First Winter

Bad weather makes us stronger. Winter overlanding in a teardrop instigated a catharsis for me. And what seems to have come about is a simpler life, one that I hope makes me a better person, a more observant one, with a more gracious sensibility. Or at least I am becoming less of a spoiled city brat.

During the first winter months of living outdoors, I was often too cold to hand write notes let along type them on a keyboard. I mean, let's be real here. This was the most winter and coldest weather I have experienced in the 25 years since I left upstate NY. Prior to LA, my previous 20 years was in Phoenix. So here I was, the new “outdoor outdoor” life was cold, very cold. Days were short. Dark came fast. Basic things like dressing and eating seemed to be harder to do and take longer to get done. 

In our first three months teardrop overlanding, which started in January 2016, I felt like I had very little value to the outside world. A long and intense public sector career now behind me. And without the work, the rigor and the stimulation, I often felt listless and generally without purpose. I went from working on a macro scale for the largest municipality in the nation to a micro scale challenge of how to live in a teardrop in the dead of winter. That's forty square feet, with all of nature as my living room, our living room. One with no walls and no indoor heating or plumbing. Living outdoors had hit hard.

Every day was possessed by polar opposites. Happy and sad. Uncomfortable and cozy. Bored and curious. Fulfilled and unfulfilled. Important and irrelevant. Many mixed emotions came with all that. Living in what seemed like our own endless Survivor Teardrop Winter Edition featured practical matters such as trying to stay just clean enough.

Then there was the visual and experiential aesthetics of and seeing, hearing and living amidst the most exquisite and overwhelming vocabulary of nature. Funny thing is as I look back at my notes, I see that I wrote about many of our coldest nights. Each seemed colder than the last. Those times were at once demanding and romantic. Being inside Teardrop at night was a great reprieve from gusty winds and unforgiving cold. It was the best place to be at the end of many days.

Where does the sun go during the winter?! Gray skies were frequent, therefore the daily temps didn't warm much. I joked that it was like living in a refrigerator. Actually, it was warmer inside the refrigerator than outside. Our soap was practically frozen solid. Wet hair would freeze. 

We were vulnerable. My hands got painfully cold when washing dishes. I slept in base layers, hat and gloves, down booties, scarf and anything else necessary. Sheep fleeces from my mother's farm piled on top. David, being a guy was hardier and appeared more comfortable, or at least required less layers. That of course annoyed me.

We were often quiet with each other. Conversation was minimal especially as we were packing gear to get on the road. If I thought too hard about it, my mind payed tricks on me. Is he mad at me, do I exist here? Why is everything so laborious to do in frigid temps? Why does that bird over there seem happier than me?

I had no choice but to explore the nagging idea of productivity, with the hope of releasing myself from the trap of needing to accomplish things. I had worked hard to become college educated and professionally accomplished. And yet, none of that seemed relevant in the face of winter. I may as well have been walking around naked out there. Tell me, if one speaks of aesthetic theory in the forest, did it really happen? The answer is no. Aesthetic theory is irrelevant out there. My work doesn't matter much in the winter woods. Without my work, who was I? I had become a cliche. 

The tension was cut only by my being emotionally alone in the crisp air, black nights, starry skies, delicious landscape vistas and difficult weather. The trials and events of snowfall, ice pack, freezing rain and hail. The push and pull, the whipping and swirling of a howling wind. Looming clouds and elusive sun. The utter quiet of a cold dark winter's night when all else is asleep. It was unavoidable. It stared me down. Laughed at my pathetic struggle for personal power.

Winter living had a way of pushing unnecessary thoughts and actions out of the way. My energy dedicated to mourning who I used to be has diminished. I began taking brisk walks to warm up. It's impossible to feel pathetic while moving briskly. It's hard to feel purposesless when on an exploratory walk. The discovery walks are something I did to assess a new camp. I didn't know who I am without my career, but I did know I could make very small goals of observation to learn about a place. 

Weather is not a discussion topic made only for people avoiding harder topics. Weather is beautiful, it is powerful, expressive and unpredictable. Its temperament is as diverse as one's emotions. If we throw ourselves into winter, there is so much to learn just from observing what we see around us. Mother Nature sheds toxins, nourishes herself, screams in fits and rocks herself to sleep for a good rest. What is winter anyway?

About a month in, someone asked me if I had any revelations so far. I have had so many epiphanies, more than I care to have. A great stretching occurred. Pushing through, digging deep for what's important to me, working harder for what I want and who I want to be. I am not here to be complacent in life. I am here to be bold with life. Back to basics first by marveling at bad weather as a thing to behold.