Travel is like a temporary form of transplanting, except transplanting is often necessary and travel is completely optional. At the moment, we are traveling full time, and so we live in this constant flux between travel and transplant. Travel because we are always moving, and transplant because we will probably end up somewhere. But as we extend our time on the road, defining what we are doing (traveling or transplanting) has become vague and exhausting.
Consider a tree that has grown too big and it’s roots and limbs are crashing up against the house. Movement is certainly always the best choice. One strategy is to move the tree during the cooler months, certainly outside of the freezing periods, when the leaves are still dormant and the roots can have a fresh start in the soft spring soil. The transplant footprint should be carefully expanded by digging along any important roots to minimize any possible injuries and of course avoid any unnecessary suffering.
Remember these facts if you are going through a major transition like a move, a divorce, even a simple job change. Or selling everything you own which is what we did.
Because despite your best efforts, transplanting a tree will cause it considerable stress, especially if it is older and has deep roots. It is always a good idea to nurture the tree during the move and then watch it closely for signs of droopiness.
I obviously had no idea what I was doing when I decided to do a little reorganizing in the garden in our first house. When I was digging up a few shrubs in the back yard to move them to the front yard I noticed a few little white nodules around the roots. They looked like cute baby potatoes.
Very soon I figured out what the little nodules were. I had spread Morning Glory through my entire yard front and back. This beautifully flowering weed would grow almost a foot each day, spiral up the stalks of every other plant I owned and slowly yank them down into the soil. One by one I would play search and rescue, slowly untangling the twisty vines away my rose bushes. Our house being on a quarter acre lot, keeping up with Morning Glory nearly became a full time job. Transplanting those few shrubs had created a monster.
I don’t know whether having a plan would have helped me, but for sure I should have known a little bit more about what I was doing. But these were the days of flip phones, and I didn’t even have one yet.
When we first got on the road, we had no plan, but we did have a lot of questions. We would sit at the bar and shoot them out like tiny cannonballs. We would make theories about the places we visited and the people we met and ask even more questions. But now that some time has passed, we ask fewer and fewer questions, because the biggest one still lurks, “why did we leave our life in Seattle behind?” And by the way we still don’t have an answer.
And a few weeks ago, we arrived in Uncertain, Texas.
I thought I should start looking for clues. At first I thought maybe I should have accepted my first garden as it was and spent a little more time napping on the deck. Maybe I should have just enjoyed the simplicity of my life owning a bakery riding my bike the same 2.2 miles to and from our second home.
But then I remembered what really happened. Within the short span of a few years, about 100,000 people moved to Seattle, and the old houses in our second home gave way to bull dozers that quickly tore them down, and short sighted developers hard pressed to make a buck built tall thin houses so quickly that they looked like they were transplanted from outer space. The roar of the dozers, the guys on their smoke breaks in front of their brand new Toyota Trucks, and the constant hammer of pneumatic nail guns well into the night were soon followed by recently licensed real estate agents showing the sparkling new piece of crap homes to mid-westerners proudly landing their first job at Amazon. It was more than we could take, and we were done.
We would leave behind a too quickly growing city, the obligations of home and business ownership and all of the extra stuff that was making our life so complicated.
Our friends asked us “where are you going to go first?” as if the first place would be a fantasy dreamland like Disneyland. Tired of not having an answer, we finally just dropped a pin on a map and said we’d be heading to Cannon Beach, Oregon.
“Oh, that’s nice,” they would say.
“Yeah, we just want to relax and unwind,” we would say.
But honestly, we had no idea where we wanted to go and truth be told it just didn’t matter. We wanted to be completely open minded to the blankness of travel and life on the road.
And now our friends ask “is there any place you have thought about settling down?”
“We just don’t know yet,” we would answer.
As uncomfortable as we are living with uncertainty and exhausted from repeating the story of why we sold everything to live in an aluminum tube, we still have so many more questions to ask. But the process is very slow and takes a lot of energy. For one thing, we’re always having to reorient ourselves to different grocery store layouts with each new town. And when you don’t know where you are it’s very difficult to know where you are going.
In Kickapoo Cavern State Park in Texas, we watched almost one million bats fly out of their cave at dusk for dinner. Technically they call it breakfast since they sleep during the day. Like kindred spirits we watched an endless stream carefully exit the portal in the mountain without crashing into each other, forming a giant endless arc above the rolling hills. We held our noses as the bats fanned their stench in our direction and wondered how their journey would end. For two hours we waited and wondered. Would they just trickle down to a few remaining bats or would they have a sudden dramatic ending? And then I remembered that bats are blind and use echos to figure out where to go. And that made me think I was using the wrong logic to find my path.
When you transplant a tree, you would give it a little more water than normal, and you would check in on it daily until new roots grab onto the soil. Nurturing is slow, but at least there is a goal. We can’t linger over late morning lattes and spend most of the day on Instagram forever. Ultimately we have to figure this shit out. Figure out what we want to do with our lives. Figure out who we are. Take a chance again.
At the start of this year, we decided to looked at some real estate in Tucson, just to see if we were ready. And then the panic set in.
It was probably something about the Arizona sunshine that left us feeling exposed, vulnerable, and questioning who we were. The dry air didn’t help either. I cried just to feel moisture on my cheeks, and all sorts of fear bubbled up. We were simply searching for a destination, but we knew something wasn’t quite right. It was the soil: the ground in Tucson was simply too hard and dry for anything new to grow. And so we packed up and headed back to the green side of the country, and by some fluke found ourselves stopping in Uncertain, Texas for a few days.
I love it when people say “enjoy the journey”. It makes me laugh because how can you have a journey when you are going nowhere? Oh wait, that’s the point, isn’t it?
And what if after leaving Uncertain Texas you break your ankle in Mississippi like I did?
If we were simply traveling, this journey would be very different. With an implied destination, we’d be planning and maximizing every moment with itineraries, checklists and fanny packs.
But since we are actually transplanting, we know there is no going back. And since technically we have no destination, our roots are dangling at the edge of the wheelbarrow.
I think a lot about the incident with the morning glory and I ask myself, “are we just moving the same shit to a different place?”
It’s tempting to drift back into our old lives. I think about owning another bakery. I think about living in a real house. John I think misses the cycling culture of Seattle. I thought we left this all behind, but I keep wondering why thoughts of uncertainty still meander about in my mind.
Uncertain Texas is in the Northeast corner of Texas, in bayou country with a few gators percolating around swamps dotted with bald cypress trees. Indeed, Uncertain Texas has a declining population which in some ways is a really good sign in the metaphoric sense. It’s kind of funny how Uncertain got it’s name. When the residents filled out an application for the township, they hadn’t decided on a name yet so they wrote “Uncertain”, and because nobody ever changed it, the name of the town officially became Uncertain.
And so while transplanting a tree might take careful planning and is obviously the most practical thing to do, the accidental spreading of a weed might actually lead to a better story.