On December 1st I left my rent-controlled apartment of 12 years. I moved from Oakland to a backwoods geodesic dome home in the Sierra Foothills; Gold Country. The place where men picked up and left their dusty fields for in the 1850’s. It was a time of exploration, westward movement (from all over the world) and of picking up your fortune right out of the ground. The history of this place still lingers, but it’s unclear how it stands for my future.
Transitioning from an urban city to a town of 4,000 people (in Summer), has been the hardest and the most rewarding thing I have ever done. Intellectually I knew it would be hard, and different from the conveniences I was used to; but I could not predict the strength it would take to face the solitude (and the lack of amenities nearby). It’s not that being out here alone is difficult; it’s that, in the absence of distraction, I have found it impossible to escape myself.
I fully made this move intent on finding healing, a deeper spiritual life, and perhaps even some answers. In many ways, that’s been happening; but not in the vehicle I assumed. I expected to immediately feel this presence of power and peace nestled amongst the trees in my own yard. I expected to feel connected to the land and perhaps experience some sort of spiritual euphoria. That wasn’t immediately true. Where I did find a deep connection, is with myself.
What I have discovered, is searching for the answers outside of myself, doesn’t work. I have spent my whole life staring out of windows daydreaming about living in the woods. The path was always just beyond the horizon of the sky; somewhere, anywhere but here. I believed that some form of escape from my current reality would be the answer to everything. It turns out, the way out, is in.
I survived my first winter here through a lot of trial and error. I survived through maniacal storms that took out half the trees on my lot and one of those trees took out half my deck. Three snow storms, five power outages and many inches of the white stuff ripped me from the comforts of Uber, take out, and in house laundry. I eventually purchased my own washer/dryer, but for 3 long months, the nearest laundromat was an hour away.
The basic mundanities of survival like finding heat, food and electricity have been somewhat of a challenge. Everything is different in places off the grid and just daily living is sometimes exhausting. And yet, it has challenged me in a way that appeals to my baser instincts. As a child, camping with my father and my family, I felt at home outdoors. Even the encounters with bears weren’t as terrifying as might be expected. The hardest adjustment has been trying to balance this large, very nice new home with the wildness outside. It is easy to embrace the rustic experience when you’re living in a canvas shell and sleeping on the ground; you’re not really in a solid shelter. But with a 3 bedroom gorgeous home, the distinction between out – and – in is vastly disconnected for me. Out there, are wild animals and beastly weather – in here – it’s warm and snuggly and luxurious. Only, it isn’t quite my sanctuary yet because I haven’t hung anything on the walls.
I just assumed the land would carry me; that my connection with her would guide me through and welcome me with open arms like a homecoming celebration. Instead, she took no prisoners. Mother Nature is a beast you do not reckon with. This has been a very different experience.
I managed to survive without much tragedy and for that, I am grateful. I forget sometimes what I am capable of, and this massive transition has bolstered my pride and confidence. I have found a sense of balance and peace within my restless heart. I have discovered that everything I have experienced so far, has led to this moment of test, and the only person I am meant to impress, is me. It’s not like I had a contingency plan. If I hated it here, I had nowhere else to go. I spent everything I had on the move and there’s no going back to the Bay Area after living in a dirt cheap apartment there. (Those no longer exist).
I never would have done this if I didn’t think I could survive it. I had dreams of frolicking in the woods everyday; instead, I’ve just been extremely busy building a home, working 60 hours a week and expending the mental fortitude it takes to completely rebuild your life in a tiny town on top of a beautiful mountain.
I have a whole new appreciation for solitude. I am not lonely, per se, as I enjoy the quiet and the space to think. However, I am still missing companionship. I miss my friends and my family, but I think I needed to miss them to appreciate them more.
I have learned so much about who I am and what I need to feel safe and comfortable with other people, and in my environment. I have learned that I am what you call a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP – it’s a real thing) and I am also an Empath. I always knew I was a bit different, or that I had a sixth sense about things, but I could never put my finger on what it was exactly. I have explored these areas of my life intently, and I have learned how to manage them and protect myself from taking on so many emotions I pick up from those around me. I am a human vacuum for other people’s feelings and a lot of what I may be feeling, may not even be my own emotions. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the city noise and stimulus was starting to grate on my nerves, or rather, it was attacking my sensitivities and I was quickly losing my ability to cope. In the few months here, I’ve noticed I’m much calmer, and I keep waking up feeling like I’m on vacation. Everyone’s relaxed on vacation, right?
The past few years I have experienced a deep shift in close relationships. There was a lot of heartbreak back there, and slowly I was dying inside, feeling trapped in the same place, while everyone else moved on with their lives. Marriage, moves, children, career promotions – the stuff of life as it migrates forward seemed to be happening to everyone around me, and yet I was still doing the same things. Feeling alone and abandoned in a town that I no longer felt connected to caused me to become a recluse, and not terribly pleasant to be around. Again, searching for a rescue, or for some answers outside of myself in the form of boyfriends or taking on too many commitments – ran me into the ground. I knew it was time for something to change.
Once the opportunity to compare myself with the Jones’ disappeared, the solitude presented me with a mirror and I am forced to stare. Without the hustle and bustle and noise and the invites and events and fashion and pressure, there is only space to Be. And it’s in the spaces we find ourselves.
Today, 3.5 months in, I am in a good place with things. I have been working a lot of hours this winter, so I haven’t had the chance to fully immerse myself in the homemaking business. But I feel I made the right decision and slowly I am getting my routines down. I’ve become friends with the hardware store crew, the grocery store clerks and my property management agent is the best ever. I have an incredibly generous landlord and given the environment, I couldn’t be more grateful for that support. I am slowly furnishing the place (I have all the basics, just need a lot of odds and ends) and I have everything mapped out in my mind; it’s just a matter of execution (and money). In a word – I am happy. Content. At peace. Which is what I was after all along; it just didn’t come in the form I expected.
I have spent a lot of time meditating and discovered a love of all the different geology that presents itself here in Gold Country. The history of the place alone is mesmerizing and I am love with the idea that I have returned to the place of my Westward Pioneer ancestors. I am a devout student of history, especially California history, and the journey our forebears took to settle this beautiful and harsh land. Even if I haven’t quite connected with the land yet, I certainly have with it’s past.
I am looking forward to the summer sun and afternoons spent napping on the deck, perhaps surrounded by friends and visitors. I have a beautiful home, plenty of space for my pup to chase squirrels and with Amazon, anything I need at my fingertips. I know I can survive a bad winter, and the neighbors couldn’t be more friendly. I am thrilled that this opportunity was possible given my telecommuting job and the affordability of this whole area. I am so grateful to everyone who has supported me and cheered me on through this move. I am incredibly fortunate to have all these blessings come my way. I hope to be able to pay it forward and offer a nice weekend for anyone who wants to come and experience it for themselves.
“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” ~ John Wayne