An excerpt from February:
Tamara: Yesterday was a long drive across Saskatchewan and Manitoba. It is not any more interesting or diverse than North or South Dakota.
Big Cat: The litter box has become my friend; I hide in it most of the day. The trunk makes a good perch when I want to stare daggers at her for dragging me across the continent.
Tamara: Grace asked to see Big Cat but he wouldn’t come out from under the covers. She was disappointed. I told her kitties have different personalities, much like people. Some kitties are shy and like to hide. “Like you?” she asked, “I haven’t seen you before.”
Big Cat: A child came to see me. I refused an audience and made it look like she was lying to the child about there being a cat in the camper at all. I remained curled in my cozy bed under the blankets.
Tamara: Last night was the coldest yet. I popped up on a logging road in the deep quiet of the winter woods.
Big Cat: WTF? My water bowl is frozen.
Tamara: I sat in a chocolate shop in Montreal this morning and wrote while I drank coffee and ate a croissant. It snowed and then rained so it was a perfect morning to hang out in a warm shop full of bakery smells.
Big Cat: I slept under the blankets while she went away for a few hours. She came back smelling of coffee. I didn’t even get catnip.
Tamara: Sister Carolyn and I had a lovely dinner in Hanover. Scallops, yum.
Big Cat: Cat food, again. At least I got some catnip today.
Tamara: Carolyn and I walked up through the forest along the ledges, looking for tracks and hoping for a bobcat.
Big Cat: There is a giant, four-legged animal moving in and out of the barn. It whinnies when anyone walks outside. I can’t take my eyes off of it; I twitch my tail. I am ready to pounce, if only it would come close enough.
A few days in the relative wildness of western Massachusetts… spring peepers, croaking toads, beaver, mink, Canada geese, and beautiful late winter light made a perfect escape.
Like many decisions I’ve made through the years, leaving my house and moving into a camper didn’t seem particularly crazy to me. It wasn’t until I became obsessed with a steamer trunk that the enormity of my decision began to take form in my head.
The steamer trunk belonged to my great-grandmother who used it to tour Europe in some finer era of passenger ships and dressing for dinner. After many years in my care it was ready to go live with another member of the family. A friend helped load it into the backseat (I removed the actual backseat) of the truck several weeks before I left my house because its weight and bulk were too great for me to deal with alone. It brooded in the backseat, its old leather dusty and worn, and its metal-clad corners hard against the backs of the front seats (yes, both front seats).
There was enough headroom to stow a duffel on top of it and for the cat to worm his way into a hidden corner if I didn’t stash my coat or anything else in the way and enough room at one end of the trunk for the necessary litter box.
Under ordinary circumstances, the trunk would be a minor inconvenience. My life rarely seems to hold ordinary circumstances. At this point most people would drive from point A to point B and deliver the trunk but, alas, this would be too easy.
Instead, I divested myself of the vast majority of my belongings and moved the remainder, including the cat, into the truck and the slide-in camper that have become my home.
By most standards, my house was small, approximately 780 square feet, with a shop that added maybe another 200 square feet. The most generous estimate of the total square footage of my new, combined truck and camper tiniest-house-ever is 85. Yes, 85 square feet. Total.
Now, consider this: the steamer trunk has a footprint of 7 square feet. Of course, 7 square feet is nothing, unless your living space totals 85 square feet. If you additionally consider the three dimensional bulk of the trunk…
Needless to say, I became obsessed with getting the trunk out of my space.
As I said, under ordinary circumstances one would move the trunk and get on with life. Which is sort of what happened. Only moving the trunk involved emptying a house, moving into a camper, crossing a continent in winter (and no, not by a southern route and, admittedly, by choice), visiting some friends along the way, and working around the elephant in the truck.
When I bought the house, I chose it because nothing needed to be done. The first thing I did after moving in was, essentially, gut it. I tore out the carpeting, the windows, an old chimney, several walls, the kitchen cabinets, the air conditioner, the patio roof, the back door…
The only home improvement project necessary for my new truck and camper home was an organizational system in the backseat, in the exact spot entirely consumed by the Trunk.
By this time, the Trunk has taken on its own persona, becoming larger than life, and now deserving of a capital letter “T.”
I am generally not an owner of stuff. I try not to accumulate things; I try to move unwanted items on to happier homes. Some would say I am obsessive. When I have decided something has to go, it has to go.
Alas. The Trunk stayed, for weeks, through provinces and states, through bitter cold and mild days, through sun, snow, and freezing rain. Until, finally, one mild winter day in Vermont it was extracted from the truck. Pulled out like a bad tooth and taken away.
Now, finally, the truck has become palatial. The sudden expansion of the extended cab is almost a little daunting. I don’t feel obligated to immediately fill that space but I do feel compelled to organize it (see above, re: obsessive).
A few days later, on a pretty damn cold New Hampshire day through the good graces of an old friend, a new structure takes the Trunk’s place. A box for the solar panel is bolted to the seat mounts. Upright supports are installed, a wall is built, shelves take shape, rims are glued to the shelf edges. There is a massive rearranging of items and Voila! the truck becomes home.
I have moved in.
My entire life now takes up far less space in the universe. I have a few things stored, a canoe, some books and clothes, a moose skeleton (doesn’t everyone?), but I am essentially self-contained and self-sufficient. Like a turtle with her home on her back, I can now wander freely, dip my toes in the next pond, and leave only a small ripple.
I don’t feel like I am living a smaller life. I don’t feel like I have lost anything of importance or value. Rather, I have found a new space for myself. It’s called the World.