Entries in trailer (5)


Sardine sandwiches by the seashore

Since all we have to cook on in our trailer is a propane burner, I have expanded my repertoire of things-to-make-in-a-frying-pan. One of my new creations this year is a fried pocket. I take a large tortilla, fill it with something yummy, fold it into a little package like an overstuffed envelope, and fry it on both sides. Voilà! Something hot and crispy that you can eat with your fingers and that doesn't get the frying pan dirty.

I started making these with ground beef flavored with taco seasoning—originally thinking of it as a fried burrito—but I have branched out into egg, sausage, ham, vegetables, beans, and mushrooms and cheese.

About a year ago, in my quest for variety in the meat department, I purchased a can of sardines. Whenever we were a little low on meal options the subject of the sardines would come up.

ME: We could have sardines.
TOM: Is there anything else to eat?
ME: It would be like a picnic.
TOM: Why did you buy those in the first place?
ME: Well, I thought they would make good emergency food.
TOM: Is this an emergency?

Since there has never been anything that would qualify as a real emergency, the sardines continued to languish in the back of the cupboard.

When you live in a tiny rolling house, even the space taken up by a single can of sardines is coveted. I kept thinking how that place where the sardine can was would be just the right size for a can of tuna or chicken—something we would actually use.

So finally last week, I had a brilliant idea. Sardine pockets! I laid out the tortillas, covered them with a layer of pepperjack, then the sardines, some salsa, and some sharp cheddar. You could hardly even smell the fish, and once I had folded up the tortillas, their slick little bodies were invisible. The pockets cooked up nice and toasty, brown and flakey on the outside and warm on the inside, and I laid out dinner.

We start out eating as usual. Tom eats his salad, a little bit of apple. Then he starts on his pocket. After a few bites he stops.

TOM: What's this?
ME: Fish tacos. (Said with almost a straight face.)
TOM: What KIND of fish...?
ME: There's salsa on them...

So much for that idea. Tom was not fooled for an instant. My sardine sandwiches worked about as well as trying to hide a pill in a ball of meat when we had to pill the cat. And much like the cat, he is now a little suspicious. These pockets have been a fan favorite for dinner, but now he looks at them a little sideways. I don't know if it's a good thing that you can't see what's in those, he says.

I guess that old saying about "what you don't know won't hurt you" doesn't apply to sardines. Some people ALWAYS know about sardines. But, honestly, I thought those pockets were pretty good. And if you are going to eat a sardine, it may as well be fried with cheese and salsa.


Since we left Salem on September 7th, we have been rolling slowly down the coast of Oregon and California between Florence and Crescent City. When I say slowly, I mean that the bicyclists on 101 are going faster than us. In the past six weeks we have averaged about 40 miles per week of distance-moved-south. One cyclist I met in northern California had left Seattle the week before and planned to be in San Diego the next, for an average of 600 miles per week. At a relaxed walking speed, I could easily be traveling 75 miles per week. Anyway, we will leave speed to the bicyclists and the hikers—this is our favorite way to travel in Winky. We drive for an hour or less, find a place to set up camp and then hunker down for a week and see what we can walk to.

We have been listening to an audio recording of Travels with Charley, John Steinbeck’s account of a three-month trip around the United States in his 1960’s truck camper with his blue standard poodle, Charley. He says:

A trip … is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.

What we are realizing is that we are now on a new trip, one with a whole different character than last year’s journey. You would think that where we are now would all flow smoothly out of last year’s travels, but it feels like we are starting all over, and once again there is so much that we don’t know. This time we are much more skilled at the practical parts of living this way—all of that has been seamless—but the trip has not revealed its purposes to us yet, and this can be mentally unsettling. Any effort to resolve this discomfort through planning has not been very successful. It seems that this trip is asking us to be patient, to see what it has in store for us. And to keep remembering, we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.

So while we are waiting, I have been working on completing some old writing projects, and we are always on the lookout for wildlife. On the wildlife front, it has been kind of quiet, but there have been some highlights.

One morning we walked out to the sand dunes in thick fog and early light and found Snowy Plovers moving all around us, half-seen like little wraiths, looking so much like the beach itself that it was as if little balls of sand had suddenly started up and come alive.

It was also a delight to watch the seals pulled out at the mouth of the Smith River do their sleepy calisthenics, stretching their flippers and flexing their rubbery bodies into tight u’s; and at Elk Prairie, the big bull elks with their heavy antlers grazed right up next to the trailer, their bodies steaming in the early sunlight.

Living so much of the time outside leaves us with myriad sense-memories. The wind hard in the salt grass sweeping down a wide expanse of beach. The massive presences of the redwoods, each one a cathedral to itself. The huge waves breaking over the sea stacks in great white gouts of spray. Sitting on the gravel bar of the Smith River in the early darkness before dawn and feeling my adrenalin spike from a nearby loud, unseen, ker-plunk in the water. Startling a little skunk outside the restroom and watching it run away in a circle around me, its long black and white fur flying in a graceful fringe. And all the little things: rust-red salamanders, delicate tree frogs, and bright banana slugs; unexpected swarming hatches of insects after an afternoon of rain; a fast garter snake in the grass; a large black widow spider treking across an open dirt road in the middle of the day; Red-shouldered Hawks lurking on low perches; a peregrine shooting through a flock of gulls along the beach, scattering the white birds like seaspray.

And for the past six weeks, the ocean has been a constant, restless, roaring presence. Near or far, we are always oriented toward it. Its long beaches—rocky, sandy, or covered with pebbles; the knobby, grass-covered capes jutting out into the surf; the protected bays sheltered behind seastacks and jetties; sheer cliffs fronting the swells, with their narrow, secret canyons worn by streams emptying onto the beach; fog rolling off the water in a solid wall at sunset; the green flash of the sun setting on a clear horizon; the long ropes of kelp rolled up in huge, snarled tangles along the beach; all the rotting weed and shell and fish and flesh at the waterline—that crust of grime tossed up like a dare to us air-breathers; and everywhere the endless shifting patterns of waves—water and light caught up in hypnotic, eddying swirls of foam and silt and surf.

We don’t know from day to day where we are going next. We do not yet have a long-term trajectory, though we are constantly rolling ideas around. The uncertainty of this surfaces lots of inner demons for us both. But deep down, I am so grateful to be here, to see what we have seen, and to be able to learn and grow together.


Day 365: One year ago today...

Today (September 5th) marks the one-year anniversary since we left our house to live in our trailer. I roll out of bed for a run before it is fully light. The sun rises red into a thick haze of smoke from nearby forest fires. Back inside, I light the stove to boil water, assemble the same breakfast we have most mornings, eat without ceremony. The list of things to do today is mostly maintenance—getting ready to leave the "base camp" of Tom's parents’ house and head out on the road again: condition our dry leather boots, treat the plastic skylights to keep them from degrading in the sun, cut some new scrap wood for support under the trailer stabilizers, buy tent cord for our new awning.

I think back to what I was doing a year ago. Packing our belongings in the trailer. Putting both kayaks on the truck for the first time. Cleaning out the garage at our house for the renters. Driving away with that dissociated feeling of not having a house to call “home” for the first time since…well, really, ever.

Now the way we are living just feels ordinary. So ordinary that some days it is actually hard to remember what it was like to live in a house. In fact it all feels so ordinary that without the calendar, I wouldn't know today was meaningful.

I was disappointed at first that this day felt so anticlimactic, as I have had one eye toward it for months. But then I realized that today wasn’t actually a real milestone. We decided a long time ago that we weren’t ready to settle down again after a year, so while this is the 365th day since we drove away from the house, nothing is actually ending or beginning on this day.

More relevant milestones were when we arrived back at the farm in Spokane in June (returning to something familiar after so many new experiences.) Or arriving in Salem on August 12 (our last planned destination.) Or the total solar eclipse, which has always been the one thing on this trip with an exact, non-negotiable time. Even the day about a week ago when the moon was the same phase as when we left somehow felt more significant to me than today.

And right now, all of our attention is on preparing to leave town soon and head toward the Oregon coast. Winky has been refurbished and repaired, we have overhauled our equipment, and we are focused on moving on, not on the completion of the year.

So our one-year anniversary passes without much more fanfare than a toast at dinner. But I trust that the changes this year has brought about in us are happening inside, and like all things in nature, will emerge when they are finished, regardless of the date on my calendar. Meanwhile, we will just keep on living…


Day 12: Another ordinary day

Somehow almost two weeks have passed since moving out of our house and into our trailer. The month before the move is a blur of busy-ness; the two weeks since have been spent mostly recuperating from the move (sleep is a miraculous thing!) and getting oriented in our new life.

With a venture like this, nearly everything about it is unknown, so it is easy to project onto it our hopes and our fears. We will be free; life will be simple; it will all be a grand adventure!  Or we will be wet, dirty, and cramped for the year, or robbed of all our possessions after a week.

What I am finding is that this life is neither as exciting nor as scary as it might seem from a distance. Really, what stands out to me most is how ordinary it all feels. Much of my day is often filled with the tasks of daily living. Though there is simplicity in having only what we can fit in our truck and trailer, this also means that our basic chores can be more complex than when we lived in a house.

For example, when we don’t have an electrical hookup, the solar system needs to be managed throughout the day in order to have power. It requires unpacking and setup, regular orienting toward the sun, protection from rain and theft, and packing up again and storing at the end of the day. No more just flipping a switch for power! Water is the same. We need to locate fresh water, fill our tank, make sure the system is kept clean, and carry the waste-water bag to empty it in an appropriate spot.

No showers? Then we set up the shower tent. Time to move on? Then everything we set up needs to be taken down. New town? Then we need to locate a new grocery store and find a laundromat. And then there are all the miscellaneous things: Having the right kind of change for shower tokens and washing machines; what to do with your wet towels; how to fit bulky vegetables in a small fridge; where to store our recycling until we can find a drop-off-center…the list goes on.

At first, all these extra chores felt like, well…kind of a chore! Shouldn’t I get this stuff “out of the way” so I can do something “more important” or “more exciting?” But as I have continued to slow down and relax, I am finding that when I focus on what is at hand—whether that is washing my shoes or folding the trailer to leave camp—that I enjoy doing these daily tasks. That it is pleasant to do the work of caring for ourselves, especially when we are often outside doing it.

There will definitely be time for adventures and writing and meeting people and exploring and learning. But right now it is enough to figure out how to stay fed and clean and dry. To have clothes to stay warm in and a bed at night. To have fresh water and a light when it is dark.

Perhaps this is the meaning of simplicity: to understand the importance of the basics. Food. Water. Shelter. How much work they really take to create and maintain. How necessary they are to our well-being. How damaging it is when these needs aren't met. I feel grateful for all that I have in a way that I didn't feel when I had "more." And that is an exciting adventure!


(After leaving our house on September 5, we stayed a couple days in Seattle, then headed toward the ocean and have been exploring Ocean Shores and Westport.)


But wait...how long IS 25 feet?

So it turns out that our first parking spot for the trailer at my nephew’s house was picturesque. It was level, and looked out at a beautiful view of the trees in their front yard. It was also out of the way of the other cars in the driveway. How nice! However, HOWEVER…wait a minute!…it is too far away from the house to plug in the trailer to charge the batteries, or to hook up the water hose to fill the water tank! Lesson learned. This is the beginning of thinking about water and power in a way that I have never had to do in a house, unless a lightning storm shut everything down for a couple days.

In my mind, I want to just pick the trailer up and move it sideways a little closer to the house. But you can’t just carry a trailer around like a tent. It takes a laborious (for us beginners) process of folding up the trailer, backing up the truck, getting the tow hitch oriented and locked on, connecting the power to the truck, remembering to remove all the chocks and blocks and jacks and locks, backing into the new spot, and starting all over again. This is good practice, I think, as an antidote to the part of me that is calling me a dope for not even thinking about the length of the water hose and the placement of the electrical outlet on the outside of the house. And it is good practice. Both at the tasks themselves and with being patient—with each other and, just as importantly, with ourselves.

Because I am writing this over a month after the fact, I now know that it all gets easier the more times we do it. A year from now this will be so second-nature we won’t even think about it. Even now, only a month later, it is hard to remember what the big deal was. I think this is why it is so good for me to try things that are completely new now and then, if only to have empathy for those who are faced with difficulties that threaten to overwhelm their capacities to think and cope. A diagnosis of cancer, an accident, an injury, a loss of work, a death—and suddenly our minds don’t behave the way we want them to anymore. When I get frustrated with how hard it is for me to visualize something new, I think of my mother’s struggle at the rehab center after breaking her hip—and a possible stroke—with finding her way to the dining room. I realize that no matter how odd it seemed that she couldn’t reliably navigate the hundred yards of hallway by herself even after four months, there was no point in being frustrated with her. When my brother tried to help her orient herself by showing her the map with the red dot labeled “You are here,” her question was, How does it know where I am? After my recent experiences of being up to my neck in new information, I am starting to understand how she could think this.


Starting to get real

First time backing up

(I am a little behind on posting these entires, so this one is actually from May 6.)

It honestly only now occurred to me that there might be anything foolhardy about deciding to live for a year in a travel trailer when we had never actually been in one before. Somehow it didn’t seem like a big deal in my imagination, but now faced with the prospect of a real trailer that needs to be picked up today, I feel anxious and uncertain. Though we both have some experience driving trailers on the farm, that was a long time ago, and neither of us have ever driven with one in urban traffic or on the freeway. We have only just gotten used to driving our truck after 23 years with our little Honda Civic hatchback, and now we are adding another layer of complexity.

As we drive to the RV store the back seat is full of things that we might need to get the trailer ready to live in: tools, a voltmeter, pillows, sheets, a few kitchen utensils, a box of soup, some empty notebooks, a camp chair. We have no idea, really, what we are getting into, but we have the whole day ahead of us to begin.

Picking it up is a blur. More things to buy—caulking for the seals, extra fuses, a potable water hose, a lock for the wheel, dehumidifier, wheel chocks. What is essential and what is just a good idea? So many decisions. Hitched up…engine started…here we go! We feel the extra drag on the truck as we start to roll, turn right coming out of the lot so we don’t have to cross any lanes of this busy arterial, and ease into the flow of traffic. I feel like I am embarking on a voyage to the moon. I wonder if I brought enough oxygen. I don’t even know what I think will go wrong, but certainly something will? But the trailer just follows along behind us like an old dog going for a walk. Even on the freeway it doesn’t even consider any kind of excursions off by itself in its own direction. Good trailer!

After a short drive, we arrive at my nephew’s house, where we are planning to store the trailer. Now the next phase of learning begins—backing up. You would think that I would have a hilarious first-time-backing-up story, but I don’t. It turns out that my brother made my nephew back up through an obstacle course every year before he could drive the hay wagon, and so he is a trailer-backing expert. His calm guidance and clear distinction between “pivoting” and “pushing” turn our morning into a pleasant learning experience rather than a escalating escapade of mis-communication. Tom was even able to back in a U-shape around a tree. No funny story. But lots of gratitude!

We take the day to start to get to know how our new home works: the batteries, the propane system, how to light the stove, how to park and level the trailer, how to hitch and unhitch it, how to operate the refrigerator. I feel a more than a little overwhelmed by all the new information, but we made good progress and I know it will get easier.