It’s hard to believe but it’s been 15 years since I moved to my campsite in the Berkeley hills. August 2007. Before that I had been living in an office building for many years. But then a new owner bought the building and evicted all the tenants. So I was really scrambling to come up with a Plan B. . . Realized I didn’t have one. . . So, for lack of anything better to do, I grabbed a sleeping bag and headed up to the woods in the Berkeley hills.
The summer of 2007. I was 50-years-old. I still felt pretty youthful at that point, didn’t feel much different, physically, than when I was 20. But in other ways, things in my life had started to fall apart. “Everything keeps contracting!” I used to say to myself during that period. All the different facets of my life that had been working up to that point, had stopped working, one by one. . . Ending up living on the streets was one more thing that had gone wrong in a way.
It was strange. Because before that period, my life had mostly been developing, growing, evolving for all those years. During my 20s and 30s and 40s my life kept building up into something more. But then when I hit 50, it’s like my life had hit a dead-end, and things started going the other way. Downhill. Which I suppose can happen. There’s no rule in life that says everything is going to keep getting better and better. Sometimes it’s like your life peaks, and that’s as far as you’re going to go on this spin of the wheel. But still, it came as a bit of a shock to me at age 50. Up to that point it had been like that old saying: “One door closes, and another door opens.” But suddenly it was like,”One door closes, and then there are no more doors.” Literally. I was back living outside.
For the first couple years I looked at it as a temporary holding pattern. A vacation even. Or a place where I could quietly lick my wounds for awhile as I built back my strength and waited for the next opportunity to arise. But then in 2009 I had a complete nervous breakdown. Everything collapsed. And in a way I would never recover from that.
Still, I’m grateful that I was fortunate enough to have found this beautiful spot in the woods to have crash-landed into. And in many ways it fit my needs perfectly. I had developed a deeply reclusive side. And my campsite gave me the opportunity to retreat from my fellow humans, and all the pressures of urban living. I found some feral cats to keep me company. Along with squirrels and birds and other wild creatures of the woods. And the trees and the greenery and the open sky over my head and the peace and quiet were soothing to my battered soul. And after awhile, I realized I didn’t WANT to leave this place. I just wanted to hold out and live here forever. Or for as long as my body and mind were strong enough to deal with living outside. And for as long as I could get away with it (for it was always a tenuous and unorthodox situation).
And now, here I still am. 15 years later. Much older now, 65 soon to be 66. And a lot more worn down. Over the years of this period I went through that transition of “getting old” to “being old.” If you know what I mean. And I’m a lot more beat up — physically and mentally — when I started. But I’m probably in better shape than I have a right to be, considering it all. And virtually everything in my life and my world has changed from how it was in August of 2007. But I’m still here. And now it’s 4 in the morning and it’s dark and peaceful and quiet — aside from the bright light of my little cellphone that I’m pecking away at. And I’m laying here on my back under my blankets with my cat. Like so many other nights over all the years. In no hurry to go anywhere or doing anything. Just watching as my crazy life continues to unfold, however it was meant to unfold from the beginning of time. . .