It may not look like it from outside appearances, but life has quieted down. It’s good. It feels like when I’m cross country skiing and find myself working overly hard to keep my skis parallel, so I scoot over to groomed tracks and click in. Forward, smooth motions combined with a little kick uphill here and there keep me gliding, and I can just enjoy that feeling of my body heating up and working while my eyes take in the view.
Given what’s happened, what’s underway, and what’s coming up I would think I would feel more scattered, stressed, anxious, pensive, or uncertain. But I don’t. I feel calm and content most of the time.
It’s March in Alaska, the sun is blazing warm in the afternoons before plunging back into a cool, blue cold overnight.
So: what is it? What’s the big announcement?
It likely won’t be a big surprise. But I’m going to recap of the inevitabilities that led here, as a reminder (for you and me) of context.
It started when Alaska captured my imagination as an east coast suburbia kid. After visiting three times, I moved.
Then, I met Wes at a conference. Wes lived in Reno, NV. All I knew about Nevada was that it was full of casinos, aliens, and nuclear waste but I gave it and him a shot anyway. I moved to Reno, after falling into a shocking and complete love with the desert (and him. And his daughter, Reesa, who quickly and efficiently wing-manned her Dad by informing me they had a real nice pool at the condo complex and that fall, my favorite season, was a fine time of year in northern NV).
Within a few years, due to a change in custody prompted by Reesa’s mom moving out of state, Wes and I decided to move to Alaska.
We shared amazing, often extreme (because Alaska) times here with Reesa. We bought a beautiful log home in Palmer, with a stunning backdrop of Pioneer Peak and a cozy wood stove. My sister called our house Narnia. She wasn’t wrong.
I opened my first art studio and started focusing on painting more, officially spending a quarter of my “professional” hours (a standard 40-hour workweek) on art.
We grew in our careers. We sustained our mortgage and bills, travel expenses, and the other costs associated with a comfortable life as it expands and entrenches.
Then, during the Covid 19 lockdown our lives suddenly ground to a halt.
Fortunately, at that time I had plenty to throw myself into even as I was reeling. I spent the majority of my energy on consulting. Facilitating is meaningful and engaging in a different, complementary to art, way.
But in 2020, facilitation entailed staring at Zoom for hours on end.
This extrovert went from organizing elaborate hike and cocktail hour Friday social gatherings and other events, to flatlining. Consulting offered purpose and meaning at a time when I sorely needed it, and I gladly gave it my all. When I wasn’t working, I felt exhausted, set back, frustrated, and powerless. Here I had been taking steps to build toward doing art more, and now I was trapped at home and shuttering my art studio.
(I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating that I also felt weirdly very fortunate, at that moment in the world, to have these problems.)
Oddly, though, I began to realize that I didn’t miss the constant organizing of social stuff that I’d so enjoyed. I had a whole lot of space and time now that I was unable to plan. I wondered what would happen if I retained some of that space, in the “after” – whenever, at that point pre-vaccines, that would be.
I became more keenly attuned to my energy levels, especially after spending a full day of listening to and supporting clients. When I felt drained after an activity or conversation, I noted it. I made it okay to focus on those things that filled me up: long solo walks or runs, reading and writing, gardening. I joked that I became an introvert, although my husband (actually an introvert) wasn’t having it.
At some point I realized that while I wouldn’t have wished for a pandemic to spur it, I also didn’t want to “go back” to what my life had been like before. (I say this like it was a decision I made, and although it sort of was, there is also never any “going back” in life, exactly. Maybe asserting this helped me resolve cognitive dissonance and feel some semblance of power in my life at a time when I felt little).
Then, Wes and I painstakingly planned and took a Covid-cation in late summer 2020. When I say “planned”, I mean we researched where we could pick up curbside ice and groceries for our cooler, campgrounds, and – in our most calculated gamble – outdoor access to and sanitation practices at the lodge we booked. Our level of caution may seem over the top or politically informed, but the only lingering remnant of my childhood asthma are my lungs that are eager to turn any common cold into a respiratory infection. I needed a novel virus targeting my lungs like the proverbial hole in my head.
Still, that August, we bike packed Resurrection Pass, enduring a terrifying and moving thunderstorm that power-washed our bikes as we were huddled in our tent. At the end, we stayed in Homer in dreamy, balmy, warm late summer sun over sparkling Kachemak Bay. On our porch in the evenings, we ate take out Fat Olives pizza, drank golden-hued wine, and dreamed and schemed about our future.
This “visioning” was an official part of our vacation. We’d waited until we were out of the confines of our home, whose contours we were overly familiar with at that point.
We asked ourselves big questions. What did we want? More outdoors, more flexibility. What did this mean? Fewer material possessions to uphold and maintain; less economic encumbrance. Put in simple terms: we envisioned a time with no mortgage. No debt. Far less or no Zoom.
We didn’t get any more specific than that, but we had officially started to shift our shared focus from what was right in front of us to what we wanted to create.
Back in Palmer, we were out hiking in the lush, late summer green of the Government Peak trails when we first talked about the concept of the Mobile Art Studio. I’d begun to move beyond grieving my closed-down gallery to considering alternatives. I told Wes I had been thinking about a studio and display setup that would enable social distancing, like an RV or a van, but not something with prayer-flag vibes. We chatted about it a little as we walked, then moved on to other topics.
Then, on a friend’s covered front porch, “socially distanced” drinking wine as it rained, I shared that I was researching Airstream trailers as the mode for my mobile studio concept. My friends’ enthusiastic response told me I was onto something.
But, then a big question: would Wes and I actually like living a mobile lifestyle? I’ve lived long enough to know that some ideas are better on paper than in practice. We soon had our opportunity to find out.
In 2021 as our first act post vaccines, we went to Reesa’s high school graduation in Las Vegas and organized a reconnaissance “van life” trip. I get chills thinking about getting to see my stepdaughter graduate: I am so so proud of her. I also get chills thinking about how readily Wes and I clicked into living from the van, and my deep reluctance even at that point to fly back home to my home.
Back in Alaska, I enjoyed the feel of my king sized bed and soft, smooth sheets. And I knew even in that moment that I would have immediately swapped that for the bulky, uncomfortable setup in the van if it meant rolling out the door into sunrises. We doubled down on the Mobile Studio concept.
What daunted me was the Mobile Studio price tag. This was the most expensive thing I’d ever tried to purchase, a house notwithstanding (after all, that mostly belongs to the bank).
So, I started planning, telling everyone I knew about the idea by way of accountability to myself, and Wes and I started saving. Aggressively.
And, I fundraised. This means I asked for help and you kicked in. I was overwhelmed and moved by the many people who generously gave, affirming that yes, you were as enthusiastic and behind this idea as I was. I felt the votes of confidence viscerally as donations and messages came in, and with that steady support came the sobering and empowering responsibility to follow through.
We rented out our house on Airbnb for extra income, sleeping in the back of our leaky truck bed for much of late summer ‘21. We put ourselves on an aggressive savings plan, culling as much from our salaries as we could to throw at the Mobile Studio. As it dumped rain on us, as we felt particularly strained for cash, or when it was deep dark winter, we talked ourselves through it with the hope and belief that this was temporary tightening and discomfort in service of something greater.
When I felt stress, which was often, I’d think back to those big picture vision conversations during our Covid-cation in Homer, drenched in languid, late Alaska summer sunlight over shimmering Kachemak Bay, imagining a different life for ourselves. We were mired in the steps to get there. This time would ultimately collapse into memory when we actually had brought the change about. I knew this intellectually, but it didn’t make those periods feel shorter – just worth grinding through.
I painted, painted, and painted from my kitchen table; selling as much artwork and merchandise as I could reasonably create.
In 2022, I learned to drive a trailer. We bought a truck worthy of the journey. We locked in the final financing and set up one more summer of Airbnb-ing the house as backup extra income for whatever the final price tag of the Mobile Studio and the pickup journey ultimately cost. On April 25th, I pointed the truck south with my friend Bailey riding shotgun.
It wasn’t actually sunny the entire trip down, but that’s how I remember it journeying every day closer to Mobile Studio pickup.
In early May, I “met” the studio for the first time. I cried. How many times in life can you say what you imagined aligns with reality? It is a testament to the designer and fabricator team and both their communication and also implementation that it did.
I loved the look and feel of it. I loved how clean and spacious it felt; the shining silver walls and calming neutral tones of the built interior. I spent a lot of hours just staring, enjoying, and taking it in; experiencing a level of disbelief that I still get a little jolt of when I set foot in the studio.
I still remember that first night in the studio. I pinch myself. I remember painting for the first time: I cried (again. There were a lot of good tears).
We took the Mobile Art Studio across the country, and over the course of a couple of months, back to Alaska.
But that’s not the end of the story.
Wes and I originally envisioned spending more time outside, beholden to fewer economic constraints.
Back in Alaska, we still had a mortgage to pay, and all of the associated bills that come with a home. And now we had an Airstream loan to boot.
So, first we got rid of our mortgage. Late last year we sold our house, making the most of the seller’s market at what may be the (an) end. We then paid off the Airstream, effectively losing the majority of our debt in one fell swoop.
We traveled, feeling light and free. We rented an adorable tiny home at the foot of Hatcher Pass. Life was good.
That brings us to now.
My art business is growing. I’ve made cautious steps to test how steady and reliable this income is: I still consult, but more and more energy is going toward art. I’m selling more paintings that I can currently create with my current schedule. It is an increasingly reliable trend that the more time and energy I invest, the more art and writing opportunities arise.
So, the big change:
In early May, Wes and I are packing up the Mobile Art Studio once again and pointing it south. This time, we’re leaving Alaska for the foreseeable future.
He has accepted a new position as a backpacking guide with a company that has national and international itineraries. We’ll start with his stint based out of St. George, Utah. This means he’s leaving his full time, secure and salaried position that has him doing meaningful work, but primarily from an office and behind a screen.
Similarly, I’ll be shifting to consulting on a project-by-project basis. This means much more flexibility for both consulting projects and art: instead of the routine that I currently have, allotting art to Mondays and Fridays, it will be woven throughout my weeks. Facilitation will still play a role in my life, but not on a fixed-hours-per-week basis.
With this decision comes a release of stability that, again, in retrospect we’ve been building toward for a long time. But it is still the end of a huge era of our lives, leading to a new beginning.
It brings us full circle to our 2020 Covid-cation life conversation. What do we want? More time outside. How? Less economic responsibility; more freedom.
The questions that often come up: but, Alli and Wes, where will you live? The answer: at first, St. George. Then, who knows? We want a period of our life where we’re not settled down in any one place. If (likely when) we want to do that again, we can and will. But for now we want to explore.
Alli and Wes, are you permanently leaving Alaska? Maybe. Maybe not. Intellectually, I know this place well enough to know how deeply (insidiously?) it gets under my skin. There is truly no place like it. When it is beautiful, it is spectacular. And when it is brutal, it is punishing. That is, honestly, part of the appeal. But as the years have grinded on, and then pounded in by the Covid lockdown, the brutality has been harder and harder for me. I see less of the novelty, and more of the difficulty.
It’s not you, Alaska. It’s me. (Okay, it’s a little you.)
What does it take to change a life? I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and I keep returning back to the concept of a lot of luck, and a lot of sweat equity. Wes and I have made enormous, foundational changes in our lives over the past few years, and it is culminating in what’s happening now. It has felt both discouraging and stressful in moments, and incredible and empowering others. Many stars aligned for us. We couldn’t have done any of it alone. And, we also worked to make it a reality.
That’s it, that’s the big change.
Amidst the inevitable mayhem that will come as we approach our departure date, I’m going to organize one last (for now) Alli Harvey Art in Alaska hurrah! I will keep you posted on a Farewell Mobile Art Studio event here in Palmer in late April or early May.
If you’ve read this far, thank you. My gratitude for all of the amazing people, moments, and places that have brought me and us here is profound. Even and especially through change, life is long and I look forward to the surprises, opportunities, and connections – familiar and new – ahead.