A few years back, I wrote an essay entitled Gypsy Living – A Few Thoughts on Minimalism and Place. I spoke of my struggles with accumulating more and more stuff over the years, a lapse in my resolve to move lightly through life. I contrasted that feeling of weightedness with Jared Campbell’s effortless flow in the Wasatch Mountains that I contemplated while out on a run with him. Minimalism, in the context of self-propelled mountain travel, is for me a way to interact more directly with my surroundings, cutting down material barriers that obstruct the experience. Minimalism is not oversimplification at all costs, but rather a refinement of self-reliance and perception so as to require less. To me, perhaps one of the more essential components of living true to a minimal aesthetic is the need for an intimate knowledge and connection to place. The effortlessness in Jared’s movement came not only from his fine physical condition, but also from his relationship to the land. Running in the mountains is not simply imposing a movement on that landscape, stomping across dirt and rock, rather it is an exchange between runner and place.
I used to think of running as something linear, being essentially the same wherever I went. Places would change, but my vessel to experience them would remain the same. The narrowness of this view impeded my ability to fully relate to a place – physically, emotionally, spiritually. Now, I see running as something more adaptive, more dependent on context. I adapt my running to the landscape, not resisting the land with a contrived one step in front of the other, but flowing in unrestrained motion. Sometimes I use my hands, I scramble, I climb, I skip and jump, I relate in a way that feels most natural.
The world is places is a concept put forth by Gary Snyder whereby nature is not seen as uniform, but rather an aggregate of unique, local bioregional areas. Places do not differ solely in climate, flora and fauna, politics and culture, but also in temperament, feel and spirit. Despite longing for the intimacy that comes with spending extended time in one place, I have always struggled with commitment, associating my freedom with the ability to pick up and go whenever I please.
With yet another move underway this month, I became frustrated with my excessive accumulations since the last one only one short year ago. However, the difference this time is that Deanne and I are not moving far and are buying, no longer renting.
Our new cabin is in spitting distance of the old one. It is not much smaller than our current place, but the space will impose some downsizing – a further refinement of our possessions. I enjoy this process of refinement, of trying to sync what we own to the space in which we live – needing less to live more fully. For some reason, the idea of owning a home has created a slight shift in my perception of the area. I now care more about how we fit into this place. I take closer notice of the levels of the water reservoirs, at fire mitigation, at knowing my neighbors and the history and lore of the land. Transiency does not call for such attention or certainly makes it harder to cultivate. When I know I am moving on, selfishly my sense of responsibility lessens as does my deeper connection with a place.
Now that I am setting roots, accepting a commitment to this area, my hope is to live more symbiotically with the land, to have a relationship with the place of equal reciprocity. With running being a central part of my daily activity, I will work to adapt to the land, to be a part of it, to carry less and feel more, so as to move freely across its hills and valleys.