I was born in Poland. I consider my upbringing fairly regular, though some may question that as it did take place during the final years of Poland under communist party rule. It is true that there was little available to buy in the local shops, with endlessly long shelves in department stores (no supermarkets or shopping-centres) deceptively stacked full of the same few items presently in stock. However, from a child’s perspective at least, life was simple, full of play, chores, outdoor games, boredom, mischief – and daily explorations.
I never really considered money, wealth, possessions, or commodities. I grew up in a village in the south west – a region called Silesia – and I already felt a strong connection to earth. I spent most of my time: playing in the garden, working in the garden, or … playing in the orchard ☺ We had a big vegetable garden, and my grandma, Angela, made sure that every inch of it was properly used and the soil cultivated: most of our food came from the it.
She was a war survivor – all my grandparents were. A generation of practical, resourceful, hardworking people, which made them pretty self-sufficient. There wasn’t anything she couldn’t do or make. Grandma made sure that the grandkids learned a few things, too: how to look after ourselves and others, how to clean up after ourselves, how to share and be fair, how to respect space and others – and we regularly helped out and worked in the garden. Every afternoon, I would play the piano for her: she was my most loyal audience. I looked and look up to her a lot, and loved and love her very much.
This combination of practical skills and creative expression were important elements in my upbringing which, later on, may have helped me make some big and bold decisions.
After graduating from business studies, I immediately began looking for an alternative, knowing that corporate life or office work weren’t my cup of tea. The prospect of teaching English, on the other hand, opened up new possibilities: a life where we – Geoff and I – could move about, explore places, and keep working. Between the years of 2005 and 2015, we travelled across Europe, staying in places, teaching English, meeting people, acquiring new skills, and learning about different ways of life. Then, just as we we seemed to be settling into our comfortable life in Kraków, our instincts took over.
A big change was coming.
It was in the spring of 2015.
Two years planning and preparation: finding the best means of transport – bicycles ☺; getting rid of all of our stationary-life possessions; putting together the equipment that would be our home, our transport, our way for the indefinite future; closing the chapter on our stationary life; connecting with people who had done similar things; and learning how to stay healthy once we left our sheltered lives behind.
In June 2017, Tracing Horizons hit the road.
So here we are, living our nomadic life, following a journey where everything continues to make more sense to me – to us. Living a life without a permanent shelter, new challenges replace the commonplace of daily routines. I no longer take anything for granted, be it my freedom, my equipment, people’s hospitality, the prospect of a shelter, or my health. As nomads we are reminded of these things constantly.
I’ve developed greater respect for the feelings of hunger, of thirst, of security, and towards the consumption of food, water, and other ‘resources.’ Different senses have heightened – as it is often them I have to reply on more than my tired brain. Moments of silence – the absence of human-made noises – where all around me becomes me, are now as comforting as television speakers seem to be in an average household. Even my vocabulary has undergone changes, and words such as expect, like, dislike, want no longer carry much meaning.
Although our lifestyle, in the sense of material goods and possessions, has largely simplified, our personal development has massively increased. Previously nourished creative skills have now found their place in presenting our journey to others – and to ourselves. We’ve also been able to learn, evolve, and develop skills in: no-dig gardening, plant propagation, permaculture principles and permaculture design, recycling and repurposing materials, woodwork, planning, resource management, yoga, mindfulness, zazen, meditation, basic survival skills, bushcraft, self-sufficiency, turning lawns into meadows, compost and fertile soil making, reading natural patterns, recognising perennial plants, recognising insects and animals, basic bio-chemistry, and so on.
Regardless of where we come from, what language we speak, or what customs we follow, we all generally mean well, want to help, want to laugh, to instinctively interact , to share, and to be remembered. We all know that, right. But experiencing these human interactions, when you can’t put a label on yourself, as you simply live on a bicycle, has perhaps been one of the most beautiful discoveries of this journey. As much as it has taught me so much about myself, it has opened me up to other people – and hopefully others to someone like me.
Whether literally or metaphorically, I am and always have been a seeker. I fidgeted. I was restless. I am claustrophobic. I am viscerally conscious of limits and restrictions. I was aware of circumstance; unaware of choice. I wasn’t unhappy. This wasn’t my life. I pushed back at limits perceived – just because. I got hurt and I lived, and through accident I thrived. I pushed back some more, and experimented some more – and found that I live in a world of my choices. And I was still here – mentally and physically. What would remain if the physical took itself out of its circumstance?
I’m still here: a result of choices beyond my own scope. Always here – there’s nothing to fear: free and anchored all at the same time. I’m part of the whole and the whole’s part of me. I am nothing without it. I am always here. We are always here. Always here. Moving. Evolving. Growing. Travelling. Learning. Listening. Life. Living. To be part of the world is life. To take part in this world is living. This is what is – up to this point. Beyond that, who knows? But, outside of limits perceived or imposed, we lose and find ourselves anew. This is living. This is our life.
On a colder, easier to nail-down note. I was born and raised near Nottingham, England, the land of Robin Hood: the outlaw; the rebel. Steal from the rich and give to the poor. A mythological figure with real-world significance for a young mind. School was OK but, apart from Mrs Kotarba, did little to fire the imagination, so my imagination was sparked by things which fell outside the curriculum. We read and rode bikes, built dens and made mischief. Always going further than our parents permitted. And always just outside and never quite belonging. Music gave voice and definition to passions simmering away. Fiction allowed escape into a world I was unlikely to know. These worlds were dreams, fantasies to take me away. School did nothing to fire the spirit. Work offered an escape from all that – confirming what’s real and what’s fantasy. This is your life for the next 50 years! Accept. That’s how it is.
Then you discover a fundamental fact that bears no relation to truth. Friends and music and … choice and serendipity. What else haven’t we been told? The Second Summer of Love. Kindred spirits. Like-minded souls. Life and lives are being redefined on their own terms. So much love … and music … and creativity … and writing … and creation … and music … and an ever-growing sense of purpose and power to be what and who we want to be. And I will not accept; I will choose. That’s how it is.
College and University to learn what I wanted to develop my path. Writing and music, and friends and creation. A job? No, a life, but what’s my vocation? Language and words, and creation and meaning – and what more falls outside the field of my vision? So much, so far, on this wee dot on the map: these lines that define the place I’ve called home. Teaching? Abroad? Poland? Why not? That’s how it was.
My soulmate, my partner – we found each other. We travelled and lived, and learnt and explored – Turkey, Germany, Italy – and Kraków. A home. Friends and arts, and creativity and music, and activism (of sorts) and involvement, and philosophy – and a sense that life was steadily becoming more theory than living. A comfort-zone was demarcated. Though through choice, informed and happily made, limits were perceived. That’s how it was.
My partner, my soulmate – and Goulash, that embodiment of living – floated an idea one-day: a seed that instantaneously took root: “Let’s give it all up and wander the world.”
And that’s how it is.
And here we are: riding and gardening; teaching and learning; moving and growing.