I love staying in friends' homes when I travel. It's a chance to spend time that is both catching up and being a part of the life they live at that moment. From morning coffee routines to making dinner together to sharing bathrooms and hallways, I literally enter their shells, breathe their air, hear the sounds they live with. Going into someone else's shell allows me to reflect, once again, on my own lifestyle and the house I live in now. How are my friends' routines different or the same? What fresh perspective will I bring home with me? Will I make my coffee differently or bake those rolls that my friend's mother baked us?
In West Virginia, I stayed in a small town of Romney. It's in the Appalachian mountains. My friend grew up in the house where I slept for 3 nights. His sons grew up there, too. The house is a big L-shaped brick house that still has a bullet hole from a civil war scuffle. In their backyard, a herd of deer appear at dusk. At night, the stars are so bright, layers of glittering chandeliers float above me like holograms. The Milky Way is painted across the great arch of our galaxy. I can see the curve! A screech owl calls from down the holler (that's West Virginian for "hollow"). In the city, where I live, the stars look faded and forgotten in comparison.
About a mile down the road from my friend's house, his uncle, Dan Wagoner, a well-known dancer who had a dance company in NYC for more than 20 years, spends the summer in a stone house built in 1789. Dan still teaches dance at a university in Florida during the school year, but chooses to return to his childhood roots every summer to a place that has no electricity or running water.
In this stone house, once owned by Dutch slave owners, Dan has released himself from the modern world. He says "it takes about 10 days for an inner shift to occur," before he slows to a different pace and way of thinking. He draws his water from an outside pump, and takes baths in his clawfoot tub under a tree. At night, the porch is illuminated by candles, and moonlight hovering over the distant hills.
"Ten days for an inner shift to occur." I keep thinking about that phrase. How many of us give ourselves permission to make an inner shift? Or give ourselves ten days to let any kind of change happen?
Could I do it? There's something inside me that wants to try and something else that is afraid. What would happen to me if I were to live in a house without electricity for two months? Would I want to return to the city or would I disappear? Become unknown or forgotten? Or would I uncover some sort of magic, another world that has been waiting for me?
How do you think you would handle living in place like this? If you're a country person, please tell me your thoughts. If you've lived in cities most of your life as I have, I want to hear from you, too.