By Paul Strubell of Dirt Orcas – 12/19/16

For the twelfth installment in the ongoing interview series here at Dirt Orcas, we are beyond excited to speak with Jillian Lukiwski. You may also know Jillian as The Noisy Plume.

She has a beautiful Instagram feed that brings the viewer right into the moment. Her photos have a very tangible feeling to them. Her images awaken the senses.

She is a professional photographer, writer, and silversmith. Her art and jewelry are a fine reflection of her thoughtfulness and understanding of the natural world.

You can view her online shop here and you may find something beautiful for yourself or to pass along to somebody you care about. With the holidays in full swing and Valentines Day right around the corner, this might be exactly what you need.

One of my favorite quotes is from Henry David Thoreau and it reads, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

Jillian is an excellent reminder to live your life deliberately. She is a fine example of allowing the subtle details of life to become vast expanses of beauty.

What do you consider to be your place of work?   

I am a metalsmith, a writer and a photographer so wherever my studio is or wherever I physically am is my place of work.

Year, Make, Model of your vehicle and trailer?  

We have a 1965 Sovereign Landyacht and we tow it with a 2500 Dodge Cummins Turbo Diesel — this year our truck also has a build out with drawers which comes in really handy on hunting trips when we are camping in our tipi or sleeping in our rig.

Did you name your vehicle?

We call our truck “The Big Truck” which isn’t very creative but it is apt and we have three trucks so it spares us from any confusion on the matter.  Our Airstream is named Miss Maple.

When and how did you get it?  

We had this idea of a portable metal studio for me since we were splitting our year between Pocatello Idaho and the Methow Valley of Washington.  The Methow is an expensive place to live and we didn’t think we could live there AND rent a studio space for me so this notion of a portable space for me was born.  Naturally, I wanted something really cool to work out of so we started looking for old Airstreams for sale.  Rob looked at Craigslist one day and a fellow in Gooding Idaho was having a fast sale of everything he owned because he was immediately moving to Utah.  He generally listed everything he had for sale and one of the things he mentioned was a 1965 Landyacht.  Rob phoned him up, offered him $500 for it and the guy agreed.  Rob jumped in the truck and blitzed over to Gooding to get the trailer before the guy could change his mind.  By the time he arrived, the guy who was selling the trailer had received 12 other phone calls about the rig and was starting to realize he had something that people wanted so Rob slapped $500 in his hand, hooked the Airstream up and towed it home on wobbly tires to Pocatello.  That was the start of our Airstream odyssey.  To this day, it’s shocking for people to hear how little we paid for our trailer.

What other vehicles did you consider and what made you ultimately pull the trigger on the one you bought?

We didn’t consider anything else.  Our Airstream was as cheap as it gets for a vintage Airstream and it was 2.5 hours away from where we were living at the time so we expected we could limp it home in one piece…

Have you made any upgrades or changes to it?  

We’ve changed the entire Airstream, the only thing original about it is the chassis and the shell.  We gutted it, lifted the shell off the chassis, pulled the floor off the chassis, fixed the rear-slumping issue on the frame with the help of a cattle guard and a jack, welded new floor reinforcements, re-painted the frame, installed all new running gear, put the shell back on, put a new floor in, and re-wired the entire thing.  Then Rob rebuilt the interior walls which was incredibly work intensive because of those compound curves in the front and end of the trailer.  We installed a turquoise laminate flooring.  Then Rob built a walnut bed from scratch, he even milled the wood himself — it’s a thing of beauty.  For a couple years the bed was the only infrastructure in the Airstream and it was a big, open, beautiful space.  We didn’t need a kitchen or a bathroom since we were living at the North Cascades Smokejumper Base in Winthrop, WA and the base facilities there are great there.  When Rob transferred to the McCall Idaho smokejumper base we jury rigged a nice little kitchen and desk/table area to make it through this past summer but the Airstream still has a really beautiful, open feel to it compared to other interior designs we’ve seen.  We like it like that.

Eventually, when Rob has the time to do the cabinet work, we’ll have a complete kitchen and bathroom and second bed/dining table space.

What is your favorite part about it living/working out of your vehicle?  

Our particular Airstream has a very beautiful quality of light during the day.  We have hardly any window trappings and the day comes in the windows and endlessly refracts off the pale turquoise floor and the metal walls.  It’s like a light cocoon and there’s something very peaceful about being submerged in that glow.  It’s peaceful.  We had the Airstream parked in a lovely little patch of wood this summer in McCall — I opened the door to a aspen, larch, douglas fir, wild rose, wildflowers…it was such a lovely surprise every time I stepped out for the morning.  Sometimes I think a good day depends on a good morning, if you can start on the right foot in the morning it defines the overall nature of the day and every time I wake up in the Airstream I simply feel good.  It helps that the two smokejumper bases we’ve lived at are in really beautiful places…I’m thinking aloud here… perhaps living out of an Airstream helps me to feel more readily connected to what is outside of those thin metal walls.  Like the veil between my own bones and the trees is thin.  Even when I am at rest in the dead of night, I’m mingling with the stars and moon and wind and trees.  Airstreams are a little magical, too.  It’s like sleeping in the belly of a baby unicorn.  All that gleaming, twittering magic flittering over you while you breathe deep and slow in the dark of night…

What is your least favorite part about it?

Well, there were times I lamented the lack of a shower this summer.  A complete bathroom will be a lovely perk when we finally get one installed.  But in McCall, the Airstream is literally about a five minute walk from the nearest beach and I do a lot of swimming in that beautiful lake.

Also, I get a little fired up when we are towing our Airstream on the highway or through towns or cities and people don’t give us enough space to brake or turn…folks in little cars, folks who have never driven a large truck or done any towing, impatient little city folks who zip around in their little cars and don’t think about anything except getting to where they are going as fast as they can, simply don’t comprehend that a big rig needs time to slow down and space to maneuver.

What is the best place you have taken it?

One of my favorite roads we’ve ever taken with the Airstream was after the fire season ended a couple years ago — we were towing it home to Pocatello, ID for the winter but we took the long way around.  Rob had a bear tag and wanted to scout the Salmo-Priest region of Northern Washington and so we towed the Airstream over there, set up a base camp and lingered for a little while.  The Salmo-Priest is the wildest area in Washington, it’s right up on the border of Canada and Idaho and it’s just wild, empty, rugged country that is thickly timbered and I loved being there.  From the Salmo-Priest, we drove all the way home to Pocatello on blue highways.  I think we drove a total of 10 miles on interstate.  We lingered where we wanted to.  It was a lovely journey.

Is there just one?

We use our Airstream more as a residence than an adventure mobile.

In one word, what describes your approach to life?

I have to use two words: WING IT — I never know what the heck I’m doing.

If you could give a person one piece of advice when thinking about living out of a vehicle what would you tell them?

Nothing has to last forever.  If you want to try living in your rig or living in a camper, do it!  You might love it, you might hate it, you only have to do it as long as you want to.  It will give you an appreciation for space, simplicity, and your materialistic little heart will undergo a change.  I think less is sometimes more, whether you’re living in a house or the back of a truck.  Being forced to live with less declutters our lives and therefore, our spirits.  It makes us more free.

It takes a special kind of person to recognize that the journey, not the destination, is the point of life. Travelers know this. Was there a point in your life where you became conscious that you were one of those people?

I think I’ve always known I’m a journey kind of girl.  There are times in my life when I am forced to be otherwise but getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible goes against my nature.  When I set out on a road trip, my friends and family know to expect me anywhere from 5 hours to 3 days later than my original ETA.  If I see something I want to explore, I stop and explore it.  If a phrase or a writing topic pops into my mind, I pull over and write it down and explore the idea with pen and paper.  If I see something beautiful that requires a photographic attempt, I stop and wander around with my cameras.  I’m a full time working artist which means I have to let myself wander, I have to allow myself to linger,  I have to take the time, I have to allow the spirit to lead in order to find and catch those tiny sparks of genius that act as seeds or fodder for the original welling up of fresh ideas.

You have found a strong place in the community of transients. What values do you think your home instilled in you, that you take on the road?  

I value a sense of “home” and splitting our year between two locations has helped me realize that the very idea of home is increasingly liminal, and it’s ok.  By that, I mean I redefine it every single day in relation to where my feet are on this earth and who I am with.  Somedays I feel that a clump of sagebrush is more my home that the Airstream or our farm or where I grew up in Canada.  For me, it’s relative to time and place and it’s dependant on how calm or centered I feel within.     

I admire your outside the box approach to career and home. Do you see yourself as somebody who took a leap of faith to live in an unconventional way or do you think it kind of just happened?   

I take leaps of faith every single day but I’m not sure “leap of faith” is the right phrase for what I do or how I approach my work and my life.  I try to say yes as often as possible, especially to new experiences, especially if I’m scared of the experience.

For example, this week, in a 24 hour segment of time, I said yes to writing/co-writing two different film scripts.  I am NOT a film script writer.  I have no idea what I am doing.

The work scares me a little, so I said yes.  I might love writing film scripts, I might hate it, I’m going to try it and decide if it’s for me or not.

My approach to life and work is, at times, highly unorthodox.  With regards to my work, I care most of all about practicing and mastering the crafts of silversmithing, photography and writing.  I don’t really pitch myself to anyone, I just work really hard at becoming excellent and occasionally it gets noticed and sometimes I get paid.  The idea is that excellence gets noticed and is sustainable.  You can become successful by networking — by knowing the right people — I think this kind of success burns bright and fast and then the flame goes out and a person is left with hands full of ash.  The other way to be successful is by being relentlessly honest and hard working and thereby being notorious for your excellence in your craft.  This kind of success has longevity and continues to slowly build over a lifetime.  It’s builds a fire that never goes out.

I don’t want to do anything fast.  I want to do it slow and right.  I want to be proud of my success, that means I’m not afraid to bleed, sweat and slave for it.  I don’t have a five year or ten year plan.  I go with the flow, see what comes my way, try to see where I am headed, and I tweak what needs tweaking to achieve maximum evolution in work, life, and small business.  When I outgrow something, I cast it off, I shed it to make space for the new.

Where do you want to go next? (geographically and career wise)  

Well, geographically speaking, Rob and I accidentally bought a small, working farm this past summer so we’re figuring out what we want to do with it.  I’m not sure how many more years he’ll want to smokejump but I love being able to enjoy summer in McCall in our Airstream so I hope he keeps working fire for a few more seasons.  On a grander scale, I don’t want to live anywhere but the state of Idaho.  It’s a love affair.  Rob feels the same way about it so no matter what, we’re going to be in this state for the rest of our lives.  Or at least that’s how we feel right now, today.  In terms of my own career, I always have (too many) irons in the fire.  I dream of setting aside time to write a manuscript and publish a book.  I dream of a production line of jewelry from which I can draw some residual income so I can free myself up to work on one of a kind pieces in the studio.  I dream of having my photographs on more magazine covers.  I dream of having a horse.

8 replies
  1. Lizzi Fogolini
    Lizzi Fogolini says:

    Beautiful interview and article…especially for those of us, who lead similar lifestyles, and understand every word said. You couldn’t have picked a better person to express it all so eloquently. Jillian continues to inspire!

  2. Janet
    Janet says:

    Jillian is an inspiration in so many ways. Reminiscent of Thoreau, Whitman, and Emerson, Jillian’s example is a call to us to live our own best, authentic lives. Her work is ever-evolving, and Jillian shares the many facets of herself through easy to access social media so that no matter how remote she may be on any given adventure we get to follow along as well. This was a most entertaining read!

  3. Nicole
    Nicole says:

    Been following Jillian and her group of talented friends (@umberdove, @sunnyrisingleather, @rubyandrevolver) for awhile now and I am amazed to see how far they have all come, but especially J.
    The wonders of careful curation and living with less!


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