On The Road Again
By Dr. Lorin Swinehart
“It’s better to wear out than to rust out.”
One warm spring evening in 2018, my wife LaVon observed, “I can’t see the stars here,” referring to light pollution obliterating the night sky of our home in Wilmington, North Carolina.
At that point, we began to ponder, to plot, to plan. First, we traded our Toyota Sienna van in on a more robust Toyota Four Runner. Then, last January, we purchased a 25-foot Apex Nano travel trailer. We were almost ready to hit the road.
Over the course of the past year, we discarded nearly everything we owned. Our Amish made furniture went to consignment and soon sold. Other items were sold off over the internet. What could not be sold was donated to Goodwill and to some veterans groups. What could not be sold or donated was thrown away. We had towing weight limitations, no room for the extraneous.
Thoreau preached, “It is desirable that a man be clad so simply that he can lay his hands on himself in the dark, and that he live in all respects so compactly and preparedly, that, if an enemy take the town, he can, like the old philosopher, walk out the gate empty-handed without anxiety.”
I find that possessions become like a back pack filled with rocks, weighing down the soul and rendering a life of adventure nearly impossible. A demented family featured in a Rubbermade TV ad some years ago comes to mind. “We have too much stuff,” they wailed, until they purchased storage units to cache it all in, causing them to caterwaul, “We need more stuff.”
And yet, minimizing and downsizing is easier said than done. As frustration mounts, one is sorely tempted to simply throw everything overboard and run off screeching into the night. What to do about this or that? In the best of lives, one would have no “this or that” to figure out what to do with. And yet, envelopes filled with old photographs and newspaper clippings, bits and pieces of memorabilia, aging diplomas, odds and ends demand our attention, appeal to our consciences that we not consign them to the landfill. Thoreau spoke of three interesting pieces of limestone that he had picked up on one of his rambles, only to find that they required daily dusting, while his mind remained undusted. He flung the offending stones away in disgust.
Twice in the course of my 77 years, I have done that, without the screeching part, of course. On one occasion, other than a plastic bag of clothing, I had only two fishing rods, an old pair of binoculars and a coffee pot. For several years, my possessions consisted only of that which fit comfortably inside a single small room with a single small closet in park ranger quarters. And, there was no clutter. I have an almost congenital intolerance for clutter. The Asian concept of Feng Sui resonates with me, for clutter gouges a gaping wound in the soul.
Our new lifestyle required relocation, from coastal North Carolina to the American West, across the Wide Missouri. We are now officially South Dakotans. I find the Black Hills, sacred country to the Lakota Sioux, much to my liking, a place of unmatched natural beauty with deep spiritual connections. Meeting herds of wild buffalo is a highly emotional experience. Echos of boyhood daydreams of riding the range with such movie cowboy heroes as Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, the Lone Ranger go scampering across the field of my imagination.
St. Francis advised that the man who has nothing has everything. I suspect that the person who belongs nowhere belongs everywhere, but I have yet to arrive satisfactorily at that state of mind.
Our travels will take us to the Far West, into the South and deep into the North Woods on both sides of the border with our neighbor Canada; “Friendly, Foreign, Familiar and Near,” as the old travel promos used to say. A sedentary lifestyle is fatal to anyone of any age but particularly so for those of my advanced years. My Grandpa Swinehart, who lived solo on his 68-acre farm and took daily treks with his dog until the ripe old age of 92, advised that one is far better off to wear out than to rust out. It is too easy to rust out. Wearing out, at any age, takes energy and dedication, not to mention a bit of planning. I am hoping to wear out but not for years to come.