Six years ago I dropped out of school in my junior year, bought some land in the middle of the New Mexican desert, and lived in a tent for a year. I borrowed an old truck from a new friend to bring some lumber and canvas out there so I could have a platform and a respectable 10′ x 8′ A-frame tent. I had solar panels to charge my laptop and some LED’s. I had cheap cellular internet. I had bottles and bottles of homemade wine, a (as you can see) cheap digital camera, a pile of books, my motorcycle, and a lot of sleep to catch up on.
I was somewhat of a hermit, but not really. I often chatted on the phone with friends and family back home in New England. I would ride my motorcycle, my machine, the eight miles or so into town and chat with people at the gym, the library, the grocery store and occasionally at a bar where I would stop in for a beer. Though, sometimes I could go a week without seeing anyone.
I read pretty much everything Hemingway has ever written, reread lots of Plato, some of the gospels, Thoreau, Descartes, Allan Bloom, as well as a lot of finance, investing and economic works. I went to the desert with a good-sized library of used books and made good use of the nearby small-town’s inter-library loan program.
I would fill up two collapsible five-gallon plastic jugs with water whenever I went into town and would ride them back to my tent slung over the rear seat of my bike. I would go to the gym whenever I wanted a hot shower. And who needs plumbing when you have a shovel?
I hiked a lot. I was less than a mile from the Rockies’ Monzano Mountains.
My one regret about the whole thing is that I didn’t get to know my neighbors. There was a guy who lived in a trailer about two miles from me, living like me in the middle of the desert. And there was a Mennonite family-farm I passed on my 8 mile trek into town. I occasionally saw them hanging their laundry and tending their fields, but I figured they lived there because they wanted to be left alone.
On especially hot days (105+) I would usually go into town looking for some AC, go find a shady spot near the peak of a local mountain, or just sleep away the hottest part of the day. At night, in the winter, the temperatures dropped dramatically and I would usually stay bundled in my sleeping bag until the sun came up.
There were free range cattle that would occasionally pass by my place. – Some more curious than others. I would moo at them, and spend time trying to get close enough to pet them but they would always get skittish with my impending approach. I made judicious use of their dung as a source of heat though. Lots of people find the idea repulsive but, when you realize that a 2-week-old cow-patty that has been sitting in the desert is so dry that it is virtually indistinguishable from an old mud pie, it’s not so bad. And it burns without an odor.
Occasionally I would use the BB gun a friend had gifted me to get myself a rabbit. They were all over the place so it didn’t take me long to hone my sharp-shooting skills. I would butcher it, brown the meat in a skillet over a cow-patty fire, and then mix it up with some rice and vegetables I’d bought in town.
There were uncomfortable days, especially at first, when I would go to bed with visions of tarantulas and rattles snakes plotting to eat me in my sleep. I was fortunate enough to see one tarantula in my time out there, as well as one baby rattle snake that hadn’t yet developed its rattle. Other than that, the closest I came to death was riding my motorcycle through the patches of loose sand on the way to my camp.
Sometimes I long for the desert. It was clean, quiet and spacious. It’s easy to breath there. The stars, especially on a moonless night, – just the memory of their beauty makes me happy. In solitude it was easy to focus on the self. It was always me and the sand; me and the fire; me and my prey; me and the sky; me and the mountains; me and my machine.
I only went out there to be left alone. – To escape. – Free of deadlines, commitments, projects, assignments. I didn’t expect to see a burning bush, or kill a wolf, or stare down rattle snakes. I wasn’t there to prove anything or test any limits.
I spent only a few thousand dollars throughout the entire year. I thought about making something more permanent, putting up an adobe or cob cabin and digging a well and never leaving. I think, really, the only reason I left was because I was running out of money. I could have gotten some part-time job in town I suppose, but at that point I had already decided that my goal was to make it so I never had to sell my time again. That meant a solid five years or so of working full-time and saving every dime. If I was going to work for five years, I figured I had better find something that I didn’t mind doing.
So, after a year of living in it, I fired up my motorbike and rode out of the desert one last time.