“She had pared herself down to an essential something that I wanted.”
Saturday night found me crashed on the couch in a post-Appalachian Trail stupor, clicking through information about zero waste lifestyles, tiny space living, and recipes for homemade versions of drug store staples. It’s fascinating reading to be sure, but why I’m drawn to the cause of hardcore naturalism is the larger puzzle.
The events of my summer have revolved around questions of simplicity: what it is, and what it means. The summer months have seen me poking through the detritus of strangers and family alike as I simultaneously discovered estate sales and assisted in two major moves.
Although I have acquired some great pieces at the estate sales (a gorgeous antique scale, a wooden treasure box, and some vintage cameras, to name a few) it hasn’t escaped my attention that the process was really just an epic yard sale of someone’s life: the dishes they ate from, the art that inspired them, and even the photos and scrapbooks they kept, all up for grabs to any stranger waving a bit of cash.
One of the moves I helped with involved serious downsizing, and, at times, it seemed that the pile of stuff not going to the new house rivaled the one that did. As the piles accumulated, I wondered if I were required to reduce my belongings by half, what would make the cut?
While those around me were shedding stuff, I was shedding weight: my own form of ridding myself of excess. Then, as if by design, circumstances pulled me away from comforts I would have previously deemed nonnegotiable. It was as if an invisible ratchet tightened around my metaphoric backpack of essentials, squeezing out half the contents and challenging me to make do with the rest.
I packed for Haiti with an air of confidence: it was familiar; I knew what I needed, I knew what could stay behind. I knew what health precautions to take, and which ones were overkill. At one point, my confidence rose so high as to yield the thought that it really wasn’t THAT much different than packing for Florida.
Yeah…because I apparently forgot that Florida has electricity and running water, and roads and all sorts of amenities that the remote Ohso community in L’Asile, Haiti does not. See, the thing was, I thought we were going to stay at a mission base, when we were actually venturing into the forgotten outreaches; the Haitian equivalent of our Appalachia. Even our Haitian guides from Port au Prince were alarmed by our conditions, which included staying in an concrete building and the use of a communal chamber pot. Because I had packed for nothing more bracing than a Sunshine State sleepover, I spent the week bedding down on a concrete floor in my thin sleeping bag.
And you know what? It was OK. All of it: the concrete, the creek we had to fjord multiple times a day, flowing with mud and animal feces, even the chamber pot. It was all nbd.
Ditto for this year’s Appalachian Trail section hike. A last minute change of route took us deep into the wilderness: no camp sites, no showers, no bathrooms, no potable water—just hardcore, backwoods, girl vs. nature type stuff. And that was OK, too.
Which brings me to this concept we call “simplicity.” How exactly, is scaling endlessly rocky inclines hauling 30 extra pounds on my back simpler than sitting on my couch staring at screens? How is growing and preparing food easier than popping a can or pouch? Why is DIY anything more minimalist than prefabbed? Simply put, can what we label “simplicity” accurately be called “simple?”
I am not sure. I just know that there are areas in which I’d be happy to pare down: fewer chemicals, less waste, reduced clutter. I want to breathe fresh mountain air and pick my dinner from a tree. I want sunshine to bake itself into the fibers of my drying clothes. I want to scavenge raw materials and transform them into functional art, creating a living space of sensory delight not available in any catalog or display. I want to eliminate go-to plastic solutions in favor of creativity; to stop reaching for the paper towels every 5 minutes, to stop cleaning my pores, my pots, my floors with chemical-company potions. I just want it to be…simpler.
Only time will tell if this is a rant or a renaissance. For today, it’s just baby steps: leaning less on the Bounty I can buy on a roll, and more on the abundance I’ve already been given.
This week’s reading List:
And…to be fair: even though I am not reading the novel, the excellent quote at the top came from Jessica keener’s Night Swim, a Friday freebie from Nook.