Hoka Hey

Hoka Hey is printed in simple red block letters on a small sign hanging next to my neighbor’s door in our winter RV park here in Texas.  It is a rallying war cry attributed to Crazy Horse of the Oglala Lakota tribe and has come to be interpreted as:  Today is a good day to die.

My neighbor, Mike, says the small sign represents one of his prime directives.  Not that he plans to die each day; nor does he expect to ride into battle.  But he has certainly had his share of battles:  two tours in Vietnam, two difficult divorces, five major heart attacks, 11 surgeries, a quintuple bypass, life with a pacemaker, and a recurrent struggle with addiction to cigarettes.

When such is your rallying cry each morning, it must inspire you to live that day to the fullest.  It probably helps you to accept those things that are outside of your control and be grateful for the measure of life that you have been granted to walk this earth.

Dawny adores Mr. Mike.  He gives her cookies and love.  She heartily hopes that his final Hoka Hey will be a day far into the future.  In her simple dog’s view–and, though simple, it is no less true, honest, or relevant than some of the more complicated ways humans have of looking at things–Dawny gets it.  Today is always a good day to die.  But it is an even better day to live.  Live and gather cookies.

Mike was kind enough to share some of his experiences, thoughts, and significant life moments with me.  It is an honor when another human opens a part of their heart and their story to you.  I hope to do his words justice.

Mike dreamed of living the full-time RV life for a long time before he hit the road in May of last year.  He spent eight years researching, reading RV forums and blogs, and making other preparations, such as downsizing from a 4,000 square-foot home to a condominium and from 70 tupperware containers to the 16 he has now.

While making these preparations, Mike was laid off from his job in the IT industry (just before retirement).  Already involved in the care of his aging father, Mike became his full-time caregiver for the next four years.  They were best friends.  Before Mike’s father died, he made his son promise that he would follow through on his dream.  He also set aside some money to help finance the purchase of Mike’s rig, a 25 foot class-C motorhome.  After settling his father’s estate, Mike hit the road.

Earlier in his adult life, Mike had an Australian sheepdog named Molly.  She lived with him for 19 wonderful years, serving as his best four-legged friend.  In the end, she went blind.  Her strong spirit still sent her running through the world as if she were sighted, though, and she would crash into trees, fences, and other unforgivingly solid objects.  Eventually, Mike had to let the vet put his beloved companion to rest.

Hoka Hey.  Death has a way of shaping a person.  The bond of love and respect Mike shared with his father, as well as this particular dog, formed echoes that have guided his steps and his outlook to today.

For instance, a neighboring couple recently had to leave their little beagle, Sally, behind for a few weeks in a local kennel while they travel to another state.  Mike regularly goes to visit Sally in the kennel.  To love her.  To reassure her that everything will be all right.  That takes a mighty big, soft heart.

Mike happens to be a strong introvert, like me.  He enjoys his time of solitude, reading four or five books a week.  But, unlike me, one of his favorite pastimes is sitting outside of his rig, visiting with neighbors who drop by and giving doggy cookies to each and every pooch who ventures near.  He always has a welcoming smile and a friendly wave.

In this way, Mike meets a wide array of people as they circulate in and out of the park, many of whom share some of his most formidable, challenging, life-altering experiences.  He estimates that at least half of our fellow campers here are veterans.

Mike comes from a family that has an unbroken line of over 200 years of honorable military service.  His father served in three wars:  World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.  Mike did two tours in Vietnam, winning several medals and ribbons of honor.  He says that he was glad to have served his country, but he would not want to go back and do it again.  The war was hard enough, but returning home to the dismal, hostile reception our soldiers received at that time shook the ground upon which he walked.

He has lived with that trauma for decades.  It has affected his behavior and his relationships, his reactions and his interactions.  And not necessarily in a healthy way.  Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) wasn’t even officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) until 1980, when they added it to their diagnostic manual.  Much of APA’s early work and research was based on experience with Vietnam vets.

Hoka Hey.  No, it is not Mike’s turn yet.  Dawny says so.  As does Sally.  And Max, and Beauty, and countless other discerning canine souls.  Not to mention the many two-legged friends Mike has made in his short time since starting down this new road.  He has gifts to share.  And cookies.  He has life to savor.  And enjoy.

Mike’s son and daughter, his sister and her family, and many old friends are still in his hometown area in Ohio.  In his house on wheels, he will be able to visit them in the temperate months, then return south for the winter.  His sister and her husband just bought a 36 foot class-A motorhome (the large bus-sized type) and are planning to join the snowbirds who fly south for the winter, spending at least some of their time traveling and camping with Mike.  These are the things that help to ease the pang when loved ones are missed.

Dawny and I wish the absolute best for Mike as he continues his journey.  We have faith that the beauty of his spirit, the steadfastness of his love, and the strength of his intellect will continue to pave his road with integrity and compassion.  With the rise of each day’s sun, may his loved ones and friends (both old and new, two legged and four) bring him great joy until he reaches his destination, his final Hoka Hey.

A Traveling Settler

What is a traveling settler?  Me!  I see it as someone who travels from one location to another, stops in one spot for a few weeks or months–maybe longer–then travels to the next destination, settles for a spell, and moves on again.  If I lived in America a couple of hundred years ago, I would have had a horse, a teepee, and a feather in my hat.

But this is the 21st century, so my home has an engine and six wheels.  My four legged companion is the best doggie in the world, Dawny Virgil Prewash Sassy Generous . . . (like all good Native Americans, her names carry great significance).  And we are at home whether traveling or settled.

We have logged 30 thousand miles in our two and a half years on the road.  That’s not really all that much, if you think about it.  The first 10 thousand miles were clocked during our first six months, traveling from Indiana to Texas to Nevada, then all the way east to Virginia by way of South Dakota, Ohio, and other northern states, finally swinging down to Florida where we stayed at our winter campground for a three-month stretch.

That is when I realized that, at the rate we were going, we could wear out our sweet little house-on-wheels in under ten years.  It was time to slow down.  And it was past time to make a budget and stick to it.  (If interested, you can see more on budgeting in my November 16, 2015 post, “Budgeting for Fun.”)

The greatest assist to both the budget and the slower pace has been workamping.  That is where you get a free campsite in exchange for hours worked at the campground.  In 2015 I workamped three jobs over five months.  Last year, it was three jobs over seven months.  The savings while workamping has been terrific.  Not only is there no camping fee, I save money on gas since I am only taking the house/wheels out once or twice a week to do errands or for local sightseeing trips (I don’t tow a horse so the whole house goes with us).

The beauty of staying in one place for a while is the opportunity it grants to connect with other travelers, to get acquainted with local neighbors and local culture, and to grow some lasting friendships.  Heck, one of my jobs is close to where I lived for 30 years and I get to see many old friends and family.  That is a sweet, sweet time.

Dawny likes our settled-in times very much, especially at our winter camping grounds in Florida and Texas.  She is a master of making friends-for-cookies.  Fellow campers and workers at both of these campgrounds are perfectly willing to spoil her.  As we speak, she is totally smitten with Mr. Mike and Uncle Joe.  Both express their adoration of her by showering her with cookies and love.  Perhaps that has contributed to her being less apt to go on the warpath when we come upon other doggies lately.  The girl is mellowing.

Traveling between jobs or on the way to where we will sit for the winter is our “vacation” time.  That is when I get to map out different routes (yay! maps!), explore fresh countryside, and visit new campgrounds, usually staying just a night or two at each one. If we aren’t pressed for time, we may spend quite a few days at one that is especially nice.  This is also a great way to scope out places for future workamping jobs.

Every traveler has their own rhythm.  This is simply the pace and style that suits me and my girl, our situation and our needs.  Many wanderers retain a home base with a solid house on it, venturing out when the season becomes harsh and returning when the weather welcomes (picture the classic snowbird).  The most hardy souls aim for wide open lands out west where they can boon-dock for days or weeks at a time, their nearest neighbors nowhere in sight.

When I lived in my home that was unequivocally planted in one spot, I loved it.  I loved being so firmly settled.  It felt safe.  Secure.  To an extent, it was also isolating, but that was by my own choice.  It sometimes surprises me that I feel so secure in this nomadic, freewheeling lifestyle.  Sure, our home moves around an awful lot but, with our workamping jobs and winter campgrounds, we also spend plenty of time settled.

I think what I love the most is that our world, our home, our level of comfort (and confidence) has expanded.  Dawny and I are both more relaxed.  Leaving our insular, brick-walled bubble behind, we struck out into the wilds.  Along the way, we have been gathering blessings like precious, smooth-faced stones, with the face of a new friend etched upon each one.  Our tribe has grown.

One Insomniac’s Good Fortune

Boy, am I lucky!  It was a bad night for sleep last night.  I finally surrendered to the insomnia, made a cup of tea, and started channel surfing.  First came a Christmas episode of The Love Boat, which was charming enough when viewed through the early morning groggy haze.

That was followed by the most touching Christmas story I have seen in a very long time.

Twilight Zone’s December 23, 1960 episode, “The Night of the Meek,” is magical.  Beyond magical.  Art Carney does a magnificent job playing Henry Corwin, a down-and-out drunk who gets fired from a seasonal job as a department store Santa when he arrives late and drunk on Christmas Eve.

Henry agonizes over the poverty in his neighborhood.  His heart is pained by children who are likely to get little to nothing on Christmas.  By neighbors just trying to survive.  There are some great lines and great moments.  My favorite is Henry talking to his boss, Mr. Dundee, after getting fired:  “I can either drink or I can weep and drinking is so much more subtle . . .  Just on one Christmas, I’d like to see the meek inherit the earth.  And that’s why I drink, Mr. Dundee, and that’s why I weep.”

I don’t want to spoil the story for any who would like to see it, so I won’t describe much more, except to say that watching Henry made me feel like the Grinch (my first reaction was Sheesh, this is cheesy) . . .  My heart grew three sizes by the end of the story.

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to find a free video of this on YouTube.  I found the 1985 remake of it on YouTube (starring Richard Mulligan), which I watched to compare the two.  It’s OK, but it does not possess the magic of the original.  If you have Amazon Prime, Hulu, or Netflix you can likely find it.  Just be sure to get the 1960 original and don’t settle for the remake.  It will be worth the effort.

I will take the liberty of closing with words from the immortal Rod Serling:  “There’s a wondrous magic to Christmas, and there’s a special power reserved for little people.  In short, there’s nothing mightier than the meek.  And a Merry Christmas to each and all.”