On my first RV drive to San Luis Obispo from San Jose, I left the windows open. I lost parts of several blinds over the windows because I did not take care to check everything before I left. After that, I followed a checklist for weeks. The dictionary defines ‘care’ as a disquieted state of mixed uncertainty, apprehension and responsibility. That sums up my life on the road. But I would go a little further. Caring is an active state. It is a participation with everything around you. Caring, or not caring, arranges the furniture. One of my favorite philosophers, Rollo May, wrote that care is the way back to being.
For the last month, I have spent most of my time in the middle of nowhere. It’s peaceful. Reminds me of my first Zen lesson – the ‘Just Sitting’ meditation. It’s special these days, to be able to sit and watch one’s thoughts. In the midst of serenity, little cares rise up and buzz around in my mind. I should replace some molding around the coach interior, but I haven’t done it yet. I planned to caulk the windows and was caught in the rain before I cared enough to get to it. I should have known better. Most people do. The vehicles I see in the RV parks are clean and well-cared for. Caring appears to be routine for veterans of the road.
Growing up for me has been a process of learning to care about the consequences of my behavior. I am learning to care more … to care enough to check the battery fluid weekly and bleach the freshwater tank once in a while. When I was married, I didn’t care enough about the same things my wife did … as if they didn’t have anything to do with me. For example, she saw dirt on the kitchen floor that I actually did not see. Even when she couldn’t see it, she knew it was there.
During my last stay in Palm Springs, the wind was fierce. A fine dust settled everywhere in the coach. I swept several times a day, having learned how dirt accumulates. Too little, too late for my marriage though. Being care-less probably began in childhood as some sort of defensive strategy. We moved every couple of years and I left a lot of stuff behind. Not caring is one way to get through situations which one is helpless to change. It is an easy habit to fall into because it literally means doing nothing.
Being on the road is a risk and an adventure. Staying on the road is a matter of caring. Caring is a way of thinking that takes all points of view into account.
I spent a week hiking in Caspers’ Wilderness … a state park near the California coast that has not been flooded. When climbing steep hills, I look down at my feet. When I look up, the pull of gravity seems to double. Getting to the top is all about concentrating on the here and now. The hill is always higher than I thought, so when I catch myself thinking that the climb is almost over, I know I’m probably only halfway up. Something challenging usually takes longer than I thought and something easy can be over too soon.
I was in Southern California to photograph my nephew playing baseball. I had been telling my sister that I would do that since he was a freshman. He is now about to graduate. I dragged out the old Maxpreps shirt and got permission to be on the field. I put the photos of the game on Maxpreps for the team. They played the game at Estancia High School, where I taught English and coached soccer in the Seventies. Forty years ago. Another life.
After Casper’s Wilderness, I took the climbing to another level and drove my little Tioga 7000 feet up to Idylwild … at 35 mph for the most part. Alice can handle the climb, just not quickly. The camp at Idylwild was closed in by scrubby oaks, skinny pine trees and overgrown manzanita … punctuated by huge outcroppings of boulders. It had a closed-in feeling, which was not spared by any sort of wide view. I felt no inspiration, even at that height.
Then I spent a few days in Menifee, back in the valley. The chores were piling up: I nicked a vent cover on the roof in a reckless attempt to park at In ‘N Out burger. I scraped an interior wall pulling the ladder out of the storage bunk. I broke the toilet handle. I could go on. I felt as if there were no room for a thought to happen all on its own. Can’t care about everything, all at once.
Inspiration, that breeze of divine breath that tumbles into awareness in unpredictable ways, comes unbidden. We can try to foster it by arranging circumstances just so, but that experience comes from a place of no words, no time, no thing and is not subject to our calling. It bubbles up from the inside, and doesn’t depend on place.
For us travellers, some outside places seem to resonate with something inside us. It’s different places for different people and sometimes it’s the same for all. The secret we each come to learn, eventually, is that we are the constant, the observer that is moving from place to place. That’s the irony of life on the road: every brush with Nature is a soft, subtle reminder that there really is nowhere one has to go and nothing one has to do … in order to be.