Birch & Pine » a travel journal

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I just poured myself a cup of leftover coffee, meaning I took what has been sitting out since my beautiful Ellen made some early this morning before work, along with a bit I’d shoved into the fridge yesterday, and combined it all in the teapot and reheated it. No wasting here, I buy the good coffee (read: expensive). I am forcing myself to sit down and write, which sometimes seems a little less intimidating if I ease into it in this way, sort of hashing out my current circumstances. I want to write here – post within this space – but I am struggling with it, which, if you’ve read anything I’ve ever written or heard me speak, you probably know that this is a normal thing for me. I am very aware of my size in the universe, amongst all of these other humans and the very grandness of life itself, and I’m in an understanding with my own mediocrity and insignificance. I’m going to take a sip of coffee now, before I continue, because otherwise I will forget and all of that effort to heat the leftover coffee will have been a waste. I’m forever wondering about how my coffee is always so cold so quickly – what am I doing that is more important than sitting down with it? Enjoying and savoring it in its warmth, it’s general character of a thick blanket wrapped around my tongue.

We are doing something here, even if often it doesn’t seem like it. Tonight, when Ellen gets home from work – hopefully with a six-pack of our favorite local wheat because we’re celebrating liberation – we’ll be back in the Airstream. With tin snips. Last night we faced the inevitable that we didn’t want to admit. We’d shoved that damn floorboard up in the front after measuring and remeasuring and drawing three different lines on the board from our template that was off and we were so fucking pissed off and then – it fit perfectly. We sat on a crossbeam, counting down…three two one…slamming our feet into the board with as much synchronicity as we could muster, with her long legs reaching the board faster than my own, and kicked and kicked until that board was in place, the rounded beauty of our Louise girl’s front end looking exactly as it should and I smiled and stood on it and thought about the living that was going to take place on that piece of floor, the place where we’ll come together as a family and share meals, where we will read and sketch and talk and play, and then at night it will be our bed where we whisper things and talk in the way that parents do while our daughter sleeps just past the kitchen, in view of us.

The necessity of the tin snips were realized last night, when we began hacking into Louise’s belly after dark, the light of the porch, our phones, and one work lamp aiding us. We can’t bolt in our new and slightly glorious floor until we can reach the frame from underneath. This realization was upsetting and a bit daunting. I woke up last night sometime, after we’d quit our work and gone in to bed, in a bit of a panic…I’d been dreaming we’d cut into Louise and then the honest realization that we had was altogether overwhelming. We’d planned to replace the belly pan eventually anyway…but it’s just another step, another difficult task, another issue to tackle before we can get to the build. More demolition, more hacking, more of Louise’s history gone. More time spent, to be spent, and another weekend where we felt we’d gotten nowhere.

I am bursting, bursting with words right now but my coffee is making me jittery and my belly is empty and it’s three-thirty-five and I’ve truly had a waste of a day. However, I’m afraid to break from my writing, afraid because I’ve actually sat down and put words to something and what if I don’t finish this and post it?

I’m so ready to go. Yet I wait, Ellen waits, we work, we fight, we make up and make love, we drink, we eat, we shower, we love on our daughter, we keep living, because that’s what you do. You’re supposed to enjoy every second and not only look to the future, but that’s so damn difficult. We’re renovating an Airstream from 1957 and our house is on the market and we’re purging our belongings like crazy and trying to pay down debt because we’re planning for this other life…the one that we want, the one that’s still up in the air, the one that could begin any moment or maybe it won’t for another year or two. It’s hard to figure out this transition, because sometimes I wonder if it’s really a transition at all, or if it’s just another dream that’s dead before it even got started.

I need to go nourish myself, so I am going to go attempt an almond butter/oat/cacao smoothie of sorts and find some socks and moccasins for my chilled toes. Ellen leaves work soon and I can’t wait to see her. I love her deeply and feel so at peace and at home when I wrap myself around her middle, feeling her ribs through her soft shirt.

This beautiful human is Sarah. I absolutely love to photograph her, she’s at ease in front of my camera and moves with such freedom. We met on a late summer evening, at the private farm of a family friend and caught this gorgeous golden light, frolicked with horses (those images to come!), and danced to First Aid Kit (playing from my phone). I wish I could photograph Sarah every single day, she makes me want to pull out my camera. Her impeccable, brazen style alone would be enough, but then she’s got that gorgeous head of hair and wide, brilliant smile. She’s moving to France at the end of October, and I’m going to miss her. I wish I’d gotten to spend more time with her and get to know her better while she was still around Lexington. Bon voyage, Sarah!

I’m not sure how to post within this space. I haven’t written in a month, yet there are multiple unfinished musings, sitting miserably in my drafts folder.  I’ll be tapping out my thoughts when this huge wave of uncertainty slaps against me – hard.

Last summer, I was frolicking in the surge of the Pacific, daring myself to push out further, deeper, where the waves strengthen and engulf. I was bobbing up over them, diving below them, and I came up after one to only be smacked by a wave. I couldn’t see. My eyes had been open. Water filled my nose and mouth. I sputtered and felt disoriented, unsure of how far from the beach I’d come. I lost my footing and my fear of the deep and unknown was exuding itself through my shaking limbs. And just as quickly as I felt all of these things, they vanished as my vision cleared and I tread water. I turned around to see the beach, where Ellen and Adelaide were playing in the sea foam, on the edge of the earth. I felt near and far from them all at once, recognizing the interconnectedness of the shore and sea, yet there I was in the water and there they were, on land, sure-footed. I’ve started a great many things in my life that I’ve never finished. I feel I’m often treading in dark water, confusion and worry filling my heart. I let this fear and resistance overtake me. My arms begin to tire and I float for a minute before slipping away and letting go. I am often accused of being negative when I write like this, but please bear with me as I share my heart. Finding my footing, my voice, developing a brand – these things are difficult for me. Separating myself from those in my life that hold me in a certain space and define me based on my past and their own judgments – someone incapable of change or growth that is true and not fickle – gives way to a feeling that I must be defined and rigid, not fluid. Immediately. There is no room or time for honest development or change, because that would mean that I’m messy. That my life is messy. That I am volatile and flighty. So I remain stuck. Afraid. Desperate to begin yet terrified to not be perfect from the get-go. However capricious others may think me, I have to remind myself that I know my heart. I am capable of growing and changing. My preference is to succumb to the ebb and flow,  allow myself to be strengthened and expand the depths of my person. I cannot let others, my past, my mistakes – decide or limit me. So I’ll be here, writing. Releasing my work and thoughts to an undefined and public space. Giving myself to it, an honest account. Pushing out into the deep.

  • Jessica

    So happy you’re blogging again, Kate. Your thoughts are insightful, and your writing beautiful.ReplyCancel

I’ve been reluctant to actually write about our journey to our ideal freedom and lesson in simplicity. For quite a few reasons.

I sat on the sofa in our living room last night, fighting against our need to sell some of my most favorite things. Frustrated and nearly in tears, I spoke the words softly…we can sell it…but only if you truly want to.

The ‘it’ being the table we designed together – a big gathering table. One to come to as a family where we can spread out our work or sit close on one end, the three of us with the animals below for supper.

We gathered pieces of thick and strong hardwood – oak and cherry and others – more than one hundred pieces. We fit them together, spending a warm fall afternoon on the back porch, taking them in and out of a four by six foot frame until they all fit just so. Ellen would cut them to fit and we moved across the frame until finished. We painstakingly glued them all together to create the tabletop. We sanded it. Took it to a professional when our sanders wouldn’t cut it. And then Ellen…assembling the frame and legs at the metal shop, cutting, grinding, welding the pieces together. Coming home late at night, covered in black smudges and looking like a coal miner. Dusty, dirty, and worn out. And then the day we brought it home and set it up. Finished it with natural beeswax and oils. Served our first meal on it, complete with candles and wine. This table, our design, perfect for us and our space – this beautiful thing we collaborated on – how can we possibly sell it?

And then Ellen gently – as Ellen does – reminded me the reason we built the table. For gathering, as a family. To celebrate life together daily, to marvel at and bask in the goodness we have in our lives. And then the all too true…we don’t have the time to really be together in the life we’re living now. We are rushed. Dinner is quick. We have an hour as a family each weeknight. We are taking this journey for many reasons, some which we can only feel but not yet define clearly…but one of the absolutes – we want to be together always. We are each others’ very best friends – all three of us. We genuinely love to be with one another. We’re happiest in our own company. We love mothering Adelaide and finding that balance between discipline and friendship. We believe freedom will be found in being present with one another, along with ourselves and our surroundings, whatever those may be. Day in, and day out. So selling the table…this thing that represents the love and pull we have…I should be able to let it go. Selling it would give us a good percentage of the cash we’d need to procure our new wheeled home. Yet I sit here at the table, writing this post, my work spread out next to me. I was just gripping it…running my hands across it, feeling the warmth of the wood and the cool of the metal, tears streaming down my face. This labor of love, months of work…going to a stranger? Will they love it as we do?

You know, I’m scared. Plain and simple. We are moving forward but haven’t yet reached the tipping point. We haven’t listed our house yet, sold our cars, or purchased something to live in on the road. We are still bogged down with stuff, despite many trips to the women’s shelter to donate. There are piles of things everywhere, yet I’ve not organized a way to sell it all off. I’m afraid of losing everything – pieces that I really love for the first time everthat we purchased together for our home – and then this journey just not…happening. I’m used to that in my life – it’s all too familiar for me to pour my heart and soul into something to have it fall apart and never come to fruition.

I’m afraid of my bad luck interfering. I want to think that this time, things will be different. For just once, I’d like to feel confident that I can set my mind to something and make it happen. We are putting our dream out there. We’ve told friends and family and it’s online for anyone to come across and read. What if this is just another thing that people are surely mocking me for? Shaking their heads. Oh that Kate. And what if I’m bringing Ellen down with me? My sensible, practical realist. As much as she wants this…I can’t be the one with the  bad luck that brings it all crashing down. What if I don’t have a choice in the matter? I fail at everything I try. Ellen doesn’t. I cannot ruin this too.

So I sit here today at this table, looking around at the strong and sturdy walls of our home, the plants on the windowsill over the sink blowing in the breeze, being misted by rain. The teapot on the stove top. The living room we worked so hard on, finally finished and so perfect. Feeling suffocated by it all but appreciating it all at once. Ready for change, ready to really live life and see something other than these walls and our backyard. Terrified and exhilarated. Pouring out my crazed feelings in this space – sharing honestly, which is something I’ve stopped doing in the last few years.

This day, I am mindlessly sifting through the internet, reading about others who weren’t afraid and are living their lives with the world as their backyard – simplified and experiencing so much. Wishing I wasn’t so fearful, wishing I had their courage. Wishing, wishing.

  • Laura DeMars

    So much truth in this post….I loved it. Except for one part….you need to redefine failure. I don’t think you fail at everything you try. You’ve created stunning and thoughtful phgotographs that many others find inspiring (including myself)-WIN. You have a beautiful daughter who loves you and you’re doing a great job with-WIN. You have a supportive, understanding, and loving partner to go through life with-WIN. I’m sure there are many, many more.

    Loved these thoughtful and honest words-and super gorgeous photographs. Please come decorate my home.



    Kate you do not bring anyone down You are doing something that you have always wanted to do and you are definitely not a failure Ellen is a wonderful person and I have loved her from the very first day I set eyes on her. Many people would love to do what you are doing but don’t have the balls to try it.ReplyCancel

There is generally a mess on the kitchen counter here at home, today it’s a mason jar of raw honey and a sliced into lemon with one squeezed wedge. Tea bag wrappers and a knife and spoon. A red striped nubby towel, and a bunch of tulip stem nubs. A stainless steel bowl filled with soaking beans. And I’m looking around and smiling, thinking about how fleeting this all may be, or how we may be here for years to come and neither one makes me terribly sad, because I love this home we’ve created and I’m so damn comfortable here. But my heart and her heart – these hearts that might as well be one, are desperate to flee and see all the beautiful things outside of this place and these walls. And you’d think these walls would feel like they are closing in on us, but in fact, the house seems to expand more every day. It’s reminding us we don’t need all this. That we crave simplicity and small, cozy spaces. So here I sit, making lists and learning and figuring out how to move forward.

We live a conventional life. We live in a three bedroom cottage with shuttered windows and a fireplace and she goes to work and I stay home and mother and cook and occasionally when the mood strikes, do some laundry and I watch a shit load of television and I hate it but it’s all I have to pass the humdrum hours sometimes.

So we’re creative and dare I say we’re artists and we lay in bed at night, both so exhausted that one of us can’t keep her eyes open and the other ridden with anxieties that keeps her eyelids pried. And sometimes when we collapse into one another we speak about the things we wouldn’t dare voice elsewhere – we whisper about the desire to create, to travel, to just go – be free from the confines of societal expectation and commutes and draining day jobs…and the next day we rise and don’t mention the desperately honest conversations of the night before and we’ll go on like this for months until we can’t handle it again and it all comes tumbling out.

So maybe we travel. Maybe there isn’t an answer right now – we keep looking for one and cannot find it – I can’t find a job and she hates hers and we try to find the “right” city and none of them are the answer yet all of them are. We talk about simplifying our lives and paring down and what if we did it…what if we managed to really pull it off and sell the pretty house and the pretty car and buy a shitty but working old bus and just…went? Maybe for a year. Figure out what we want out of life instead of just taking stabs in the dark and hoping one of the options works out. Go visit all of the beautiful people I’ve ‘met’ through my photography and turn off the television and look out the window and stop to take photographs and live out of a suitcase and say – fuck the expected – let’s live this one and only life the way we want to.