— Photos and text by Heather Manwaring—
Five months ago, I was frustrated and discouraged.
I knew I wanted a change, but didn’t really know how to go about making one. I was tired of working where I was, tired of living in Los Angeles, and tired of searching endlessly for new and different jobs with no luck. Nothing was working out in my favor, so in desperation I threw my hands up and decided to get away for a week to gain clarity on what direction to take.
Destination: Carson City, Nevada, where part of my family resides.
At that point I had never been to Tahoe, so one afternoon my mom let me drive her massive Dodge Ram around the whole lake. It wasn’t even a beautiful day…it was grey, cloudy, rainy, and we just happened to drive through one of the most massive hail storms I have ever witnessed.
But on that fateful day, I fell in love.
Vision after vivid vision flooded my mind, and a still small voice inside of me whispered, ‘you need to be here; this is where you are meant to be.’
Suddenly, everything made sense: why nothing was working out and why I was feeling so restless. I was never meant to stay in LA County!
Right then and there, I made the decision to quit my job, pack up all my things, and say goodbye to the place I had called home for my first twenty-five years of life. Within a mere three weeks I had deposited my final paycheck, found a cute little place to live, had a job lined up for myself, and was ready to embark on an exciting and nerve-racking new adventure to South Lake Tahoe.
Here are the six major things I have come to learn and observe about myself and Tahoe so far:
1. The city and surrounding areas are SUPER clean
As a born and raised Angelino, I am accustomed to seeing trash everywhere: on the streets, in the bathrooms, blowing around on the beach like tumbleweeds, in all of the sports stadiums, and on every mountain trail I’ve ever been on.
Witnessing the aftermath of the annual Rose Parade in Pasadena is one horrific sight; the streets are bathed in Styrofoam coffee cups, napkins, cigarette butts, dried-up silly string, plastic wrappings and items of all shapes and sizes, and overflowing trash cans. There seems to be this general mentality floating in the air around big cities that makes us feel like throwing our garbage everywhere is okay because we are certain that there will always be someone who is paid to pick it up for us.
Imagine my surprise then when I move to Tahoe and realize that there appears to be no trash at all. Not on the streets, highways, bike paths, or mountain trails. I participated in an end-of-summer organized clean-up of the local beach and was astounded to find that at the end of it all, there was but a mere handful of scraps from a span of about a mile along the shore.
The one Pacifico beer bottle we found felt like a huge score to add to our little blip of collected debris!
“The amount of respect locals and visitors alike have for this beautiful place is incredibly refreshing for someone who’s had to train her brain not to pay attention to the copious amounts of trash in her environment.”
I feel that this is because of the apparent success of the “Leave No Trace” policy. You know, those signs you see when backpacking, camping or plain ol’ hiking in the mountains, posted at the beginning of each major trail head and complemented with friendly reminders at every campsite. The fact that you have to hike out what you bring in makes you keenly aware of exactly how much waste you’re producing, and knowing you have to carry it all with you makes it oh-so important to choose necessities that create as little of it as possible.
Every time I go hiking, I’m amazed that the only way I can tell a human has been through the forest is by footprints and random carins, NOT because they’ve left behind a trail of granola bar wrappers. While this idea may have been started solely for hikers, it seems to have superseded the trails and bled into every other area of Tahoe.
The amount of respect locals and visitors alike have for this beautiful place is incredibly refreshing for someone who’s had to train her brain not to pay attention to the copious amounts of trash in her environment.
Sure, there may actually be some junk lying around here and there, but compared to what I grew up with, this town is squeaky clean and I love it!
2. The people are generally SO much nicer
Everyone knows that anywhere you go, no matter which continent you find yourself on, you’re bound to run into at least one or two not-so-nice individuals. While friendly folk definitely exist, I’ve noticed that the majority of people in LA are solely out for themselves, in constant search of making connections with others who can help advance their career and/or status in some way or another.
I’m not saying that this is always a bad thing (and can actually be extremely meaningful when done in an authentic way), but I have generally encountered situations where it feels more like a disingenuous and narcissistic transaction, using people as stepping stones instead of finding a way to make an association mutually beneficial.
It feels different to me here in Tahoe.
I’m sure there are those out there who are only interested in what they can get out of a relationship, but for the most part, this town feels so much more community based. It could be partly because this city is but a tiny fraction of the size of LA, or because a place like Tahoe attracts a different kind of person, or even because I have changed, but I have come across so many more authentic, kind, generous, fun-loving souls.
Please don’t get me wrong; I have met so many beautiful people who have helped shape my life in positive ways during my time in the Los Angeles area. All I’m trying to say is that in my twenty-five years of experience, the general essence that hovers over Southern California has felt more shallow in nature, especially when compared to my perception of Tahoe.
3. The importance of being smart and savvy with money
I have never lived in a place that is so incredibly seasonal.
There are only two seasons that are profitable: summer and winter (depending on how much snowfall there is). Spring and fall are the “dead” seasons as far as tourism is concerned, and are pretty much just there to connect the two busy ones. This means that if you don’t take full advantage of the money all the crowds bring in or if you don’t have your own business that provides some type of residual income, you’re left pretty barren.
Unless, of course, you apply for unemployment or jump from trim camp to trim camp (which is something I never knew existed until I arrived).
I got to town at the very tail end of the busiest season Tahoe offers, and didn’t really believe everyone when they told me the city dies…until my five shifts a week turned into two, barely making enough to cover my rent. Because I’ve always lived in a big city, I’m used to every season except summer being profitable in the service industry, and being more liberal with my spending was a lot safer because I knew I could count on a steady, predictable stream of income almost year-round.
Most of the people I’ve met thus far hold at least two jobs, but usually juggle three in order to generate enough income for themselves.
It’s running into situations like this that make me so grateful my parents taught me to manage money well. My dad has always been a great saver, and somehow managed to stretch whatever he had to keep a roof over mine and my sister’s heads as well as our bellies filled. My mom started our financial education early on by giving us a weekly allowance, part of which was then split into three different categories: ten percent to charity, ten percent to savings, and ten percent to investments (i.e. gold and silver)…lessons I carry with me to this day.
The hidden treasure that lies in living this way is the fact that it’s forcing me to become more creative with what I do have, as well as pushing me out of the comfort zones that can accompany working in a tipped profession.
I am, and have been, an artist that has kept to the shadows, greatly fearing the idea of putting my work out into the world. And making money off of the creations that come directly from my heart and soul?!
Ahhhh what is that?! Scary shit, that’s what.
I have a creeping suspicion, though, that Tahoe will soon be the inspiration behind catapulting myself and my talent into the light for all to see.
4. No one cares if you have a big time career or not
I have always, without exception, felt a certain societal pressure to know exactly what I want to do with my life, complete with a detailed, step-by-step plan for how to go about attaining a successful career. It seemed like every time I told someone I was a server after being asked what I did for a living, I would get the same response: a very judge-y, I’m-looking-down-on-you sounding “oh”–code for: you’re a loser with no degree, no passion, and no clue.
God forbid I actually LIKE serving people.
I have to admit, they were right about one thing…alright, two–I had no clue, and no degree (I felt like traveling the world was a better education). Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I’m naturally good at a lot of things: working with people, creative stuff encompassing many different types of written and visual art, singing, being a good listener, etc.
“I understand that for most people, some pressure can be a really positive, motivating factor for this part of their lives, but I personally love being out of the big city rat-race and feeling the freedom to explore my options without worrying about who’s expecting me to have everything in my life figured out.”
While it’s obvious that I have been blessed with lots of options, that’s been part of the problem. I have bounced from idea to idea without ever committing to mastery of one thing. For a time I wanted to be a singer, then I wanted to be a travel writer, then a graphic design artist, then it was a therapist, then a restaurant manager, then a body parts model…and while art has always been a part of my life, it has only become a serious passion of mine in the past year.
I’m only just now starting to believe I could potentially make a decent living out of my creative side since my output of new content has increased ten-fold. If it isn’t already obvious by now, I haven’t been able to make a clear decision on what direction to take my life in career-wise.
Once I entered Tahoe’s borders, that intense pressure I have perpetually felt immediately vanished into thin air. The difference in energy was blatant and palpable, and has only grown more and more apparent as time goes on: no one gives a rat’s ass if you have an articulate plan for a hot-shot career or not. If all you want to do is be a ski bum, not a single soul will bat an eye or give you that oh-so-judgmental “oh” I used to hear so often.
And on the flipside, if you do happen to have a business or an idea for one, everyone seems to be on board with whatever it is you want to establish and will move mountains to help you realize your dream.
I understand that for most people, some pressure can be a really positive, motivating factor for this part of their lives, but I personally love being out of the big city rat-race and feeling the freedom to explore my options without worrying about who’s expecting me to have everything in my life figured out.
Do I eventually want a career? Absolutely.
But I appreciate that people here aren’t going to look down on me while I muster up the courage to release my mixed media creations to the world—in whatever way that manifests.
5. Working out to do more cool shit, instead of looking good for others.
I could say so many things about how living in LA near Hollywood, as well as our society in general, has shaped how I view my body (along with everyone else’s), but I’m not going to do that. This one is personal for me, and while it makes me feel pretty damn vulnerable to share, this is one of the more profound things I’ve come to realize about myself since I moved to Tahoe.
There are two things that I’ve struggled with more than anything else in my life thus far: food and men. The funny thing is, these two have gone hand-in-hand for me, each one affecting the other.
How, you may ask?
I have had this long-standing underlying belief that says I have to be perfect in order to be worthy of love, and yet one of the things I fear most in life is to love and be loved by a man. To illustrate this vicious cycle even further: I have a major binge session, feel shitty about myself, want to be loved so I decide to exercise and diet, lasts for two weeks max before I get scared a man might love me, and sabotage all of my efforts….on repeat.
Are you starting to see how conflicting this all is?
Thank God for Tahoe, then, because this has completely shifted. Instead of being constantly preoccupied about looking perfect to attract a partner, I’ve become monumentally more interested in getting and staying in shape so that I can keep up with all the cool adventures my friends go on. I’ve recently become smitten with hiking and backpacking in these gorgeous mountains, as well as maintaining a regular yoga practice, so that when the time comes to snowboard, I’ll be ready with a fit and flexible body. This desire has kept me exercising consistently and taking much better care of myself overall.
The respect I have for myself has skyrocketed, and now I realize that this is in part what will attract the right man…one who is worthy of me, and not just the other way around. I still have little binge moments from time to time, especially when it comes to sugar, but knowing I’m mostly out of the very tiring, endless cycle in which I’ve spent most of my years is incredibly liberating.
6. How much I have come to truly LOVE the outdoors
As embarrassed as I am to admit it, I used to hate the outdoors.
This did not serve me well at all growing up, considering my family is one that loves all things to do with being in nature. My mom used to own a quaint little cabin in Chantry Flats (a popular, local hot-spot for hiking), and we spent what seemed to be every weekend there—which was fine with everyone but me.
I definitely wasn’t a big fan of anything that required much effort: hiking in and out with supplies strapped to my back, taking off the protective casing for all the bedding, sweeping the clusters of mouse poop off the floor, sterilizing all kitchen appliances and surfaces, and I absolutely HATED helping to set up the family tent on our annual camping trip to Indian Cove (near Joshua Tree National Park). Being in the great outdoors meant coming into contact with all types of bugs and creepy crawlies, being teased for my fear of heights and my generally uptight nature (therefore the butt of many family jokes), and dealing with annoying bouts of constipation.
“Tahoe is a wise and cheeky little shit; she rewards you with spectacular views, incredible company, a sense of mighty triumph, memories that will last a lifetime, and let’s not forget the gorgeous photos with which you can make everyone back home jealous.”
Thank goodness I recently grew out of that outlook! Better late than never, right? It’s so funny to me (and my family!) that backpacking has become one of my favorite things to do, because that is all about lots of work: setting up and taking down tents, planning meals and the gear that goes with it, carrying a heavy backpack, hiking with elevation gain and loss, and straight up pushing yourself to the limit.
But Tahoe is a wise and cheeky little shit; she rewards you with spectacular views, incredible company, a sense of mighty triumph, memories that will last a lifetime, and let’s not forget the gorgeous photos with which you can make everyone back home jealous. She knows full well that you’ll succumb to her beauty and will do whatever it takes to experience her gifts again and again. And, well, I’ve finally accepted the fact that creepy crawlies come with the territory.
I now can’t even imagine what my life would look like without nature, and in fact, I’ve come to need it in my life for a sense of balance and peace.
Being in the mountains or near the lake grounds me, brings me closer to myself, and puts everything in my life into perspective, which is especially handy when life throws its inevitable curve balls.
Nature has brought me a happiness I have never known until now, and it’s so goddamn beautiful.
Five months ago, if you would have come to me and told me this is how my life would look just a few months in the future, I would have laughed right in your face. Never in a million years could I have imagined this life for myself, and I have only just begun to scratch the surface of the massive iceberg that lies beneath the still, cool waters.
At the end of the day, Los Angeles does have its perks. It is an amazing city to live in for a multitude of reasons: work/career options, crazy amounts of diversity, a massive dating pool, and delicious food–to name a few. While I am grateful to have spent my formative years there, I’m also grateful to have found a place that has improved my quality of life in such a short amount of time.
Is it perfect? No; hardships are part of the spice of life.
But Tahoe makes me feel so much more at home, and continues to provide a steady flow of inspiration and people who are more in alignment with my values.
I don’t know how long I’ll be here, how I will continue to evolve as a person over time, or what Tahoe has in store for me in the future, but I’ve learned to trust my heart when it whispers life-altering somethings into my ear.