Burnaby Lake Park

From Alison: August 31st was our six-year anniversary of becoming homeless and nomadic. Five years and nine months later, on May 8th this year we reestablished a home in Vancouver. We are not done travelling, but we are done being homeless.

It has been an adjustment having a home again, and when we get talking about it with friends we miss travelling and want to get going again. On the other hand being settled externally is creeping into my bones and I find myself more and more settled internally. When I look back and remember how I was six years ago there seems to be a great chasm between who I was then and who I am now. Don says I’m less brittle. No doubt he’s right. What I find for myself is that I’m more grounded, more content, more grateful, and more openhearted.

These are the things I’ve noticed:

A cool fall day, getting into a car made warm by the sun, wearing a cozy fleece hat and jacket and luxuriating in the warmth as we drive to our forest walk around the golf course. I sink with bliss into the blanket of warmth.

The simple joy of washing my hands under warm flowing water, holding them there longer than necessary just to enjoy the sensation.

Driving across town and thinking of where to park when I get to my destination, and suddenly without warning, and for no reason, being filled with love.

Walking in the forest, up and down hills, hiking poles shifting back and forth in a steady rhythm, and pretending I’m on a much longer hike, or even walking the Camino, the forest surrounding me with a soft green embrace. Filled with joy and hope.

During dinner with friends watching the tree in the front garden through the window. On the second floor I’m at the same height as the tree. The leaves are just starting to turn yellow, and are made more yellow in the darkness by the golden streetlights. Glowing. Rain is falling, the first rains of the fall and it makes the glowing tree sparkle like Christmas lights. Such beauty right out my window.

Most mornings after a cup of tea I begin exercising. It’s all about core strength. And stretching. And balancing. Taking care of the body. This daily routine has helped keep the pain at a minimum. Most days I sit on the couch and write, read, watch TV, and edit photos. Most afternoons I walk in the forest for forty minutes to an hour inhaling it’s tall strong presence and soft green embrace. Most days I am grateful, over and over, for simple things, things most of us in the developed world take for granted: always enough to eat, ice cream with a good movie, a safe comfortable home, good friends, hot running water, being able to afford a physiotherapist, a reliable car, the luxury of a hot shower. I am deeply content in a way I never was before. Although I would like to travel more, and it’s likely we will, there’s no longer any yearning for something more than simply what is. Life is gentle, kind, sweet, easy.

I seem to have let go of a lot of ideas about how I should be, how life should be. There’s barely any striving anymore and I’m content with that (it’s the reason blog posts come slower these days). I seem to have let go of striving to be someone. It’s what we do in our twenties, thirties, forties, and fifties. There’s always more to achieve. Even into my sixties I was still chasing something. Now that seems to have largely fallen away. It is a natural progression as we age I think. What was important before is not so important now. Now the most important things seem to be gratitude, presence, love, and an abiding focus on all the good in this world. I have no complaints.

From Don: I feel content and settled, happy to be staying in one place for an extended period of time, happy to be back in Vancouver, my hometown.

The nomadic life was fun and exciting most of the time, but also wearing on me: always having to find the next place to stay, always sleeping in other people’s beds with other people’s sheets and pillows, using their furniture, and kitchen utensils, and their always dull knives. It’s lovely to know where everything is kept, to have our own dishes, cutlery, and beds once again. I seldom miss travelling, except when I read about the beauty of Morocco, or the excitement of seeing the Big Five on an African safari, and I feel settled and content much of the time now. We’ll probably start travelling again next year, but for shorter trips than we used to take: two months at a time instead of four to six months at a time.

Through travelling I discovered that doing scary things has made me the most alive I’ve ever felt: whether it was walking through potentially crocodile-infested waters in northern Australia, taking a ride in an open boat under a huge waterfall in Argentina, or parasailing over the ocean off Playa del Carmen, Mexico, I always felt energized after the event. There’s nothing like feeling scared to death to feel more alive!

I was struck in my travels by how much the similarities in people’s basic nature all over the world far outweigh any differences in language, culture, or outward appearance. People-watching in many different countries revealed to me a basic love of family and of community, a basic humanity. I asked Google to find out how much of my DNA I share with other human beings: 99.9% according to a recent study. Despite obvious differences we are way, way more alike than we are different. This was proved to us over and over again by the kindness we were shown by complete strangers wherever we went. There’s a basic humanity that supersedes any differences in race or religion. These experiences have made me less judgmental than I used to be about appearances, and kinder towards otherness.

Travelling for me, much like being married, has been abrasive in a good way: it has helped to grind off the rougher edges of my personality, and has led to a greater acceptance of otherness both in myself and in others. I feel like I’ve been pummeled by a good masseuse: it was initially painful, but it has left me softer and more flexible.

I’m less scared of change than I used to be. I complain a lot less. I’m far less attached to things than I used to be, and far more grateful for whatever I receive on a daily basis. Having stayed in many small poorly furnished rooms and apartments in our travels, having a small apartment now that is furnished with a few beautiful things of our own choosing feels like a luxurious blessing. We have seen people all over the world with very little and yet they are still happy. We travelled with very little, living out of carry-on size suitcases and yet were still happy. Both the example of others and our own experience has proven to us that happiness is not dependent on things.

I turn 75 in a couple of weeks. I have my own rocking chair now, but I’m also exercising for close to an hour every morning to maintain and improve my strength and flexibility. Many of our neighbours are elderly, and I see them out in their wheelchairs, or pushing their walkers, or stooped over as they walk slowly and painfully along. I don’t plan to become like that, so I’m doing what I can to stay as fit as possible for as long as possible.

Every night before I go to sleep I give thanks for all the blessings I’ve received during that day and for the ongoing blessing of a comfortable home, food on the table, and a loving wife.

From Alison: We’re both softer than we were, we’re both more openhearted than we were, and more content, and much more grateful for all the small things. We dance with and around each other with a smooth easy flowing, and we settle into having a home again feeling blessed and supported.

All photos were taken close to home. We live in a natural paradise. There’s a reason they call Vancouver Lotusland.

The Fraser River at sunset

Canada Geese flying off to roost for the evening, Burnaby Lake Park.

Sandhill Crane at Burnaby Lake Park

The Fraser River at sunset

Next post: Trinidad, Cuba – the beauty and the beast

All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2017.