Ever since at least college, I have been fascinated by small town living. On road trips, I would often wonder what it would be like to live in a place with only a few hundred, maybe a thousand, other people. See the same people, eat at the same diner, drink at the same tavern, do the same thing day in and day out. I romanticized this lifestyle, believing that it was meant for me at some point down the line. I never thought I would stay in a rural community for long, but I thought I wanted to live in a place where nothing happened. I was wrong.
In early September I went to Taos, New Mexico. I needed time to clear my head, think about what I wanted to do with my year off given that my plans at the time had fell through. The two weeks before this trip, I spent time with one of my best friends helping her move into a new home thousands of miles from her old one. She, too, was setting up a new life. We spent the days exploring her new neighborhood bit, but overall we did as little as possible. The moving van didn’t arrive for the first week plus, so there was no furniture; we slept on an air mattress in the middle of her living room floor. We ate simply – carrot sticks, hummus, and cherry tomatoes from the garden left behind from the former tenant – a couple of camping chairs and a cardboard box set up on her deck that overlooked a magnificent lake served as our dining area. There was always a bottle of red wine and conversation about our fears as to what lay ahead of us. So much unknown.
A bottle of wine and this view. Life was unsettled, but good.
It was time for me to go as her new job was about to begin, so I flew to Colorado to reconnect with a childhood friend of mine. My goal was to stay busy during my time of uncertainty. We went camping in the mountains with her husband and a couple of friends. Again, I lived a stripped down lifestyle. We slept in tents, cooked over a campfire, and went off into the woods with a shovel to signal that we weren’t to be followed.
Camping is always better with a dog.
The weekend and therefore the camping trip was over. I was going to stay in Denver while the rest went back to their jobs. I had work to do, but not a lot of it. My plan was to work at my friend’s house while she and her husband were away, and then hang out with them when the day was done.
“Have you ever been to Taos?” asked my childhood friend.
“No,” I replied. I think the only time I had ever been to New Mexico was when I drove through it with my brother almost 20 years ago.
“Why don’t you go hang out at my mom’s condo there for a couple of days instead of hanging out here?”
I didn’t like the idea of being alone. Yet I knew it was a good idea. I got into the rental car the next day and drove the 300 miles to get there.
It was Monday evening when I arrived. As a football fan, I sought out the nearest bar that was playing the game. I couldn’t find one. I went to several different places and they all lacked the sporting community I was looking for and frankly assumed was everywhere. I guess Taos was too arty for that. I settled for watching the game with one drunk guy at a small bar. The Eagles won to his satisfaction. I nursed one beer and headed back to the condo.
The next day I took off to visit the wine country, which, to put it mildly, was remote. One of the wineries in particular was really in the middle of nowhere – unpaved roads that were more puddle than solid surface thanks to the recent downpours. As I neared my destination, I became aware that it had been quite a while since I saw a grocery store, never mind a restaurant, gas station, or place to gather other than a church or school. I was venturing out into the very place I envisioned would be my relaxing paradise (minus the diner and tavern).
I was the only patron so I got to spend uninterrupted time talking to the tasting attendant. She had moved to this part of New Mexico from Denver to “get away from it all.” I asked her how she liked it:
“Well, there’s no internet, no cell phone service, and I have to drive at least 30 minutes to get food or anything to drink other than what I pour. I have to plan my trips carefully so I don’t run out of gas. I really live nowhere now, which I guess is what I asked for. Not sure how much longer I am going to stay.”
Ever since I arrived in Taos I was beginning to reassess my plan of rural living, but her description of her life made it clear to me: I am a city girl. My feelings about wanting to live in some remote area are not tied to a way of living, but to my stress levels; and I was inaccurately equating a stimulating environment with a stressful life. During the four weeks prior to tasting the all-too-sweet New Mexican wines, I had been doing little more than putting in work hours, spending quality time with friends, and reflecting on my life. In this state of mind, the idea of being in a small community was now horrifying to me. I am an extrovert: I thrive on people, diversity, and exploration. I won’t get those things living in a place like Taos, New Mexico, though it sure is beautiful there, and I am very grateful I went there.
This was my “office” when I was in Taos. It’s the only place I could get the internet to work reliably.
I could stare at buildings this lovely all day.
It’s been months since I left New Mexico and I have been able to, for the most part, maintain my feelings of peace despite – or perhaps because of – my city living (Toronto, Auckland, Cheonan) and visits to other crowded places (hometown Portland, Melbourne, Sydney and Seoul). I have also learned to appreciate and respect routine and the Shambala way of discipline (or at least how I see it – I am still a novice here) as a path to awareness, joy, and authenticity. Perhaps it was these qualities I sought when I longed to wake up daily in a tiny town isolated from the rest of the world. I am happy I know that this way of life is possible among the bustle of city living.