I’m in Seattle on one of those last gloriously sunny days of early Fall. I somehow manage to parallel park before hopping out with an overly excited dog. Red and yellow leaves float lazily to the ground as I watch him sniff a few dog butts inside the off-leash area. Another Siberian husky enters and I follow as the two stride toward one another. They fall into play as if they had known each other forever.
“How old is yours?” I ask the other husky owner.
We fall into conversation just as seamlessly as the dogs fell into play. It’s easy to relate over the independence and defined personalities of huskies. We swap stories about near escapes and the plight of finding fenced-in parks.
“Where are the other fenced-in dog parks around here?” We turn to face each other.
I could see her brain working to think of suggestions. “Oh, you’re not from here? Where do you live?”
There’s the question. The one that could completely change the course of the conversation. I share that we just got to Seattle. My partner and I work remotely while traveling to new cities every few months. It’s my typical answer. It omits a few other vital aspects of “where we live”. Yet, tells enough of the story to gauge the other person’s response.
Wrinkled eyebrows give away her confusion. “Well, where is home for you?”
Living nomadically is usually such an uncommon concept that most people rephrase their first question. As if I didn't understand what they asked initially.
I smile kind of wickedly letting the conversation sink in. “I mean, where will you go after traveling?” She rephrased it again.
“Oh, we don’t know. We lived in St. Louis, Missouri before starting the journey but we sold and gave away everything there.”
Where Is Home?
We don’t actually have a home in the modern sense of the word. We don’t have a place where we live permanently. There’s no house, apartment, or cottage to return to. In essence, we’re homeless. Although, it took me a few months and several awkward conversations like the one above to realize it.
The word ‘homeless’ has a pretty negative rap sheet. The idea can invoke fear of loss of security and material possessions. It can conjure up images of people sleeping on sidewalks in soiled clothing with a bucket and sign strewn nearby. It may make you feel uncomfortable as you recall the last time a homeless person asked you for money. This word once held similar meaning to me. Yet, here I am. Homeless in Seattle.
Everything my partner and I own can fit into our 21ft camper. Most mornings we roll out of bed and right into the gym. We work out, shower, and stroll right back to the camper in the parking lot. We gather our laptops, work essentials, and head over to the office for the day: a local coffee shop, co-working space, or library. When we aren't parked at gyms we park just about anywhere. We float in and out of Airbnb’s and RV parks depending on where we are and how we’re feeling. There is nowhere we must return to.
It wasn't always this way. We once lived in a renovated loft in downtown St. Louis with a rooftop pool and sweeping views of the city. Exposed brick and stainless steel appliances expressed an ode to the city’s industrial beginnings. Those ceiling to floor windows flooded the apartment with natural light. When city life got too noisy we moved. Our next home was a charming, old flat with hardwood floors in an up and coming neighborhood. Crown molding and stained glass windows told the city’s architectural history. Our endless walks in Tower Grove Park weighed heavily on my mind as we contemplated leaving. Both places, with their stark differences, felt like home at the time. Yet, we always ended up longing to leave them.
Home has taken on a new meaning now. It’s wherever we are. And, that has been quite a few places recently. In the past 9 months, we have lived on busy downtown streets and snowy mountaintops. Our neighbors have been million dollar homes with manicured lawns and converted school buses with solar-paneled rooftops. We have lived with the best views right outside our rear door windows. Many mornings we rise to sunrises on beaches or fog creeping through pines. I can tell you where to go for delicious vegan cheese in Portland, Oregon. Or, where to find the hippest 24-hour coffee shop in Fort Collins, Colorado. And, if you’re looking for a picnic spot in San Francisco, California, I’ve got one that’s sure to restore your hope in humanity. All of these places, with their different sub-cultures, have felt like home too.
Redefining home has been an organic experience. New perspectives just seem to form after exposing yourself to new people, ideas, and challenges. Last Spring, at the beginning of our adventure, home was on a hobby farm in the Colorado foothills with a veterinarian and his family. We had three dogs, two goats, a beehive, a horse, a rabbit, a duck, a cat or four, and about 20 chickens as pets. I could never get an accurate count of the chickens! There were many firsts at this home. I tiled a shower for the first time. Our dog got his first bee stings. It was our first, and hopefully last time, hearing him yelp and howl as if he was dying. We became vegetarians at this home. It’s hard to ignore the lives of animals when they outnumber humans.
In the Summer we lived on a tiny island an hour south of Seattle. Home was a hobby vineyard and garden with a doctor, his wife, and their rotating door of guests. This home smelled like freshly baked bread. Picking fruits and vegetables for each meal became the norm. If we felt like having a kale and green bean salad for lunch, all we had to do was run to the garden with a basket. Here, the blackberries grew sweet in the wild and Siegerrebe grapes grew sweet at the vine. That summer I learned how to make just about any jam you could think. My partner picked up playing the guitar. In the midst of all this cultivating and growing, we found ourselves growing too. In this home our awareness and appreciation for the way food is grown changed forever.
We can imagine the first home of our ancestors as one where they found stability in commune with nature. It was more of a territory or habitat where food was in abundance or could be cultivated and it changed often. As nomadic people, changing location for resources was a normal way of life. Home was either a concept unknown or it was more of a mindset. We have used the word home to organize the space around us for thousands of years. How we have come to define home by permanent structures instead of a conscious idea is unknown. Why a person lacking these permanent structures is often labeled “homeless” has more to do with our society’s obsession of material possessions than with the person actually lacking an idea of home.
Realizing and accepting I’m “homeless” has been a gradual yet liberating feeling that, at first, I had no idea what to do with. When we bought the camper we immediately went to Ikea because, of course, we needed to fill it with more things. We got to Ikea and in that wonderful world of well-designed everything, we realized that there was no way we were going to fit all the things we thought we needed into our new home. And, we were the better for it. We had begun our journey to less but societal pressures still lingered. Instead of buying more we gave away more. It took four times of cleaning out my closet to actually clean it out. What homeless person needs 5 pairs of jeans anyway? Now, there are only two neatly folded into a tiny closet right behind the driver’s seat.
Taking our home with us everywhere has it’s benefits, like the first time we visited Rocky Mountain National Park. Trail Ridge Road had opened a day before heralding the beginning of the season. We left Estes Park at a sunny 70 degrees. I arrived at Trail Ridge Road wearing a yellow summer dress and nude flats. The mountains, however, were dressed in 5 inches of powdery snow and slick ice. Luckily, my snow boots were right in the camper stashed away above the bed for situations like this.
Being “homeless” no longer holds the weight it once did. There’s clarity in having less material possessions and less dependence on permanence. Moving to a new home is as simple as putting a new place into Google Maps. Of course, this is a life we chose. It didn’t come about as a series of unfortunate events. Our story is not synonymous with the greater majority of the homeless population. Although, we have made quite amazing fellow vagrant van dwelling friends along the way. Those stories share a seeking of simplicity and a redefinition of societal norms.
“I guess you could say home is that camper over there,” I point down the shaded Seattle street.
“Really? ” she pauses. “I’ve always wanted to do that.” Her eyes glaze over as a daydream of days spent on the open road begins to play in her head.