On camels and tiny houses

One day in May 1978, I had one of those transformative moments: the National Geographic arrived in the mail. I loved the articles in each issue – my first experiences with other cultures and countries – but only one story made a lasting impression. I still have the original magazine:


original photo: Rick Smolan

It was the cover story. Robyn Davidson, 27, had walked 1700 miles across the Australian outback alone except for four camels and her dog, Diggety.


original photo: Rick Smolan


original photo: Rick Smolan


Robyn’s route

Her blunt prose talks about the challenges and hardships she faced, but also about the deep appreciation for the beauty of the desert solitude and the friends, both Aboriginal and white settlers, she made along the way.

At 13, I was completely captivated. She was my first personal hero. I was in awe of her independence and courage but she was also someone I could relate to, who resonated with my tomboy side that loved digging in the dirt and exploring the woods.

Fast forward several decades to my present, pressing up against the half-century mark. I’ve worked at a state agency managing grants and environmental conservation projects for the last 24 years, albeit with a few tangents. Along the way I’ve worked on an organic farm in Washington, studied sandhill cranes in a 23,000-acre alpine marsh in Oregon, did archaeological survey work for the Forest Service in the Sierras, went to film school, worked as a database administrator in a software company, apprenticed with two jewelry makers, and spent three years promoting women musicians. There have been good times and bad times. I’ve had to grow into an adult. Gradually I’ve become locked into the high-speed craziness of urban life and the grayness of a desk job, which is not really part of my nature.

As I contemplate leaving state service in a few years with a very small pension, I’ve been thinking about what to do with the next phase of my life, how to live within my means and yet have more flexibility, how to regain that spark. I stumbled across this video and had another transformative moment:

Hearing Dee talk about her decision to build a tiny house on wheels, I experienced the same resonance I felt reading about Robyn and her trek so long ago. It touched something deep inside of me. It woke my inner camel explorer self, sending me back to my childhood where it felt like I could do and be anything.




I’ll be writing much more about why I decided to build my own tiny house, about how it brings together many loves and themes of my life, but the one truest answer is that the tiny house has shown me a path to get back to who I once was…

…and to become who I want to be.

Simple as that.


After I posted this, several interesting small world stories came to light. See On camels, cameras, courage & kindness and the addendum to the Blood, sweat, tears, blueberries & the most awesome three walls ever… posts.

Categories: PAD, thoughts on tiny | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

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8 thoughts on “On camels and tiny houses

  1. Alison R

    What a great start to a blog! I look forward to following your adventure.

    Davidson’s book Tracks, recounting her journey and what led up to it, was a huge influence on me, too. Amazing you’ve held onto that copy of the magazine through all your many moves! You’ve got everything good going on here: tiny mobile houses, adventure, building, exploring, reflecting…and a cat, of course.

    Thanks for embarking on writing this blog. For those of us who aspire to economic independence, geographic freedom, and environmentally low-impact living via the irresistibly alluring tiny mobile house model, your accounts of your foray into this still-new territory will be much appreciated.

    (And I’m guessing that once you get down to deciding on your 300 or 200 or 100 items worth keeping in your life, and tiny house, the Davidson article will make the cut. 🙂

  2. Ha – put a cat on it! Thanks, A, though really you should be the one writing this – you are way more articulate and have so much more experience with tiny living and building than I do!

    Look forward to more pod brainstorming. And yes, the mag will definitely maintain pride of place. 🙂

  3. Pia

    Kate – I’m so glad you’re doing this. We talked briefly about the tiny houses at the house concert and I love the idea. I think we’re the same age – I can relate! 😉 Can’t wait to hear more about it. Good luck!

    • And I didn’t think you were a day over 30! 🙂 I’ve been seeing a lot about building teardrops and thinking of you. That’s also on my list to do at some point. Let me know if you pursue it. Thanks for your support!

  4. Awesome issues here. I am very happy to see your post.

    Thanks so much and I am looking ahead to touch you.
    Will you kindly drop me a e-mail?

  5. Hazel

    OMG! I still have my copy of the National Geographic with Robyn’s inspiring story! AND I have the the 2 copies, 1968 and 1969, of the other Robin, Robin Lee Graham, the teenager who circumnativaged in his 24 ft sailboat, DOVE.

    Small, simple living in a very big world!

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