“Nomadland”, “Blue Highways”, & Tiny Adventures

You know by now when I am getting ready to hit the road, I am not as cool as all of those other bloggers and YouTube travelers. I get anxious as heck. I spend a lot of time planning, although the more I do it, the easier it gets. Routes become familiar. Travel tools become second nature. Still, there are so many things that could go wrong and my budget is only so big. However, the reality is, when I lived in a sticks and bricks a lot could have gone wrong at any one time. Whether it’s a health care issue or loss of a job as so many folks experienced during COVID, we are all a couple paychecks away from relating to Fern in Nomadland. 

When I heard the buzz about the movie I had to see it. Although the main character is a favorite actress for me, I was a little disappointed in the movie because it over simplified those of us who live and travel full time in trailers. I know there are plenty of Instagrams and YouTube channels that over glamorize this life as living the dream, but in Nomadland, they went to the extreme opposite viewpoint, making the choice not really a choice but more of a desperate sad last hope to survive. It also seemed to be more of a statement about the health care system and the economy. One major health issue can put anyone under financially, and small towns dry up and disappear all of the time. After seeing the movie I realized I had bought the book, by Jessica Bruder, early on but picked up on the negative view of Nomad life a while back, which is why I had set it aside.

On the other hand having lived in the desert near Quartzite I also think the film captured some of the beauty of living in the desert. It painted a picture of loving one’s life, and loving one’s own company, something many of us had to face being isolated in the pandemic. It made statements about not needing the big house with the picket fence, the marriage and material things to be happy. Fern had a chance at romance but chose to enjoy her time with herself. Or possibly she was still grieving her husband she lost to cancer. She says if she doesn’t go back to those areas that they had lived in it is as if her husband never existed.

When I went back and started reading the book I have to admit it was fun to hear description about areas I lived and worked in. Their descriptions of Lake Arrowhead area in the mountains north of San Bernardino were fun to read about. I confess I have not finished the book, but I plan on it. The book seems to delve more into multiple characters rather than just focusing on Fern. Although it still portrays nomads as desperate and down trodden rather than living a life they chose because it is fulfilling. 

As you know, jumping in a van or trailer and hitting the road is highly popular. Nomadland shows one very slim sliver of the pie of folks who have chosen a nomad life. There are folks who still own their big beautiful homes and rent them out. There are folks who have a couple of trailers. There are those who travel around the globe and rent trailers to live in. Some of us are still working jobs in a city or town. Some of us work from the road. It’s true some of us are retired. And sometimes, since retirement is a fixed income we pick up a work camp job or camp host. For me it was bartending for a bit to raise a cushion for travel funds. Sure, it’s not a ladder climbing, title seeking career move, but it definitely was fun to just do a little work for some extra cash that has nothing to do with politics, or breaking that glass ceiling. For me, bartending was simply fun. And of course, as in any segment of society, there are some who fit the image portrayed in Nomadland.

After the film I accidentally stumbled upon another portrayal of van/trailer nomad life. Well in all honesty it put me to sleep a little at first, until I realized that is what it was about. It follows a guy in the late 70’s who is living van life, traveling the country. “Blue Highways” by William Least Heat-Moon touches on many of the things we experience living mobile. It is fascinating to comparing van life back then to van and trailer life today. I relate to both Fern in “Nomadland” and William in ‘Blue Highways” who question what their lives are about and focus on simplifying what they need, having a smaller footprint on the planet and focusing on what is really important to them. They both leave employment and face the end of a big relationship delving into a life that requires learning to love their own company, gaining courage to face the unknown, and letting go of future outcomes. They live in the moment and focus on what is important. In “Blue Highways” we also learn a lot of trivia about the history along the road which is something I love.  

When I have the typical things happen that can create stress like having to buy new tires for the truck, changing road trip plans due to weather, learning how to navigate vehicles through the mountain passes, and handling things on a small budget I sometimes find myself full of anxiety. Then I think, am I that sad character in Nomadland? For just a flash, I doubt myself. But I quickly realize no. Living this life has its stuff to deal with just like living in my old sticks and bricks home. I’m just living my life. And I feel so fortunate for all of the experiences I have had thus far.

At my next destination on my 395 trip I’m reminded of my answer when people ask me “Aren’t you afraid for your safety traveling alone? Do you carry a gun?”  I appreciate the follow!

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