Sunday, November 17, 2013

the simple life

I was a seasonal employee for many years.  Unlike now, it was almost impossible to get the coveted permanent appointment with benefits and guaranteed work.  You either waited it out, quit and went back to school, or applied to another government agency.  My friend D. did this, fleeing to the IRS in the early '90s to obtain the needed status to be able to apply back to our agency for the jobs he really wanted.  "I found out that there's a certain amount of money you can owe and it's not worth it for the IRS to come after you," he reported back, adding helpfully, "but I can't tell you what it is."

These days my employees have more toys than I do, but in my seasonal days, we thought that kind of life was well beyond us.  Not knowing when, if ever, we would even be able to apply for permanent jobs (most of these openings only allowed people who were already in the system to compete), our needs were minimal. 

I hiked in jeans or old goretex running pants.  I fit everything I owned in a small hatchback car.  I didn't have a TV or a phone.  For fun, I did things like lug a bottle of sherry up a mountain to an old lookout site to watch a meteor shower with friends (why sherry? I have no idea. It tasted awful).  I bought my own crash and burn health insurance and it would never have occurred to me to complain about it.  I  had everything I needed, including an overseas trip now and then.  I had few ties.  I felt free.

One winter, I kept the heat at 55 degrees in a small apartment I rented.  "It's cold in here!" visitors would say.  "Here's a blanket," I replied.  "OK," they answered, seasonals themselves.  They got it.

Once I showed up for a mountaineering class obliviously toting my trusty orange pup tent of 1970s vintage, handed down to me from my parents.  The instructor eyed it warily.  "We'll just leave this one at base camp as an extra gear tent," he suggested kindly.  I moved into a pricey dome tent with a Scottish guy named Andrew for the rest of the class (sorry, Andrew, wherever you might be).

This is not me, but this is the same tent.  Unfortunately I found this picture on a backpackers forum and they did not credit the photographer either.
I've had a permanent job for many years now.  I have a house and a hot tub, a kayak and a bike.  If I see some camping gear I want, I usually buy it.  I travel to amazing places.  Still, I drive a 14 year old truck; it is only the third vehicle I have ever owned.  I would rather eat bread and cheese at the top of a peak than go to a restaurant any day.  People still tell me it's cold in my house.  I think my long ago seasonal self would be proud.  "You don't need all that stuff.  Take the money and go to Antarctica," I think she would say.


  1. I think you've got the right idea. I've been thrifty throughout my life for various reasons (husband went back to college, two kids I had to put through college....) Now that my kids are grown, I'm a little less tied down. But I'm still paying for college on my youngest. Hoping to be able to afford more adventures once that's paid off.

    1. I'm sure you will, just by seeing all the adventures you get up to now!

  2. ..Take the money and go to Antarctica---one was orange and the other was green---and, almost every time, there was a thunderstorm. (But fun times.)

  3. Yes, I think she would say, "Hey, good idea! When do we leave for Antarctica? Soon, I hope."


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