Photo: Drea Knufken
Seattle. October. Eight months since we left our home in Denver and moved into the Airstream. I’m walking down a steep slope, past a golf course and a soggy Twix wrapper, moss growing in sidewalk cracks. I am walking to a place of indulgence: a group class at the local YMCA, then an organic meal at the delicious Chaco Canyon Café. This workout, this meal, these are things I only get in cities. At home I cook.
Home, wherever that is. I’m a drifter, breathing exhaust from passing cars, passing an old man in a baseball cap saying “bless you” as he pushes his walker. I no more belong here than on a highway in the Yukon. We move, my husband and dog and I. The only walls we call our own are aluminum. We borrow land on borrowed time.
You can’t be a tourist forever. A tour implies you have a place to come home to. Carpets and food processors and big screens and your neighbor’s yappy dog. Maybe chaos, roommate quarrels or kid messes. But four walls nonetheless, your very own micro-world. A world that doesn’t move.
This sidewalk isn’t mine. This isn’t my city. Everywhere is my city. When I visit walls, they’re someone else’s. It makes me feel too light.
In The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood refers to two kinds of freedom: free to and free from. Live on the road, and you’re free to explore almost anywhere. Live in a home, and you’re free from the worry about where to go next, and whether that new place is safe.
Like the weekend we took advantage of free camping on the mouth of the Knik River in Palmer, AK. We jokingly referred to it as the Redneck Riviera, because people like to party and drive their ATVs around on weekends. There are things you tolerate when the parking is free. Come Monday, it emptied out some, and I took the dog out for a walk. In one tall grove of trees, a guy was shooting his rifle. Pop. Pop. I think it was just target practice. Nobody else around but a cop parked on the other side of the highway. I walked in that direction. The river stopped me from getting too close to the cop. His head was dark, no face visible, unmoving. Looking for someone.
Weeks later someone asks me if I heard about the rape. That weekend, in that place. You never know not only what you’re getting into on the road, but what exactly you’re in.
Adapt. Quickly. That’s how you live this lifestyle. Scan, understand, adapt, live.
I used to think of nomad as a pretentious thing to call a first-world traveler. Nomads have tents and camels, no? But it is also a mindset. When you travel to a new place, you don’t take a mental template of home with you, because there is no home. You are fluid, observing your surroundings and adapting your behaviors as you go.
Travel frees you to live presently. A home frees you from the anxiety of not knowing. The biggest freedom of all is having the ability to choose which way to live.