​Find Your Dirt

Posted by Tim Gilmer in Life After Paralysis on February 16, 2022 # Lifestyle
Tim Gilmer and family by Craig Mitchelldyer“…if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.” -Henry David Thoreau

We owe our existence to dirt, yet dirt gets no respect. We take it for granted, kind of like the sky or clouds or rain or snow. No, we can’t change the elements of the weather. We pay attention to them only to try to predict what they will do, we plan our activities around them, and sometimes they dictate to us what our choices are. But dirt? We leave it alone and hardly ever think about it. Unless we are farmers. Or people who move about with our hands on our wheels, moving from place to place.

It began in February, long, long ago …

I was living alone in a rented apartment. Enough money for 4 more months, no job, one friend, failure dragging me down, no foreseeable future. Then came a knock at the door. I lay aside my copy of Thoreau’s Walden.

There stood a pretty young woman, distressed, near tears, looking a little like a homeless waif. I had known her, but not well, for about four months. I felt her predicament immediately since I had gone through my own nightmarish times three years earlier. I invited her in and listened to her story. Her husband, who I had met, left her, and she was clearly damaged. You could see it. For the next couple of weeks, I kept her company, hoping I might see her through the worst of it. She knew no one in the area but for me. And her mother, who she was living with now.

We went places, driving, talking with no destination in mind. We went to a park, where I was attempting to walk with braces, falling frequently. She picked me up. And I picked her up, urging her to let it out and go on. We’d drive through and get fries and a Coke, just because we could. We went to a movie matinee. It was the wrong movie, very depressing. I suggested another that might work as an antidote. We wound up watching Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles with the infamous farting scene. How could you not laugh, just sitting there, eating popcorn?

One day we parked and looked out over a ridge to the barren lowlands below. It was an ugly scene– nothing but dirt, scarred earth, dry land crammed with pumping oil rigs and the smell of burning gas (not the Blazing Saddles kind). And she began to talk of her lost dream. She and her husband wanted to move north to greener land, to start anew. They felt trapped in L.A. But now, she was alone. Coincidentally — or so it seemed at the time — my reading of Walden had me thinking of moving to Oregon, to start over again. I mentioned it, and we looked at each other for a long moment.

Two weeks later, we were driving to Oregon to visit friends I knew from college who lived just over the border, in Ashland. We drove around a lot, exploring the green country, the hills and mountains, getting to know the dirt. When we returned to the dry oilfield-scarred fields of Oildale (yes, there is such a town in California), the contrast was so great, and our relationship had grown so much in a short time, that we decided to follow our dreams. Find our dirt. By April, we were living in a duplex in the country not far from Ashland, with money enough for maybe two months. We had no jobs.

I plopped down in the dirt outside our duplex, sitting on my wheelchair cushion, and started digging with a broken-handled shovel in my hands, working the dirt, thinking of planting seeds and making my garden, my own Walden. She found work pumping gas, I faked my way into a job selling electric keyboards and organs, and our new life began.

That was 48 years ago. We uprooted a few more times, always moving further north until we found the place where our dream could take root and flourish, just south of Portland. We have lived on the farm here for 42 years now and counting. Our roots, the ones that anchor us in place, are here to stay. And our above-ground roots, the ones that anchor us in time, have intertwined, holding us close together with no matter what, having grown from a simple dream. We have found our dirt, and it is now a part of us.

For more feel-good stories, visit: https://newmobility.com/what-makes-us-happy/

Tim Gilmer graduated from UCLA in the late-1960’s, added an M.A. from the Southern Oregon University in 1977, taught writing classes in Portland for 12 years, then embarked on a writing career. After becoming an Oregon Literary Fellow, he went on to join New Mobility magazine in 2000 and edited the magazine for 18 years. He has published upwards of 100 articles, 200 columns, occasional movie reviews and essays. He and Sam, his wife and companion of 47 years, also own and operate an organic farm south of Portland, where they live with their daughter and son-in-law, four grandsons, and a resident barn owl. An excerpt from a memoir about his early post-SCI years, as part of a compendium of his writing over the past 30 years, can be read at his website — All You Need

Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.