“Thoreau read Wordsworth, Muir read Thoreau, Teddy Roosevelt read Muir, and you got national parks.”
– Robert Haas, UC Berkeley, Environmental Studies professor
When raising a child, a sense of place and home is important for attachment and belonging. So you can imagine my discomfort over these last several months as we have traveled across the country in the National Park system. Am I doing the right thing? Does he feel connected to others? What is place? What is home?
The questions, “What is place? What is home?” are not new to me. These questions I asked even before Robbie was born.
When Robbie was born, we delved into the Waldorf school system and Rudolf Steiner methodology. We considered Unitarian philosophy, born of Emerson who mentored Thoreau. I read Wordsworth’s poetry and parts of Walden.
When I was first called to travel, when Robbie was just shy of 3, my closest friend at the time said, “you can’t go somewhere without your community, that’s not responsible. What will you do? How will you live without a community?” While with a child there is extra planning and her questions legitimate, her real concern had nothing to do with me or Robbie, but with her fear of the unknown, subtly hidden behind the idea of being ungrounded and without roots. Despite our closeness, she was unable to see what was really calling, something that my heart had been saying for a very long time. Literally, “the mountains are calling, and I must go.” (John Muir) There was little to no assistance in helping me answer the call, rather people trying to get me to “stay in place”. And I too had fear, I was looking for approval. Yet so much was NOT RIGHT.
Over the years, every often in their sessions with me, people in pain would inevitably come to the pain of displacement and disconnect from an inner home. These very questions of place and home were reflected in the pain of displacement and disconnect and came from several directions:
1. chronicity of pain and the exhaustion from having to live with illness and its effects
2. disconnect from a type of truth that was calling to them yet they did not know how to access
3. unconsciousness or inability to access something within themselves yet an awareness or “feeling” that something has “just not been right”
4. total and complete awareness that they are not living the way they are supposed to but have decided because of obligation, a sense of responsibility, and/or belief that they must do what they are doing.
5. using their pain or other’s pain to distract from what they know to be true
In all the situations described above, we worked with acceptance and acknowledgement of “where they were”. Life in some ways is like any extreme sport. You can’t ride the rapid, climb the mountain, or jump out of the airplane without knowing where you are starting from and taking an assessment of what you need to move forward. And just like in extreme sports, sometimes you just have to jump with no map. In both, there is still an awareness of where you are at the moment and an acceptance of it that leads you to make the next step. To not do so puts you at greater risk.
Last June, I took stock. The pain of others, the chronicity of illness and pain inside me, the disconnect from truth, the unconsciousness and inability to access a place within myself, and the awareness I was living according to other’s sense of responsibility for what they thought was right for my child had taken over to the point of creating an internal juggernaut of pain. I was able to move in my yoga practice and move, yet my spirit was flagging and failing. As I became aware of this deep pain, I worked with a healer who helped me to accept where I was without judgement. As I came to acceptance, a friend randomly suggested, “Rita, you have been talking about and going to mountains for years. Go to the Tetons, you have never been there and I think it will be great for you and Robbie.” Boom. We went with 3 days of planning and no reservations. The rest, if you have been following me, you know.
For me and Robbie on the road, we have had a rhythm that is fairly basic. I wake up usually 2-3 hours ahead of him. In that morning time, I move my body (yoga/run/high intensity exercise/walk) and pray, get an idea of the day, and make or get his breakfast ready. I take a shower, baby wipe off if no shower, or jump in the lake/river until we can get a shower. When he wakes up, I read to him a historical reading of our location or from John Muir as he eats. Brush our teeth. And then we either investigate, explore, and study. Or if we have made friends, investigate and explore together.
In the evening we listen to a story together on audible books, take showers, and do coherent breathing with a short meditation. We give thanks for our day and tell each other the “rose” and sometimes the “thorn” of our day.
Of late, since we have been on the road a year now, I have had this angst of his “place” and “home” again, as well as mine. We have covered more than 10, 000 miles in our driving: 1000’s of hours of greek/egyptian/norse mythology, traveled the Cascade volcanic range studying 13 volcanoes, geeked out on Lewis and Clark, gold mining, the magnificent Southwest, the Sequoias and Redwoods…does he have a place that he can call his?
We have traveled back and forth every month as of last September so that we can each visit our fathers, reconnect with families and the rhythm of our “northeastern life” and suburb home. Was I doing the right thing?
Back east, some people don’t even speak to me now, as this idea of removing my child from school is too out there. In the National Parks, every single family, random people and Park Ranger has said, “OH WOW, what an opportunity, Robbie!”
Yes, all that. And I feel it all. What parent wouldn’t? I have no road map. I only knew it was not right what and how we were living. My heart was calling as it had been for YEARS, and the illness and pain that had resulted within my own body and mind and diminishing private practice made me realize that I was not practicing what I had for so long preached. It may be WAY OUT of MY BOX. But this was it. And all roads led to this point.
While at Lassen Volcanic National Park, I saw the quote of “Thoreau read Wordsworth, Muir read Thoreau, Teddy Roosevelt read Muir…” As I thought about it, each one of these men inspired lives in their own way by living the way they were supposed to live. For Thoreau, his sense of place was nested in one place, studying the flowers and seasons as they transpired every year. And for Muir, his sense of place was found in wandering through what has now become the National Park System. He came back to his family on a regular basis, carving out a living in one place eventually transforming his professional work to the Sierra Club and talking to crowds and influential people about his journeys in nature.
We have a rhythm, me and Robbie, that goes through periodic change, adding a few things, taking out others. My friends who are full-time RVers also have this rhythm, a unique independent way, that includes others. Because they have answered their own call to live the way they know they must they have an ease and flow to them. For us, life as an extreme sport has been met, our children happy, content and flourishing.
The rhythm of life and all its glory is right where I stand, wherever I am.