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Great Pause and the New Normal

(I've been traveling for workshops and will be back to my regularly scheduled art blog next week, bear with me!)

My rig - ultralight weight trailer and minivan

Ok, so I have an older model travel trailer that I use for art workshops and plein air events. I recently traveled to multiple states including NY, towing this trailer and stayed in it for about six weeks in various places while was teaching workshops and participating in plein air events.

Campgrounds have taken on a vastly different character post-COVID. Used to be, campgrounds were parks where you could set up and rarely see other families or people. You camped to be close to nature and away from cities.

Apparently, explained one private campground owner to me, when I inquired about the ridiculous number of campers stacked side-by-side in a football-field sized campground, a great many families used their stimulus checks to buy campers last year.

My trailer seems tiny in comparison!

Camping seemed like the antidote to cabin-fever to a population that couldn’t travel by any other means than roads. Now, these families feel compelled to use their pricey new toys. This campground, and almost all the privately-owned campgrounds I stayed in were overcrowded, overpriced, and had very little nature left to see (save for an occasional squirrel).

It was fascinating however to walk the rows of shiny new RVs some of which looked like small trains rather than campers. These behemoths often had multiple rooms, mechanical slide-outs, and myriad hoses snaking underneath indicating more than one bathroom.

Some had brought with them decking, lawn furniture, and even portable bars to set up under the requisite awnings.

Each shiny beast usually housed a single family or couple, and was easily big enough for an extended family. Then there were the pricey camper vans which seemed to be the microscopic versions of the larger RV’s. These vans cost more than most houses I’ve owned,

yet they are compact enough to fit in a single parking space.

I also noticed a new trend. Car campers.

While many people commonly camp in their cars on family vacations, this wasn’t often the case. It was usually a single person, with very little actual camping gear, but many boxes of stuff. It didn’t look like they were actually camping, more like they were living in their cars.

I saw several instances of car campers in different states, and different campgrounds; some state owned, and some private.

One person was a young man in Virginia, who I struck up a casual conversation with. He dropped out of college after the dorms closed, and his school went online. He had nowhere to live, and couldn’t go home to his parent’s house as they were in a bitter divorce and separated. He was between opportunities.

He didn’t seem to be suffering, and young people are generally more resilient than others. I though back to all the awkward places I wound up sleeping during my college days; rooftops, cars, couches, even lawns when alcohol was involved!

While staying a week in Orange County I watched an olden woman across from me unload several plastic bins and drawers from her car, cover them with a tarp, and hang towels over the windows. She slept in her car for several days. Finally, curiosity got the best of me, and I found an excuse to talk to her.

She was a grandmother, her kids thought she was crazy for car camping but she didn’t feel safe at home, and didn’t want to intrude on her adult children’s families. Her husband was a drinker and could be violent on a bender. She felt more comfortable in the woods.

She peppered her story with faith and comments about God providing for her, and keeping her safe. She made me immediately grateful for the life I have, and the many things that I often take for granted.

We became fast friends, and I kept a weather-eye on her as the week wore on, sharing food and art supplies, and anything else I could. She disappeared one day while I was working, and I only hope she went back to a warm and safe home somewhere.

One thirty-something in a pick up camper in the Catskills explained to me that his truck was the last step before homelessness. Home prices have gone through-the-roof in remote areas, and many people can’t afford not to sell while the market is high, but then wind up being unable to buy or rent anything comparable. He was on a vacation/relocation trip looking for a place to land where he might find work and reasonable rent.

In addition to the car campers, I met many other transient nomads like a park ranger who traveled from state park to state park around the county following warm weather. It’s interesting to me, getting tantalizing glimpses of other people’s realities. I’m not really a nomad. I’m doing this temporarily, and have a warm house, husband, and a kitty that all love and miss me. It’s hard to imagine a life without that grounding umbilicus.

Part of what makes me successful is the willingness to take chances and do things like this. I could only have the courage to do this knowing I have a solid foundation, money in the bank, food in the fridge, hope in my heart.

What must it be like to move through life so transiently? To feel little sense of community or true connection?

I’m writing this now while sitting at the table in my tiny travel trailer in a park somewhere in Georgia. I can hear an owl in the forest, and a low murmur of human voices nearby. This is probably my last night on the road and frankly I am looking forward to watching tv for the first time in 6 weeks, and sleeping indoors in my nice warm bed with my nice warm hubby and kitty.

But I will not take that for granted ever again.

I’ve had the smallest taste of what many people’s new normal has become and I pray for them, and for us, and our home planet. Please, let’s love each other. Even the ones who live in ways we may not understand. Let’s find ways to connect and weave the threads of community so that outliers are knitted snugly into the fabric of our community and kept warm and fed.

Meanwhile, let us think deeply about whether we really want to return to a normal that includes haves, and have nots. Do we really need show excess, or can we get by on less and live simply so that others may simply live?

Let’s expand our new normal to include true compassion unfettered by race, class, sex, age, and other descriptors that we use to define ourselves and separate us from our fellows. Let’s make things like peace, justice, and equality part of the new normal.

I’m not being lofty or pie-in-the-sky…we actually have a choice here. We have seen that we can pause reality and reshape reality overnight. Let us take this opportunity to define our new normal to be one that allows us all to breathe, coexist and live in peace with our fellow travelers on planet Earth.

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1 Comment

Oh my goodness Shawn! This post has left me very emotional…with tears in my eyes, I also pray for all these people out there who are not as fortunate as others! We often get so absorbed in our own bubble and although we know that many people struggle just to survive every day, we often choose to close our eyes so as not to feel guilty for either not wanting to do anything or not being able to do anything for them! It is such a very sad 😢 reality! Thank you for sharing and for caring so very much for the earth and all it’s inhabitants! Ali 💜

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