THE UNDEFINED LIFE OF TAYLOR ROSS
By Paul Strubell of Dirt Orcas – 10/17/16
The forth installment in our ongoing interview series here at Dirt Orcas speaks with Taylor Ross. Taylor is an individual of many talents and trajectories. I asked her how I should categorize what she does for a living and her answer was “I don’t have enough time.”
This was meant as a joke, but it struck me as extremely informative. When you look at Taylor’s Instagram feed or her webpage, her photos and poetic words always have a sort of timeless encryption embedded within them. Her images from her travels very rarely have a definitive meaning or location, but rather a representation of something larger.
Though her work is undefined, she is certainly an explorer. A talented musician, poet, writer, artist, and photographer, Taylor spends a good amount of time wandering between locations with her dog, Garbanzo Bean, on her way to the next place she needs to be.
Taylor may not define herself as an adventurer, but her words and photography certainly instill adventurous confidence in those who follow her.
What do you consider to be your place of work?
Currently, anywhere my truck parks.
Year, Make, Model of your office?
2001 Toyota Tacoma
Did you name your vehicle? What do you call it?
Well, I haven’t named her because, a bit after I bought her, the former owner told me that he had named her Taylor the Tac. And thus I realized we had been destined to be together before we even met. But, it’s a little awkward for one’s vehicle to be named after yourself, so I’m in a little bit of a pickle because I can’t bring myself to re-name her but I can’t bring myself to call her by her name because that’s strange. I suspect she will inherit a new name eventually. We just need time.
When and how did you get it?
Taylor the Tac came into my life in June of this year. My lovely old car, a Hyundai Santa Fe had met her maker, and I was searching for small trucks in hopes that I would find a little sturdy steed to help me in my farming, building, art, sleeping and exploring endeavors. I was at first, looking at all sorts of little trucks. There are many sweet little rangers, but I soon realized that what I wanted in my dream of dreams was the fabled Toyota Tacoma that is highly prized, doesn’t really depreciate and mostly stays in the family forever. So, when I pulled up in a borrowed car, next to a friend at the gas station with his girlfriend, his dog, and a new/ old golden 4WD Toyota Tacoma, I practically hit him with joy and jealousy. He told me he’d scored it from a mutual friend of ours that was only selling it due to the fact that it wasn’t quite right for driving a baby around. I had the decency to be happy for him and tell him to send any others that he came across, my way. Then one fated night, we ran into each other out on the town, maybe a month later. All this time I had been searching for what I knew I wanted, almost bought a 2011 that was 2WD and then realized what a mistake it would be. He loosely mentioned that he might be selling his truck because he wanted to go back to school and needed the money. So, I tried not to be too excited, but I pestered him the next day when he was more capable of making decisions and it went from there and eventually I bought the Tac from him and a month after that we got on the road and we’re still going! Bean (my dog companion) and I just returned from the Canadian Rockies and we are now in Montana for the first time ever. Those glacial lakes….
What other vehicles did you consider and what made you ultimately pull the trigger on the one you bought?
I looked at other small trucks, and some trucks way too big for a small person such as myself, and I also looked at the opposite end of this, that being the VW Rabbit, and if I didn’t need/ (really I guess it’s want) to haul things around, and have the desire to be able to live in my vehicle, I would certainly go for one of those diesel German beauties.
Have you made any upgrades or changes to it?
She’s so new and in such wonderful condition that I haven’t, except replacing the ignition coil due to stress on it because of a conversion to allow for ethanol fuel (which I don’t use because gas is so cheap right now). Changes that had been made before I got her are awesome, she is lifted and I recently utilized this great fact while whizzing through the deserts of Utah driving after and then foot-chasing a family of Pronghorn. They were clearly letting me chase them, but even at their slow amble I had to book it! The delight of such a utilitarian and capable machine is very palpable. I love it. Other signs of love by the former owners is that the caps on the tires are metal and not plastic, their weight in my hands feels like love, and the grill in the front is custom and non-descript just like I often like my people, humble and badass. I love that I’ve inherited such a well-taken care-of truck.
What is your favorite part about it living/working out of your vehicle? What is your least favorite part about it?
Small living spaces are very comfortable for me. This is because I try to spend most of my day in more public, less personally owned space. Therefore, I’ll work in libraries if I’m in a city, or outside when it’s nice depending on what I’m doing for work. I love that the world is mine to discover and that there is always a new micro-ecosystem to visit and always old friend-places to return to. Living out of one’s car can be challenging in the sense that you are immediately confronted with the messes you make. I think this is much healthier for me, for if I am not confronted, and I have space to spread out, I will make messes and ignore them; perhaps a metaphor for the human race.
How many miles have you put on your truck for work?
This last month I’ve put about 4,000 miles on her!
What is the best place you have taken it? Is there just one?
I loved being in Utah and in Canada. It turns out that Canada has a lot of forest service roads that ascend to great mountain heights very quickly and they’re all over. I could spend months with trusty Tac up there. But, I’ve got to be honest, the creeks and rolling hills of Iowa always make my heart sing.
Favorite road you ridden?
There was a road that led to these cliffs called the Book Cliffs in Utah. It is in BLM land. It goes and goes and goes and at first it looks like they are close but then as you drive you realize that they’re just huge and it gave me comfort, allowing me to accept that if you’re going for something big, you might be able to see it in the distance as if it’s close, and that might make you think you’re supposed to arrive at it quite quickly, but if it’s really big, it’s okay, it’s going to take a good long while to get there and there is so much along the way to look forward to. There were many a praying prairie dog, some falcons, and two massive eagles whose shadows were swimming on yellow sun-stained hills along this road. It was filled with twists and turns and new angles and the vast expanse of quilted sky allowed for rapid changes in clouds, stripes of light shifting across miles and miles of desert ground, rippling up mountains and disappearing to the East.
In one word, what describes your approach to life?
If you could give a person one piece of advice when thinking about living and working out of a vehicle what would you tell them?
Prepare yourself for freedom and prepare to be confronted with the fact of ever-changingness. These two things are connected. The sedentary lifestyle born of agrarian society has brought with it a false perception of consistency and lastingness as an unchanging thing, such that we now strive to make everything last forever so we don’t have to fix it. More plastic for siding on your house so you can never have to replace it. Decay, replacement, maintenance, these are more real to me. For me, when I live and work on the road I am offered the option to face up to the truth of degradation and maintenance, as you are moving through space in the same way we move through time. This movement also widens the angle of my viewing lens and offers me the option to see all sorts of things, the inequality in the world, the truth of the destruction of our precious earth, the truth of the generosity of the human spirit, the truth of greed, ignorance and selfishness, the truth of inter-special communication, the truth of death, the truth of the unexpected and the truth of hope. By thinning the veil between yourself and the world, by moving through it, you are exposed to so much, and if it does anything, it allows you to see how closely our identity is connected to our context, landscape, objects, community, and habits. I think that the more deeply we can understand who we are in a larger whole, the more settled we can be in that, and I like the idea, and the experience of settled people. You can still be a wild person and be settled inside. I want to be that someday.
Early on in my travels, I learned that I would lose my sense of self if I did not keep habits like any animal, stretch, meditate, write, wash clothes etc. Consistency while moving allows me to not have a total identity crisis. I guess what I’m saying is that maybe all we are is what we do, and what we do is based on our ideas, habits, and what has happened to us in the past, and our ideas are affected by our surroundings, so simply, if you do certain things consistently then you can hold onto identity, and those things arise from a meshing of everything you’ve experienced before so while your actions are you, you, by the fact of your actions being determined by place, people, ideas, are many many things. It’s just an idea, but I think I believe it in this moment.
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?
Honestly, I think there’s a lot to unpack when thinking about even having the option to be “mobile.” I am very lucky to have had that option. I became truly conscious of it after college, when I was tired of thinking and writing but not so much using my hands or seeing the world. In this day and age, mobility is a privilege and is actually an indicator of a certain level of economic and racial status. We have this trending concept of “gypsies” that has a wistful and adventurous aura about it, and people like to call themselves gypsies but gypsies weren’t well-to-do people touring around living their dreams and taking photos to show how well they’re living their dreams. I don’t know why, but I am fascinated by this acquisition of title, I find it reminiscent of the fact that back in the day, voluptuousness and pale skin was all the rage, proving that you didn’t have to work out in the fields and had more than enough to eat, and now, tan and skinny is all the rage, proving that you are not cubicled into your life and that you are somehow avoiding the atrocious excesses of modern society. I just think it’s fascinating!
Our technologically advanced modern day agrarian society has made the rich hyper-mobile, the poor stuck without resources to move and the once-nomadic societies are bound by political boundaries. Mobility is the greatest luxury; it’s how societies proved their wealth, by showing their import status, exotic spices from across the world. It’s how water stays fresh and doesn’t stale. It’s how we live and breathe, swirling the air around us into and out of our bodies, changing it, and doing it again. Ironically, communities are proving their wealth in the opposite way now, by showing how much they can produce from within. I find this reassuring.
I am lucky that, as a woman, I live in the U.S. This allows me the freedom to move through the world without needing to be married or accompanied by a man. It is still very dangerous for a young woman to travel alone in many parts of the world. Sex trafficking is a real thing. Having lived in India for months at a time, and traveled through other countries, has allowed me to understand how being one of the “status quo” holds many privileges. I cannot live as I do here, there. And though I can’t speak for Indian women, because I am not one but also because India is a massive place, it appeared to me that women had far less freedom to be independently adventurous in the ways I have been able to be in the U.S. I am grateful for this because those freedoms fit my lifestyle desires. Living in the U.S. as a white person of Eastern European descent, allows me the freedom to not be in fear of the police, to not be afraid of deportation or wrongful imprisonment. It allows me the freedom to ignore the fact that I am allowed the freedom. I am all about developed countries and progressive politics in this way. It is also a reality that my experience is expressly the one of a white person traveling in a, let’s be honest, racist society dominated by white enforcers and white male authority figures. While it’s easy to talk about the bravery of going out into the wide world and exploring, I don’t find it to be a brave thing. I feel that I am taking advantage of an option that I randomly have due to my origin of birth and color of skin in this disturbingly unequivocal world and I hope that someday it will not be a privilege to be mobile and safe, but a given.
What values do you think your home (Fairfield, IA) instilled in you that you take on the road and bring to your work?
I love Fairfield so much. Having had the opportunity to see so many strange places, it only gives me more love for my hometown for while I can see the things that I would want to be different about it, I can see what an incredible gift it was to grow up in such a community. I grew up meditating twice a day and I still do that, and I love it. It grounds and replenishes me and it is something I can take with me everywhere. Growing up in Fairfield gave me a deep love of the Prairie, and the art that I have made in the last year has been connected to the prairie and its plants. I grew up with a message that it is important to follow your joy. I have come to relate to this slightly differently, which is to do everything I can to set myself up to be able to follow my curiosity. This for me is a little more specific. It takes into account the practicalities of feeding sheltering and clothing oneself, while continuing to learn and explore. I can’t say I’ve figured it out, but I am glad I keep trying.
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 think, that we can’t help who we are at our core, and that becoming one’s essence is, in some way, the total point of existence. So I think I was both set up to have the option to live in an unconventional way, and pre-wired to seek that out.
The antiquated pressures of society to cement oneself in career and trajectory are strong and forceful. Even me, who doesn’t give a shit about that and intellectually believes our way of living is out of whack and backwards, feels the pressure to give up and settle down and get married and have some kids and even though I don’t want that. I mean I love kids and I want kids around all the time and maybe some of my own, but all that other stuff no thanks. But that pressure, that is the power of mass, of number and repetition. Don’t worry I won’t give in. While I am a firm believer in relationship to place and investment in one’s human, animal and plant community, it seems dangerous to cling to the industrial revolution-invention of long cog-like work days leading to a retirement. As the world is shifting more rapidly than ever in human history, I believe we must all take our own measures to discover and experiment with our place in the world, what we have to offer, and how we can hone those skills. They are conglomerates and not finite specialties. In this way, roaming has been one of the deepest of my teachers, for as Buckminster Fuller once said, “How often I found where I should be going only by setting out for somewhere else.” This quote exemplifies something I see as a deep imbalance in modern humanness, physical stagnation and its repercussions, one of which is over-consumption of resources and narrowness of vision. This isn’t to say I don’t support those sitting in offices, working hard on what they believe in. I support working hard on what you believe in and sometimes, in fact for most people, the simple need to survive shapes our decisions, not what we believe in. And I am into survival, though your definition might vary greatly from mine. While the dictionary definition is, “continue to live or exist, especially in spite of danger or hardship,” one’s definition of “living” or “existing” and “danger” and “hardship” comes into play and that gets complex. These are all highly interpretive things in my opinion. What I mean by this is, survival in modern day is much more complex than we might acknowledge. Though our bodies need food, water and shelter, our minds control our bodies, and if our minds are not right, then that presents all sorts of other hardships and experiences of danger. And if our bodies are not right, and the food we eat isn’t giving us what we need, then our minds won’t be able to function. Sorry, what was the question again?
Where do you want to go next?
I would love to travel through Mexico as Spanish is the only other language I know (so far) as well as Mongolia, where there are still people living a nomadic life, an old version of movement that has a noble place in my mind. I’d like to go there also, to dispel and re-form my idealized version of this that I have in my mind. First-hand experience is invaluable in its reformation of stories we build around “other” and I hope I can continue to experience a changing, or rather deepening, perception of reality.