as the outdoor living room. Whether we will stay in the Wolf Creek Woods through the winter or find a different place to park remains to be seen – we’ll keep you posted!
Nearly two months to the day after we arrived in the Methow Valley, we left Stone Meadow and moved a mere mile farther into Wolf Creek. Stone Meadow is both the house and land which welcomed us so warmly and completely upon our arrival. We didn’t know just how important it would be to have a first place to stay and one that we already knew so well (we stayed here every other visit to the Valley). Stone Meadow was where we first fell in love with this place and it made sense for us to return there before launching forth to an unknown nook of these amazing mountains. I remember our very first night, nearly six years ago, as we awaited the arrival of our friend. Kristin and I stood upstairs, sharing a beer and gazing wondrously at the land all around us. That very first night, we felt we had come home to a place we had never been before, and I knew that this was the place where I would live out my days and return to the earth at the end of them. My Great Changing would occur here. With each subsequent visit we were reminded of the deep, intuitive calling to live here and we have heeded that call. This all began at Stone Meadow. And now it is time for some place else to weave its thread into our tapestry. In gratitude I wrote these words on our final day:
This place, these stones, this sky
Intimate, still, and vast
Has seeped into my bones, and in my marrow
The ceaseless sound of flowing water.
And so with a bittersweet taste in our souls, we loaded up the bus again like a covered wagon and moved on down the road. We are now on the land of a friend of a friend of a friend, still in the area known as Wolf Creek but farther northwest into the woods. There are towering ponderosa pines and Douglas-fir trees above the bus, which are home to nuthatch and the constantly chittering red squirrel (two of whom visited us in the bus on each of our first two nights there). This new land has a completely different vibe, view and feeling. There are views to the east and we awake each morning with the force of the sun, heating up the bus and shining on our faces. We cannot hear the ceaseless sound of Wolf Creek but the Methow River is a short walk away. There is the sound of wind through trees and the glittering light of aspen leaves fluttering in the sunlight. We don’t know how long we will be here but for now this place contains the whole of existence.
Here are two moments from my day, both shared with one of the most amazing people in this world:
Sitting across the wooden table from each other, quietly eating our lunch – mac-n-cheese for her and leftovers for me – and she turns to me with a deadpan look and says, “There’s magic in this world. I know because I saw it.”
Like a hammer striking the sky, I was stunned by such a revelation, which of course I know to be true (but all too often forget due to being a “grownup”) and hoped she did as well. The world is full of magic but we seem to forget to see it.
Her eyes were ablaze with magic, excitement and wonder. They were twinkling like stars on a moonless night, like so many nights here in this valley. We looked at each other, smiles slowly emerging from within, creeping up from the corners of our mouths and spreading across our faces until we were both laughing. We laughed because we knew – there is magic in this world!
She’s sitting at the table, both elbows resting on its wooden surface for stability, a purple marker in her right hand. She is drawing and concentrating so hard on what she is doing that her tongue is sticking out ever so slightly. A quintessential act of concentration. Her map, of trails, campsites, lakes and rivers, is really coming together and now she is adding footprints to the trail.
I sit watching her, enjoying the look of concentration on her face and how it changes ever so slightly from moment to moment, especially the tongue, its position and how much is exposed beyond the lips. I guess I could be distracted by something – a book, dirty dishes, a smartphone or this journal – but this is far better than all that and more. Just here, just watching her drawing is enough and I am at peace.
I’ll tell you about the driver, who lives inside my head. Starts me and stops me and puts me into bed. Opens up my mouth when he wants me to talk and fires up my legs when he wants me to walk.
~Trey Anastasio and Tom Marshall
My experience has been that its impossible to know when something begins and ends, which leads me to believe that there are no endings and beginnings, although we tell ourselves it is so. It also seems true that it is not possible to say who is the driver, who is the driven and who is the driven-upon. This was my experience driving our tiny home school bus, which we have name the Cozy Turtle, from northern California to our new home in the North Cascades. Sure I turned the key to fire her up and I pushed hard on the accelerator, but once she got going she had a mind of her own and went where she wanted to. I coaxed her this way and that way to avoid old-growth trees, precipitous Pacific cliffs, guardrails and other automobiles but really I was encouraging rather than driving her.
Because of her size, mass and numerous blind spots (we all have numerous blind spots, don’t we?), she encouraged me to really pay attention. The radio didn’t work and the noise of the engine prevented hearing much of anything else anyway, so I really paid attention. There was a meditative quality to driving – the seat forced me to sit straight (no slouching) and my eyes were constantly scanning mirrors, looking up ahead and to the sides. There wasn’t anything else to do nor was it safe to be distracted. I felt driven to be a better driver by the Cozy Turtle.
And really where were we going. Yes we were heading north to the Methow Valley but we didn’t know how far we would get any given day, which started late and ended early. We had enough time so that we did not have to hurry, which took a lot of stress out of the experience. The Cozy Turtle, or “Old Bessie” as I called her while on the road, went slow which is really the only way to travel. Going slow and paying attention is the only way to ride.
So we went slowly, paying attention and without an agenda, on an unknown journey to a place we had been dreaming about for a long time.
In that land we led a free and hardy life, with horse and rifle.
We arrived a week ago in the old western town of Winthrop, Washington in that valley that will be our new home. If you want to say it correctly, its “Warshington.” We are excited to be here but it still feels a bit like we are visiting, rather than living here. Our first weekend, we had friends visit which was a great distraction from all the work that we still need to do on the bus. Plus we could not get into a storage unit for a few days and therefore the bus was full of our belongings (yes, simplicity is a main reason for living in the bus, but we are not about to get rid of all of our camping, backpacking, fishing etc gear) and we needed to clear it out before we could start living in it.
With our friends, we cooked and talked and laughed and hiked up Lookout Mountain. The wildflowers both down here in the valley and up in the mountains are amazing.
We took in the views of distant snow-capped mountains, drank in the beauty of wildflowers and ultimately our path was blocked by snow so we did not make it all the way to the top.
A wonderful weekend spent with close friends was the perfect way to begin our new life here in the Methow Valley.
The desire to go home that is a desire to be whole, to know where you are, to be the point of intersection of all the lines drawn through all the stars, to be the constellation-maker and the center of the world, that center called love. To awaken from sleep, to rest from awakening, to tame the animal, to let the soul go wild, to shelter in darkness and blaze with light, to cease to speak and be perfectly understood.
All great journeys begin in exhaustion. Birth. Death. This. I am exhausted – in part because I did not sleep well last night on a thin air mattress and in part because we have been working so hard of late to make this journey possible.
We tend to think that journeys take us some place else but in fact they take us right back where we started from. Right here, right now. Home.
It has been said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. But for us humans, that step is usually preceded by a thought. And that thought with an intention. Actually before and after, like the feet in walking, is impossible to know. For us, I cannot say where this all begin but I do know that it begin with an intention and a vow – to live simpler, more deliberate. To root ourselves in place, community, love and beauty. Love and beauty, perhaps, beyond all else. To find ourselves perfectly and beautifully at home with who we are, where we are and what we are. Rebecca Solnit said that, “The desire to go home (is) a desire to be whole” and to be a “point of intersection.”
I have felt that here on the north coast of California. Our home and our life has been a gathering place, a confluence of children and friends and chickens. It is damn hard to say goodbye to this place, which has seeped into our bones like winter rain, summer fog, incoming tides, and especially the people who have been so kind to us. I only hope I have been able to reciprocate the gifts of friendship, love and laughter that have been given freely to us.
We journey to the north, knowing that “the journey itself is home,” as Basho wrote, to the North Cascades where rivers meet. We hope that our life will continue to be a place where people come together, a confluence, where we may awaken from our sleep or rest from our awakening. May we continue to blaze with light and be sheltered in the darkness!
To our Humboldt friends – a deep bow and a warm hug! Thank you for nourishing our life here, you mean the world to us!