May 14, 2019 – Joemma Beach State Park near Gig Harbor, WA
“The tent fell down.” As I groggily opened my eyes to the sound of Brent’s voice, I noticed the night sky was no longer visible through the mesh above me. How could we both have slept through the collapse of our home? I reached up with my right arm and felt the tent fabric just inches above my face. Shit, what now, I thought to myself. I remembered telling Brent that evening as we sat around the fire that we needed to tie Loki up in a different spot—he’d almost pulled the tent down the night before and it looked like he’d finally succeeded. Brent was already outside the tent declaring pessimistically that it was beyond repair.
I fumbled my way to the door and looked at the damage—the two poles near the door had snapped off. It didn’t look good—a fitting end to a weird night. One of the strangest sounds I’d ever heard had kept me awake that evening, shivering under the covers. A high-pitched animal noise (I’m assuming it was an animal, it didn’t sound human) went on for a good ten minutes. “Did you hear that noise? What was that?” I woke Brent up, needing reassurance from someone who knew just about every animal noise there was. He agreed it was odd, then went back to sleep.
It hasn’t always been easy, this tent life. There have been times, usually following one of our arguments, that I’ve threatened to walk out on Brent, go back to my old life. I’m not used to spending this much time with anyone, never mind with a man who is as stubborn, sensitive, and opinionated as me. I jumped into Brent’s world, not knowing if we could form a relationship, but hoping we could, and it’s been a rocky road. When things get bad I tell myself, Isn’t this something you’ve always wanted, someone to share your life with? I’ve had many relationships, but few have involved shared adventures. With Diego in Italy, it was the house that kept us together. We worked on projects, tiling the porch table, building the mandan hut. But he didn’t understand the value of shared time. He was so caught up in earning money to support those around him, that he forgot how to enjoy life—it was the ultimate sacrifice, one that eventually destroyed us.
But Brent is different. He’s slowly evolving from that homeless mentality—he no longer threatens to panhandle when money gets scarce. It’s a two-sided evolution, one that affects me as well. In the beginning my brain flipped back and forth like a light switch. One day I’d see him as “homeless Brent”, the man who couldn’t keep it together, couldn’t adjust to living a “normal” lifestyle, relying on weed to alleviate his chronic pain. The next day the switch would flip up. I’d see the man whose talents were endless, who could build something from nothing, fix our computers, make me laugh so hard I was literally crying, someone who had never known what homeless meant. As time passed, the switch stayed up longer than down, and I realized that the “homeless” Brent had its positive sides as well. His resourcefulness has helped us survive when money is scarce. He knows where to find pallets to stoke our fires, how to build a shelter from nothing.
I’ve lived in Washington for many years, but every day I’m discovering new and beautiful places. It’s one of the best parts of this journey. If you search for state parks on the internet, you’ll see a list of the biggest and most popular places—the smaller ones don’t appear. If it weren’t for the road signs, I wouldn’t have found Joemma Beach State Park. It attracts mostly day visitors, coming to enjoy its long stretch of beaches, fishing, and boating. There are 20-some campsites here—ours has a peek-a-boo view of the water, lots of room for the car and tent, and majestic evergreens. Best of all, it’s considered a primitive site, so it costs only $12 a night. There are no showers here so heating up water and taking a sponge bath is the only option. But we are free to use showers at any of the other state parks, which we did the other day. Across from our site is a glorified porta-potty, but I don’t give a shit (no pun intended). I’m happy I no longer have to make a long trek to pee at night.
As we adjust to this life, we’ve been scaling down, especially when it comes to basic “necessities”. When we started this trip in February, our sites included showers, power outlets for our heaters, and running water. The first thing we gave up were the power outlets—once the below-freezing weather ended we figured we could endure the tent with no heaters. Then we moved to Penrose Point—incredibly beautiful, but no showers. We still have running water—couldn’t do without that, and we invested in an inverter so we can power small devices using the car battery and work on our craft projects.
Not so long ago, just a few seconds in the span of human evolution, we lived like this, without all the frills, but ask anyone today if they’d be willing to stay for even a week at a campsite with no showers and you’d likely get a resounding “no”. But it’s worth thinking about—what would you be willing to give up if you had to scale down? Would you be willing to give up the dishwasher, the clothes dryer? These are the first items I relinquished when I moved to Italy and I didn’t miss them. The weather was nice enough most of the year to dry clothes outdoors—when it rained, we pulled the clothes rack inside and fired up the woodstove. It was primitive living compared to what most people experience. Our bedroom under the porch used to be a cantina (where wine-making equipment was stored) and wasn’t connected to the main house. Waking up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom entailed a small trek from the bedroom to the house. Though the porch roof shielded me from the rain, I shivered in the winter. We had no automatic water pump, just a manual one that cost about 100 euros and served us for 15 years. Sure, we had to flip a switch to turn it on and get water pressure, but it was no big deal.
I’m used to living without, but I do need a working phone and I need internet access, things that didn’t exist a hundred years ago. I have spotty phone service here at Joemma, and that’s an issue for me. The phone is my lifeline, it’s how I keep in touch with friends and family—without it I feel lost. So that situation will need to be remedied, even if it means changing providers. And of course I require internet access to publish my blog. Fortunately, there are libraries everywhere with free internet, so that’s not a problem. Most of all, I need a vehicle. Without one there is no way for us to get around, not to mention carry the things we’ve been accumulating for our craft projects.
People think I’m “tough” for doing this—others may call me crazy, but I don’t see it that way. It’s true that most people my age (I’m 68) would never conceive of voluntarily living in a tent and, if you’d asked me a year ago whether I could do it, I’d likely have said no. But I am doing it and not only am I surviving, I’m thriving. It helps that I’m in excellent health (no meds) and very active. That doesn’t mean I’ll do this for the rest of my life. I still want to create that home base, a place to store my things, a place to take off from.
My body is aging and I’m not as active as I used to be, but my body is only the superficial part of “me”. In my heart and in my soul I’m still that 12-year old girl who lay in bed at night with her fingers on the radio dial, moving through the static, trying to find the furthest of places, and imagining what life was like on the other side.