Nomads

From Mount Katahdin to Bangor, Maine to Providence, Rhode Island to Richmond, Virginia to Cohutta, Georgia… and now one night in Atlanta before we depart for a small finca in Costa Rica. The next chapter: work-for-stay at a permaculture chicken farm in the rainforest, with fruit and veggies grown on the side. Our own little cabina, which comes, we are told, with an alarm clock of nearby howler monkeys.

J. and I will be there for thirty days, which is the longest we’ve been anywhere since leaving Montana in January. That miniature dose of permanence sounds pretty good right now. Though I love travel and new experiences, nomadism is not my nature. Everyone needs roots, but true nomads must carry theirs, as do the tribes who move communally. If only we still took our friends and families along with us when we moved! But my quiet, insistent yearning for a place with roots–a place to return to again and again–will have to wait, for the time being.

Meanwhile, we’ll be tending chickens. Repairing fences. Wading through muddy jungle in wellingtons that we will buy upon arrival. Being with each other, breathing different air, doing whatever it is you end up doing on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.

Gastronomically, we’re expecting lots of beans and rice. And I’m told that Ticos (Costa Ricans) even make gallo pinto, the Nicaraguan national dish. Gallo pinto means “spotted cock,” which sounds more British than anything, but it’s delicious. It’s, well, beans and rice, but extra good somehow. I also dream of tropical fruit, and hot tortillas made from corn ground the same morning. They are good plain… even without the beans and rice!

And perhaps there will be nourishment of the spirit. Perhaps some of the tuanis goodness and relaxation regarding time can wend its way into me. If I am attentive, maybe more kindness than usual can pass through me to other people. It may be surprising to hear that I’ve been feeling less and less spiritually connected, a gradual fade since we left Missoula, even on the trail. Plateaus are to be expected, but maybe with all this walking, moving, and traveling, experiences have flown past so quickly that all is reaction, with less reflection, less motionless time set aside for reception. Certainly more enlightenment seems to happen on riverbanks and in little rooms than on subways or treadmills.

Even so, even in constant motion, there have been glimpses. Walking around a north Georgia subdivision as dusk fell, watching fireflies glow and fade, I tried to catch one, remembering the unblinking doggedness of a child with cupped hands, reaching for a light that only glimmers for a moment every minute.

So perhaps a few weeks in a different land being a volunteer–one who offers herself for service to others–but with plenty of other hours to fill, will do good in numerous ways. Not to grow roots, but maybe to prepare the soil.

Buen viaje!

Farm

The farm was beautiful. It drew us each June down eleven hours of highway, seven minutes of rural route, and a long gravel drive between cornrows, where the farmhouse stood under the giant oak. Its beauty lived in the woodwork around each doorknob. In the stairs to the second floor, narrow as if built for smaller, shorter people from old centuries. In the jar of marbles, and the jar of little pastel soaps shaped like flowers and shells, which never changed position from summer to summer, which collected no dust.

Afternoons, I’d stretch belly-down on the brown and gold shag in the parlor and sort the marbles by size, then color, then beauty. There were few toys, so I drew the oak, or folded napkins for dinner, or tried to lure wild kittens to a metal dish of kibble in the barn. My brother would examine the tractors, would struggle to get a kite aloft. We dug our first potatoes in the kitchen garden, guided by my grandfather. We were ignorant of the earth and its fruits; we held hoes and shovels awkwardly.

At dinner the locusts hushed and crickets took their place. During the blessing, I would thank my lucky stars that I was not asked to say it. Grandpa ate sandwiches of sliced liverwurst and Miracle Whip, or peanut butter and lettuce and butter. Grandma cut watermelon for dessert. A small metal napkin holder spelled out SHALOM. It was from the Holy Land, Grandma and Grandpa’s great pilgrimage away from Nebraska, taken several decades before.

The farmhouse was sold years ago. The SHALOM now rests in my brother’s apartment in Urbana. The farm may still be beautiful, but I feel certain that it smells different now, that some of its beauty has lifted, blown from the plains into other corners of the world. Sometimes I walk through a patch of air that seems to know it, to possess a part of it. I shut my eyes and am drawn across the fields under the oak tree again.

Middle Nebraska

It was an oven in summer and a frozen wind tunnel in winter. The amenities along the highway were mostly outhouses, and gas stations with depressed Happy Chef diners tacked on one end. Yet the farmstead we pulled into each June after eleven hours of driving yielded sweet corn and fireflies, feral kittens and a crick—a tiny oasis one mile square. My grandfather had planted a row of windbreak pines, and uprooted from the acres musk thistle by the thousands, as well as the occasional lonely marijuana plant. Cows stared as I passed their field on the way to the ravine, their attitudes dull and xenophobic. The soil was dried mud, cracked into hexagons, broken and thirsty. But I loved to walk upon that dried mud. It was the skin of a proudly suffering brown giant, the very skin of the earth, exfoliated of foliage and showing bare only, I supposed then, in middle Nebraska.