Tag Archives: off the grid

Life Lists: Birds & Fears I have Met

Those are just some of my new life-list birding additions. You may not recognize the last bird on the list. He’s a subspecies of the Common Peckerwood. He’s loud, crude, and mean just like the Common but with a more lilting song.

“I don’t care how young they is, them sorry-ass young’uns never do nothin’. If they won’t get off their asses ‘n help, do dishes er sumpin, I ain’t never bringin’ ‘em agee-in.”

I am still in this valley of a thousand birds and bullfrogs and butterflies and the barest of breezes.

And no internet.

Now and then I eke out a message to my daughter or brother. Now and then some spam text trickles in.

It rained off and on yesterday, light rain mostly. But the length of the river/lake took rain and it is slowly rising, looking to be about 3-4” higher than when I arrived. I missed the flood from last week that muddied everything. I’m in one of the lower spots but there is no heavy, flooding rain predicted before I leave.

All this mud and shade and still air is fertile earth for the birds and their prey.

The ubiquitous and vocal song sparrows, while rather plain, are true to their name, filling the valley with varied and beautiful songs. They, like so many other songbirds, thrushes, blackbirds, and woodpeckers, are here for the bugs.

Song Sparrow

I’m not generally bothered by bugs. I am fond of spiders, love snakes, (I’m told there were four copperheads in the bathhouse rafters last week), and have a healthy respect for other wild animals.

So when the host mentioned potato bugs in the bathhouse, I thought of this critter — one of a few insects so named.

She meant tree roaches—apparently of a species with which I am unfamiliar but that has as much gall to crawl and fly directly at its victims as do the big, ugly bast***s on the Gulf Coast. They aren’t much smaller, either. (Shudder)

I despise roaches. I have an irrational fear of them, actually. I can hold beetles, snakes, spiders, and dead things of all kinds. Don’t make me go near a roach.

I only despise the Common Peckerwood. Nothing irrational there. They’re just annoying.

Still, I want to be as far from both as possible. Trapped in a shower stall in the campground, ladies shower with a tree roach ignoring my commands to “stay on your side, you ugly bast***!” was tremor inducing.

The grumpy Kentucky Mountain Peckerwood—actually kind of entertaining after the initial, oh my gosh, hush!

These are the things that make the days memorable as I make this journey. Some of the parks run together and I can’t recall which name went with which beautiful lake or river. Human and critter interaction is what makes these places real and not simply postcard memory.

I will never return to this valley after Tuesday. It has been a difficult stay and I have four nights yet. My anxiety has reached a high I never experienced in life except in the last several months of my marriage. I am NOT a mountain girl.

I have never suffered claustrophobia. I live in a tiny, fiberglass bubble on wheels and it doesn’t faze me.

These mountains, though—they are leafy, bird-filled prison walls. I have begun to have deep, irrational, absurd fears of a kind that have no basis in reality. Is it possible that the rain will come down so hard that all the roads out will wash out and I will be stuck here for weeks while they make repairs? There is that minute possibility. Is it possible my truck will breakdown and I will be stuck here for days awaiting help to get it repaired? There is that slightly less than minute possibility. Is it possible that by the time I escape this internet wasteland, all my loved ones will be gone from this world and I will be utterly alone forever? Highly unlikely. Is it possible I will suffer a sudden fatal something or another and die here inside Blanche only to be discovered late Tuesday when the host notices the flies and Sammy’s howls to go potty. Highly unlikely.

But these are the kinds of dark thoughts engendered in the throes of anxiety attacks and their related irrational fears.

These irrational fears make “potato bugs” and peckerwoods harder to tolerate. They make mountains taller, darker, closer, and more far-reaching than they are in reality.

I will eventually drive out of mountains and into gentler hills again. Wide open skies of sunrises and sunsets will embrace me in a soft and distant way. My brother laughs and says, “just in time for tornadoes.”

And maybe some Mississippi peckerwoods.

Ah well. Here’s video of a White-breasted Nuthatch. Enjoy.

“I would come back home but home comes with me.” Houseless in America.

I’ve learned I will probably never want a house and all its things again.

Brick and mortar. Floors on joists and walls on a frame. Things on every shelf and in every room. All the pieces that make a home for others, make me anxious.

I sit in my brother’s house and my mind begins to wander, seeking escape. It’s the stuff. It crowds in and it isn’t even my stuff. I enjoy the time spent talking to him and my niece but grow restless after a while and ready to retreat to my little fiberglass womb (a 2006 Casita named Blanche). Even there, I am anxious to get anything out of Blanche that doesn’t belong there: my sewing machine, gifts for others, provisions I store in Betty White, the Chevy Colorado, and small bags of trash that accumulate with each day’s living. All these must go by the end of the day if possible.

I am reading a book about the uptick in RV/van life in the 20-teens when the recession hit. The author finally reached the point of attempting this nomadic lifestyle herself (rather than just interviewing and chronicling others’ lives) and found after a couple of months of van living, that being back in her Brooklyn apartment was uncomfortable. There was too much space. She mentions missing the “womb” of her van.

I once described a lover’s trailer bedroom that way. I found peace sleeping in that space barely larger than his king-sized bed. I would return home the following morning and feel the space of my house like a looming animal crouching around me.

Let me take a step further back: in 1991, I got married then moved into a 2300 sq. ft. home with an atrium. I loved the place and fought the idea of leaving it. I had thought I’d end my days there. Instead, in 2005, we moved to a 1900 sq. ft. home, and some 13 years later, a 1300 sq. ft. beach house. Lastly, before Blanche, I moved with the dog into a 630 sq. ft. rental house in 2020.

And now? I live in maybe 40 square feet – being generous. I have storage in my vehicle for some essentials that aren’t required daily, but most of my daily life is contained relatively comfortably within Blanche. All my peace and comfort is within her curved and carpeted walls.

Some days I wish I could get by with even less. I imagine, in time, I will whittle my belongings down further. I already regret not selling many things that are back in storage near the coast and that will require a couple of weeks’ clearing-out effort next year.

The feeling of people, space, and things holding me captive is hard to quantify or qualify. I used to hear stories about people who gave everything up to go live off the grid or join a commune and I thought it rather nutty. About three years ago I began joking with my family that I was going to do just that. Maybe I’d even go “live in a van down by the river.”

I knew, deep down, as my daughter waved off my comments or as friends laughed at my Facebook posts about these escape fantasies, that I wasn’t joking.

I just didn’t believe I’d have the guts to do it. Nor could I pinpoint exactly WHY I was so anxious to go. Not just to leave my marriage but to leave a fixed address as well. To stop being surrounded by stuff that meant nothing to me.

No — not nothing. Worse than nothing. Stuff that meant suffocation. Drowning. Spiritual starvation in the face of capitalistic gluttony. It was Hurricane Nicholas that finally brought that fully home to me: living in a house I didn’t own and worrying about stuff being taken away by a miserable storm when none of it mattered.

None of it.

I’m still a glutton. I still have more than I need and better than I need, but I’m making do with less. I’m giving up my favorite beans and switching to whatever half decent coffee I can find while on the road. I’ve pared down my clothing to minimum for most seasons. I have enough paper to write with for a while but left most of it behind. I gave most of my pens and ink away and will sell more. (Now THAT is a sacrifice for a writer. HA!) I forgot to pack all my warm, fuzzy socks, so I’ll be having some Raynaud’s fun.

More important are supplies to keep Betty and Blanche running as well as food for Sammy (I could stand to lose a few pounds since the Christmas splurging) and cleaning supplies for all of us.

From there it’s bigger consumables I need to maintain my home on wheels: propane, gasoline, batteries, spare parts.

Lastly, I have a handful of items that will keep me on the grid because I am not ready for that last hurdle yet. If I ever will be.

Somewhere on the upper Texas coast, a man I clashed with on the beach last spring is parked in his truck with his dog, living as he wants to live without phones and laptops and making do with odd jobs to pay for the odd meal. I didn’t quite understand that a year ago.

Maybe I do now. Maybe I am seeing the simplicity of his life as a value-added life versus a something-missing life. Maybe I’m seeing how easy it would be for me to slip into a little of his unique reality so different from what mine was last summer.

I am starting to understand that while I see the line between being “houseless” and “homeless” clearly, the rest of capitalist America just sees a blurry haze on the pavement. For now, I am houseless because I choose to be so and because it makes sense from a financial, economic, and spiritual/emotional standpoint for me. As yet, it is not my only option but my best option. It may be my only option eventually and that’s okay, too.

Regardless, the tradition of being in the smothering carcass of a house is anathema to me. Fine for others, hellish for me. How odd that space is as disturbing and suffocating to some as the lack of it is to others. Give me the space of a desert canyon or the expansive sea (as long as I can live in my “two sealed bowls on wheels”) over the expanse of vaulted ceilings, landscapes of furniture, and tchotchkes scattered like waiting vultures.

This song was often in my head as I considered the move to an RV or van. The “sea” being all of the open world that lay before me.