Before we had our first child, from the comfort of our own old brick flat, surrounded by rose bushes with the knowledge of a siberian refugee family renting the big old house we owned on the other side of town, we made a vow. The vow was to each other and to a loving higher power we believe in. We will roam the world for the rest of our lives if there is need. That was it. Something inside changed.
It would be two houses on two continents and two kids later that we would take this more seriously. We would come back full circle from the other side of the world. Sell our house and our belongings. This time we bought backpacks, sleeping bags and a small blue tent with just enough room for us all. The tent was called ‘The Family Arch’. The name seemed significant. An arch to shelter our whole family. We would prove our mobility by carrying all that we owned to a walking access government camping area called ‘Battleground’ in Washington state. Even the name ‘Battleground’ seemed significant. We were battling complacency, greed, blind expectation and a normal life. Lizzy, who had been walking for less than a year, was wearing a tiny backpack with just enough room for a couple of treasures. Sam had a responsible look on his face as he noticed how big his backpack was compared to his little sister’s. Mom and dad were carrying most of the kids belongings, including Lizzy’s small red down sleeping bag. I never knew that sleeping bags came so small. On the outside of the tent we wrote ‘Battleground, Washington’ along the bottom edge in permanent marker. Over the next 17 years we would write many more names of places to mark where we popped up this little tent.
Over the next several years we would travel for a few years then stay put for a few. We were thinking that nobody really travels for the rest of their lives with no home base. We aren’t irresponsible. We know that someday we must ‘settle down’ or at least have a ‘home base’.
All along the travel is changing us. The world we know intimately is getting bigger and bigger. It is getting harder and harder to show interest in things that consume most people’s lives. When we do ‘settle down’ for a season our houses seem to have the wackiness and temporary nature of a college flat. At mealtimes our table displays our collection of dishes with no two pieces matching. We have mannequins for a coat rack in Perth. We target cheap, used furniture with strategically draped throws to cover up stains and holes. We coin the term ‘post communist chic’ and furnish our home with what no one else wants in Prague. We become experts at knowing the days when people put furniture on the side of the road for the rubbish collection. We ‘dumpster dived’ for treasure. It was seeming that we would never ‘grow up’. Easy come, easy go is our motto. It is not so hard to get rid of our possessions when they are found so cheaply.
Stromness in the Orkney Isles, is another attempt at ‘settling down’ or at least ‘having a home base’. It is so beautiful there. ancient and mystical. The inhabitants have the quirky nature that people in the hard to reach corners of the world seem to excel in. We look for a dilapidated house to buy. Nothing. The retired english like to buy their second homes up here for their summers. They can pay cash for their houses. Someone tells me,”I don’t believe in second homes.” At first, I think that is quite strange but here I understand why. Families that will put their kids in the schools and will buy from the shops year round get outbid by retired couples that want a summer getaway. It is killing the local economy and culture. I also think how much I dislike needing something that everybody wants. This isn’t our style. We take what nobody wants and make it beautiful. Well, at least it seems beautiful to us.
As we cannot buy we rent. At first we rent a furnished house on the hill with pink sofas and plates with poodles on the wall. Next, we spend the winter in a summer holiday home. Finally, our friends find us a huge, dilapidated flat above the post office. It stays so cold in this flat that our olive oil goes solid and friends put on gloves and hats before they walk inside. We huddle and serve cups of tea around our ‘trueburn’ wood stove that also heats the hot water for our bath. A blowup bumblebee hangs from the ceiling. The coat hooks that line our expansive hallway hold bizarre costumes. We put a family of 5 in our dining room to live because there is always room for a few more. Another quirky friend makes a bedroom for himself in our attic. Our door is never locked.
I am offered an internship in pottery. Soon afterward I start up my own pottery business and an artists cooperative in the old sorting room below us. The roof leaks but that is ok it is a good place to put an upside down umbrella to catch the rain or a fern that would appreciate the extra moisture.
Life is good but the road continues to call. Our friends are dear but the world that excites them is so much different then our passions. We find that we can’t say so much of what we have experienced or what we are thinking because it alienates. We begin to get lonely. We feel like freaks. We miss our friends in other corners of the world but we can’t afford to travel to see them while paying the running expenses of our own home.
We begin looking for a truck to live in. We realize that maybe, just maybe settling down isn’t just staying in one place. Settling down might just be realizing our own uniqueness and settling down into that. We are nomads. We feel alive on the road. We just don’t seem to do stationary as well as others but we do road better than most. Our creativity wakes up on the road. We love creating home in random places. Besides, Jessica says that when she was living with us we were nice in a house but came alive on the road. This time we will find a strong truck that won’t blow up on the motorway in Italy (the Iveco story). One that we can fix up for ourselves that addresses our own needs and desires rather than some prefab thing made up for 2 retired people and their travel-size dog. A truck that is strong and durable. No plastic bits that break off or electronic gadgets that break down and are too expensive to fix (the Winnebago story). Something with lots of room for family and friends to sleep and a stove with ‘flameage’ (Andrew’s word) and great big pots to cook for lots of people. No wussy shower for midgets or smelly chemical toilet inside our vehicle. We will make places for them outside. We want macho metal, enamel and lovely wood. We want room for our books and games and toys. This will be a vehicle for the Jones family. This will be the Jones Story.
We are nomads and hopefully we will never grow out of it.