the (often) meandering travels of a student anthropologist
Field Notes: November 25th, 2017 - Denver, CO
In another journal entry I try to summarize what is almost impossible. To say that the situation is fluid is an understatement. As the month wears on I will find it almost impossible to meet and talk to everyone who comes and goes. Instead I cling to the core group as a way to prioritize my time socializing. I talk a little about the financial situations I witness, athough I don't pry, and how use of space can create dissension.
Head is Spinning a Little. There Will Be No Shortage of Research Opportunity - Still Playing Catch Up.
It’s been a little over a week from my last journal post, and it feels almost like a lifetime. I’ve gotten into the habit of making field notes, often several times a day, but looking at them now (for reference) discover it’s been three days since I’ve made an entry. I found myself struggling under a wave (tsunami) of homesickness-and questioning this journey-again on Friday and Saturday.
Yesterday was my weekly dump/shower/supply run and it’s pretty much an all day affair.
It’s about three, three and a half [four] miles back to ‘civilization’ on bumpy dirt roads. I wake up at six and it takes me about three to four hours to get everything ready to move. This includes walking Freyja, a little socializing with other people in the camp along the way, a cup of coffee and cleaning in addition to storing things away for transit. Inside I wash dishes, put things up in cabinets, bag up trash, pull sheets and remake the bed (I find I am OCD about having everything in order before traveling), sweeping, closing up a bookcase, closing vents and windows, securing blinds, and cleaning and securing the litter box. Later I find I forgot to put the lid on the baking soda in the fridge which creates quite a mess. Outside I take down the awning, check to ensure bays are secure, unhook and pack my solar panel, and move aside the things I am leaving to ‘mark’ my camp. If I was camping outside of a group I wouldn’t leave so much (my nice chairs, and my bike) but where I am I trust those near me and there is little traffic that is not our group.
Trust is not 100% - [someone tells another in our group] that a couple of half rolls of quarters have disappeared from his car and he thinks [...] has taken them. The end of the month is hard on many here that are on disability or social security. Food and cigarettes run short. [...] borrows money from both [...] (who grumbles about it to me) and [...] (I witness this). I leave my doors locked when I’m not there just to deter crimes of opportunity.
However, because resources do seem to move fairly freely around the camp to whoever needs them, I don’t hear or see anything else of concern. Rick lets GJ borrow his car when she needs, people make trash runs, Jim lets GJ borrow his generator and even puts gas in it to help charge her battery. GJ has food that is going to spoil and doesn’t want (living in a van she only has a small cooler) and passes bagels and other food onto the two Daves. I share ice with GrannyJo when I have it (two small trays - often they are being re-iced mid-day) Rick often lets GJ use his fridge to store things and she in turn cooks for him. Kat, a ‘horse’ woman that looks like Shirley McClaine and is as outspoken as some of her movie roles, knows racetracks, drives an older tan RV (looks apocolyptic) with 700 watts of solar on her roof and a ragdoll cat named Smidge that she walks on a harness, gives me unused mc4 wiring and a set of 3 marine 12v sockets - probably $40-$60 dollars worth of stuff - to help me set up the second solar setup I have coming. Jim loses my roof measurements and hauls over his ladder and despite a very bad back re-measures and crawls underneath my rig to look at some cable I have underneath [to see if I can reuse it]. Anna brings me a liter of Coke Zero when she goes to town and refuses money.
Then when the first comes it’s a flurry as bank accounts are once again flush and everyone goes to town to restock. Last night GrannyJo cooked both a pork and beef pot roast and invites everyone over for dinner and thanks each of us for our help.
The camp has been extremely fluid.
A large group came in - the entourage of a celebrity YouTuber (Panda) and created dissension. They came in at night, following GJ who borrowed Rick’s car, in a sandstorm (quite the sight - eight RVs trundling and rumbling over the hills, lights blazing, in howling wind) and created an old fashioned haphazard covered wagon circle within our Y-shaped circle - effectively isolating us from them and also, from each other. The next morning rather than move they went out in someone’s van and scouted out a new camp by the river, then leaving the following day. While they weren’t unfriendly they also didn’t make the “rounds” which I am learning is not exactly the “right” or “only” way to integrate into camp, but is prevalent. I expect it is because they were in such a large group - I doubt they were even cognizant of what they did. It would be interesting one day to talk to one of that group and see if they realized.
One guy [...] travels with a parrot. There was also a husband and wife with three kids (first I’ve seen out here with full-timers - all in our camp our solo). Others with dogs, some of them running free - which also created some issues.
In our group we do have one that often runs free (Dave’s dog Comet), and a woman who perches on the outside, [...], who leaves her Catahoula hound (Hound) off often, but the latter stays close and the former generally causes no issues. How the dogs adjust to camp life could be a whole ‘nother entry (and I will probably make it a blog entry). I have discovered that my dog, Freyja, who loves walks at home, hates to leave the camp perimeter. I drag her as far as she’ll allow, forced march, and then she pulls me back. I assume back at camp is the food and the other dogs. I’m sure it creates an instinctual pack. She has not been off leash since early on when she and GJ’s dog Tippy got in a fight over food (both are food aggressive) and I was bit incorrectly hauling Freyja out of the fray. Only flesh wounds but my wrist is badly bruised. Jim was over in a flash with his first aid kit and while there have continued to be issues here and there ([...] came in yesterday and Comet wandered into their camp and her dog [...], a little schnauzer and he got in a bit of a scrape).
So currently our camp consists of:
C[...], still - who is talking about leaving - [...], and Anna who he seems to have a bit of a crush on has left (itchy feet and told me [...] is driving her crazy)
Other Dave, still
Jim, still (who I have discovered is gay - he talks about his ex every once in awhile and refers to him as male - no one seems to have any issue with it, including the men)
GrannyJo [GJ], still
New to the group are:
Kat (described above)
E[...] - a photographer and very strange older man (seems to make socially awkward comments and is actively looking for a woman) who Rick has told once now that he was unwelcome at the evening campfire - sad, but to be honest he creeps me out so I avoid him as well. I shouldn’t, perhaps, he may just have Aspergers, but it’s not my job (especially as a woman) to invite attention (he has made overtures as he knows I take photos too). He drives a truck and pulls a cargo trailer which he has a lightroom in apparently.
K[...] and T[...] - separate rigs - [...] Neither have pets. K[...] is a [...], forced to retire early and take disability due to knee issues. Not sure T[...]'s story yet, but both look like they would fit in a biker gang. K[...] is petite but wears a braid, bandanas and just seems a little tough. Tina is tall with a hoarse voice and tattoos, including ones on her hands.
DR[...] is newly divorced and used what he got out of that on a truck camper. He has brought pot (which is prevalent - and mostly a “men” thing - sitting around the campfire can be like joining what I imagine used to be the high school stoner group). [...] Some admit to having a second childhood, I think others are self-medicating for psychological or physical reasons. I don’t see it has caused any issues with the group - I’m not seeing the women partake much although [...] had a little edible one night and [...] gave me a ‘candy’.
CL[...] - came in with the Panda group, stayed, and left again after Kat told us that any dog who came near her cat while she was walking it would get bear sprayed. [CL confided that she didn't feel comfortable being in a camp where her dog might be harmed] She [...] is 71. Very spry though (I would have thought 50s) and prefers the younger people. She says she thinks old people are stuffy.
[...] is also around that age, lives in a small soccer mom (as she calls it) van - very friendly, met her at the laundromat but mostly stays to the outside edge of the group. Hasn’t joined in any of the socializing. She has Hound.
LS[...] - came in last night - lives in an SUV (she also owns land though) and tends to feed people, from what I understand. [...] I am thinking she is on some sort of disability - there is a YouTube interview Bob Wells did with her and I know she had it really rough for awhile. Around GJ’s dinner last night she was able to expound on the local food pantries and free meals that she once said she had to [make use] of.
Another woman in a high top white van - older as well, have not gotten her name yet has been with us a couple of days now.
And then, outside the camp, all the way back to the frontage road the land is filling up, dotted with RVs, cars, campers, school buses, vans and tents. Some in groups, many just by themselves. One woman is in a van traveling with six cats and three dogs I think. Yesterday she was gone from her camp and I could see one dog tied out and some of the cats in kennels. I wonder her story - most of us shake our heads, but I have often heard people will be homeless before giving their pets up (and I am one of them). With the affordable housing shortage I am hearing about (and everywhere) landlords can easily refuse the hassle of allowing pets. Or charge huge deposits for each animal making it impossible for someone living paycheck to paycheck to move. Sometimes RVs are well moneyed, however. I saw one big rig on a ridge that I know is big bucks. Has a semi truck engine and huge tilting solar panels on the roof.
There is much more - there was an altercation with the ATV group and I’ve been in to stock up/shower and dump twice now - interesting again, to me, about resources - things we take for granted in sticks and bricks becomes delightful when on the road - whether it’s a reasonably clean private shower or discovering that you can wash and dry your hair for free in the laundromat.
My mapping skills I’ve discovered are quite poor and I have no idea how to figure length and spaces (I think I need to try paces).
Tuesday [Wanderer] a woman from Asheville (who left about the same time I did but took the southern route) is coming in - we’ve never met but been email pen pals after meeting on the comment section of a blogger. So while I told Anna I might join her for a few days (yesterday I was so sick of people myself unexpectedly - better after a day out of camp) it looks like I won’t. I’m actually finding it’s had to get work done, however - people are always stopping by to visit or inviting to some potluck, etc.
I’m going to see if Granny Jo will give me my first formal interview this next week, take my original questions and modify them now that I’m out here, and finish up my classwork. Blog only has two posts, but other than the About page, is in its most minimal form, and ready to at least make live. Going to try to write that today and at some point I have to get a picture of myself.
These field notes, while essentially raw, are an edited version. While I have tried to leave them intact in order to offer my project visitors an authentic peek into the process of creating an ethnography, as well as my own emotions concurrent with the experience, at times I have needed to remove or modify information to protect my relationships, or my informant's privacy. Grammar and spelling is only modified when necessary for readability, I've designated omissions with [...], and sometimes will add hover notes for clarification. Please see methodology for more information.