Since July 2016, Carmen Beaubeaux and her husband, Jim, have traveled full time in their 30-foot, 2001 Airstream Travel Trailer. Their Airstream, Beauty, has taken them 53,000+ miles to 370+ campgrounds, 48 States, and four Canadian Provinces – so far. Carmen is the author of the website Living in Beauty, where she chronicles the couple’s Airstream journey through North America’s most scenic parks, cities, and small towns. This is the final installment of "From Beauty's Doorstep" – a six-part series for Airstream in which Carmen details their retirement to full-time Airstreaming. Read earlier installments here.
She always said it in threes, with a soft Italian accent, “Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.” First, she’d gasp, Ah!,” and then, “Bee-yoo-tee-fuuul, …” often with a little squeak on the yoo.
Forty years ago, I figured her for a centenarian, but looking back from the mature side of my life, she was probably an extremely healthy seventy-five to eighty-year-old. She wore sturdy shoes and a thick black coat (even on hot days) buttoned up to the neck. Her corneas ran low on blue, yet her vision was sharp and her movements spry. Every day, around mid-morning, she walked into our bookstore and went straight to the spinning wire rack of scenic cards.
She tenderly slid a card out of its slot and raised it aloft with one hand until her spine arched back. She pressed her fingers upright against her lips, while her pale eyes ruthlessly devoured the image. Breathless and speechless, she explored every detail. In guileless wonder, she shook her head, “No!” Then, her hand dropped dramatically from her mouth as she uttered, “Ah! Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.”
Her pilgrimage through the spinning rack continued: a waterfall flowing through a confetti of Autumn color; a springtime Rocky Mountain scene, a thunderstorm in the distance; a verdant prairie meadow of summer wildflowers and butterflies; a snow-covered alpine forest with a twelve-point buck standing in the snow.
After fifteen to twenty minutes, she left, smiling as broadly as any traveler marking a destination off a bucket list.
We called her The Beautiful Lady. Perhaps she lived on the next block, a resident of the convent. When employees heard the first “Ah, Beautiful …” we all jostled for position to find something to do (take inventory, dust, stock – any reason at all) that would allow us to bask in the glow of her round-the-world journey. No complaint, problem or bad mood could survive her feel-good energy. She was a tonic.
As far as I remember, she never bought a card.
I think about The Beautiful Lady as we travel with Beauty and The Beast, our Airstream travel trailer and Ram truck. Like cards in a rack, most places we visit are selected, protected, and curated. The recreational opportunities we enjoy would not be possible without a host of government offices. Thousands of behind-the-scenes staff make themselves invisible as we stand in awe before the majesty of Nature. With our National Park Senior Pass, admission is free.
Was The Beautiful Lady’s love for the natural world grounded in travel experience or the lack thereof? I will never know, but she was always transported. Was she in a state of remembrance? Or was she accessing an extraordinary imagination to revere a place she would never see? For careful observers, there are no accidents, no chance meetings, only messages. To me, she was a messenger.
There are Wanderers. There are Belongers. In their hearts, not all Wanderers are mobile and not all Belongers are stationary. As Jim and I continue to travel – without a home like a rolling stone – these last five years of Forever Camping have brought too much light to hide it under a bushel.
The Beautiful Lady taught us how to perceive the world with childlike joy, gratitude and respect. Sure, we encounter difficulties – broken items, fruitless errands, lost packages – but then, wondrous technology reveals a hundred possible solutions for each problem. When confronted with the majesty of this planet, the little things lose their power to bring us to our knees.
Most of our older relatives, now gone, never travelled great distances. The framed prints mounted on their walls – a Japanese garden, a New Mexico canyon, a tropical forest with cockatoos – were probably places they had never seen but longed for in their hearts.
Jim and I travel for them, for others, and maybe for you. Bringing stories, images and items from nature into your home is a testimony of your love for the wholeness of Planet Earth – an homage to a path you may never walk, or a memory of a corner of the world you may never see again.
One day, it may be scientifically proven that respect and reverence for Earth (and compassion for each other) is dramatically increased when, from a spaceship, we observe our home planet orbiting the Sun just as our Moon orbits Earth.
Okay, I’ll buy that seeing the face of God may be a prescription for the tunnel vision of the human species, but the cosmological order would only cement the polar-opposite worldviews of the Alexander the Greats and Diogenes of the world. Diogenes threw cold water on Alexander’s generous mood when he told the self-deified sun god to “Step aside and stop blocking my light.”
True, I’m a bit of a Luddite, but watching the Sun set and the Moon rise and the frothing star-juice overload from a Dark Sky Preserve while Earth hurtles through space at 64,000 mph – for me, that is quite the rush without all the fuss of a space launch.
In our travels we’ve not come across a single bad country, lousy state or no-good city, any more than we’ve seen a bum star in the Milky Way. It’s all sacred. Just as candlelight illuminates a gemstone, a diversity of habitats increases the vibrancy of all people, cultures, ecosystems and wildlife – The Road weaves it all together.
Life is a pilgrimage. Wear good shoes. Bring a warm coat. Make room for an open heart. Be overcome with emotion. Shout or whisper to all who will listen, in soft or loud exclamations, “We live in splendor!”
All it takes is a look around. The more we see, the stronger we hear the call to caretake – and not only for the curated and scenic places which we pass through like a museum – but also for the places where we once lived and the places where we may someday live and the places we shall never set foot upon.
Many of our family members, friends and Living In Beauty followers confide to us how we travel for them, live a dream they cannot see happening in their own future. We take this travel by proxy quite seriously. It increases our joy and expands our sense of purpose. Come along. There’s always plenty to share.
These are the lessons I took from The Beautiful Lady.
Now, whenever I step off the trodden path to behold a natural wonder, I think of her spinning freely through our rack of cards and, in those moments, I put my hand over my mouth in awe and suddenly drop it to my side like dead weight and proclaim, “Ah! Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!
Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God, beauty’s self and beauty’s giver. See; not a hair is, not an eyelash, not the least lash lost; every hair Is, hair of the head, numbered.
- Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Golden Echo
This is the final installment of our series, From Beauty’s Doorstep. Read past installments and get inspired for your own Airstream adventure.