Sunday, September 27, 2015

Have Wheels, Will Travel

As I write this, this is my view - our backyard for the weekend: Ponderosa Campground - Nebo Loop, UT

I never, in my wildest dreams, thought I would ever own a camper. I remember, growing up in a block of crumbling communist flats, that we had a neighbor who had one, parked crooked, right next to our playground. It was caged in in a makeshift garage, so "the gypsies" won't hurt it, behind chain-link fencing. If memory serves correctly, it was tiny and rusting and leaning onto one side, and I don't remember ever seeing it move or anyone ever so much as opening it. Looking back now, I don't even know if they even had a bathroom in there. But to me, the lonely camper always meant a world of possibilities. Oh, how cool it would be to just hook it up to your car and take it away in beautiful places, and just live there, for a day, week, or even longer! Taking in nature, and being free of rents, landlords, city utilities ... What a heaven!

As a child, you dream a lot. And you envision magical stories about everything outside your own reality. As an adult, all that is crushed by the harsh, cruel hand of "reality" and things come more into the dreaded focus. You start thinking you can't afford it, you can't afford the insurance, or you'd rather buy shoes, books, rose bushes for your yard with the money. Then, the maintenance, and so forth.

But then you marry this man who grew up with one. And all he wanted to do, all his adult life, is to recreate his childhood camping trips in Canada. And he pushes you out there and convinces you of the fun to be had! Sometimes dreams choose us, you know. And after all, when it's about nature, running away and leaving the world behind, albeit for a weekend, I don't need that much convincing, either.

Maybe our WolfPup (the name of the model we got and its official family name) deserved a blog entry on our first outing, last weekend. But sometimes you need to let the raw experience settle a little before you know what you want to leave behind from it.

I have been camping for years in a tent. And in my adult years, I thought "Oh, camping in a camper is similar to tenting, except you get a bigger tent and the bears won't eat you while you're sleeping". But, boy, was I wrong!

There is not much similarity between a camper and a tent, besides the fact that they're both portable. Camping in a camper, I think, is similar to having a vacation home, with almost all the perks, and conveniences of one: all the right "facilities" for cooking, cleaning, playing, sleeping and the likes. The bonus is that you get to choose your landscape and your neighbors with every trip.

But boy, do you pay for that bonus! The amount of awareness it requires is amazing - and I am lucky to just reap the benefits from it without much work on my own, because my husband is a hands-on camper owner. The buttons, the pipes, the tanks, the chemicals, the tricks of leveling and the reasoning behind it all - I am blissfully unaware of it! I used to be nosy, and wanted to know how everything works, so I will never be stranded nor feel helpless. But now, I am just enjoying having Aa. to make it all comfortable for us. And it's fun watching him, too, as it all seems easy and second nature to him.

We have pretty much every comfort of home, right here with us. A fridge to keep our grub cold and fresh, a stove to cook a "real" breakfast and make Turkish coffee in the morning, a bed with "real" linens and an honest-to-goodness comforter (I swear this thing will work in sub-zero temps!), a heater to keep us warm, with a thermostat, even, so we can make sure we're not "too warm", really. Even a flushing toilet!

Although it's really tempting to just live in the camper when we go out for the weekend, we still enjoy the outdoors and feel like we are camping, too. We still make a fire pit fire, and we still cook our dinners on it. We still smell like bacon when we come back home! We put up our camping chairs and take short cat naps, although we do take longer ones, after lunches in the "real" bed, too.

We hike during the day, and shoot (think Canon, not Smith & Wesson) the mountains, creatures and vegetation all around us. We are tuned into the wild, during our waking hours.

For the past couple of weekends, we camped in non-crowded campgrounds (fall weather helps!), with no reception for internet or cell phone. And it's been a blessing. Last weekend, when we were away from the world for 2 nights and a full day, we both felt like we had been on vacation for two weeks. It's amazing how taxing and energy draining it is for our brains to plug into "electronics" 24/7. With no tv, facebook, email and google news, we had only nature, each other and old fashioned card games to rely on for passing the time.

This weekend, we're even further away from the world, on Nebo Loop National Scenic Byway, in Ponderosa Campground. We're right on Salt Creek, and although the temps are in the low 80's, it feels nice and crisp, up here under the shade of maples and hardwoods and pines . The stream is soothing my stressed out brain ... There is something about running water hitting rock that's just hypnotic, you know?!

The colors around us are a rainbow from fiery red (the maples) all the way to crude green (the ponderosa pines). We're sipping our drink, listening to the last cricket of the summer and waiting for time to pass till our next meal (lunch).

I love camping in the fall the best! The light is so soft and inconsistent throughout the day. You can never move, and shoot the same bush all day and you'll think you shot the whole forest just because the light will hit it differently every half hour.

The campgrounds are quieter in the fall, too - more campers that keep to themselves than tenters that are 12 year old and finally free to shout. The birds' song is more tired, as are the crickets and cicadas. It gets colder sooner, which makes it for early dinners and quicker fires. We're on the lookout for woolly worms to tell us about the winter, and we marvel at the billions of shapes of various leaves as well as millions of shades of yellows and reds.

Time will stretch again, for the weekend, and we'll feel like 24 hours are 78, we hope! There is no cell potential for ringing, no facebook stream to read, no tv to switch on ... Just a couple of magazines, a book and our journals to fill up.

I read once that the dog breathes 100 times in a minute and lives 16 years, while a turtle breathes 3 times in a minute and lives well into their 100's. Here's for a slower pace of life, and more days like these, when we can breathe slower and deeper, eat less, watch and listen more, have no purpose other than wondering and wandering, where we can check out from the daily routine and build towards our 100 year of living potential. 

One thing I know for sure: our camper's meant for pulling. It will not look desolate behind no chain-link fence! 

The winter doesn't seem too scary, does it?!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Mountains (again)

Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains. (Diane Ackerman)

It’s a cold summer morning in my memories. The sheets under me are hard with starch. The bed is full of springs cutting into my skinny child’s ribs. The comforter weighs a ton and it smells a like dirty, oily sheep. It’s 100% unspun wool, you see.

I take a whiff of the air and I smell the wood. We’re in a wood house, in the middle of the mountains, in Romania, and everything around us is wood: the house walls, the ceilings, the floors, the furniture, the porch outside our room. Everything smells like fresh or old lumber (both as heavenly) and the perfume is sweet balsam!

I listen carefully and there are crackling noises coming from the room next door – the only room next door, the kitchen. The crackling noises are the fresh, dry wood breaking down in the fire newly lit in the stove, to cook our breakfast. I listen some more and I hear the noise of metal plates (rather, aluminum) and metal mugs being pulled out of the dish drainer and arranged on the table. Then, I hear my friend’s grandma calling us up, for breakfast. It’s a new day, in the mountains.

These are my memories about growing up in the mountains – the cold, crisp air and cold sheets (even in August), the metal mugs we had fresh milk in in the morning and before bedtime, the wood fire cooking our fresh eggs (sometimes so fresh they were hot from under the hens in the stables). To those smells, more added during the day – the perfume of fresh, wild strawberries we picked in the woods; the earthy smell of freshly picked mushrooms, the cow dung we had to shovel in the stables, every day. And over it all, the all-en-wrapping smell of the woods. The pine sap, the wood fiber seeping into the cold air. The bliss! All of it make up the memories of my childhood. All those make my knees weak even today and they’re calling me, every minute. This is my happy place.

One of the friends I grew up with said to me once, a long time ago, when I was too young to get it. He goes: “ You and I are destined to live in the mountains. You know why? Because we don’t see mountains. We feel mountains! And that’s all it takes”. I was too young to get it then, but I was old enough to pack it away in my brain till one day I was ready to pull it out and get it! I am living it today – to some extent.

Anyone who knows me well, mostly my family, will tell you – my land is in the mountains. They make my brain happy! They make my heart sing. They make my nerves calm and my heartbeat mellow.

I love the mountains for so many things – their beauty is only a fraction of what makes them appealing to me. I love the people in the mountains – their strength and resilience. I love that time seems to stand still here. You come back in 10 years, and you’ll find the same rocks and trees have not moved. I love how self-sufficient they make anyone feel: they give you lumber for homes and heat, they give you trout, berries and mushrooms for sustenance, they give you clean water at every step, for hydration. They give you fresh air, for any cure for whatever ails you! What more can anyone possibly want?!

You can call it hopeless love, because that’s exactly how it feels – it’s a lifelong love affair with the curve of the slopes, the uprighteousness of the pine trees, the solitude of the rocky peaks, the crystal clear-ness of the lakes, the bitter coldness of the rapid streams, the carpets of wild flowers, the untouched, timeless beauty of the pastures, the innocence of the fawns chasing each other on them.

The two tv series that were dearest to my heart were The Mountain Family Robinson  and Twin Peaks . Both of them are set in this timeless landscape similar to the one I grew up in. Everything I seem to do in my life brings me back into a circle to somewhere where the landscape looks peeled from one of these series that made me dream …

I was lucky enough to live in the mountains, so for me, it’s more than a dream: I know it’s a real possibility. I fear the remoteness, at times, and I worry, as I get old, of the lack of conveniences that the mountain poses, but when you’re happy in your heart, who and what reason can be contrary to that?!

Our recent trip to Montana only made my craving worse. I live in the mountains now, but there are no clear streams (really) and definitely no clean lakes. The air is bad where we are, except a few days in the late fall … But I do smell lumber almost daily, and I do feel the crisp chill in the air every day. And my friend was right: I still feel the mountains. I feel every sunset and sunrise with every string of my heart.

Montana just reminded me, in a big way, that I belong here. Montana, in some parts, is still beautifully wild and untouched. Beautifully virgin and crazy, if you will! People there are not as friendly as you might want to see, but they have a tough love kind of welcome appeal to their demeanor! The trout is not as plenty as you might dream, but the streams are there. The smells, and beauty, the mountain tops, are still kings! The trip to me was like a return to a very familiar place, one that I knew deep down, from another existence that in undoubtedly existed! It was a trip home, to oddly enough, a place my eyes have not factually seen every before. But a welcome feeling of deja-vu was everywhere.

 I still want to be buried on a mountain top to hear the winter wind hauling and see those fawns play in the summer. In a way, my heart is already buried there. 

Where the waters run clear, deep and feisty ...

My grandpa built mountain roads, train tracks, dams and tunnels. A tunnel through the mountain will remind me of him, and who I am. 

I love vistas like these, where the river bed rests in the bottom of the valley, and welcomes the peaks into its depths. The low and the high married in perfect harmony, for ancient ages ... and ever ... 

This was our lunch spot. Purple flowers as far as the eye can see. Just for me. 

My pinnacle, quite literally: where pasture meets rocks and everlasting snows. This is where I want my dream home or forever home to me. And trust you me: every mountain has it!

Fawn and momma in Glacier National Park, MT 
Our back porch sunset, every night during our vacation - on the Flathead River, in Hungry Horse, MT.
To see the whole trip (Whitefish, MT, Glacier National Park, Cody, WY, Yellowstone National Park), click on the picture. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Out with the Old and In with the … Slightly Used

My dad’s mother always used to say “honey, I am not taking all this with me. There is only so much you can fit in between 4 wooden boards!”. Ever since I can remember, her words have haunted me! You work, you buy, you buy some more, you accumulate, and then … it’s all left behind. Like a used sheet of paper in an old notebook, tear it out of the binding and leave it in a trash bin, only for the wind to come and pick it up … Wasted. Your life.

This ephemeral nature of things never prevents me from being attached to some of the possessions I have. My friends surely remember the psychosis I went through when I got rid of my “blue couch” and replaced it with a brand new one, in my then new condo. Yeah, I am a softy when it comes to saying “good bye” to things.

You might remember my teary departure from my Echo. I then replaced it a used Prius. And it’s time now, to say good bye to the Prius – only after 2 years. Although I had signed my soul out to Toyota, the Prius pretty much made me fall out of love with the make. Unlike other people, I am not really picking cars based on power, mileage, finishes, interior perks. I am mostly picking a car like I pick a house: does it feel like “home” in there? Do I feel like the chairs embrace me when I sit down and can I sit on them, safely, for many hours on end? America is a huge country, so road trips are commonplace. I need to feel like I “belong” there more than anything.

The Prius was never “my home”. It was fast. It was reliable (when I could quiet down the nerves about the key battery going dead on me!). It was “too fancy”, with all the digital screens, beeps and flashy lights on it. But it was never “home”.

I still remember way before I ever considered a Prius, watching an interview with Meryl Streep and they were asking her if she really has no appointed chauffeur. She said with a shrug: “Oh, no! I just love driving my Prius!” (can you picture her batting her eyelashes on that comment?!). I loved driving the Prius, too, but I got the discern feeling that the Prius didn’t love me back. The leather chairs were every bit as uncomfortable as I initially thought they would be, and it smelled. It constantly smelled like gas in there, although there was nothing “mechanically” wrong with it.

Faults and all, we did make a couple of memories in it. We took it to Valley of the Gods and Bluff, which were eye opening experiences, for me, and we did tour Utah, Arizona and Nevada in it when my mom visited us, two years ago. My first road trip in it was to Vegas, to meet my girlfriends who have flown from NC to see me, after some years. I will always hold that trip dear, and the Prius took me to and brought me safely back from Vegas, despite my nerves about being alone in the desert with a car I didn’t yet know.

But more than anything, it will forever be my nervous wreck car! Even in worry, I still got attached, as I constantly thought about it, and what beep will it invent next?! And I still leave it with a bitter-sweet taste, as I still want to love Toyotas.

Several events in the family and several (motor) decisions later, although I owed more money on it than it was worth, we decided to give the Prius back to “the dealer”. It has now been replaced by my husband’s ex-car, a Honda Fit. That’s right – not a Toyota, this time. It’s not a car I chose, but it’ll do the job. It’ll stay with me as long as it will work. It’s comfortable, small (which is my requirement, of course), low maintenance and no frills, except for the power windows.

We started building memories in it since 2010 when I moved to Utah, so it’s more than just a “new car to me”, at this point. It was our honeymoon road trip car, when we drove to Napa Valley. We’ve been building onto that and we will continue to do so, I am sure. Several weeks ago, I had my first “accident” in it, when I hit a mattress laying on the highway which got me stuck on the HOV lane. Oh, the drama. Yesterday, a bookcase (yeah, you read it right) flew out of the bed of a pickup truck into the highway again, and again, almost hit me, and sent me speeding over to the HOV lane to escape the hit. The Fit handled the sudden veer to the left quite well, at 80 mph. But I hope I’ll have some happy trips in it, too. And as usual, I will get attached. 

My not so new car: around Lake Tahoe, CA - September 2010 

Cars are so much part of our daily routine now. And as I said, America is the ultimate road trip country. A car is your vessel to explore and grow and grow old in and with. I will form a connection with the Honda, too, as one naturally does. And, to some extent, I will think seldom of the Prius, as well, and of what Toyota could still offer me.

When it comes to my car, I am still yet looking for a home.  

One of the Prius's first road trips: on a peak in Valley of the Gods - Bluff, UT - early spring 2013.