I’m feeling like one powerful woman. Just hand me a 20-foot U-haul truck anytime. No make it 25-feet or even 30! I’ll step right up, swing into that saddle, and head out in the truck lane on I-90  west over the mountains.  Simply watch those side mirrors. Remember how much truck is behind me. Swing wide on the turn into the gas station. Join the semis in the truck parking area at the rest areas. Gear down coming off of Lookout Pass on the border of Montana and Idaho  Don’t be afraid to try the shortcut, winding road  from Pasco, Washington. Take time and enjoy the vistas from on high. Wave at all those other U-hauls on the road, too. We’re all going somewhere.

selfie-en route

“What do you think of your mom?” I asked my son Ian who helped pack up the truck on Friday in Missoula for the move to La Grande the next day. “Cool or crazy or maybe both?”

“Definitely both,” he said with a grin. He was my only passenger in the truck, and merely across town to pick him up and drop him off at his Dad’s where he was staying for Spring Break.

While I drove solo the 450 miles to La Grande on a sunny day on the verge of spring, I relied on friends and helpers on either end to pack and unpack.

Community. Generosity. Gratitude.

The truck was only supposed to be a 15-footer. After all, I’d pared down, right?  The 10′ X 12′ storage unit seemed so innocuous. Surely, I could not be the holder of that much stuff? After all, I’m the wandering naturalist in the Alcyon, free as a bird. I’d given away things, had a big garage sale with a friend, and sold furniture.

Larry Aumiller brings his Alaska expert packing skills to my embarrassing number of boxes that had to fit into the truck like a puzzle.

However, I’ve failed at living as light as a feathery, hollow-boned, flying bird. In my defense, not all birds live simply either. Take bald eagles. A pair will add one to two feet of sticks to their nest each year, and over generations. The world record bald eagle nest measured 9.5 feet across, 20 feet deep, and weighed three tons.That said, eagles return to the same nest. They don’t try to move it to another state.

Bald eagles nesting in the national arboretum are making a splash these days! (Photo credit www.avianvoicescom)

We humans are mobile, restless creatures, but we have a hard time shedding our possessions as we grow older. At least most of us. Looking at the staggering number of boxes in that storage unit –books, books and books; office supplies;  framed art; old slides and  family photos; and carefully wrapped French Limoge china inherited from my grandmother Lillian Campbell (whose mother was Marina my namesake), I had mixed feelings about all of it, except for the sentimental values.

On one hand, I felt excited to set up a real nest in the bungalow at La Grande,Oregon. I’d touch the covers once again of favorite books that are mostly about nature, and line them up in the wooden bookshelves that once inhabited a historic Missoula landmark called “Freddy’s Feed and Read. I’d unpack the colorful plates collected over the years from Mexico and the southwest. Hang up that incredibly lovely painting of Aspens  in the spring leaning into the wind, by my talented artist friend Nancy Seiler.

Don and Ian load my grandfather Robert Campbell’s cedar chest – invaluable for its stories and family meaning (while  Ruby the adoring dog of Larry and Colleen’s looks on).

Meanwhile? I’d be able to hop in the packed and waiting Alcyon. I’d be living relatively simply with affordable rent and a housemate. But now, I’d have a nest to come and go from at will.

On the other hand? A true roving naturalist just gives up all possessions that don’t fit into the truck and lives only with the few necessities and selected chosen luxuries that will fit a much more monkish existence.

This painting is similar to the one I have from Nancy that’s in a box! See it here in her gallery on her website, nancyseiler.com.

Musing over all of this, I return to the reason for the 20-foot truck. Here’s what happened. I had a house to furnish, and once again needed a bed, a couch, a table and chairs–the things I’d given up last year,  I was purchasing again on Craiglist right before leaving. They’re big and bulky items, but without any sentimental value. Buying them used and selling again is a treasured American tradition. The process offers insights into other people’s lives and unexpected, momentary connections.

The bed (complete with box springs and bedding) came from a couple who were newcomers to Missoula. Al is from Morocco and a citizen of Canada and his wife is from Costa Rica. They have one small child.  In the 15 minutes it took for Al and I to make three trips up and down the steps to their third floor apartment, we had a lovely connection over culture, living internationally, Canadian health care,  and the joys of exploration and moving.

The oh so comfy green microfiber couch belonged to a young family with a starry-eyed, waving toddler named Daphne.  Becca, the mom, and I muscled that bulky couch in and out and into the U-haul all by ourselves.


As I was initially filling the 15-foot U-Haul with purchases, it started to dawn on me that the truck was not that big.  I showed up at the storage unit at the appointed time where my friend and master packer Larry Aumiller awaited along with kind, academic, and easygoing friend Don Stierle. I’d picked up Ian first. After I opened the latch, and pushed up the back door that rolls upward, we stared in at the giant couch and bed and eyed the opened storage unit. Nope. Clearly too small. I’d have to leave my crew and go exchange the truck, after we unloaded what was in it so far.

I felt daunted at first. Could I drive a 20-foot truck?  Would the extra cost be worth it? Should I just figure out a way to toss a bunch of boxes? But no good environmentalist recycler and re-user every tosses out things. You find homes for them. That’s another excuse for accumulation. It’s so easy to throw things in the landfill, yet so abhorrent when there’s another use for just about everything, reducing our overall consumption.

The unsmiling, yet efficient middle-aged, clean-shaven man at the U-haul station was hard to read. Maybe he was exasperated by the paperwork that might be required for a new truck, or he’d simply done this job too many times. But the good news is that he simply swapped out one truck for the other at the same price. And the truck he picked out was so much better than the other one that faintly reeked of smoke and a scared cat that had once been a passenger.

Saying good-bye to Patches  before stepping up to drive “my” 20-foot truck, parked outside Steve Loken’s house. I’ll miss them both!

This new truck also bore a bold, bright green illustration of a firefly with an interpretive message about bioluminescence and what we can learn from the firefly to apply to our lives. I’d be driving a billboard for biomimicry! Go U-haul. How wonderful to use the trucks for education and valuing biodiversity, instead of bearing some corporate ad! In fact, later I learned the company is always looking for more ideas for the series.Click on Supergraphics to learn more about it.

U-haul bioluminescence
Find out more about bioluminescence and why fireflies are so important to our world–as is every species on the planet.

The firefly that creates its own starry light in the dark sky seemed an apt symbol for this trip west to my homeland of northeast Oregon.  I have a love affair with light, and especially dancing light—flickering fireflies that I remember as a kid chasing around in a backyard in Virginia. How beautiful to cup one in my hands and hold a star for one moment and let it go. Life. Wondrous. Ethereal.

And so on Saturday, with my heart filled with gratitude, I drove off into brilliant sunshine that dazzled on the Clark Fork River, illuminated the dark evergreen forests, reflected off snow on the passes, and ruffled over the Washington plains, honeyed the Blue Mountains with late afternoon shafts of gold, and settled in for the night as I drove up to my bungalow nest in La Grande.

The packing crew! Weary and still cheerful afterwards– left to right: Don Stierle, Ian Oberbillig (my son!), and  Larry Aumiller.
moving crew- we did it!.jpg
My terrific moving in crew: left to right- Jean McKern and Mary McCracken-longtime Oregon friends; Arthur Williams; and Sid -the strong guy.
my rental bungalow I share with Karen Benbrook in La Grande–note the sunroom–hooray for light!
Alcyon is still ready to go from La Grande on adventures!