Where the Heart Is
May 23, 2019 – Dash Point State Park – Federal Way, WA
In a scene from the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, the Black Knight with no arms left after battle proudly proclaims, “It’s just a flesh wound.” That’s Brent in a nutshell. He suffers from the effects of old sports injuries, fibromyalgia, and years of “who gives a shit” behavior, but he pushes through the pain like no one I know. Aside from occasional exclamations of ”ouch” when he twists something the wrong way, you wouldn’t guess he was hurting.
We’re back at Dash Point, not because it’s our favorite campground, but because it’s close to civilization. Brent is scheduled to undergo surgery tomorrow morning for his torn rotator cuff. It’s outpatient surgery and pretty routine, but I’m more concerned about the after-effects. Who’s going to load up the heavy stuff, hitch up the trailer when we change campsites every 10 days? Like he said today, “It’s going to require teamwork—no time for arguing.” Easy to say, but I see endless possibilities for conflict. Four to six weeks of healing loom on the horizon, and the man does not follow doctor’s orders. He’s going to hate not being able to do the things he normally does—how will he handle my efforts to rein him in when he tries to do them anyway? I see endless possibilities for arguments, but I can’t dwell on them and stay sane. As Brent likes to say, “one step at a time.”
The fact that we’re living in a tent doesn’t exclude us from the ups and downs of daily life—it’s just a different sort of roller coaster. A few days ago, at Joemma Beach, we thought we’d lost Loki. He loves to run, so we occasionally let him off the leash while beachcombing. That day we both wandered off a long way down the beach and were so engrossed in finding treasures we forgot about our husky. Normally when that happens, we find him back at the campsite which is walking distance from the beach, but this time there was no Loki and we panicked. After 20 minutes of shouting his name to no avail, I headed back down to the beach to look for him, then noticed a message on my phone. I couldn’t access my voicemail since I had little or no reception, but I did have internet access so I Skype’d into my voicemail to check.
“Hi, my name’s John Casey. I think I found your dog down on the beach. I’ll hold on to him for a bit, then… anyway, give me a call.” Great, I had a dysfunctional phone and he hadn’t left a number. Not only that, but because I didn’t have good cell phone service, there was no missed call showing the number. And what did he mean by “then”? Then he’d take him to the shelter? Then he’d let him go again to find his way back? Then he’d take him home and keep him? My mind raced with all the unpleasant possibilities. As I walked back up to the campsite, I realized there was only one option—we needed to drive to a place where I had phone service in case John tried to call.
Brent was stressed, I was stressed. He’d almost lost Loki a few times when he was homeless, and I couldn’t believe it was happening again. We drove about 20 minutes until the phone worked, then pulled over to the side of the road and waited. No calls. There has to be a way to find the number, I thought to myself, dialing voicemail again. This time I selected #6, advanced options. #5 on advanced options was “header information”. I punched 5 and finally I was able to retrieve the number. At least we didn’t need to sit any longer on the side of the road. I sent John a message with Brent’s phone number (his phone works at the campsite) and we drove back to our site. On the way, his phone rang. We both jumped, but in the rush to answer it Brent knocked it on the floor. By the time we got to it, it had stopped ringing. Shit, I mumbled to myself, as Brent grabbed the phone and called John back. Finally, we made a connection. It was a local kid and he’d drive Loki over in a few minutes. The car pulled up and Loki jumped down, overjoyed but slightly puzzled. Like a kid who’d wandered off to have some fun, he wondered what all the fuss was about and why he’d taken such a roundabout route to get back to the campsite.
One of the most frustrating things about camping out is constantly looking for things that we need. It’s not that there aren’t places to put stuff, it’s that the places continually change. We’re not using the tent right now since the weather is nice—we string a tarp up over the picnic table to protect our food items, then sleep in the back of the pickup. As a result, things that we normally put in the tent had to be relocated. Not to mention the fact that we’re both kind of spaced out when it comes to remembering where we put things. My mind races a mile a minute and I’m often thinking about something completely different when I put things away.
But that’s no excuse for losing my ATM card. It’s always in my wallet, but I looked for it the other day and it wasn’t there. It’s not the first time I’ve lost it, but it’s a lot more inconvenient when you’re camping. I tried to blame it on the ATM—generally they spit your card out before dispensing your money, but this one (like the time before) had done things backwards. I was so excited to retrieve my $50 that I forgot about the damn card.
I was thinking the other day how nice it would have been to do this 200 years ago. Sure, there were many more things to fear—wild animals, disease, early death—but the payoff was total freedom. You didn’t need a building permit to construct a house, a fishing license to catch trout, a hunting license to shoot your food, a license to drive your car, a license to register your dog. You didn’t have to follow your four-legged friend around with a plastic bag, you could just let him poop in the meadow. You can’t even use a metal detector anymore without a license. But one thing we’ve been doing for thousands of years is sitting around a campfire.
I would love to have seen this country when it was teeming with wildlife, when buffalos roamed the prairies and the air was so clean you could see for miles. But, despite all the roads, all the people, there are places that remain to be discovered even today. On a tour of the Olympic Peninsula, we pulled onto a dirt road in the middle of nowhere to rest a bit and stretch our legs. We strolled down the road with Loki and found a hidden paradise—two huge holes formed by mining excavations had filled with rainwater. They sat there sparkling like turquoise gems in the sunlight, surrounded by bright yellow scotch broom. Best of all, I had someone to share in the magic, someone who likes to explore as I do.
If I died tomorrow. I’d have no regrets. I don’t have a lot of money, but my life has been filled with riches. I’ve seen the temples of Angkor in Cambodia, the great pyramids of Egypt, the rolling hills of Scotland and Ireland.
My experience with homelessness has taught me the importance of friends and family. So many people on the streets are there because they have no one to fall back on. I’m fortunate to have friends and family—having someone to love makes all the difference. I hope that I’ve made a difference in Brent’s life, given him a chance to start over.
Yesterday he sat in a chair, eyes fixed on a piece of driftwood, slowly and carefully burning out the letters, “Home is where the heart is.” I thought he was making it to sell, but I was wrong. He finished the last letter, walked over to the trailer, and nailed the driftwood to the front panel where everyone could see it. “What do you think?”, he asked proudly.