As year two of living in Co-vid Land kicked in a few weeks ago, I spent an hour on the phone with my daughter and her husband and their 12 week old puppy, finished Watchmen, started Lovecraft Country and most importantly finally watched the amazing Frances McDormand, as Fern, in Nomadland.
My husband was saddened by the stark reality of Nomadland; I was left more introspective and while I was not joyful, I was left in that place where you just appreciate, from a place in the heart, the well-told story. I am better for having watched the film.
The Many Types of Contemporary Nomadic Life
Nomadland is one story among thousands or tens of thousands of stories of women, who as they say are not spring chickens, living in vans or RVs.
There are many, many RVing and Van-living women who can be grouped by various characteristics and motivations. Inclusion in one category does not rule out inclusion in another.
- Type of Vehicle
- Place of Temporary Employment
- Quest / Research
- Happy Feet
- Social Movement Organizing
- Economic Necessity
Sorting criteria may include impetus, transportation type, motivation,
Anthropologist / Reindeer Herder
I began to find out about women with a nomadic lifestyle long ago when at University and I started studying with an Anthropologist – Linguistan ethnobotanist and Semiotician who did fieldwork over several decades with the Saami of Northern Norway (This is the best of her papers for a non-specialist to acquaint one’s self with pastoral nomadism. in my humble opinion: https://ojs.ethnobiology.org/index.php/ebl/article/view/725/449.)
Info-questing Research Travel
Originally published in: I’m Done Nesting (2012) and republished on this site for preservation purposes in 2015.
Road trips have always seemed like they should be relaxed meanderings over highways and byways. For me they never seem to turn out that way though. I have a place to get to and while I might be able to have a bit of wiggle room in the dates and the stops along way to and from the main stopover of the trip.
Before I left in an old Toyota 4-Runner loaded down with some furniture, some art, clothing, bedding and kitchenware to help my daughter start her new life with her honey, Tree Boy, I had opportunity to have lunch with a blogger who really knows how to travel. Becky blogs at Kinexxions, a genealogical blog that focuses on the area and families from my old “neck of the woods.” I do love genealogy, local history, stories of community, and someone who can string words together in an entertaining way. I stumbled across Becky’s blog quite a while back and return to it because she is a darn fine writer from whom I can learn a thing or three! It turns out I was the first of her readers with whom she had ever met. I can’t imagine that she hasn’t met others as she is such an enchanting teller of stories of people, places, and procedures.
She has been traveling and living out of her mobile blogging studio for quite a while now, her comfortably equipped van. That is so inspiring! I met an actual woman who travels by herself, going places and doing research, taking photographs, and sharing the info unearthed along the way in her blog. Of course as an anthropologist I have known many women researchers and scientists who obviously travel, but to find a woman who lived the normal sedentary life, except for that stint in the military during the 1960s and 1970s, and only allowed her happy feet to dance across the country after retirement. Hers is a generous practice, and an inspiring one. Women who have a nomadic streak are not all that rare. Women who act on the urge are however a bit harder to find. She planned, met with a financial advisor, sticks to her budget, has a very well organized van, goals for her research, and does the research she is obviously meant to do.
Becky was going through Tucson and we had arranged to meet. I’m so glad it worked out. We met at the patio section of The Cup Cafe of The Hotel Congress for Tortilla Soup and conversation. Turns out we are shirt-tail relations! Hans Jakob Brubaker III who lived in the late 18th and early 19th Century was our last common ancestor from what we can tell. The link was found through the South Whitley Brubakers. We chatted about Whitley and Kosciusko Counties in Indiana, the place from which we both hail. Becky is not a gregarious person, does not like driving in big cities, and met up with me with a bit of skepticism. It was a bit out of character for me to just say, “Can we meet?” to someone I don’t know, but I so am glad I did. It really helped me frame the trip of the last two weeks and plot about how I might be able to do a trip much more like one Becky might do the next time I head out on the road.
Have Purpose, Will Travel
I met Xan in 2004 through one or another PINK actions when we were both involved with CodePINK Women for Peace.. You can read her amazing journal that speaks her truth with no mis-givings here.
In 2019 I captured this image of Xan’s self-built home on the road. From Southern Mexico to the Standing Rock Sioux protests, and from the California Pacific to Washington D.C.’s Potomac, she travels in a bio-fuel powered, converted Mercedes 5 ton box van and roving billboard wherever peace and justice actions need support.
Xan actually has a home-base in California but she often rents it while she travels. In this respect she most reminds me of contemporary pastoral nomads who have a home base but still travel when resource management demands they move with a herd or harvest a distant resource.
Free to Roam
About 10 years ago, I started noticing a group of contemporary nomadic American women. Through my Tucson Women Bloggers Meetup I made the acquaintance of many women who had or were then calling a recreational vehicle of some sort home. I never pressed for details unless they offered to share their nomadic experience. Nomads often find nothing unusual about mobility so they are not apt to focus on why they do what they find to be perfectly normal behavior. It just is not worthy of comment.
One women traveled for a year plus with no official place of residence after she retired and before she settled in Tucson for several years. Her eclectic interests directed her to experience several places before she settled down again. Her van was her home.
A couple of women I met became nomads after their husbands had passed on and they found they had no reason to stay in one place.
One woman had a top of the line B class RV, a Roadtrek RV, with which I fell in love. Seeing the elegance and utility of her wheels made me want to get one!
Class B motorhomes are often called camper vans. They are build on an automotive van or panel truck chasis. Their smaller size, almost always under 25 feel long and usually around 20 feet long, mean they are easy to drive for folks who may not be comfortable with the size of larger, more traditional RVs.
However do not exclude women from the subset of happy larger RV owners. I’ve met one women who loved her class A RV. This type can be as big as a bus or semi-truck.
Often the nomadic women I met became bloggers to keep family members and sedentary friends informed about where they were and what they were doing. Writing allows women to dodge criticism of a nomadic lifestyle in a way that phone conversations do not, and when you are on the move you don’t have an address to accommodate physical mail.