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I visited my sister last week in the mountain valley where we grew up. She has always lived there, leaving only for a few years of college. I, on the other hand, have lived in six different places since I graduated from high school. (P.S.–we’re both grandmothers now.) These places were distinctly different from each other. I commented how it was going to be in the 100s the week I returned to my current Mojave Desert abode, and she gasped, “Wow, how can you stand it?”
Well, I “stand it” just like when I was growing up there in Wyoming at 6800 feet in the Rocky Mountains, feeding our farm animals, milking the cows, and going to school when it was -20 degrees at 3:00 P.M. You just figure out how to do it! There isn’t a “normal”–there is just real life. What I want to know is how did our ancestors “stand it”? When I was a child/teenager, dressing up to go out after school to do my chores, I at least had a house that was illuminated and heated by electricity. I could use a tractor to haul the hay out to the animals in the pastures. We had electric/vacuum-powered milking machines to deal with extracting the “cash crop” from our Guernseys and Jerseys.
My grandparents, who all grew up in the same place, and did the same jobs I did, had NO electricity. They milked their cows by hand before selling it to the same cheese factory my parents used. Grandpa had only horses and mules to till their soil and harvest their hay. Grandma had to gather the wood, build the fire, and then cook the meals.
We had a few times when we experienced their lifestyle, briefly. Many winters, our farm’s water pipes would freeze and sometimes break. So we had to take our cans filled with milk to the cheese factory, and when they were washed, they would fill them with water and we’d take them home to use for the livestock, the wringer washing machine my mom would borrow, and every dish-washing, or bath was done by heating water on the kitchen range first. Also, occasionally the electricity would fail due to the extreme cold, or a vicious storm. That meant getting out the oil lamps for the house, and milking the two dozen cows by hand in a barn lit only with flashlights. It wasn’t a good thing.
So, now that I live where it is 90 degrees at midnight during the summers, how do I survive? Well, in a much more comfortable way than the American settlers who moved here first, over 100 years ago. And definitely better than the Paiute people who lived along the Colorado River for millennia before any people of European descent arrived. Their homes were simply branches of bushes cut and stacked into a pyramid to provide a little shade. They ate rabbits, lizards, and fish. They were migratory and so had limited belongings, and dressed in rabbit-skin moccasins and loincloths and very little else. Also, many people don’t know that here in the Mojave, it gets chilly in the winter. Snow can fall even in the desert, and temperatures will sometimes dip to freezing at night.
My life is luxurious by comparison. I have a swimming pool! I have air-conditioning! I have electricity! I have a pick-up truck! I have running water in my home! When I taught 4th grade here, we learned all about the early native people, and then the lives of the settlers, and over and over my students would just be amazed that people didn’t die without air-conditioning.
The point is: Wherever you live is “normal” there isn’t a “right way” except for the right way to survive in the world where you are. Yes, I LOVED living in that beautiful valley where I grew up. Since I had no other expectation for the winter months, I just did what needed to be done to thrive. When I got married, and my husband (cattle rancher from the same town) was stationed by the U.S. Navy in Southern California, and I got to live by the ocean for a decade and a half, I LOVED it!!
When we moved because of his civilian job to the East Coast by the Chesapeake Bay, surrounded by a whole new culture and more trees than I’d seen all together in my entire life before moving there, I LOVED it. It was so different, and there were so many cultural and physical things to discover. Well…let me be clear: I HATED the summer humidity levels…But almost everything else was very intriguing.
So, now I’m in the desert. No trees. No ocean. No pine tree-covered mountains. No oak forests. But! It has incredible sunsets! And NO HUMIDITY. It has amazing vistas. It is NEVER 20 degrees below zero. And when it is 110 degrees above zero, I go swimming.
Don’t get hung up on normal. Don’t let other people convince you that there is only one option for life. And I’m not just talking about the natural environment as I mostly did in this essay. You don’t have to be/do/live like the other people you associate with to be okay. Just be a good person and figure out what you need to be happy, and your life will be NORMAL for you.Published in