Dawn slips near and sounds of night meld with morning. Large things move about in the dewy spring grass. Despite myself, lying comfortably in bed, I think of strange, terrible monsters and the quiet house I slept alone in, not the Black-tailed Deer that are daintily browsing the property. Gentle rhythms of chorus frogs fade as the another chorus begins. Thus far, I’ve opened my eyes every day sometime in the vicinity of four a.m. to my neighbors belting at the hints of dawn.
These neighbors are not unabashed humans in the throes of passion with windows flung open, nor neurotic dogs barking at unseen threats through apartment building walls. They’re stalwart locals and have been for some time. They’re neotropical migrants and stalwart residents, birds. I hope that if I continue to live in this place, I’ll never get tired of hearing them in the spring and summer. Just as, if my boyish imagination and fascination ever fades, should my ears not wake to their morning greeting, adjustments are needed.
Some adjustments are scary. For those who know I’ve made a move to a beautiful place with easy access to forest and saltwater, saying my move was slightly scary may appear melodramatic. However, I’d urge you to consider that while moving to a small island is at the moment a trial period, I’m hoping it’s a sustainable move. Making it sustainable means a lot of things. That I commit to my goals. That I have gainful employment while I plunge forward. That I live a simple life. That I do not stagnate in island isolation.
For the past several weeks I’ve been mulling all this over, fretting that I’m not moving forward but instead retreating from things I “should” be doing: going graduate school, making good money, networking, and doing things expected of me as a capable young man. Then I remember that I don’t care for many of the pretenses shoved on me by modern society. While I have no intention of rejecting society, nor retreating into a cabin in the woods, I don’t have to let it tell me the proper way to function. Most of the artists, writers, and photographers I admire came around circumspect, and while I recognize that for some professional time in this or that field informed and broadened their work, I have an opportunity.
The opportunity is to take the scary plunge head on and make my life what I want it to be. This week I learned that a man my age named Eitan Green, who weeks ago was in a wilderness medicine course with me, was amongst the group killed at Rainier this week. This doesn’t fill me with caution for life’s hazards but instead an intense desire to live well and not adhere too strictly to the advice of others.
I’m from the generation that’s been told to follow their dreams because “anything is possible.” Told to spend thousands on our degrees despite a bad economy. Told to get a job like our parents and buckle down. Told we should be happy with shitty jobs that can’t pay off our debt, because our grandparents chewed coal to make a living. Told we should sacrifice our youth for money. I’m over it and I’m moving on. If I have to work at Walmart at 70 because I didn’t “make it big,” so be it. I’ll smile and think of the birds in Australia, Ecuador, Thailand, Mexico, and the places I’ll no doubt travel. I’ll still be writing and taking pictures.
Moving to Shaw Island means many things. 1) I have more space to think with less distractions. 2) I spend more time around the things that inspire me, as in, nature. 3) I live in a community, not a neighborhood of people who identify with street names more than eachother. 4) I pay less rent to live in a house on 20 acres than I did to live in a box (a very nice box I will admit), blocks from the freeway with no garden at my full disposal. 5) I have a better perspective on the things I love about art, science, food, and human diversity when I visit urban places and continue to travel. 6) I can really buckle down on pipe-dream projects and start doing the things I’ve promised myself I would. 7) And but not least, I eat good food from my friends’ farm and take part in a rural life with people I love. (Number 8 I can become the only depraved birder on small island.)
While I may at times hang my head in shame of all the technology and possessions I’ve heaved along with me, I’m glad for them. This is not my back to land fantasy, a hippie commune, a clandestine den, nor anything else. I’ve enough books to never get bored. My internet connection to continue to write, take photos, and grow my career. I’m close enough to urban centers that I can zip off there if need be. This isn’t an disconnect by any sense of the word, it’s a reconnection with place.
Last night I took a walk to my friends’ farm and as the sun set golden between the dark poles of hundreds of trees I felt myself rise. Cows and deer shared my evening walk, and the few people that passed me waved. This is surely home, because I know these plants and animals, I identify with the land and I can still find myself endlessly excited by it all (knowing a few things is not understanding). Possibly I am just in continuance of a privileged life and escaping hard questions, but ultimately I think I am following my goals, living in a healthier place, and doing the things I love. Will this move make me any more happy? It’s hard to say (and some say that seeking happiness is folly anyway). I know that working hard leaves me satisfied.
What I can say with certainty is that when I open my window I hear Swainson’s Thrushes and Pacifie-slope Flycatchers and breath the aromatic warmth of tall grass and coniferous forest. I have to search for pavement on my property and the most annoying noise is that of a Spotted Towhee who thinks our picture window’s reflection is a rival. Down the road are beaches lapped by an inland sea, inhabitated by seals and whales I’m currently paid to show people by boat. This, was probably the right choice.
Now just introduce me to the girl who wants to live in a tiny house on a farm with a self-absorbed birder, writer, naturalist, photographer, and I’m set.