| November 17, 2022 | The quartz necklace I had worn each day around my neck for the two years unraveled and broke on the hardwood floor beneath me. I thought at the time it was a bad omen. However, my instinct for worry was to be sorely tested.
My husband’s frugality had led to a surprise purchase, a 35-foot RV. With gasoline prices rising, the cost of everyday items soaring, and Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, a country from which one of my great-grandparents’ emigrated, I had an overwhelming sense of guilt for planning a vacation and hitting the open road with my family.
But my husband was committed to it. He had mapped out our itinerary. The night before we left, I reviewed his plan. A bead of sweat formed on my forehead, and my eyes widened as I asked, “What is boondocking?” He laughed and said, “The adventure awaits us.” I quickly packed my broken crystal just in case I needed its healing power.
Twelve hours later, we arrived in New Mexico, and I found my answer. We stayed on 55,000 acres of federal land with not another person in sight; and most disorienting of all for me, no internet access. It was the first time in years I saw the constellations with limited light cancellation. Our dogs growled at the coyotes howling in the moonlight and were perplexed by the mooing of cattle. We slept peacefully after a couple of heated rounds of scrabble.
A windstorm thwarted our plans one evening. We boondocked near where western outlaw Billy the Kid escaped from jail.
Disconnecting from what I do every day did not come easy. (No it wasn’t a complete disconnect - a client had a communications crisis, and I had to spend hours strategizing how to manage the company’s reputation while watching my family sled on the sand dunes in White Sands National Park.) But after a week of hiking, sightseeing, and contemplating UFOs during our stop in Roswell, I was in a new head space. With a twinge of worry about the daily stresses of being a business owner, we set our sights on returning home. However, more high winds forced us to exit the highway and boondock at a community center in a small town. Depleted of most of our remaining food, we warmed leftovers and conserved water. That night, we were the only vehicle in the community parking lot.
By morning, a whole group had built itself around us. Three adults emerged from a pup tent. A man descended the steps of a small yellow school bus. Another person in a pickup truck with a sleeper cab walked around with a thermos. Four adults got out of a small car and walked their terrier. A wave of self-consciousness passed over me. Our giant RV and clean clothes stood out among our new neighbors. Some were travelers, some were in-betweeners, figuring out their next steps in life.
One of the adults approached me and asked if she could pet our dogs. I smiled and engaged in small talk. I felt bashful, and frankly almost ashamed, but was met with a kindness which helped me to be open and honest. In fact, I told her that I felt a tinge of jealousy perhaps, albeit presumptuous and preposterous, that they were possibly unencumbered by my daily stresses – professional deadlines, the weight of bills, house (and mobile home) ownership. I relayed the story about my crystal. She smiled and stated that rather than a bad sign it was auspicious. The crystal had probably served its chapter in my life, and she encouraged me to plant it in the ground somewhere if it had served its intention.
My husband, daughter and I shared our breakfast with the group, an assortment of eggs, toast, pastries and the remaining instant coffee and tea we had. I asked each a few questions about themselves before we bid them well on their journeys.
Not long after my family’s adventures in boondocking, I noticed our dynamic has changed. We try to sit down to supper more often together, seemingly more grateful for what we have. We listen more to one another and speak about what we value most – each other.
I thought of the crystal I left behind, now planted in a dusty, gravely community center parking lot in New Mexico. In breaking, it brought me a new awareness, a new patience, and above all gratitude.
Jennifer S. Bankston is President, Bankston Marketing Solutions, a strategic marketing and communications firm headquartered in Austin, TX.