It’s 7 o’clock and as I leave the house the dawn-lit eastern face of the Sierra Nevada mountains looms above me. A wide path through golden browns of brittle sages leads me to my first stop, a small abandoned bungalow, and then on to a small workshop filled with barely used tools and unfinished projects—all inhabited by cats. I check their food and water supply, and as I finish with the felines a donkey whines from the tin-roofed barn up the hill.
For the past 3 weeks I’ve lived in a passive solar cabin on a ranch in Olancha, California, farm-sitting while the owners travel by motorhome to Louisiana. The property is a surreal 28 acres of abandoned shacks and trailers, derelict refrigerators and trucks, a red-slat barn and dry fields, all nestled within ephedra, sage, and a few pine trees that have wandered off the mountains. I’m a Canadian city boy from Toronto; I came here looking for space, and did I ever find it.
I continue up the subtle hill, past the well-house filled with extra feed stock, and the horses whinny when they see me, hungry. The aged gray gelding, Shetan, 30 years old, foundered, his eyesight starting to go, looks about anxiously. As I reach the barn doors a flock of quail waits in the bushes nearby, eager for their morning seed. I am a far cry from my past life of only two months ago, and yet my role hasn’t changed entirely.
In Toronto I’d been a case manager with a social service organization, helping adults with long-term brain injuries navigate the difficulties of their day-to-day lives. Although I’d loved my work and my co-workers, a voice had whispered in the back of my mind for years, prodding me to write. And to an extent I did: I took courses and wrote short stories, and had 10000 words of a corny science fiction novel, but it wasn’t enough. That voice needed to spend full days at a time writing, if only to see, to feel that life. Then, in July of this year, I met a girl. An artist and photographer coming from two years of globetrotting, now preparing to move to California to pursue a Masters degree in Fine Arts. She was realizing exactly what that voice needed: a life of travel and the pursuit of creative passions. In those two months we spent together—rock climbing dense ravines along the Niagara River, packed into the Osheaga festival in Montreal, laying on a dock at the High Park shore of Lake Ontario—something in me was finally able to let go.
So in September of 2014, at 30 years old, I completed one journey and embarked upon a new one, leaving Canada via Sarnia to drive across America. I listened to the blues in Chicago in company of a PhD friend suffering from tendinosis in his wrists. I talked politics in Des Moines with a teacher who’s obsessed with Game of Thrones. I climbed the Boulder Canyon boulder outside Boulder, hiked off trail in Arches National Park and was only slightly worried that the parking lot towards which I was hiking was a mirage. And via a two week stint in Pasadena with the girl who brought about all of this, ended up here in Owen’s Valley.
But for all that I’ve left behind, despite the drastic locational and vocational change, I laugh, because I suppose I’m still a caregiver, only with a small zoo of cats, quail, donkeys, and horses, instead of people. Twice a day in the foothills of the eastern Sierra I lay out their food and water, clean the horses’ stalls, and make sure that the elderly Shetan continues to eat as he enters what will likely be the last days of his life. In the hours between feedings I walk through the desert, I drive to Bishop and climb the quartz-monzonite boulders of Buttermilk Country, and most importantly, I write. And that is the space that I sought when I left Toronto: not any physical space, but a creative space, and the time to focus on my true passion.
And Hannah is here with me for some days, working on her own art projects while I write about traveling and writing and finding the space to be yourself. I think I’ve finally figured out how to make space for that, and though I don’t think I owe her my ability to do it, I am grateful that she was there to push me to try.
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