I cannot complain about my childhood. I had a close nuclear family, an extended family with deep roots, I was well educated, and my parents went to great lengths to fill the years with vacations, museums, theatre, Sunday school, music lessons and sports teams. Because my dad was in the Air Force, I even got to travel all over the US, Europe and the Middle East. I’m grateful for every bit of it, and I wouldn’t change a thing (even the poopy bits).
Even so, the childhood I was gifted with was not the life I would have made for myself. I appreciated the trappings of modern life, such as running water, electricity and toilet paper, but I dreamed of a wilder life. Why did everyone drive cars? Horses are so much nicer, and they go slow enough for you to see what’s blooming on the side of the road. Why do I have to go to school? Can’t we have a tribe where the children learn to do what the adults do? Why are buildings so big and ugly and smelling of chemicals? Couldn’t we just sleep in tents outside? Why can’t we live with dogs and cats and rabbits and birds and horses?
My mother told me the things I wanted to do cost lots of money. My father told me I wouldn’t be happy without toilet paper and running water. I didn’t quite believe my parents. Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t have any money and she seemed pretty happy without toilet paper and running water. But what did I know? I figured once I wasn’t a kid anymore I’d know what I wanted to do.
But then 17 happened, and suddenly everyone wanted to know where I was going to college, what I was going to major in, what career field had I chosen? Shit. I’m supposed to be a grownup now, but when someone would ask me, “What do you want to DO?” all I could think of were green forests, swimming in rivers, riding horses, sleeping in hammocks, wearing almost nothing, foraging, hiking, and finding a partner to do it all with.
I wanted to be a cowgirl. An adventurer. A witch. A pirate.
But these were not offered as majors at any colleges (that I knew of). I tried to get a degree, have a career, get married, have a car and a house and babies. Turns out I suck at that kind of a life. It took me 7 years and 3 colleges to get a BFA, my first marriage crashed and burned like a moth in a bugzapper, and I chose a career as an actor (guess how that went!). Plus it turns out that I hate cars and houses and babies.
It’s been about 12 years since my old life exploded. I’ve spent most of that time as a beginner. A student. An apprentice. I let go of the things that weren’t truly me, like the first husband, the car, the career, and lots of beliefs that I was holding onto for no good reason. I read as much as I could about the topics I was interested in, like feminism, horses, gardening, frugal living, simplicity, minimalism, biology, mythology, cooking and food. I took jobs that offered me experience and benefits and education while paying me: a carriage tour company, a riding stable, an organic grocery store, landscaping with a master gardener. I took opportunities to learn in new ways: I went to massage school, I attended alternative healing conferences and lectures, I apprenticed with herbalist Susun Weed at her Wise Woman Center in upstate New York.
It’s only in the last few years that I’ve stopped feeling like a beginner. The books are all repeating themselves, I’ve been to all the lectures, I don’t need more classes or degrees.
But I’m not an expert either. I don’t have enough experience as a wild witch pirate cowgirl. The living hasn’t quite caught up to the believing, as Peace Pilgrim would say. I’m not yet living in my horse drawn gypsy caravan, cooking over a fire, fishing for my dinner and pooping on the compost pile. I’m working on it, but these kinds of skills don’t come from library books — I have to practice them. Practice the crafts until I master them.
I’m not sure how long it will take me to become a Master Herban Cowgirl. Thank goodness the practice is so much fun.