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Enjoying nature by degrees

By MIMI BECKER

Coffee With Mimi

Getting out in nature is just about the best cure for what might ail a person. There is much research to support my point. Clear your mind, stretch your legs, breathe deeply for a bit of time and the world you are in just becomes more pleasant.

There are degrees of participation in nature. Some lifestyles require intense communing and understanding of the outdoors. Living on a working farm, for example, leaves little option for ignoring what comes naturally, day in and day out. With modern technology, such as motorized transportation and door to door deliveries of supplies, a farming operation can enjoy some flexibility. But, what’s outside is what you need to exist.  

I am currently reading a book which is a true account of a couple who built a shantyboat and lived on it while drifting from northeastern Kentucky to New Orleans in the 1940s. The book is on loan from a friend who lives on top of a knob in a cabin he and his wife built from the ground up, and not from a kit.

This modern day living arrangement lacks nothing in comfort and beauty. It has a lovely kitchen and a “trendy” open concept living area. The bedrooms and bathrooms are well appointed by any standard. The home is equipped with all modern conveniences and services. Outdoor living areas allow peaceful, sheltered spaces for gathering or just sitting quietly almost year ‘round.

This idyllic retreat from the hustle and bustle of jobs requires constant attention. Living in the woods atop a steep hill with a pond and acres of wildlife does take tending. Critters of all sorts with legs and wings and slitherers, make their presence known. After all, they were there first.  People who choose to live in the woods, but don’t make their living from it, still must interact a lot with nature.  

But, there is some magic in sharing space with noises that are not produced by industry and watching a sunset not impeded by utility lines. A visit to the cabin on the hill will do something to a person. A confirmed town-dweller like me feels just a bit different after shaking off some of the noises and constraints of pavement and street lights.  

And, then there is the other end of living totally dependent on and at the whim of nature; life on a shantyboat. Back to the book on loan from the friend in the cabin on the hill.     

The author of the book and his wife were apparently in a position to make the leap from artists on land to boat living folks for whatever period of time the experience would give.They did not launch into this project as complete novices to natural and simple living. And, yes, their time in history was significantly different than that in which we are moving. They had full and active lives on terra firma with property and many friends. However, they were not tied to certain obligations such as children.  

I get all dreamy-eyed when imagining a pleasant cabin in the woods with endless views of trees and self-inflicted quiet for my wandering the hills, though mindful of the slithering creatures.  But, life on a floating pile of wood with no physical connection to solid ground or even a boat slip to tie up to at days’ end, For six years? Six days would be possibly more full time nature than I am ready to experience.

To start with, this shantyboat living project of theirs began a mere seven years after the great flood of 1937. That flood on the Ohio is legendary in our family. My husband’s mother recounted stories of events getting through and into the aftermath of the event as a young child living in West End neighborhoods of Louisville. The Ohio River experiences fairly regular episodes of flooding, but 1937 was something else entirely. Structures on the river bank are still marked today at that unimaginably high water level. With clear knowledge of such possibilities, the couple began their serious thinking and gathering.

They spent nearly two years actually constructing their boat. This was no Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer piece of work. This boat had windows with shutters, a fireplace, a cook stove, a rollaway bed and additional sleeping accommodations for guests. They could store food for an entire winter in a cleverly designed space under the floor. They could secure a cello, other musical instruments, art supplies and books, and all the equipment necessary for living entirely on the river, all in a space smaller than a modern bedroom. 

They had dogs, which gave birth on board, and a bee hive on the deck.

They gave their entire existence over to the whims of the river, with periodic connections to shore life for collecting mail, minimal shopping, making a summer garden and safe haven when the river froze over.

They were happy and fulfilled. As for me, I will make my nature experiences as often as possible, stretching my legs, breathing deeply, letting my mind wander freely, and returning to my usual space.