There’s something about Big Bend that demands reflection. Maybe it’s the big, soft peaks looming over you, or the way the Basin campground is nestled between the mountains as if in a hug. Maybe it’s the silence, or the endless horizon. Big Bend is the least frequented national park – making it easy to appear, when correctly located, as though you are the only person there. After a month on the road with non-stop driving and visiting, the quiet was rejuvenating. Recognizing that we weren’t meeting our trip goals of (1) running, (2) writing, and (3) figuring out a life plan – the space to reflect was necessary. So we stayed for almost a week.
Coincidentally, we met up with a good friend. Kyle, a college friend of ours, who is headed east to be with his family. When he found out we were going to Big Bend he offered to meet us here. A friendly face that we knew well was welcome after a month of new friends and family visits (wonderful though those experiences were). Kyle is a chatty, opinionated, and smart dude. Having him around to debate the world and things we’ve read, as well as to discuss various values and topics we’re interested in, brought back a college-like intellectual atmosphere that I’ve really missed.
In all my Big Bend reflections, goal number 3 keeps popping back into my thoughts – then I quickly squelch it. A life plan… that’s not vague or anything. Vague though it may be, it’s a vital consideration for the next stages of life. Honestly, though, I think I’m avoiding the topic because this selfish, non-academic freedom I’m currently experiencing is refreshing compared to the relatively depressing topics associated with my subject of study for four years. I graduated, so I don’t need to think about pollution, water issues, climate change, oil wars, endangered species, conventional food, and politics (or how I fit into the change process) anymore – right?
Wrong. The last thing I should do is put those thoughts in the back of my mind. A wonderful woman at the campground last night reminded me of that. We met her at the top of a mountain.
Diana is a retired corrections dept. canine handler. She was discharged in her younger years from the service “for suspected homosexual conduct” – another issue that makes my blood boil, but I’ll skip it for now. She’s traveling the country for what seems to be something like the tenth time, though she lives in Florida with her partner.
We spoke on top of the mountain for an hour, at the campground patio for another hour, and then over dinner at her campsite for several more. We covered everything you could think of: her history, our dreams, politics, food waste, religion, investing, and on and on. Her constant questioning had the effect of reminding us how much we know. I was surprised by our knowledge and apparent intelligence. She kept repeating that young people like us give her faith for the future. She told us we had a lot of potential and to never doubt it. Her admiration gave me renewed faith in myself.
The four of us spent a lot of time discussing “less is more” – smaller houses, less water, reduced consumption, and so on. These ideas were in the forefront of my thoughts this year as I experimented with minimalism and low-cost recreation and prepared for this trip. I’ve discovered the beauty and serenity of living with little and reclaiming domestic trades – I knew this was something I’d like to help others realize, but I didn’t realize how deeply until we met her. Then I realized how far this blog has wandered from it’s original purpose: to show others that a sustainable life can be not only comfortable, but also meaningful and fulfilling.
Diana said one thing that stuck with me:
“Please don’t try to make poor chic; make less beautiful.”
Many people associate living with less, and spending less, with being poor. Most people are terrified of being poor. According to Diana, none more so than the rich. Her message was this – you will never convince anyone to live with less if the consequence is apparent loss of wealth. On further reflection, I think the most important change is the redefinition of wealth. With that, I think I’ve found the beginnings of a life plan.