This post could just as well be called, “Ode to a woolen tent,” or, “Gypsy Jew longing.”
Several times over the last fifteen years, we have spent time as a family in very confined spaces. We all lived in our friends 8×12 finished shed for a few weeks, one time. Once, after losing a job, we would spend three and four day weekends “shell camping” in the back of our pickup truck by the beach while we looked for a job and house to move into back in our hometown; we would open up the shell every morning, and survey the surf before brushing our teeth by the cliffside. We have made two cross-country trips as a family, the six of us living in our minivan or on the floor in friends houses. We go camping every summer. Whenever we get back from a trip like this, our house feels much too large, which isn’t easy for a family of six in 800 square feet! Usually, we end up spending most of our waking hours huddled in one room together, until we finally retire to our bedrooms for the night. I have literally started to feel agoraphobic in times like this. Its crazy!
We haven’t always lived in a small house; for a total of three years we lived in 1000-1500 square feet, but we always seem to come back to smaller houses. What is the draw? Maybe it has to do with a desire to live differently from the mainstream. I think a lot of it has to do with the familial closeness that is necessitated by proximal closeness. It can be maddening at times, but it is quite therapeutic as well. Without separate spaces (of any great size at least) to run off to and hide, we are forced to be with each other more of the time. This isn’t anything new. Throughout history, families have lived in close quarters together. Only in the last couple of hundred years have houses swelled, while in the last hundred years family size has dwindled.
Off and on for the last 15 years, we have mused about building a motorhome from an old bus, or having some kind of RV that we could travel the world in. Quite often, the urge rises up within me, like an itch I just have to scratch. Usually, the fling is satiated by a couple of hours spent drawing plans for the next perfect RV, or tiny house that our family could live in somewhere. Tonight was one of those nights. I have drawn plans for everything from 48 square foot “how small could one person live” houses, to 40 foot long motorhomes with a furo tub, plenty of clothing storage, and a getaway vehicle stowed onboard for trips into whatever town we are close to. I saw a video of a family that built their own RV, and went on the road in Europe for 16 months. It was incredible! Such an inspiration! But alas, we remain rooted to our small, run-down (but still being remodeled for the last five years) house, where every time I work on it–and I’m a very skilled contractor mind you–I think of how much easier it would be if I only had the money to bulldoze it and start from scratch!
The whole idea of living small, sometimes migrates to other thoughts of smallness as well. The truck I drive for work only gets 10 MPG. I spend way too much on gas. We are doing some remodel work at a Mercedes dealership right now, and I can’t help staring at the Smart Cars and wondering just how I’d stretch one to fit more people, to be a work vehicle, or how big a trailer I could hook up and what that would mean as far as amenities. Or, I muse about how I would build a model T sedan version of a Smart Car, using a motorcycle engine, or the engine from a diesel tractor. Maybe someday, I’ll be done with our house, and can get back into hot rodding again so that I can make the idea a reality.
There are many times though, when I’d as soon chuck it all, releasing myself from the trap of modern mediocrity. Times when I long to live as our fathers did, as shepherd in the desert. I am no fool to think that the simple life is so simple, but without all the distractions that accompany the trappings of a modern life there must surely be a greater simplicity that would allow man to be better connected to the source of all life–in much the same way that close confines give rise to a close family.
I’m going to try and do something to flesh out these ideas that I have. Maybe I’ll do it this Sunday–if I do, there’ll be pictures and a post here. I have a bunch of scrap material, and would really like to build a Gypsy style, bow top caravan. I don’t have a trailer to put it on yet, but I can build the caravan which can then be mounted to a trailer in the future. It can be a guest room, out in the yard, until such a time that we can put it to real use.
I don’t really have much more to write tonight. It has been a long day, and I am quite tired. I’ll leave you with some verse on the subject, and a few links.
Ode to a Desert Tent
I toil along every day,
for a dream I don’t remember dreaming.
I thank G-d for the life I have,
yet I just keep on scheming.
I don’t long for money,
although times without it are tough,
but realizing all my scheming,
would surely be enough.
For now I will soldier on,
and try to be content,
continuing to dream of life,
as a shepherd in a desert tent.