camper

PINK CAMERON | A CLEAN BREAK

 

After three months of unforeseen joys and sorrows, triumphs, frustrations and lessons learned in the confines of a seventeen-foot camper, our time at Pink Cameron has come to an end. The arrival of September in Vermont has brought sub-forty degree nights and a generous offer to move into a one-room stone cottage on the farm. As such, we have moved our lives a few hundred yards up the farm road, into "The Smithy," a former blacksmith shop built by Consider Bardwell himself in the early 1800s.

This was a summer of scaling back, of learning (and choosing) to live with less. We washed and ate from the same two bowls, the same four forks and spoons, time and time again. Our clothes, all of which fit into a snug camper shower-turned-makeshift closet, faded in color with repeated and heavy use. We slept on an air mattress for three months—well, two air mattresses, since the first one popped after a month of dutiful service. It was a summer to trial a new way of life, in many ways.

Most notably, we started our own herd of meat goats, four in total. We gave them names: Satchmo, Smithers, Dill & Tuna. We had to say heart wrenching goodbyes to Satchmo and Smithers, having tried everything that we could to keep them alive, ultimately watching them both succumb to the same parasitic disease within the span of ten days. It was extremely painful, a time wrought with feelings of utter failure and sadness—an experience we did not feel open to sharing in this medium. The real failure, though, would be to bury the reality of what had happened. Thankfully our time at Pink Cameron was filled with a parade of other beautiful and poignant experiences. The gathering and passing of each summer storm; the fields alight with fireflies in June; the daily majesty of the sunrise, the sunset, and the infinite night sky. All was gift. Right before we moved out, and against all odds, seven pathetic zinnias sprouted. They were piddly with weak stems, but those zinnias gave us hope. After so much growth and experimentation during our Summer In The Camper, we knew that, come moving time, we would need a clean break. A figurative break, we thought; but what we got was literal! Enter REDBUDSUDS.

Camper living was not particularly clean. Though we did our best each day, it was never going to be the sort of living to be handled by a person who prizes cleanliness above all else. When you have no choice (and we did not—it was our home), you simply adapt and make do. If an apt name were to be given to this summer, Dirty Feet Summer wouldn't be a bad contender. By the first of September, outdoor showering was frigid. By using a tough bar of Castile soap as shampoo and body wash, we were able to be in and out in under a minute. It left our hair equal parts greasy and dry, but it mattered not. Adapt and make do.

Around the time of contemplating our "clean break" strategy, Sam received a providential email. The creator and owner of a small-batch soap business in Ohio, REDBUDSUDS, reached out to us about testing her new product, the Shower Bar, in our outdoor shower. Aubrey's new soap eliminated the need for separate bottles (or bars) of shampoo and body wash. In other words, she was asking us to do what we had already been doing, except with a product that was made for the job.

Sam has known Aubrey for a year or so, having chatted at farmers' markets and commiserated over the unnecessary packaging waste of shower products. Long before we knew the woman behind the company, we had been mailing our Greek family her soap bars because they smelled and felt really rather exceptionalWe've read enough sponsored blog posts to know that the job of the blogger is to write an unbiased review. But, in this case, we already believed in REDBUDSUDS. She makes soaps with ingredients derived from the earth. They are soft yet durable, lather beautifully, and smell gently of meadows and forests.

It feels a bit challenging to write a "review" because we are not "review" people. Reviews can feel gimmicky, non-substantial. We are farmers who bring in humble incomes. We like simple products—food, wares, and body care—that are utilitarian and work nicely. We work hard to prioritize investing in people and products that do good for the planet and do good for us, even when it costs more. Aubrey's soap meets all of our criteria, and it doesn't cost more. It is biodegradable—which will remain every bit as much of a concern in The Smithy as at Pink Cameron—and leaves our hair and skin feeling soft and truly clean, without any of the residual greasiness left by other bars of soap. This all goes without mentioning that, along with all of the REDBUDSUDS soaps we have used over the years, it is beautiful and feels like a treat to use. The Shower Bar is a substantial product that we will continue to use as our showers move from the great outdoors to the indoors. 

So we have made the clean break. We are out of Pink Cameron. Our possessions, removed; our dirty feet, cleaned. For his inaugural shower in our new home, Mark set down 'That Extra-Meter Cedar' bar on its cedar soap deck and used nothing else. 


—M&S

SHOWER THOUGHTS | OUR HOME LATELY

 

I turned the spigot on in the forest shower, felt the cold water pour over me, and realized it had been more than two months since either Mark or I had showered indoors. Two months since a hot shower. I peeked through the shower curtains and looked about. Our clothes line had become a hamper—destined for dirty farm clothes stained with a scent only a livestock farm can impart. The burdock patch was growing virulently once more; Mark would need to mow soon. I would need to fill the bucket with water from the shower in order to wash out the french press for morning. I turned off the spigot and saw our shock-white cat zip through the brush. Officially a feline obsessed with being out of doors, just like his parents. There it all was: our campsite. Not bad, I thought.
—S

The shower has always been a place of great peace for me; a place where a lot of my best ideas come to the surface. My tendency has been to linger too long under the running water, entertaining novel melodies in my brain, fragmented snippets of imagined prose, and enterprising ideas for the future. In short: wasting water. That place, the slow, indoor shower, is no more. Now, my showers are gone in sixty seconds or less, filled with hurried breaths brought on from the shock of cold water and evening air. I spend less time in there—thinking, bathing—than ever before. Still, the shower that stands just outside of Pink Cameron has become the de facto epicenter of our living grounds. It is our only source of running water: our well, of sorts. We draw water from the outdoor shower throughout the day; to wash dishes, to do laundry, to cook rice, to quench the thirst of the kids we are raising about a stone's throw away from where we live. We tote a small, steel bucket—back and forth, back and forth—taking the water wherever it is needed. It can be rather inconvenient, but enlightening too. We now know exactly how much water we use on a daily basis, and it is a lot less than what we were using in the past. It's a comforting thought—more comforting, even, than a hot, twelve-minute shower. —M

Possessions—especially the wares for cooking and eating—wear a patina from being carted from our camper kitchen to our outdoor sink. In general, things are a little rougher. A bit dirtier. Things break more often. We are becoming less attached to things.

If a storm is coming, we cannot bunker down until all the clothes are off the line, all the shoes are hurled under the camper, all the dishes are brought inside, and our pots of herbs are protected. I have the thought, during times like those ones, that the vast majority of human experience did not exist so comfortably within four walls. Communities used to live, well, communally. Life was less about neighbors and more about flourishing in conjunction with others who worked towards similar goals: rearing families together, growing food and raising shelter. Sharing the toils and the bounty. With trepidation society calls this hippy commune living. In my humble little opinion, this is a disservice to millions of people who came and prospered before us; to the communities around the world who still maintain this way of life. —S

Recently Mark and I have been researching yurts, or wooden and canvas cylindrical huts that originated in Mongolia. Apart from just being interested in living in our own yurt, I found it fascinating to learn that yurts traditionally have no windows, but rather a door and a sunlight. Life was to be lived and worked outside, and a yurt only one of your many rooms in nature. Many of our family and friends tell us they could not possibly do what we are doing this summer — what with the no bathroom, and no running water indoors, and no wifi, and only 17 feet to sleep, cook, dine, and relax in. Ah, yes, but what of all the treasures that can and do exist here. Countless, unexpected treasures. I have come to know the night, with her denizens of coyotes, and foxes, and stars as multitudinous as the blood vessels in my body. I have come to know the night and I love her. —S

And I have come to know the land and love her—even the dirt and grass clippings that we track onto our pale pink, painted floor each & every time we walk indoors. She is beautiful, and rough around the edges too. “Unrelenting” would be a good word. We are always close by, subject to her mood swings. From dusty heat waves to days-long deluges of rain, we must endure. Sometimes it is terrible. But most of the time, it feels apparent just how blessed we are to live this way. A way that is not necessarily comfortable or idyllic, but one that feels right for us. The thought of separating from the land, back into a house with indoor plumbing and creature comforts and everything you need under one roof, feels alien. It is not to say we want to live in a camper permanently, but that we hope to forever blend our lives with that of the land, just as we have this summer. —M


—M&S

INSIDE OUR RENOVATED HOME ON WHEELS

 

We have arrived. The view looks like burdock- and nettle-covered fields, and two buckling kids — Satchmo and Smithers, respectively. It looks like three weeks of blood, sweat, and tears bringing life and buzzing back into an unused 1986 camper; it looks like home for now. And our home's name is Pink Cameron.

To inhabit a new space is quite strange a thing. Muscle memory has yet to develop, so you hit your head on new things, and your reach for something on the counter falls an inch too short. Your body feels different in your bed, or maybe it's that your bed feels foreign to your body. Our life here has become an amalgamation of all of the things we imagined, and many that we did not.

If you have been following along with this blog for a little while, you read and witnessed our first impression of the camper. Paring back our belongings was an interest of ours, and we have both long dreamed of a composting toilet outhouse, but to claim that we chose this situation would be a falsehood. The truth is that we are extremely grateful for hot water, derive pleasure from lighting, and see nothing wrong with having a bookshelf devoted to vinyl and books. Camper life lends itself poorly to all of the above. Or at least this camper. We said yes to this opportunity because what we wanted most of all was to immerse ourselves in this dairy goat farm while not entering into poverty getting there. The owners at Consider Bardwell generously offered us their camper, on their farm, with a no-holds-barred approach to renovation.

Many skills were acquired along the way; many came too late. We yelled and cursed and sustained countless minor injuries. Without further adieu, a glimpse of Pink Cameron's interior from Dark + Outdated to Light + Fresh!

A few moments, even if brief or rare, have had us feeling like vignettes from a Wes Anderson film: lying on our bed that buts up to the window, reading and rereading recipes from a favorite cookbook while our cat sleeps on the shelf above, our transistor radio relaying all the daily happenings. These moments do exist, and we want to acknowledge their goodness; they are pure in spirit and leave us refreshed. Moments of genuine connection as husband and wife and members of the planet drive our will to make this work—to make Pink Cameron our home.

There are other moments, peppered in more frequently—yet disorienting all the same—where things go wrong. The times when you catch six mice in a day and wonder if the eyes of every mouse bulge out of their head when they die. Or when you have not yet built your cat an outdoor enclosure, and so resign yourself to a litter box that will live at the foot of your bed. And when the fuses and the wires and the converters and the lines exceed your level of know-how by so great a score that you live without electricity or a refrigerator. This all goes without mentioning that hearing, “Wow, you're still painting the inside?” was something of a daily phenomenon.

Wherever we haven't used parts from the farm's equipment shed to smatter together a makeshift version of Whatever-It-Is-We're-Building, we have more-than-likely gone without. Example: we built an outdoor shower using felled logs for the four posts, baling twine for supporting the shower curtains, and rocks from the forest as a drainage base. However, we have yet to begin building our composting toilet outhouse, opting instead to run one-hundred yards down the road to the farm whenever nature calls.

Here we cook most meals over an open fire—a few successes; several flops. We tried potatoes wrapped in foil thrown straight in the embers, and they came out charred to the point of inedibility. Rice came off the fire grate perfectly, as did green peppers—which blistered in sizzling, not smoking (!!) olive oil. Laundry gets washed by hand and dried by the wind. So do our dishes. Slowly, the cadence of daily life is making sense.

Our shelves are decorated entirely with things we use & consume: mason jars full of provisions, spices, and baking supplies; an oil lamp; a few dishes & cooking utensils; a ukulele & a few of our favorite books; our begleri and briki from Greece, plus a carpet from our time in Turkey. The wind chime that our farm friends gifted us is singing a gentle tune in the afternoon breeze and this place is beginning to feel like a home. Perhaps it is because of all the time that we spent trying to make it so. Perhaps it is simply because we have electricity and a functioning refrigerator. Either way, we have arrived at a moment of gratitude & satisfaction—however humble it may be. Here's to a tiny camper nestled in the great outdoors.


—M&S

INTRODUCING PINK CAMERON

 

Before we left our home in Ohio for farm life in Vermont, we asked our nieces and nephews to help us name the camper we will be calling home for the next several months. 'Pink Cameron' was the name matter-of-factly put forth by our four-year-old niece, Hazel. For whatever reason, the name stuck, although the camper is neither pink nor worthy of a human name—yet. We are curious what Hazel will think when she's fifteen and learns that she named a 1986 Sunline camper 'Pink Cameron'.

Ah, Pink Cameron. It's bad. It's really bad. Coming in we had some basic ideas of what needed to be ripped out and what simple renovations we could make happen. (Note: neither of us had ever renovated anything.) What we did not expect were the thousands of mouse droppings accompanied by mouse nests in the ceiling and floor. Or that each hideous curtain would have at least ten rusty staples affixing it to the wall. Or that the walls seem to be made of rotting construction paper. Two people of our paltry skill level should not be able to demolish any "home" in one day. Except, of course, the decorative piece of padded carpet above the door (?) which required calling in a skilled hand to remove. We would love to have a word with the people who made this hunk of junk. Nevertheless, we are sure we'll come to cherish our time in this camper. We have been afforded a great chance to live simply and free of charge on the farm, and for that we want to express immense gratitude.

Over the coming weeks we will be sharing plenty of blog posts about our progress on the interior and the exterior. The to-do's include paint jobs, a composting toilet outhouse, an outdoor shower, learning to bake on a charcoal grill, hand washing our clothes, and all of the things we have not yet anticipated.

During times of transition, we often experience something that we like to call "the storm before the calm." Our strategy has typically been to "cleave and leave," but this move — to Vermont, to become more permanent fixtures at this farm — has asked more from us. This move has called on us as husband and wife to have stamina. This move has called on us to honor the slow goodbyes with siblings and parents, friends, priest, landscape, and even creature comforts. The farewells have been said. We are here. As we strip down our new abode in hopes of building a better Pink Cameron, we still find ourselves very much in the midst of the storm.

We have spent much of the past two years on the move: traveling, changing jobs and homes and life circumstances along the way. Throw in an engagement, a marriage, an unexpected decision to take low-paying internships on a Vermont goat dairy in wintertime, and here we are: living and working together everyday. That familiar feeling of calm that accompanies a new adventure and a new place has yet to come. Inevitably, the storm will pass. One of these days, though it seems hard to believe, we will relish the scent of fresh summer rain wafting in through the open windows of a livable Pink Cameron.


—M&S