A Covid Urban Hermit

For decades I had fantasies about becoming a desert hermit, which I describe below. At this point in my life, age 72 at this writing, I still haven’t made the desert part, and not so sure now I still want to, but thanks especially to the covid pandemic, I find myself a “covid urban hermit.”

I live in a small South Carolina town, Liberty, with my adult children and their families nearby. The small town means I can walk or bicycle in a mile radius around me and get to a major grocery store, my daughter’s pharmacy, a hardware store, an auto parts store, several restaurants, one of which is pretty good. All I’me really lacking is a craft beer store, for which I have to drive about 8-13 miles (or bicycle), depending on which one I want to go to. Most of the time I can take its backstreets to where ever I am going, but then it only has to “busier” streets, which by big city standards, is still low traffic. More on all of this on my Buddha on a Bike page. I want to start with some relevant aspects of my personality, then move on to my desert hermit fantasy.

As I have aged through the years, I have become increasingly “hermity.” By nature, an introvert anyway, this tendency has grown stronger as I aged. I value my solitude, but it has to be a balanced solitude with the right balance of social interactions and solitude, including of the opposite sex/intimacy kind. (Everything still works, just not quite as good as it used to be back in my 20’s. As Tobey Keith sings, “I’m as good once as I used to be.” )

Probably part of my increased hermit nature is my loss of hearing. A common occurrence at older age with the decrease in hearing abilities. It has become much too draining to try to listen in groups. One-on-one I’m still pretty okay as long as 1) the other person speaks up and 2) I can read their lips. I never really appreciated how much I relied on reading lips until we started wearing face masks with the Coronavirus. If you already struggle with hearing, then can’t see someones lips because of a mask, it gets even more frustrating. Now on to my desert hermit story:

Today I want to share with you what probably is my biggest ongoing fantasy or dream, something I have thought a lot about through the last 30 or so years.  I have noticed it particularly comes up when I am going through a stressful period. However, it is always there, beckoning me, calling me.  It just won’t go away and leave me be! During stressful times it comes up particularly strong. This dream/fantasy is to be a desert hermit.

I realized it was an escape mechanism, but still. It was a call for a simpler, more peaceful life, less stress and/or less conflict. Me and my dog out of the desert by ourselves most of the time, but access to good beer and occasional señoritas. And, of course, AC.

Not just any desert, but the Chihuahuan Desert, somewhere between the Big Bend-Alpine, Tx region, not too many miles from where I grew up in Odessa, Tx. 

Most people look at me like I am crazy when bring up my idea. Well, maybe I am, crazy that is, at least a little bit. My brother says, why move out to Big Bend? Why not just move here to our mom’s place in Ranger, Tx? Pretty much like a desert anyway, he says. Besides, Big Bend is nothing but dirt and rocks, much what we grew up with in Odessa. Bah, humbug, is his answer. My brother is a graphics stage designer, and long ago a hermit in his own right.

As an evolutionary biologist, I see the fantastic diversity and beauty of the Chihuahuan Desert. Its panoramic vistas, wide open spaces, majestic mountains, and dry air, call to me. Out there I can breathe! Here in SC I am crowded in by trees, stewed in a pea soup of humidity. I need my breathtaking sunsets and sunrises! Give my my cacti and lizards. Here I sometimes feel like I am drowning.

My children say, Dad, that’s all well and good,… if you don’t want to see your children and grandchildren, and now great grandson. And what happens in a few years when you are no longer as healthy as you are now, or have an accident? You will be a long way from where we can help you, etc. You are getting older, Dad. (Sigh)

Only my ex-wife, Tricia, seems to understand, or at least says she does. She’s been out there and camped with me in Big Bend. A girl from Maine and spending many of her adult years in SC, she took a real liking to the desert’s wildness and beauty.

Many years ago I even went so far as to look into a deanship at Sul Ross University, located in Alpine. This was back when I was still in academia and a professor at Clemson University. I had missed the deadline however.

 At first I thought about living in a motorhome that we had at the time out in the desert. But, alas, like me, the old RV died, and it would cost too much money to resurrect it, even if I could find the parts. Plus, RV’s are not made for year round living. Then, I started working on the idea of building me a little hut, of maybe adobe and/or flagstone, both of which are in great supply in the area. Entered the Tiny House concept.

I looked at land. For a few thousand $$, I could get 20 acres! Just a piece of parched desert. But, still, it would be mypiece of parched desert. I attended a Tiny House RV workshop in nearby Asheville, NC, put on by Tumbleweeds Tiny Houses (www.tumbleweedhouses.com). Learned a lot. Exciting. But also pretty expensive.

I wanted to live off grid. I read articles, looked at blogs, did background research, of those that had gone before me. I wasn’t alone. Quite a few people had had the same dream, and did it!  I read books, cruised the Internet. Learned about composting toilets, solar and wind electric power generation, rainwater catchment systems, all eco-centered.

 I wanted something I could build here and take there. Here I have a nice, well equipped shop—wood working, metal, mechanical repair, small building and landscaping equipment, electrical, plumbing, etc. Much of which would require a generator and protective structure to use out in the desert. Here I have resources and connections. On and on went my fantasy day dreaming through the years. I was younger then, more ambitious, less at peace. And now?

Thanks to the Coronavirus, I find myself pretty much of a hermit now. I am very much at peace, love my home, which is pretty much a tiny house anyway, my garden, my small town (even if most are Republicans and voted for Trump). They are good folks, just Baptist. They can’t help themselves. They don’t know any better. But they will give you the shirt off their backs, as the old saying goes.