‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘Tis the gift to be free . . . Shaker Song
Amber and Raja are staying in a yurt for the week, house-sitting for the cats while their friend, Jane, and her three year old daughter, Isa, travel west on a vacation. They shared this with me at Joy Center the other night as we were packing up the leftover food after the Healthy Harvest Potluck. I felt myself sighing deeply, envisioning what it would be like to spend five days nestled inside a small circular home in the middle of a hardwood, pine forest on the banks of a clear fast-moving stream. It was easy for me to imagine myself in Jane’s one-room dwelling. She and Isa had visited Joy Center a month ago, and had shared their story and described their home in an evening presentation, how it was a dream of Jane’s to live more simply, to heat with wood that she had chopped and split with her own hands, to bathe with water from the nearby stream, to become acquainted with the creatures of the forest and to watch the stars each night through the opening in the yurt’s ceiling.
And so, I was excited for Amber and Raja, that they, too, would have this opportunity to go basic, to turn off the cell phones and put aside the computer and T.V., and, instead, to listen to the wind and the rain and the coyotes who visit each night, to feel the warmth of a woodstove and the warmth of a beating heart, to pick up a pen and a journal and write down the poem that comes through you, because a poem is bound to come through you when you’re Amber and Raja and you’re living off the grid. I could feel it as I talked to Amber and Raja, the gentle mist and the crispness in the air, and I could smell it, the rotting leaves and the hint of pine in the damp autumn woods, and I could hear it, too, the call of the crow and an inner silence so deep and spacious that I could roam in it for days. And, is that what I was wanting? Is that what I was seeking as I found myself right there with Amber and Raja, envisioning the gifts that such a week could bring? Did I want to shut off my computer this week, too, shirk my commitments, and take off like Thoreau for the quiet of the northern woods?
And I admit that I was heading into a five-day flurry of activity, of outer commitments that had the potential to chew up and chow down my precious creative time, that I was singing to myself, humming it out loud, “’tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis a gift to be free . . .” , that the yurt idea was like a seductive siren. And although I have never followed the siren’s call into an off-the-grid yurt, I do know what it is like to live close to the earth, where the power flickers and dies at the hint of a gale, where the ocean rolls up to your doorstep when the winds of autumn howl. The year that I was entering Junior High, my parents built their dream house out on the Point, on the rocks that we had named, Fourth of July. And as a teenager, although I loved the sound of the sea lulling me to sleep at night, I didn’t appreciate these frequent power outages that complicated my adolescent life and I missed the warm thrum of the nearby town and our big sea captain’s home where we used to spend nine months of the year. Later, however, after my mother had moved back to the cottage and the cove and I had moved west to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I did appreciate my frequent visits east. They provided for me the kind of respite that I was envisioning this week for Amber and Raja. Each time that I pulled into my mother’s driveway and stepped out into that salt air, I breathed a coming home sigh and sunk a little deeper into my bones.
I loved my weekend visits at the ramshackle cottage. I will hold them dear to my heart forever. I loved sitting in my mother’s old easy chair facing my old mother, who was sitting in the other old easy chair facing the sea. There was a simplicity in our days together and it slowed me down, grounded me, to climb into camp clothes, clamber out onto the rocks, come back hungry and ready to cook something easy and basic for my mother and I. As I tuned into the rhythm of the tides, I found myself more in touch with my own inner rhythm. And, after a few days of this slowed-down life in the cove, each time, I would find myself satisfied and happy and salt-filled, and, I admit, a little fidgety, ready again to step back into my own hand-crafted life and the flurry of activities that sustain me.
And that’s how it was for me the other night. Somehow, it was enough to imagine myself at the yurt, perhaps nestled in a chair, soaking in the warmth of the woodstove, writing poems in my journal. It grounded me to have such a thought at the start of my busy week. And so, the yurt-idea, while perfect for my friends, isn’t what I was needing right now. I love my handcrafted life, a life, this particular week, that might look hectic, even frenetic, to someone peering in from the outside. And that’s what I’m realizing, that simplicity isn’t a peering-in job; it’s something that we find on the inside. And this week, there’s not one activity that I want to shirk as I find this inner simplicity. When I do the things that ground me, maybe not five days of house-sitting at a yurt in the north woods, at least not right now, but a walk each day on the paths by my home, not a complete “no” to cell phone and T.V., but a movie that nourishes and delights, maybe not a night of lying in bed and gazing at the stars, but a pause as I step out of a yoga class at ten at night into Joy Center’s parking lot and peer up through that circle of trees and soak in the immensity of a star-filled night, not whole days to write, but short spurts throughout the week, enough to stoke the inner fire. And when our inner fires are stoked, it doesn’t matter where we find ourselves. We know that we are home.