Saturday, January 16, 2016

50 Acres and an Airstream:

Getting older has its advantages.  One of them is ‘perspective’ (a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view).  You can’t get this when you are young, it is something that develops over time.  Paying attention to your surroundings and questioning a lot aids in its development.

After having lived in several different environments over my lifetime, my perspective is broader than some others I have known.  It’s focus has also shifted considerably.  As humans we tend to get regimented into a way of thinking based on our environment.  Commuting to work, day after day, dealing with the same problems day in and day out tends to narrow our perspective of the bigger issues that surround us. .  

I recall as a small child my parents used to take my brother and I on road trips across the Midwest to visit our relatives in Iowa.  These road trips were lengthy.  Back in the 1960s, there were no puddle jumper airlines or easy ways to get to heartland America.  We had to drive there, in a Ford Fairlane.  My brother and I slept in the back seat on bunks that my father had built for the car.  We would drive straight through, often for 20 hours, to visit the relatives that still lived on small farms or in small town America.  We bonded on these road trips, you had to, we had no other choice.  There was no WiFi, no video, only AM radio  when you were within range of a station.

We passed through sleepy little farming towns at 4am, with all the traffic lights flashing yellow and not a soul on the streets.  It was a dreamy sort of world.  While passing through back roads with endless miles of corn and wheat fields I would see the occasional mobile home or trailer parked about a quarter of a mile from the highway.  Being a curious young eight year old, I asked my father who lived out there.  He said he didn’t know.  I asked why would anyone live out there?

“They are running away from something, they want to be alone, they might not be ‘normal’ (mentally ill)”.  

He gave the impression that the outcasts of society lived out there in the boonies, far from the madding crowd.  When you are eight years old, your father knows everything, so I filed it away in my young brain and slowly  grew up over the next 30 years.  

I found out over the course of those 30 years that my father hadn’t always been right.  He was right for his time and based on his experience, but he could not predict what the future was going to hold.  None of us could have, things changed a lot and they changed very fast.   The jobs he told me seek out all evaporated in a changing global economy, the political views and the concept of social studies changed with immigration (both legal and illegal) and the changing cultural views of what government was supposed to be.  My father would not recognize the world now, nor would he approve.  His concept of what was right and wrong were forged in the 1930s.  Ancient history by today’s standards.  

But I followed his lead and eventually landed in civil service jobs that I held for over 22 years.  My father had been a career military officer and I had grown to appreciate the concept of an employer that wasn’t going to vanish overnight because of bad management or changing economic policies.    I thought I was chasing the American Dream and by all accounts it appeared that I was well on my way to attaining it.  There was debt to be sure, but there was a house, a car, even cable television and a computer….oww la la, the good life.  However, the more I attained was not increasing my quality of life or my outlook.  It quickly peaked and it took me a decade to realize that all the stuff I was told to desire was, in fact,  not making me happier.  Having all this stuff meant enduring a lot of stress.  Stress that started to take a toll on my health, both mentally and physically.   Stress that eventually affected relationships, both in the workplace and at home.  Like I said in the beginning, I started to ask a lot of questions and the answers were not pointing me in the direction that I was headed.

I would save all year to take a vacation for week and then dread going back to work, not because I disliked the job, but because I knew that management and my co-workers would have not covered for me and I would return to a week's worth of work that automatically put me a week behind as soon as I walked in the door. I quickly learned that only idiots took vacations.  The end result was not worth the effort.  

But when I was on those vacations I observed something.  The people were different.  They didn’t all have furrowed brows, they didn’t all clench their fists or grind their teeth.  They smiled and looked relaxed.  Clearly, I was doing something wrong.  Then I returned to work and furrowed my brow and clenched my fist at the sight of my desk.  

On subsequent vacations I found myself trying to get farther and farther away from the life that was so instilled in me by my parents and the marketers of the day.   I didn’t find myself going to resorts and sipping cocktails on the beach like so many others.  I found myself deep in forests where no one could find me, traversing endless tracts of desert freeway, like a shuttle craft between worlds.  Eventually landing numerous times at Burning Man, which is the farthest you can get from planet Earth without a space ship.

After 20 years of chasing that American Dream, it finally sank in that it was a pyramid scheme.  You ‘could’ rise to the top and be successful and happy, but we ‘all’ can’t do that.  There isn’t enough room or opportunity at the top for everyone.  When it finally sinks in, the inevitable conclusion is that you really don’t want to be at the top after all.  Life shouldn’t be about having hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place.  It isn’t about passing ‘Go’ and collecting $200.  

So my wife and I left to seek other dreams.  Dreams that were our own creation and not the ones marketed to us on television by fast talking pitchmen and infotainment bobble heads.  While wandering far and wide to find a different place to start over we covered a lot of obscure ground.  Looking around long enough we found other kindred souls on the same journey.  They are out there and they have carved little niches in the forgotten places of the world.  Places where it just isn’t profitable for the marketing machines of the 1% to sell in.  Places that are hidden, and want to remain that way.  Places where individuality grows and people don’t follow leaders, they follow their hearts.

While walking through one small town and staring into the shop windows I came across some real estate listings for the area.  One of them was for a parcel of land.  It stated '50 acres, with an Airstream Trailer and a private well (free water!)' in the middle of the high desert of southern Arizona.  I think they wanted $60,000 for it.    That is only $1,200 an acre.  I looked at it and grinned.  Unlike my father, who assumed that only hermits and crazy people would live there, I now knew the answer.  The dreamers lived there.  The people that went to bed each night contented and woke up the next morning to a glorious sunrise and a new world of possibilities.  

We settled in that small town and have never looked back.  We have no cause to.  We bought five acres out in the middle of nowhere, where our dreams are being born.  

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