Once A Gypsy
Once A Gypsy
Once, I was a gypsy, and in so many ways I still am. When I was in grade school I read ‘My Side Of The Mountain’ and spent many hours scanning the hillside from my father’s station wagon looking for that hollow tree…..and building shelters in the woods in its stead. In my teens Jack Kerouac took me out ‘On The Road’ and introduced me to a new set of adventures and later Bob Seeger ‘Rolled Me Away” to the Great Divide. Not so many years later I stood alone in that very same spot and reflected on his words.
From the start I was seeking something more than what I saw surrounding me in my suburban life, thirty miles from New York City. By the time I was seventeen I had hitchhiked more miles than I had walked and made the one hundred something mile journey from college in the Catskills to home more often by thumb than by car. When I took my first journey west I left my car along Route 80 in Illinois and bought a back pack before I headed to California. It was eight years before I hung that pack on the wall and settled down.
I am still that gypsy and even if I settle on occasion to pursue those long term dreams, I am ever moving all the same. There is little irony in the fact that everything I own has wheels beneath it as I have amassed a few conveniences and they come with me when I go. So I have roots as well but I am still in search of the dream I had as a young girl, that peaceful place with mountain and stream and perhaps the man I had hoped to share it with. I have been there, more than once, but the plan was too flawed to last and in time I traveled on. In spite of the failures I have remained true to that dream and it draws ever closer with the passage of the years, such goals are those which drive us on and are the substance of our lives.
I live in a community of people who so often share the same restlessness which I have lived with through so much of my life. Their lives, in so many ways, are ruled by the same forces as mine, even if they express them different ways. Their patterns follow the seasons, the spring is for planting and searching for antlers in the mountains they call home. Summer is feast time, full of woodcutting and so many preparations and a sharing of the effort and rituals which guide them. Fall is time to prepare for the winter and winter to prepare for spring…….My pattern is different but in so many ways the same, the preparation of the soil and the planting of the garden, the cultivation of the earth through the summer and the cutting of wood for the winter stores. In the fall I preserve the fruits of my labor and ready for the colder days and nights, or not. There were as many years that the seasons ruled my travels also, the winter was time to work and prepare and the spring through the fall to travel and explore, ever seeking greener pastures and always with a purpose.
It is the purpose I wish to speak to, for my Native friends and myself. It is this which drove me to the gypsy life, the challenge, the adventure and the search for a richer existence than the material life which surrounds my every effort. It is this reality which seems to hinder me the most, the requirement to conform, to fit into a box which holds so little of what we need and yet contains everything we somehow require to exist. It is much easier to walk to the highway than the wilderness and unless one owns a piece of land there is little means to stay. The allure of doing so alone fades with the years also, though it is still preferable to any other alternative. For my Native friends it is worse, they have the land and the freedom to live as they wish, but the necessity of doing so has been removed also. Instead they so often walk in circles, or worse, to the bar……
What of the challenges people had when they lived simpler lives? Where they were once ruled by necessity and the ever present requirements of survival so now there is so little of the same, and in such a different form. I have spent much of my life chopping wood and carrying water for that very reason, recreating a necessity which meets my every need. As long as I put my hands to the things I require for my comforts and have the direct rewards I am at peace as I am with little else. So it was as a gypsy, for life was ever changing, an everlasting adventure and challenge. In much the same way that the Natives and the early settlers depended on their instincts and their physical ability to survive so it was on the road. If I made one mistake the consequences could cost me my life and it made me stronger in the process. The restlessness still draws me, as it always has, the allure of the adventure and the change of the seasons both have the same affect. If I cannot till the earth then I can wander off into the wilderness where the steep trails will make up for the effort and the wind in my hair will sooth my soul. I was once a gypsy and perhaps I always will be, I have little desire for anything else.