While traveling in Europe I had to get used to not being able to communicate with people around me. Rather than asking them to speak English, I invariably ended up just avoiding people if possible, rather than looking like an idiot. On coming home, however, I was all excited for exactly the same reason: suddenly I could talk to people! Upon landing I enjoyed a delightfully confusion-free drive to my new house. But that’s where the ease ended.
My new house is in Boulder, you see, and things aren’t as simple as you might think. Basically, the problem is that nobody here speaks the same language as me. I walk into the grocery store and say, “hello, I would like a pound of chicken” and the guy responds with, “would you like free range chicken?” But that makes no sense, because clearly I’d like it already dead, and preferably de-feathered and skinned. One tactic I would use in Europe when I didn’t know a word was to try to figure it out through context. So you can imagine my confusion when I see all this about “gluten-free” bread. I’m no baker, but isn’t gluten an integral component of bread? That seems like trying to go mountain running without the mountain. Or just the other day, curious to try out some of the latest gadgetry in running shoes, I walked into the shoe store and asked to try on a pair of shoes.
“Good afternoon,” I said to the clerk, “Can I try on some lightweight running shoes?”
“You mean the barefoot shoes?” he asked.
I gave him a blank stare. “I don’t follow.”
“Do you want to try on a pair of barefoot running shoes?” he asked again.
I narrowed my eyes. “Are you making fun of me?”
He looked surprised. “No sir! Here, try these out. They’re called five fingers.”
“I’m looking for shoes!”
Eventually I left because clearly we weren’t getting anywhere. This was certainly depressing. Running defines my life right now, yet I couldn’t even navigate a shoe store. I then tried speaking the language myself (“I would like a package of gluten free salmon and a selection of cage0free coffee beans please”), but that didn’t work either. So I had to resign myself to my European tactics.
All the confusion aside, having a house is good. Rent may be expensive, but I’m paying for something meaningful and stable. Rather than traveling to a new country with new mountains and new trails every day, I now get to experience the same mountains each day. I get to learn all of their intricacies – their trails, ridges, faces, summits – and tune myself into their different moods. The mountains feel different in the morning than in the evening, or in the fall than in the spring, but they remain constant in so many other ways. I know the rocks, the turns, the trees, the topography. Familiarity breeds security, and security breeds comfort. I like these mountains, and I’m excited to see what they have to offer.
Boulder can be a wild place, but for now it is home. I have a place to leave in the morning and return at night, a place to be alone and a place to invite friends. I can cook great meals and store perishable food. As described above, navigating certain interactions can be difficult, but the result of that is a constant exposure to healthy food, healthy lifestyles and healthy people. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m just the same as everybody else in Boulder, and recognizing that begs the question: “why does being healthy evoke such heated defensiveness?” It’s like religion or politics – everybody has their own way of living and if someone else tries to impose their beliefs we put up walls. But I certainly don’t have this stuff figured out, so I’m just going to recognize that a lot of people here are active and conscious of doing the right thing for themselves and others, and maybe I can learn something from them. I try to surround myself with good – good food, good people, good activities – and avoid the bad. Maybe that makes me pretentious but… at least I know the obvious difference between ‘all-natural’ and ‘organic’.
While on the road I have thought often of how best to live. The answer is different according to each person’s values. I’m starting to think that if a person doesn’t have a home to return to, he stops “traveling” and starts “being homeless”. I don’t want to be homeless. Rather, I’d like to travel. But I also want to have a base, a place to begin to sink some roots. I mean – I’m nearly twenty-two years old! It’s time to start settling down! Ha. This house thing is only going to last a few months, and then I’ll be off again. But the crucial point here is that when eventually I return, I’ll return home. Home is the stable point to revolve around, the center of the orbit. Having my own is something real and meaningful. And if I can’t afford it then I’m just going to move into Bryon Powell’s basement, where I can pay him in words and he’ll feed me with surplus running gear. We’ve got a pretty good exchange going.