Many of us are prepping for Thanksgiving celebrations right now. Some of us are having a very different Thanksgiving, while others are carrying on like things are normal. I wonder how many of us have actually learned the true history behind the Thanksgiving holiday? Maybe we should. We were just visiting. Not to get too dark here, but depending on when you decide to believe was the “first” Thanksgiving, regardless of what you were taught in school, 1637 marked the year that a Thanksgiving celebration ensued after colonial soldiers had just slaughtered 700 Natives. We were just visiting. Then we brought in disease that reduced the Native American population by nearly 90% in New England. We were just visiting. I won’t even start with the wars that continued between Native Americans and colonists…. I guess things haven’t changed that much over the centuries. We’re all still just visiting, spreading disease and fighting with each other.
As I’m writing this, I have one liter of water left in my van. Why? Because I’m going as long as possible between visits to the city to replenish. What’s the point of that? Because I’m just visiting. There’s a global pandemic and I am very aware that I’m a visitor here. I respect the community who calls this place home and I want my footprint to be as light as possible. I appreciate the land I have the privilege to explore and enjoy, but even then I am staying out of populated areas, choosing trails that are less traveled (or not traveled at all, as I’ve discovered), and staying in a fully contained camper van.
One thing I realized very quickly as I entered into full time van life is that even though my van is my home, everywhere I go, I’m just visiting. Seems obvious, right? It’s not like I didn’t know or consider this fact prior to making this life change. I get it. I’m a nomad.
You consider things as you’re making decisions, you take the leap, and you learn a lot very quickly from the reality you chose. Maybe not even learning a new truth, but learning a new perspective. I honestly think that’s the most important thing to learn; perspective. Technically there is only one truth, but there are many, many perspectives. My perspective is that being a visitor is a privilege, not a right. My truth is that previous visitors have made poor choices that were detrimental to other humans, creatures, and the earth. I want to learn from that and not repeat historical mistakes.
What if we all lived our lives like we were just visiting, and respected every space we came upon? Truth is, we are. When you go into someone’s home, do you walk all over their counters and chairs because it looks fun? Or do you stay in the designated areas, treading lightly, and staying away from that designer accent rug in the corner that clearly isn’t made for walking on.
Now tell me, what’s the difference from that, and stomping around off-trail in the wilderness, crushing delicate vegetation and damaging the earth so you can go get that perfect Instagram photo? We’re just visiting the trails, too.
When you go to your grandparent’s home, do you leave your used toilet paper on the floor? Oh I see, there are toilets in homes… so that’s different. YES, it is different. When you’re in the wilderness, you’re visiting a place without toilets. Guess what, there are these things called ziplock bags… pack it out.
When you’re around friends and family and you need to sneeze do you let it blow and keep on with conversation? Or do you feel it coming, turn your head, cover your mouth and then say “excuse me!”? Why do we have more respect in someone’s home that we are visiting, than when we are out an about in our every day life? Literally, as a visitor everywhere.
Van Life has been this incredible, exciting, nerve-wracking, mysterious adventure that I’ve fallen head over heels in love with. I’m chasing cell signal and sunsets to find an out-of-the-way place to stay for a week or more. I get to explore, learn, challenge myself, grow, relax, and then when I leave it’s like I was never there. If not for the dozens (probably more like hundreds) of photos I took and an occasional check-in on my GPS to make sure loved ones knew where I was at, you would never had known I was there.
I find that fascinating. I get to experience so much, and yet, I’m the only one who really sees, sans family I send photos to and some strangers on social media. They don’t even see the whole picture. Just a few seconds here and there of my entire day or week. I reap such reward, satisfaction, happiness, peace, excitement… and yet I’m just a visitor whose name may never be seen or heard. I feel no need to graffiti my name on a rock to prove I was somewhere. I know I was there. I am perfectly content, or better yet, overflowing with gratitude and wonder, that I just get to visit these invaluable places and ponder how things became as they are.
The next time you leave your home, wherever that may be, think about the impact your presence might make. What happened to the days when if someone’s child was ill, the parent would say “Hey, Sally has been sick. I’d hate to give you whatever she has, so we’re staying home this week until she’s better.”? I get that we are tired and frustrated and lonely and even angry. It’s been a long year. It’s going to continue. But the sooner we realize that we are all visitors, the sooner we will be able to visit each other again, explore more places, and share experiences on more than just social media…
As you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, and the coming years, no matter how you chose, try to remember that we’re just visiting. We can’t re-write history, but we can learn from it and move forward with respect, appreciation, love, and compassion.