At first glance, I’m challenged to find the obvious tie that binds the 8000 or so souls gathering each year at the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous (RTR) and Womens’ RTR (WRTR) in the Sonoran desert of Arizona.
A survey of the parked vehicles suggests membership probably isn’t defined by rig-choice or economics. Large, newer-model, Class A rigs are parked next to older, hand-painted school busses, parked next to “do-it-yourself” minivans, parked beside creatively converted cargo trailers. Others have journeyed to this gathering in small cars, and pitch tents. Some vehicles have all the bells and whistles, many have neither.
We don’t seem to share a religion. Christians, Buddhists, Wiccans, Anarchists, Atheists and others gather around campfires each night. Some sing Amazing Grace. Others sing Little Rabbit Fu Fu.
There is a distinct absense of stated political affiliation, and vehicles are strangely devoid of polarizing bumper stickers. My guess is that all stripes are represented here, many a polka dot, and maybe even some paisley.
I’d guess the average age of attendees is 55-70, but many I spoke to took time away from work to attend. Many others find creative ways to work on the road. There were just enough “20-somethings” to ensure the rest of us acknowledged our “elder-ness”.
There are “neighbourhoods” at these gatherings suggesting sub-cultures amidst the diversity; a large LGBTQ camp, a bustling art camp , music camp, dark-sky camp and a number of groups gathered independently to celebrate similar ideas, philosophies, eating styles or bad habits. There is an active recovery community and sometimes You-Tubers create camps for their online communities to gather.
Just outside the RTR boundary lies the “PAR-TR” where all-night dancing and music are regularly on-tap. There is an area for “busking bohemians” and although there were no “clothing optional” areas at either event, we did have a completely naked man join us at the Art Camp’s morning campfire at the RTR. This is the sort of community where one simply chooses not to make a big deal of differences, even when that difference is fully bathed in morning sunlight, and asking six fully-clothed women if we might have cream for his coffee.
We’re not a particularly colourful group ethnically but I was part of more than one conversation about the desire to hear the voices of non-white folks in information panels and workshops so we can all benefit from understanding their unique experiences and perspectives of life on the road. This strikes me as a community where we can be the same in our lifestyle choice, but different, all at the same time. And that is important to me.
So, what is the tie that binds this community together? Of course there is no one answer to this, but browsing the WRTR and RTR bulletin boards – put up so attendees can post both their “needs” and “offerings” to others – I found myself reflecting on an earlier life experience that felt similar.
I was reminded of my small-town, Ontario childhood in the early 1970’s, when I often stayed with my grandmother, who lived in a modest little bungalow, surrounded by other modest little bungalows, on a quiet little street. Each one had a small front porch. We called them “stoops.”
After supper, while the dishes soaked, residents of these bungalows sat on their front stoops, drinking tea. Hellos were hollered across the quiet street, and as tea was finished and the sun setting, important information was exchanged by those who zig-zagged from stoop to stoop.
Everyday needs were unearthed during relaxed conversation and everyday needs were met without fanfare. Lawn mowers were repaired, recipes shared, advice sought and house-sitting arranged. All needs were accepted; as long as their was no exchange of money. Just like at these nomadic gatherings. Support – emotional and practical – was exchanged through relationships and reciprocity, not pocketbooks. This is exactly what happens during these gatherings. A leisurely exploration of how we can help each other out, and an unwritten agreement to participate to the best of our abilities.
I think the nomadic community is recreating the front stoop.
Sometimes people on the road get a little worried about this whole “nomad thing” that is growing in “popularity” is going to “get too big” or in some way implode, causing harm to those living this lifestyle. I see something different. A community that is actually set on becoming smaller and more personal.
What I noticed is that when you put this particular diverse group of independent, self-sufficient people together in the desert, without all the comforts of “home,” we return to our front stoops and naturally recreate small neighbourhoods. Small neighbourhoods of people with different perspectives, experiences, gifts and talents who criss-cross the desert to take care of one another. In person. Through lazy conversation and sharing of everyday moments with the people who are close by.
Small travelling caravans are also forming in this community – another expression of a small town sensibility – allowing nomadic folk to travel together in small groups all year round, so you don’t have to be alone between these large events, if you don’t want to be.
Urban city-living is not working so well for a lot of people. Bigger is not always better. I think many of us are over-stimulated and disconnected from the Earth, and ourselves as part of this incredible ecosystem. We have forgotten we are Children of Nature and we have forgotten that we need one another.
This community is helping us find our way back. To the night skies, to the plants, animals, mountains, deserts, rivers and oceans. To ourselves, and to one another. And it all starts by coming out of our isolation, and spending some time on the front porch.