The cars are lined up along the street. Like predators, they lay waiting for the door to open at 9:00 AM, so they can pounce on the goods I’ve displayed. The sense of the hunt is palpable. One after another they wind their way among the piles of stuff, searching for that just-right item; finding the thing they forgot they need. Like expert hunters, they let the prey come to THEM.
I become their inner voice and point out a special tent, a bundle of parts for garden greenhouses, buckets of coloring pencils. Can’t you use this box of caulking, rust remover, and paint thinner? I whisper in their ear. If you like this basket, let me show you these bowls you can put in them, I suggest. You lost your home in the fire? I have bedding, plates and cook pots for you! I help the crafty woman sort the rolls of material that can become a quilt or curtains.
The aging bohemian collects old things, tools, cracked pots, an 8-inch-thick dictionary embossed in gold. “I have acreage and display these things to let the past come alive”, he tells me. Literally history in the making, I think. The younger ones are sparse in their hunt. They like to live lean. They choose a few books, a special candle holder, a small backpack. A friend stops by. “You don’t need anything, do you?” I ask. She looks around and spots the Japanese soup bowls. “I want these little ones”, she says, “I’ll think of you when I eat.” I wonder if I’ll live on through my discarded stuff. “My teenager will sleep in this bed”, a mom says. “Just as my teenagers did”, I respond. I don’t add how long ago that was. They need not know about this furniture’s time passing.
In the late afternoon, a young man visiting friends in the neighborhood stops in and finds his treasure, my box of caulking, paint thinner, and rust remover. I show him the rusty gigantic bolts and hooks. “Great”, he says, “a little vinegar will make them good as new”. He takes ‘em all. “Let me text my wife about that coffee table”, he adds. Soon they walk out ready to fill the cracks in their home and enjoy a drink with friends on the cherry wood table. Life continues. It is good this way.
By the end of the day, the furniture has found a new home. I sweep the floor of my emptied house; rearrange the two chairs left in my living room to face the hearth and the view of the mountains. I lean on a cushion in front of them; I experience the sparsely furnished room, and take in the view out the window. Excitement about my new, unencumbered life rises.
Turns with the Earth
Sitting in my writing chair, I have watched many sunsets on the mountains across the valley. The mountains are green this early in the year, green from grasses sprouting, green with conifers. These mountains have invited me to go hike, explore, dream of summer evenings on the trail, and sleeping under the stars. Grizzly Peak has called me to the trail year after year. The sun streaking through from the west has awed me with its play of light, has reminded me of places far away where I travelled, has soothed me at day’s end and let me rest. The light of the sun across this valley has been my companion. A friend, day after day.
There is an average of 198 sunny days in this valley, a number slightly below the average for the United States. We count on 109 days of precipitation here. This is an average climate, not too hot, not too cold; not too much sun, not too much rain and snow. The clearly marked seasons have given me the change I crave. I’ve lived here 36 years.
I will move to an area where there is an average of 285 sunny days per year. More sun, less rain or snow. I will look out at mountains, desert and sky. Sunsets on the mountains and thunderstorms over the mesa will mark my days. The earth’s and sun’s movement gives me a daily experience of what life is: a circular experience; lets me realize who I am: part of a bigger whole. Will I become a different me, I wonder, when I’m awed by colorful sunsets, called to explore a sage green mesa, a dark green pinion pine forest?
Places shape us. Natural places let us know our place in the universe. Hiking solo in 2020 on the Pacific Crest Trail allowed me to become intimate with the trees. I learned how they grew as a family of trees, how they supported one another, how they protected each other (and me) from harsh weather. The trees became my friends. I experienced my place in the whole of things. As I age, I may not hike with a backpack, sleep under the stars and claim myself as part of nature. But I can sit on a porch, feel the wind in my hair, the hot or cool air on my skin and let my eyes rest on mother nature to which my body will return.
The sun has set. The pale blue sky is losing light. A white full moon contrasts with pink clouds. The green mountains across the valley casts their dark shadows and will soon hide the shapes of trees and houses. I will turn my gaze inward, watch the flames in the hearth, let darkness settle before I turn on the lamps.
Sorting Books, Leaving Friends
Between skiing and snow walks, I’ve been sitting in my dismantled living room sorting and packing books. While doing this I remembered sitting on the floor in the aisle of our neighborhood bookstore when I was a young teen, smelling and touching the books on the shelves. Paper and ink smell in my nose; smooth glossy bindings, rough linen bindings, under my fingers.
New worlds opened up as I leafed through these books. I’d choose one to take home and add to my small collection. A book I could keep differed from a book I’d read from the library. The books I kept on a shelf in my bedroom contained stories that became my trusted friends. Soon I expanded to buying art books in a second-hand store. I added paintings to my collection of treasures. Then poetry entered my world and the slim volumes full of thoughts and feelings became go to friends.
Ever since, I’ve lived a life of hauling books. Bookshelves filled with books are an essential part of a home for me. The contents of my bookshelves have changed as I changed. When images and words of the digital world inundated me in the late nineties, books took a quiet backseat in my living room. I still buy hard copies. I still treasure holding a book in my hand to read. But in the new life i'm choosing, a simplified life with less space, I can’t keep them around any longer. And so I’m thinking hard as each book passes through my hands. Will I want to re-read this one? Will I need that information? I read a pruning book and put it on a to go pile. I know how to prune the grapevines, the apple tree, the espaliered peach. And there’s always a YouTube video, if I’m in doubt. The herb books follow the pruning book for a similar reason. And then come the novels with stories that live in my mind and touched me. They are my friends. But I cannot take all the friends I’ve had in my life, with me. I have to choose. The ones that’ll play an active role in my new life, I save. The ones that can teach me about story structure, about writing a scene, about a good plot, I save. Poetry volumes, the wise lines for living when I need it, get to come with me. But the rest has to go. I’ll let myself travel less padded with words, open to new experiences. I look at the stacks of to go books around me on the floor. I must find people who want my books as friends.
Out with the Old, In with the New
It’s New-year’s eve. Boxes line the walls of rooms in my house. My library now comprises three boxes, taped shut. I like how fitting things in boxes creates neatness among my stuff. Four boxes not taped shut are the books that have to make new friends. As I reduce, I remember an earlier time in my life. 26-Years-old, my boyfriend and I planned to travel the world for a year. Our rented quarters at the time, consisted of a room and shared kitchen in a big house. Though we had few things, a bed, some cooking utensils, clothes, a chair, and books, we reduced until what we wanted to keep, fit in a 317 cubic feet pine shipping box. My parents let me store the crate at their house until we could ship it upon returning to wherever we lived. We didn't know where that would be. We were on an adventure. Leaving a 317 cubic feet home base for future use and having what we needed on the road in a backpack was exhilarating and freeing.
As I reduce the possessions I’ve accumulated while living a householder's life for 36 years, the lightness of being rises in my body. The tremor of excited anticipation sneaks through the anxiety resulting from making contracts with buyers, repairmen, and movers. I won’t come back here. My new world will be a small home base. The new environment will force me to change my habits. I hope this transition will be easy on me and let me land softly. So far, so good. Things are unfolding in a way I like. I don’t trust life as much as I did in my twenties. An older body, a memory filled with experiences, has made me wiser about what can go wrong. I’ve lost my youthful innocence, but I haven’t lost my comfort with going on an adventure. Isn't life always an adventure if you have the eyes for it?
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