Looking for Home

I’ve mentioned before that since the day I left on my sabbatical coddiwomple, a little clay bunny has been seated upright on my dashboard. His tummy says, “Love Your Life.” I later added crystals that are said to help people along their journeys, spiritual and otherwise. I’m not a woo-woo person for the most part — I even approach Reiki energy work from a pragmatic perspective — but a couple of talismans can’t hurt, right?

The first part of my trip was fast paced and focused around being where I needed to be to sing, train, preach, visit with friends and one of my daughters, and attend Camp Unite!, a gathering of women campers in Morro Bay, CA (one of many such events held nationwide May 29-June 6). At times, the scale and scope of the journey and all the new sights and experiences became overwhelming. I sought out hotels and friends’ homes to regain a sense of normalcy and breathing room.

I will do a lot of reflection after this sabbatical ends, but in the thick of it, I would count some of my lessons from the first phase to be gaining comfort with changes in plans; accepting that no journey can encompass more than a minute portion of experiences to be had or sights to see; and letting go of other people’s expectations for my trip (e.g., “You stayed in another hotel? I thought you were going to camp nearly every night”). I also learned lessons by coming face-to-face with racism, cultural appropriation, Colonialism, poverty, and a host of other insults to humanity, the environment, and animals.

I’ve learned that it’s OK to fly by the seat of my pants and also to be mindful of when I am physically up to camping. After an intense day of “doing” or driving, I need the restorative powers of a decent bed and hot shower. And sometimes, self care means staying in one place for more than 24 hours; indeed, I spent a week on an Arkansas farm and six days in Salt Lake City at a friend’s home.

I have become used to not knowing where I’ll sleep at night. I usually make a decision between 4-6 pm, depending on the weather, my energy, and my sense of safety in a particular location. I am grateful that I have the ability to make choices; I am well aware that many people search each night for a place to sleep and wind up on a stoop or under a bridge. Bella is privileged also: For every day we have more than 4 hours of travel, we have a day that focuses on outdoor activity — Bella has enjoyed dog parks, creeks, and downtown wanders in quite a few states.

Now that I’m in the West, my focus is on towns not only for their interest or beauty but also for whether I can envision myself living there. I grew up in Northern California and have spent a great deal of time in Oregon and Washington. Even though I have lived in Illinois and raised a family in New Jersey, I never lost a sense of myself as a Westerner. Visiting McCloud, CA brought back wonderful memories of camping, backpacking, and skiing with friends and family while I was growing up. The smell of the pines, the views of Mount Shasta, the friendly people — it felt like home except it is too isolated for my lifestyle.

I had the gift of a high desert camping trip in the state-designated “Oregon Outback” with a friend, and while it was restorative, that would be too isolated as well. Isolated from people, that is. There was ample wildlife — birds singing and flying, coyotes howling at dusk (Bella joined in a haunting call and response — coyotes like to lure domesticated dogs toward them to eat). I carefully stepped away from a rattlesnake that rattled annoyance when I sat nearby to drink my morning tea, and as I led Bella away for safety, I nearly tripped on a gopher snake.

I spent four days in Bend, which has many of the qualities I’m looking for in a community, including Unitarian Universalist congregation. I had breakfast with the fellowship’s director of religious education, attended the annual service auction, and attended the Flower Communion worship service on Sunday. It felt comfortable, even though Bend itself is quite costly to live in and has grown too fast for infrastructure to keep pace.

I next visited Prineville, Redmond, and Sisters, all of which are within striking distance of Bend (during good weather, at least). Prineville is in a large bowl-shaped valley that appeals to me, but the town is very conservative and lacks diversity. Redmond seem to lack the energy I seek, and Sisters has cutesy country overload. It’s a cute, fun town, but I’m not sure it’s for me. I may need to visit it again when it’s not rodeo week.

Yesterday was another exploration day, and Bella and I visited the Painted Hills, which look like they’ve been brushed with watercolors of burnt sienna, taupe, white and black. Today we’ll do more exploring as we head north to Washington. Will I find my next hometown there? Who knows? That’s one of the joys of a coddiwomple.

Happy trails, Melanie