Well, if home is the focus of the Depth Year experiment, I did something very non-Depth Year this summer. I rented out my house to a family for a month who were in between stints in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. I know them peripherally, so they weren’t complete strangers, and the financial boon was a real blessing to my family. Considering it an adventure, we packed up and stayed at three different friends’ homes before heading on a long road trip across the northwest United States. Being shut out in a way from our normal life let me observe it from a different angle, and taught me a lot about the concept of home.
The places in which we stayed before our trip were all in the neighborhood–one was just two houses down. Have you ever seen your home through a neighbor’s eyes? Noticed the yard work that needs to be done or peered through the windows as you walk by? Returned from work or errands only to drive into someone else’s garage? Watched the sun come up from a different vantage point on your street? It’s like being in the upside down!
But humans are adept at adapting, so that’s what we did. Within a day or two, wherever we were became home. First, find the best place to store your suitcase, backpack, and clothes, figure out who is sleeping where. Put familiar foods mixed with unfamiliar in the fridge, find your way in the kitchen. Gradually adjust to the rhythms of activity in the household, pick a favorite spot for daily phone consumption or reading, and get used to the quirks and creaks of the house at night.
The first home that became ours for a week belongs to one of my closest friends, which worked out well, because I was able to help watch her kids while she and her husband were on tour. It was like a big slumber party night after night! My daughter especially loved the feeling of being in a big family, part of a pack, sitting around the dinner table with more than just me and her brother, always having someone to play games with. This home in particular is especially warm and inviting, and we were enveloped by that comfort, ate many a delicious freezer meal that had been thoughtfully prepared. It reminded me of the importance of hearth in a home…the gathering place for good food and conversation.
Home number two was vacant while its family vacationed, with a gorgeous view of the mountains from the front porch and fresh raspberries to pick in the secluded backyard. I noticed how calming it was to have the color scheme of white and cream with a splash of green repeat in every room of the house, and the lack of clutter made my heart sing. I spent a lot of time at the well-tuned piano, playing old, familiar Chopin Nocturnes well into the night. The third house on our tour was the home of a new friend who had instantly offered when she heard I had a need. We stayed up late one night swapping stories that bond us together as single moms, and I slept well in the cold basement while my kids were with their dad for the weekend.
Had I been wise, I would have planned a vacation with one destination on our trip. But no, it seems we Wood kids have it programmed in our blood to check off as many cool things as possible in our wanderings–so every single night, we drove 5-8 hours to a new place. (More on the actual trip and adventures with my brothers and their families later.) Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Glacier, North Cascades, Seattle, Oregon coast, the Redwoods. Setting up “home” so often was an exhausting task…but led to interesting discoveries. Out in nature, naturally, the essentials are more stripped down. Shelter, food, warmth, a place to pee: that’s all you really need. But added to that, of course, and the reason we go on these crazy adventures, is beauty. The sound of waves lull you to sleep, birds call with especially fervent zeal in the morning. Have you ever needed an alarm clock in a tent? Pah! An unexpected trail to the river brings delight; dense clouds part to reveal a spray of brilliance scattered across the night sky. Perhaps because everything else is simplified and left bare, more of your brain is available to process the novel: notice the whippoorwill, smell the pine, savor the S’mores.
My daughter was happiest on this trip when she found a nook or cove to explore on her own: a hidden enclave in the forest behind our tent site, the soft-underfoot Pacific northwest forest on my cousin’s property, or a deserted beach where she could jump the frigid waves, sing out loud, and carve notes in the sand to her heart’s content without a crowd’s critical eye. My son was most at ease when he was next to me: captain’s chair in the car with command over the new sun roof, reveling in the nights that were his turn to snuggle on the air mattress, beckoning to show me the crabs he found in evening’s tide pools. And I was delighted when I had my car, full to the brim, smartly organized for the day’s adventures: everything we’d need accessible with the other stuff neatly packed away. In each camp setting, the times I could truly relax were when the space, small as it might be, was set apart enough from others to afford a sense of privacy.
As extraordinary as this journey was, there comes a point when the body and spirit long to close the chapter on unconventionality, when such constant newness actually becomes humdrum because you are drenched in it and you long to return to the place of familiarity: home. Your real home.
When I finally stepped foot back in my house, I walked through each room slowly, with the eye of a detached observer and a passion to get rid of things that now seem superfluous. My Wall of Greats display, robin egg blue bedroom, and ping pong table in the basement surrounded by Lantern Press art of national parks still bring me joy. Having lived in a tent for a couple of weeks, the 2800 square foot space felt ridiculously expansive, but considering how often I host family and friends, it’ll do for now. 🙂 Plenty of boxes hiding under beds, on shelves, and in the garage with forgotten contents will be finding a one-way ticket out soon. Having been away, I could now see clearly what my home communicates to those who enter it: loved ones, continual learning, and adventure in the natural world are the contrapuntal themes of my heart. The excess just bogs down the flow. Time to go.
Whether it be a tent, RV, yurt, cabin, apartment, or bungalow, home is where you draw your lines from the outside world, and invite in the ones you love. It is a place of protection from the elements, comfort through food and warmth, a space to decorate as pleases you. It is as closed or open as you want it to be, organized and clean or messy and chaotic, the place where your creativity finds expression. And so while I had to go away to rediscover it, my Depth Year longing is to curate a place I can call my own that is a beacon of warmth, love, beauty, and order. Stop by for a visit sometime.