Comfort Zones

Out Of My Comfort Zone

A week in the Northeast shows me how much of a Southwesterner I am. Twenty years, more really, spent in the mountains of New Mexico and Colorado have shaped me, confined me, held me and let me grow into who I am now. A long way from that arrogant yet insecure young traveling Brit who came to Santa Fe with a backpack and little else, not even a green card stuffed in with the teddy bear and juggling clubs.

This. Sitting in the White Mountains of Maine in a little seven-campsite National Forest spot next to a forty-acre pond deep in the hills. I let the kids, the pets that is, wander freely. No longer do I worry about Stevie the cat, not once we’re in the trees and hills. This is our comfort zone. The first thing I did once here was finally fall deep asleep. For two hours. After a week of running on adrenalin, it’s a sign, reminder, that this is where I need to be, in nature, smelling a musky stagnant pond, watching a symphony of leaves rustle under the command of a gentle breeze that announces itself in the treetops before reaching down to the underbrush.

Instead though, I’ve been frantically moving for weeks now. Setting up my home for a new tenant, putting in that screen door, painting the floor in the main room (easier than cleaning it), and picking up around the acre of fenced property she’ll be using. It’s amazing how many details there are to take care of when moving. I had no idea. This is a first for me, to consciously move, sell up random extras, fix a home for another to love, take care of banking, post office, payments and bills. Then we were off in the van and comfort took over once again, sleeping and driving and exploring brought me hourly smiles. The dogs took to it once again, and Stevie? Well, he hid once on the road, popping out in the campgrounds to climb trees and shit in the woods.

The town life is not for me. Dense woodland is not for me. Loss of mountain views and huge open rangeland stifles me. And then followed by an afternoon in Portland? Well, it was too much, I didn’t see the ocean, couldn’t deal with the traffic all around, the noise of brakes, people yelling, cops and fire trucks streaming/ screaming past us, it’s all too much. Sensory overload, a fragile system shorted out all coping mechanisms. I ran for the country again with pets locked down in the back, we slept on the side of a street in a small town next to a lake before finding this pond in the White Mountains.
The town life of Montpelier is doable. Doable. Not great but I can manage a town of eight thousand, one you can walk end to end in half an hour. I park by the college, hook up dogs to leashes, lock Stevie inside the van with windows and screens in place for a breeze but no jail-break, and off we’d go, me and the pups. None of us are used to cars, traffic lights, construction zones, or walking on pavement. Country dogs we are, myself included. Thoroughly out of our usual lifestyle, I persist because quitting is not an option. We’re here for the next three years.

Comfort zones are interesting to me. What I’ve experienced all these years, the places I’ve dropped into, and the conversations had and images stored. They fill my brain, waking and dreaming, to the point of squeezing them back onto paper is a relief. Writing them out loosens me, like now, at this table in Crocker Pond, Maine. The breeze shakes out a few leaves onto Rosie’s white fur as she sleeps against my left foot. Harold is behind me and Stevie, the little bugger, is under the van once again. He’s been on the shit list today, running off in a town this morning and hiding from me for three hours and twenty-six minutes. He wasn’t lost or he’d call for us. He’d meow until we played Marco-polo and he’d come back. Or that’s the usual pattern. He knew where I was, where the dogs were, where the camper van was, but he would not show himself for three hours and twenty-six minutes. Then I started the van, moved it into the shade of a birch and killed the engine as I mentally prepared to tell my friends that Stevie had moved to Maine while I’d moved to Vermont. Then here he comes and strolls past me. I grabbed him, tossed him inside like an unwanted bag of spinach, and slammed doors shut. Then I swam in the lake, alone, to drown that anger simmering on the surface.

Crocker Lake in the White Mountains appeals to all of us, dogs, cats and human all. The sunshine flickers across this laptop, the beer is cool and the afternoon slow moving. The pond is empty yet I’m not ready to swim in it. The signs warning of black bears haunt the toilets and tables. I’m not worried though. This is better, easier, than a town or city. This is my comfort zone. All those years of bear phobia have turned into a moment of knowing, an ease in the world of predators and prey. I sip the bear, oops, I mean beer, and wonder what that sound was in the trees behind us. The dogs didn’t flinch so it’s nothing much. Harold would be in the driver’s seat if anything scary were approaching. Stevie would climb into the engine bay on the radiator. Rosie is the sole protector, the smaller of the two dogs; she’d stay near me and bark, bark, bark, a monotonous warning. It works. We listen out for each other after six years together.

How then am I going to deal with Montpelier? If I’m at home in the hills, in wide-open spaces or with water to gaze upon? I don’t know. Finding a home in the country was the first challenge and I’m thankful to be offered a home share not too far out, in a log home with a meadow and apple trees, gardens and sheds, one that I can explore and fix up as I stay there. The hills aren’t closed in on the home; the deck looks out to a bigger picture than most do in this place of dense forests and private land. I can do it, there at Anne’s place, I can breathe. I’ll be working, yes, in another city, commuting through the passage of thick forests and past farmland, a drive of an hour each way. I’m okay with that. Driving is my place of comfort even if it’s for work and not pleasure, I can do that.

What is your comfort zone? For some I know, it’s the same old conversations at the local coffee shop and pubs, day in and day out, complaining about having to drive to Santa Fe for errands, reluctant to leave their little town of like-minded liberals. The home brings comfort. I get that, the home base, it’s a beginning and an end for me, where to relax and where to leave as often as possible. An ongoing split of desire for my familiar and the need to see, observe and note the new. How will I ever truly relax though if I need both? How do I create both in an unfamiliar place like Vermont? By that, the mix, finding a new mix that will work with responsibilities of pets, home, work and college.

I’m hoping that my stay at Anne’s will give me the steadiness of a home, and that the commute to a social job in Burlington will feed the need for conversations and the physicality of driving.

As to college? That’s the reason I’m here, breaking through to a new layer in myself. Tired of not living up to my potential, a phrase that’s haunted me since middle school, I need the challenge. I’ll get it too. A master’s degree in Fine Arts will challenge me thoroughly. I can’t wait. I need this. Stability in the storm of an unsettled mind like mine. I just hope the faculty like me in person and not only my words on paper and screen. Off-centre in an unfamiliar and academic setting, I’ll not be at my best, but my writing comes freely, it’s containing it that we’ll be working on, looser yet tighter both, stopping this stream and the inconsistent floods of verbal diarrhea and creating a sustainable process despite all the upheavals I put myself through in the aim of ‘experiencing’ life. This will be interesting as is homemade beer. Try it and see, I tell myself; it’s all part of the process.
Now then is time to make that campfire, grill up the mushrooms, and settle in for another night in the woods. I’m okay with that.
2.

What is it about a basement that affects me so? Instant depression. Lying down to hope that tomorrow comes faster. Why? This would still be my temporary home, wouldn’t it? Claustrophobia? What’s the opposite of agoraphobia? Scared of waking those suicidal tendencies? Monsters haunt the attic of my brain. The worst of the worst climbs out and claims me. This basement’s damp cold sends me to bed with clothes on and covers over shoulders. The dogs and cat claim the other inches left free on this single bed. The rain starts up once again.

“Is this more rain than normal?” I asked the landlady as we mopped the kitchen floor.

“Yes. This hasn’t happened before though.”

Seeping through the tiles, the kitchen and bathroom have puddles building day in and out and we were sliding towels under our sandals.

The rain comes in the afternoon and the wheels of the trucks speeding past my dungeon window reminds me of days, months in London that drove me down into a darkness that scares me. Is is still within me?
The drive back from Maine was through thick dense woodland, searching for an open field, a meadow, a picnic table overlooking a valley below in the Green Mountains. Knowing these exist in a packed landscape will be my escape route. Finding them, the challenge.
Claustrophobia usually refers to rooms, attics, and basements, not the bigger environment. Am I spoilt by those years in New Mexico? Huge views that cross an empty mesa and valley to the Jemez Mountains to the west of the twenty acres I call home? Sunsets down past the Sandia Mountains? And not another home light to remind me that I’m not alone. But maybe I like being alone? That’s another discussion. This is space. Use of space. Psychological space. Physical space. Comfort of space. Need for it, cravings, passions, itching, breathing, and tall open high space. Need. But why? Why? That is the question of my childhood. Apparently I haven’t grown out of it. Nor have I found the answers.

 

3.

The larger range of space that a person considers to be “near,” the more likely it is he or she will feel claustrophobic, according to a study published in June in Cognition (Vol. 119, No. 3).

At root is a phenomenon by which phobias either cause people to perceive the world differently than those without such fears. “We’ve known for a long time that fear and anxiety can disrupt cognitive processes,” says Stella F. Lourenco, PhD, a cognitive psychologist at Emory University in Atlanta, who led the study. They found that the larger an area that the person claimed as ‘near space’, the more claustrophobic and anxious they become as that large space shrinks. It’s hard to explain the process of this study but it seemed that we have a comfort zone of a specific distance and as it gets closer to us, our visual perceptions also change as to how close that really is. Perhaps then, the sixty miles of empty high desert has ruined me for anything else? In which case, three years in Vermont will be one hell of a challenge.

Systematic desensitization is the process recommended for agoraphobics, the opposite of my own anxiety. Well, yeah, that’s the only way I can figure this out since I’m here in the woods and valleys of Vermont, desensitize myself. What will be the escape route though on a daily level? Finding a home with open land nearby, one to walk easily and breathe deeply. The sense of congestion is worse when my views are limited to only hundreds of feet. Chest tight. Fingers twitch. Nerves shake. Patience gone. Sorry pups. I don’t mean to bitch.

“Patients must remain in the situation until anxiety has abated, because if they leave the situation, the phobic response will not decrease and it may even rise.” A related exposure treatment is in vivo exposure, a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy method that gradually exposes patients to the feared situations or objects to lessen the reactions over time. Yep. Time for a walk in the woods then. Followed by a cup of tea in bed.

 

4.

Polly. Meet Polly, a blind and mentally impaired goat. She used to panic when she couldn’t sense her humans near by. But then they found a duck costume in the kids’ section of a local store. Polly now wears her costume and even falls asleep in the shopping cart as they go to the grocery store. Polly is calm.
Imagine us then in the forests, walking Harold and Rosie, with Stevie the cat following along, and with me in a yellow duck costume. Happy. I can do that.

Time Out In Marfa, Texas

Published January 2017 with http://www.fempotential.com/marfa-texas/

Here is a copy of the text for you.

January was a good time to take a road trip, the holidays are over and nothing’s going on. Although, I’ll be honest, having been land-locked in Madrid NM for four months with only a couple of weekends away, town was feeling claustrophobic. It was driving me crazy. Winter so far in New Mexico has been pretty gentle with little snow and mild temperatures, nothing to challenge or keep me engaged. My home was finally finished enough to stay warm and comfortable, and with that in mind, I rented it for a week onAirbnb, packed the camper van, and took off south. I needed a break. I needed a plan of action. What next? How can I make a living as a travel writer? Or as a traveling writer? What’s the big deal about Marfa? Why go there?

Marfa, TX is a small town of 2,000 in far western Texas near the Davis Mountains. Big Bend National Park is 135 miles due south.  Would I head that far south? Who knew.

The night before I left town, it snowed. A good few inches covered the roads and Ortiz Mountains and in a 2wd van, the worries got to me and I didn’t sleep so well. Should I take the interstate instead of a country highway? Which would be safer? Highway 285 was shorter but would there be enough traffic to be safe? Ah, to hell with it, I needed an adventure. Highway 285 from Santa Fe was mostly clear but for some slush and a few snow banks, the traffic was light, and my pets cranky. Rosie, a lab mix, couldn’t settle down. She’d sit in the passenger seat, bounce down, push Harold off the bed in the back. Repeat. For nine hours. Stevie, the cat, hid under the bed, sulking. Poor Harold, a big baby of an Akita mix, shrugged at Rosie’s pacing energy. I drank cold coffee and kept on driving. I needed a time-out. Just like Rosie.

So, yes, why did I head to Marfa? Probably because the forecast was for it to be warm enough for tee shirts in the afternoons, plus some good friends of mine love the place. Suzie is an artist and she’d told me some of the history of Marfa. In the 1970’s, a famous New York artist, Donald Judd moved out to Marfa and created an outdoor sculpture garden of his works in concrete. The Chinati Foundation has become one of the major draws to the town, with celebrities, artists of all mediums, and tourists who all flock to the compound on the edge of town. There is also her favorite place, the Hotel Paisano, where James Dean last acted in a movie before his death. Marfa is now known for its history, the Hotel Paisano, the art galleries, the Public Radio station, and even the Marfa Music Festival in March. It has a lot to live up to.

We arrived late that weekend night and set up camp at Tumble In RV campground on the eastern side of town. I’d picked it deliberately for the proximity to town, its claim to having a walkable path into the downtown district (it didn’t), and a space for tents and campers not just RVs. Late at night, a sub-freezing night, after nine hours driving through snow half of that time, I was depleted and yes, as cranky as my critters. Tumble In was not as I’d hoped. The tent camping area is a bare patch of cut tumbleweeds with strips of gravel to show where to park. No shelter, no picnic tables, no grills or firepits. It was basically a parking lot. I hated it. So did the dogs and Little Stevie, my cat. Too many burrs, no shade, nowhere to walk as we were fenced in by barbwire and three-foot tall weeds. The shower in the morning made up for it. That and a cup of coffee.  Then once refreshed and in a better mood, I looked for a camp host but no, there wasn’t one, just a self-check in booth within a vintage travel trailer. Walking the pups around the RV park, I noticed the overflow area to the rear of the land, closer to the railway but away from the highway and parking lot. With no one to tell me otherwise, I set up camp back there and with Stevie locked in the camper, the dogs and I walked along the path to town. We had to scramble quite a bit so don’t expect a clear pathway to follow, we crossed an arroyo and down a sandy bank to get to a paved street.

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It was a Sunday morning, the church bells were ringing, and having drunk a good cup of coffee at the van, my mood improved with the sunshine and clear skies. The railway was surprisingly busy with three trains shipping containers and vehicles eastward all morning, yet I was still able to let the dogs run free along the track for a while. Until the rabbits tempted them onto the highway to the south of us and my tensions grew again. Damn it. I came here to relax, right? Putting them on leashes is never an easy accomplishment –  they’re country dogs and I’m lazy. Oh well. You do what you have to.

Judd’s minimalist aesthetic really has taken a hold of town; it was a quirky mix of old adobe structures, with rusted iron window frames and clean lines of new concrete. I liked the juxtaposition of old and new but how was it for the long-term residents to see their homes and town be so gentrified? The streets were empty though, that sleepy Sunday feeling perhaps? No, the rest of the week there, it was rare to see anyone walking around. There were few options for hanging out or talking to locals. There were few options for distractions from other people at all. I was alone with my thoughts as usual.

Walking down Austin Street, I came across a laundromat with a handful of folks sitting outside sipping coffees. Frama café didn’t exactly advertise itself but word of mouth and being the only café to be found, it stayed busy enough I guess. I got to chat a little to the others sitting outside, one fella brought Harold and Rosie a bowl of water, and we talked art, travels, and Texas. Most of them were new to town with a newcomer’s energy for the place. I still hoped to find a local who’d grown up in Marfa but never did. The latte was great though but a bagel or something to eat would have helped. Ice cream was the only option, and although it was tempting I didn’t get any. Another time perhaps? Nope, I stuck to coffee there for the next few days. It became our routine to walk to town mid-morning, exploring the four corners of town, and finishing up at Frama. Where was the breakfast place? I lived off the odds and ends in the cooler at the van instead. Oh well. My expectations were nicely lowered after a few days and I began to enjoy town for what it offered. Even the Tumble In campground grew on me for being bare bones, with hot water, little interaction and no one watching over my critters running free.

With a full moon, the Marfa Lights were not to be seen. Have you heard of them? First noticed in the 1880s by a cowboy, there is still no solid explanation for these colored lights that dance in the dark nights outside on Highway 90. My timing once again was against me; it was too bright for me to see anything. Next time? I’d better do some research before I head on another trip as this one to Marfa was the most disorganized possible. My timing sucked constantly. The best part for me in Marfa was that we walked everywhere for a week. The rest of my days I filled my notebook with web addresses and contact info for freelance writers. Researching different tangential ideas kept me busy and the sketch book let me switch off the word-brain in the evenings. As there were few businesses open at the start of the week, and little to see with high-end stores offering treats for the wealthy, but still I got to relax. I enjoyed wandering the wide empty western streets. Trucks slowed down for the pups and I, waved at us, and carried on slowly out of town. Wherever I wandered, I’d see the Presidio Courthouse. It’s an incredibly beautiful old three-story building that fills the town plaza with all roads bringing you back to the spires. It dates back to 1886 and I walked inside one afternoon, curious to see if I could climb the tower to look out the windows facing each direction. It was closed for cleaning but still worth climbing the wooden stairs that opened onto lawyer’s offices on each level based around a central rotunda. I was alone and the peace of the extensive views impressed me deeply, a sense of history and wonder.

 

Hotel Paisano was just around the corner and it quickly became my afternoon choice. The Trost building dates to 1929, and opened only just before the Great Depression. It became a place for ranchers and tourists to stay as they crossed Texas. In 1955 Warner Bros came to town to film Giant with Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, and Rock Hudson. Jett’s Bar is named after Dean’s character and the walls are covered with old photographs from that era. I sat at the bar one day, eating a salad from their limited menu, and chatted to Herb who was visiting. He came from Las Cruces, NM, and was a pilot for a wealthy family who’d come to Marfa for hunting but he didn’t specify what or where.  With a beer in hand, I then sat outside and that’s where I recommend fully. The building is Spanish style with a main courtyard with a fountain and tables in sun and shade. Perfect. I sat and read and listened into the conversations around me. I came back two other afternoons. Now that made me feel like I was truly on holiday. Finally.

The small-town logistics could be challenging for some city folk but since I live in Madrid, NM with a population of 350, this wasn’t a big impact on me. There were limited options for eating out, I didn’t find a decent grocery store, nor ATMs but then again, I’d come with a wallet of cash and a cooler of food in the camper van. I have a feeling my timing really was off, and that in spring and summer, town wakes back up. I’m okay with that though. I like low-key artsy towns. With no traffic lights, Marfa lulled me into a slower pace of life. It worked its magic on me. Afternoons, I’d sit outside the van in the sun and draw out quirky characters or I’d brainstorm on how to keep traveling and writing for a living. I came up with some ideas but it’s hard to make it freelance. I figured out that it’s worth me faking it until I make it. That’s the best I can do for myself.

The Chinati Foundation finally drew me in on the last day in the area. I put down my notebook and we drove over there early one morning. I’d not been too keen to be honest, as a field of concrete sculptures didn’t appeal. It was free so why not, right? I’m glad I went though. With the critters set up in the camper parked in the shade of a huge Cottonwood, I wandered into the main building and asked for the self-guided tour of the gardens. The young woman behind the counter waved me over to the path and asked me not to climb the structures. Nothing more than that, no stories, no information, just “Stay off”.

Okay, okay, so walking down past the other buildings, I strode down the slight hill to the open land with a stripe of fifteen groups of concrete slabs. From north to south, there are Judd’s famous works in concrete, a very minimalistic contemporary feel that reminds me of inner cities in the seventies. Unprepared for the magical energy, I stood and stared at the first group. Three structures made of upright walls of concrete with another identically sized slab across the top. An open-ended room in a sense. Walking to the next group, it occurred to me that I was alone on this kilometer-long pathway. In the field nearby, a small herd of Pronghorn antelope watched me nervously.

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Slowly as I wandered around these works, a peace settled on me, reminiscent of living at a Buddhist retreat in the UK years ago. A calmness came from the simplicity of how Judd played with one size of solid cleanly poured concrete slabs, putting them together in different figurations. There was nothing to explain why it appealed to me so much but an hour later, I walked out of Chinati with a relaxed smile and feeling expansive. Yep, I’d go back. First though, it was time to head north to Madrid, NM, to set up my home for another vacation rental. Yes, Marfa. I get it now. And I had a plan.

Travel can help people in so many ways. One woman took a time out type of trip to Marfa, Texas, and was inspired with a plan for her future as a travel writer.

Photographs

I’ve just set up a Flickr account to help you find the photos of trips, Land Rovers, and the critters. 

But…

Does anyone know how I add a copyright to the images though? I couldn’t work it out. Thanks, s

 

Year End Lists

It’s the end of the year, a time for us to look back at what we did or didn’t do. Those lists and resolutions from last winter haunt us. I’m a wanderer who settled for the last eight years to build a home for myself, a home-base that is. My goals had included writing and traveling again. Goals met. I’m going to list mine in the hope that it’ll inspire you to look at your year behind and the one ahead. It helps me to see things written down by making my ideas more tangible somehow, more solid.

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Articles published in MAQ, Classic Land Rover Magazine, LRO Magazine, the Examiner, and on a couple of online small forums. Not bad, but I want to publish more, focus more on sending out and finding outlets for my storytelling.  I sent out two more travel articles this week. It’s a start. One step at a time, day by day, I aim to keep going.

Books published include two travelogues Bring a Chainsaw and Van Life.  There are also three photo books, photo essays if you like, taken from our travels around the States. Van Life and Dirt Roads And Dogs, the last one calledLittle Stevie’s Travels is in review. Oh, and one of my novels won Best LGBT Fiction in the 2016 NM/AZ Book Awards.

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It doesn’t feel like it, but we drove around a lot this last year. Here’s a list of the States we got to visit while looking for campgrounds, lakes, books and breweries. Passing through some of them a few times, we took backroads, found rivers to paddle in, and set up camp for three months over summer. Some of these places are one’s I kept returning to while based in New Mexico such as the Jemez Mountains in NM, Pagosa Springs in CO and down through Tijeras, NM on the way to other places!

  • Colorado
  • Arizona
  • Wyoming
  • Montana
  • Washington
  • Oregon
  • Idaho
  • New Mexico

Now though, it’s time for me to look ahead even as I write up my notes from the last year. If you  have any specific questions for me, let me know. I can give routes, campgrounds, and local information for many wonderful off-beat rural towns.

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The next post will be a few of my top ten picks. Top Ten Destinations. Top Ten Campgrounds. If you have any suggestions, again, let me know. Take care and Happy New Year!

 

5 Travel Tips to stay sane on the road.

It’s that time of year when it’s cold enough to make us research next year’s vacation. Or it is for me. Winter, I like it, I like the cold weather and toasty woodstoves, but dreams come thick and fast. The internet catches me for hours as I research new ideas and new destinations. Talking around the fire with friends over Christmas inspired me even more to plan the next big travels. With that in mind, here are five travel tips for the year ahead, I hope it helps.

  1. DO THE RESEARCH:  with notebooks, the web, and a basic outline, I strongly recommend doing some research. Go beyond Google’s first page and look deeper, follow the tangents, discover blogs and forums. Last winter the Expedition Portal caught my attention. The depth and breadth of posts was initially overwhelming but I discovered that although the regional sub forums were the busiest, their focus was more on short day trips and four-wheeling. Go instead to the trip reports and the in progress travelogues for true inspiration. Travelers like myself post photos, routes and even favorite campgrounds along the backroads. Ultimate Public Campgrounds is my favorite app with all the links, directions, photos, websites and even directions for all the public camping areas in both Canada and the US. Great stuff. Benchmark Maps is the other main resource I take with me because of the detailed notes on each kind of road, campgrounds, and historical notations.
  2. DON’T OVER PLAN! No, I’m not contradicting myself, honestly. However, so many people on the road get caught in the trap of keeping to schedules and timelines. For me, an outline, a body of research for options, and then the ability to see a signpost for a lake and follow that side road makes for the strongest memories. My weakness is for a hidden lake in a mountain valley so that’s what tempts me most. What’s yours? Keep your eyes open and itinerary flexible.
  3. STAY ENGAGED: With the road endlessly stretching ahead of you, it’s easy to lose track of why you’re driving. It’s not just get to the next destination, is it? Curiosity drives me, keeps me engaged and when I’ve cut myself off from the environment and focused on reaching the next pit stop, my travels become meaningless, or at least forgettable. With a handful of local newspapers, some novels written set in that area, or taking time to visit historic markers while chatting to residents at the diner, that’s how you’ll feel much more connected to each place and its people.
  4. EAT WELL: In the van the box under the bed is full of the staples that keep me sane or at least full for those days each week when I just don’t want to drive to another grocery store because I like where we are. After months on the road last summer, it became a weekly habit to restock with fresh vegetables, fruit, cheese and even creamer for the morning coffee. I’d eat salads for a few days, then move onto the eggs and veggie omlettes, and towards the end of the week, back to the canned soups, nuts, beans and chiles. When shopping, I planned for a week at a time, knowing that I’d need to eat the fresher foods for a few days, a mix of shelf-stable items, and then left-overs. If you have a fridge, it’s different of course but this mindset will help the backroad campers like us.
  5. BE PREPARED FOR THE UNEXPECTED: Yes, we all know that shit happens but are we ready for the van to breakdown? Will you still have food and water? What happens if the front wheel wants to fall off on Independence Day like mine did? Phone calls to mechanics unable to help, driving around terrified we’d get stuck in Bellingham on the side of a main highway, I drove us to Anacortes, WA, and camped on the marina’s parking lot with their permission. I waited it out, had food, and with the security guard keeping an eye out on us, felt safe to wait out the holiday weekend. And if the pets got sick suddenly? Those two dogs and a cat that I travel with? The smartphone gives me access to finding a vet, and the first aid kit under the bed can take care of more injuries than I’d hope to experience. It’s okay though, this happens, dogs spike themselves, bleed profusely, and still live on. It happens at home and on the road. I sit back, bandage Rosie up, and make a cup of tea. It’s a fact of life, right? Yep.

Now, go out and buy some maps, sit back and plan another trip okay? Then tell me about it!

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Photo Essays: In Calendar Form

What with all the time spent taking photos this summer,it’s time to get serious again about photography. As a twenty-something, a project of mine got me into an 18 month course at Pimlico Media Centre in London, the stories and images of the squatters in East London caught their attention and with a full scholarship, I studied SLR manual cameras, documentary photography, portraits and working in the darkroom.

Now then, after quite a while without consciously thinking about the skills and cameras I’ve had, it’s time to focus on the imagery of our trips. Three months in the van with Harold, Rosie, and Stevie kept the camera in hand. Now what to do with the results?

First, edit! Edit out the fuzzies and wobblies.
Second, edit! Find the best striking compositions. Those that catch my eyes even after all the times I’ve seen them. The challenge is to not be caught by the memories of each one but to pick pictures that capture the essence of specific places or experiences, ones that translate to viewers.

And third? Publish. After meeting Carlan Tapp this weekend, a local prolific and professional photographer, at his gallery in Madrid, NM, I’m inspired. Sharing stories with him, talking of our road trips, and our cameras and ideas, I’m inspired. I’ve focused on writing and wandering, taking photos it’s true, but it’s time to share those as much as I do the photos.
With that in mind, a photo essay book is in the work. And in the meantime, a few calendars are now available on Lulu.com. I’d like to also find a way to sell via Amazon as they’ve been so good to me as a writer. For now, I’m happy with the quality and flexibility of Lulu.com and the calendars on there.

Little Stevie’s Big Adventures, a road-tripping cat in the Northwest.

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Land Rovers of New Mexico, or rather the adventures of a 1959 Series II and a 1972 Series III.

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New Mexico Skies: a collection of the night skies around Madrid, NM.

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Want a free book?

Click on the link for a chance to win a free copy of VAN LIFE. Only via the app though so pull out your android and click away.
https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/54f123647530401f

 

Hot Springs Landing, NM

Elephant Butte State Park, NM is only three and half hours from home, in theory. It took us most of the day. I took the long route once again. Poor critters in the back of the van, they simply dozed until the engine stopped and doors were opened.

“Where are we now?” Stevie jumped out and froze on the beach of the reservoir. He huddled under the van and stared around as Harold and Rosie ran flat out across sandy beaches. November in New Mexico was still warm enough for this last minute camping trip. I’d needed a break. I spend my days on the computer, fixing up the house, and walking the dogs. I needed variety. The road called, and the question was where we’d end up.

Elephant Butte Reservoir had not inspired me in the past. Was that because I’d been in summer? No shade, crowded beaches and low water? Perhaps…

This time was a short two night getaway, time to test out the new desk inside, and to unwind on a beach, not that I’d swim but Rosie did. And Harold ran hard, so much so that he limped the rest of the day. Oops.

We did nothing but walk, make campfires, eat and drink. Stevie wasn’t relaxed though and he mostly slept inside the van even though I’d camped under a tree just for him to climb.
Tuesday and Wednesday are good days to camp here, we saw only a couple of others and they were so far away. I drove nowhere, just stayed for three days and then headed home. I’d recommend it for a peace and quiet destination. Yes, you could go to town, find hot springs, diners and cafes, but we didn’t. Not this time. Maybe in January when I get restless again? I’ll let you know what we find. Or have you been there? Any recommendations?

Van Life: Exploring the Northwest with two dogs, a cat and a van

It’s true. A new book of my travel stories just came out. It’s a work in progress so forgive the mistakes, I’m working on it! This travelogue follows our adventures in the Northwest, the details about the small places we found along the way, the people we met, and the critter’s advice when I was having a hard time. Lighthearted and engaging.

Thanks!

Writer’s Life: a morning on the road

Pagosa Springs, my home away from home, thank you for being there when needed.

Mary suggested I post my home on Airbnb since the bus was already bringing in an income. Why not? she said. Okay, so I did just that. I added the homestead, and forgot about it. My smartphone beeped at me. A notification from Airbnb. I accepted without even really reading the information. The next morning, another beep confirmed the booking of my home. My home. Oh shit, I have to clean.

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Two days later, the floors were swept, bedding changed, fridge and oven scrubbed, and new towels laid out. The critters followed me nervously, unsure as to what all this meant. On opening the van and throwing in the cooler and extra blankets, Harold, the Collie/ Akita mix claimed the bed. Rosie, the Lab/ Akita mix took the front seat, passenger as she knows better than to try driving. Little Stevie, a fluffy white cat, popped up onto the top shelf, purring away in time to the engine.

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Pagosa Springs then, you saw this coming, didn’t you? Yes, an easy drive for three hours to town, stopping only one on the way for the emptying of bladders big and small. With a sandwich in hand, I nervously watched the cat follow the dogs into the trees. Trust. You have to trust him, I muttered and then stalked them all.

October in Pagosa is cold. Much colder than I’d thought, not that I’d really thought about it, I’d just loaded us up and left the home in pretty good condition. At Williams Creek Reservoir, the parking area had few vehicles, picnics and fishing rods at hand.

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“The campgrounds closed on the 26th. Three days ago,” says the Texan couple in their thick winter jackets. “You can’t camp here.” She stared at me and the critters who roamed and peed freely.

“Okay.”

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The sunrise that next morning over the lake was incredible. Just us. I bundled up and made coffee outside. Little Stevie was in heaven with trees, grass, and water, and no others to scare the bugger, he wandered around, meowed when he lost sight of me, and ran back under the van when I called, anyone hungry?

How can I just up and go like this? I blame my parents for taking us everywhere in the old Rover and Volvos. I blame my friend Shaun  for reminding me of the restlessness inside me. Casey sat me down at the computer one day and we played online, her showing me how to make an income from writing, editing, talking about what I do and love. It’s like Netflix, people are willing to pay to be entertained and inspired. And yes, I blame Mary for putting my home on Airbnb.

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It’s been a year of making changes, of understanding how to bring in the money to pay for a lifestyle I crave. My books, yes, I have five books out and they sell slowly but surely. Four novels, two of which have won Best Fiction in the NM/ AZ Book Awards, another was a finalist. The travel essays came out this year and took me up and across the NW, selling them as I drove around.
Editing, proof-reading, helping new writers publish online, writing press releases, writing blogs like this, reviewing books, and working on another book of my own. I stay busy.

I admit though, that I get nervous at times. Nothing lined up, just winging it as they say, but I’m more alive now than I have been for the last four years at the job in town. I’m officially self-employed these days. I love it. Mostly.

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After lounging around, making breakfast next to the lake, I wait until Stevie is tired and has gone back to bed inside Van Dreamy. I close the door and whistle for the pups. Time for a hike around the lake. It’s a blustery day, cool, and the trees are turning, leaves fluttering onto the path. I skip though the woods and cross the dam. Yes, it’s October. Winter is coming. I can’t wait.

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The dogs watch me eat. Begging? Us, no, never, oh look at that squirrel! They look away.

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Stevie wanders around, watching the fish flash by in the river.

We walk in the morning frost. I warm up by a campfire and cook again. I settle down for another nap. Life is good. Fear slips in, a moment here, a thought that questions my sanity, and then a golden leaf falls onto the laptop and the spell is broken. The spell is remade. I’m happy.

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In town, I soak at the free hot springs under the bridge. Since August, someone’s built up the rocks, making a twelve foot pond, and my muscles relax into the heat. I chat to a few other van dwellers but happily leave them to it so to walk the dogs around town before hitting the grocery store. The cottonwood leaves are like the colors of pears, mangos, and apples.

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This week away from home is the first since leaving Trader Joes. The first time in four years that I can be spontaneous, hit the road, and know I’m still working in a sense. Back at camp in the mornings, I pull out the table, the laptop, write up notes for Betsy about her children’s book. I check the photographs. I research nonfiction essays, reading from other’s recommendations of past and present authors. I make notes for myself. Then it’s time for another mug of coffee, a walk down the river, another log on the fire, and a braod grin. I’m a writer. This is my life now. Camping, driving, writing. I can do it after all…

Why did it take me so long though? Fear. Laziness. A resigned focus on home and job. It wore me down. This though, the quiet nights either at home or in the van, the reading, the writing, and sending out proposals and ideas, this life wakes me up. The writer’s life is one for me.

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Pagosa Springs, once again, had been a welcome home for the week, but then it was time to head back and see what the renters had done to my place. The money paid for this trip but I worried about the consequences. Rightly so as it happens: I wish I’d known to lock up my papers, my cupboards, but naively I left them to it. Another lesson learned. I’ll tell you later, when I talk about the fears, we can mix and match stories for once…