Return from the Desert, Return from Simplicity

I spent the last ten days living in a van (oftentimes down by a river).

Yes, this is the dream that every Asian immigrant parent has for their children — that one day, their Ivy League education will finally pay off in the form of living in a vehicle.

Well, OK, fine. I didn’t actually move into a van permanently. But I was very inspired by the simplicity of self-contained, mobile living. Very, very, very inspired.

When I arrived home last night and was unpacking the van, it occurred to me that its contents, which fit very neatly into the space provided in the vehicle, suddenly needed to be stored in multiple different locations throughout a several-thousand-square-foot area. An area whose floors I have to sweep on a daily basis, I might add.

Why has this “extra” been added to the equation of what constitutes a “normal” suburban American life?

I noticed while driving into the southern Utah desert that there is nothing missing from my existence when I have only the basics. I also noticed what is absolutely essential. Water, for example. Without it, there is no life. The desert conveys the feeling of fragility and also resourcefulness, as plants and animals somehow find ways to survive in what feels like an unforgiving environment.

For us, it meant carrying all the water and fluids we would need to survive while backpacking, and carrying out all human waste and trash. (Yes, I used a WAG bag for the first time in my life. Mount Whitney, here I come!) Yet even with these “inconveniences”, I felt more connected to my existence, my essence, my place as a living organism on this earth, when I was among the ghostly red rocks of Canyonlands National Park.

I know that my simple life on the road will quickly fade, just as the parched landscape of Nevada’s Great Basin immediately melted away as soon as we crossed into the dense trees of California’s Tahoe National Forest yesterday.

I will begin to make lists of chores. I will begin to sift through my bulging email inbox. I will begin to “get back to business” of this life I have agreed to.

But I write this, now, while the memory is still fresh, in order to record and remind myself of the deep longing that was stirred within me, by my brief time of being free. Untethered to responsibilities. Only the open road, the patient rocks, the comfort of a simple van with everything I needed to live happily and filled with wonder.

These pages from my sketchbook will tell the story:

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