Castles in the Air

I crave a life of simplicity. On road trips as a child, I would stare out the window, looking at trees, abandoned houses and barns that we passed and imagine myself living within their shadows, unseen.

On runs by the river I pass a hollowed area within overgrown bushes and drooping tree limbs right beside the rushing water. It has changed since I first saw it. At first there was only a tarp draped over a floor made of flattened cardboard boxes. Now it has been replaced by a very nice tent. Every time I pass no one is there, but it is obviously occupied. There is a line tied between trees where washed clothing hangs drying. How does that person trust that no one will touch his stuff? There may be a code among itinerant folk, but I bet there are many outlaws among them. Maybe he doesn’t worry about it.

My ideal spot would not be visible to just anyone passing by, but still close to the water. I would carry a hunting knife and the machete that my father gave me. I would have good, sturdy boots to keep my feet dry. In my pocket I would have a smooth river stone to rub when I feel nervous. I would re-purpose found things-things that were discarded by others, but still have usefulness to a hobo like me. I’d have to have a few books: Jane Eyre, Huckleberry Finn, Walden, and To Kill a Mockingbird for sure. I couldn’t carry very many, but library cards are free. I doubt they would accept “a van down by the river” as my address, though.

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.

Henry David Thoreau knew what was up. Life can be messy and chaotic. This is why I escape to these fantasies that would surely be less peaceful in reality. I would never want to fly signs by the interstate. I can’t abide mosquitoes. I hate to go more than a day without washing my hair. I am ridiculously allergic to poison ivy. But to strive for more, or rather less…isn’t this the key to happiness? To let go of stuff and to be free of WANT and finally be CONTENT sounds like heaven.

I like some forms of chaos. Like a cluttered attic full of old things. I could spend all day touching old fabric, smelling old books, reading old letters. I appreciate these things with reverence. Other people’s things leave echoes. My own junk, however, piling up until it feels like suffocation…I want it gone. Except for my books, which don’t seem like clutter. I don’t have the energy to confront the mess, though. I’m sure my therapist would have something profound to say about that. I don’t go to him anymore.

I love found and free things. My husband scored a free shed from my neighbor. He towed it to our yard using a borrowed truck and a few logs of wood. We’re fixing it up as a party barn/playhouse using free and cheap materials. We found a working A/C window unit and leftover vinyl flooring that looks like wood to use in the loft my husband built. He scrounged wooden pallets and deck boards for a porch. He even scored some brand new insulation his office was discarding. Trying to do it all on the cheap is part of the fun.

The minimalism lifestyle speaks to me, despite my natural tendency to hold onto things just in case. I’ve tried to practice asking myself “do I NEED this?” Most of the time, the answer is no. “Do I LOVE this?” Most of the time, no. If I continue this trend with things and even with people, maybe life will begin to feel a little less crowded with STUFF and nonsense.

When the lights go out during a storm, we light candles and huddle together. We talk and laugh or just sit staring into the fire that is inevitably built, even if it’s warm outside. Somehow no one is ever bored. The bickering dies down and we are cocooned in silence and darkness like a blanket shielding us from the world. If only we could live in that wondrous and magical state all the time! When the lights come back on, there is a sense of loss. The electrical hum to which we had become accustomed roars in our ears as we return to our distractions and chores.