From inner-city Detroit to a remote canyon in Arizona – “I have a feeling for what I want and then it happens…”
I met Sheila Campbell several years ago when she was a busy mother, home owner and entrepreneur in Northern Michigan. When I visited her a couple of years ago in Arizona she was living her dream traveling the country alone with her truck, pets, horses and trailer living quarters. She is a woman guided by intuition and spiritualilty. Here is her story.
Tell us about yourself and your lifestyle.
What I’m doing is what I want. My home is the living quarters of my horse trailer which, at the moment, is set in a very remote canyon in Arizona beside a river that flows year-round. I’m in a pecan grove at the base of a huge mountain and it’s just beautiful, there are ravens and herons and every night the javelina arrive to eat the pecans. I spend a lot of time riding my horses or just sitting and watching the wildlife.
I came up to this canyon in 2009 and fell totally in love with it, then by some weird coincidence I happened to meet the gentleman who owns this ranch, which also has a retreat center on it. I asked if he needed some help and he did, so here I am.
I’m living on a 6,000 acre ranch and I oversee the retreat center on the grounds. Groups of people come to stay for a few days at a time. Some of the people I’ve met are Buddhist monks, a women’s group coming for a sweat lodge, German’s on vision quests, and a Native American Shaman who visits from the local tribe. I’m alone a lot of the time and it’s totally quiet and amazing, then these people show up and do spiritual work and leave. It’s just perfect.
What does a typical day look like?
I get up in the morning and feed the dogs and the cat, then I make a cup of tea and take it out to the barn and feed the horses. After that I usually read something of a spiritual nature and meditate, then maybe do some yoga…and whatever comes along. Most days I ride the horses and since I’ve been here I’ve done a lot of projects. I manage about four groups each month in the retreat center which pays for my rent, utilities, a place for the horses and their feed. Then I get paid for any extra work I want to do.
What’s it like living in a horse trailer?
It’s just so efficient, it’s a small space and everything has its place. It takes ten minutes to clean because it’s so small. When I first came here I tried staying in the mobile home on the property, it has a fireplace, a bedroom, two bathrooms, three bedrooms, but it was too much space for me. It started getting messy and it took too long to clean, so I moved back into my trailer. I love the small space and I’m outside most of the time anyway.
Tell us about your past.
I grew up in Detroit, Michigan and that’s really foundational in my life. It’s was sort of like a third-world country. Learning how to maneuver there played a big role in not having fear because if you can wander around the inner-city of Detroit, you can pretty much go anywhere. I think Detroit is an amazing place, it’s very gritty and there’s so much beauty that lives in the people, that sense of community where people sit on their front porches and wave to each other. It really was my beginning and it means something to me.
I’m pretty good at living in the city but I’m also a country lover. During summers I would visit our family farm owned by my Great Aunt in a small coal mining town in Pennsylvania. I spent summers there where I played with the cattle, horses, goats and pigs, and I loved it. That’s what sparked my interest in the country. Eventually I begged my mom for a horse and when I was 9 years old she paid for riding lessons. After that, horses were a regular part of my life.
How did you earn a living?
I was always drawn to plants, even as a little girl I had a fondness for them and I pursued this. I earned a degree in Botany from Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. While in Detroit I worked for a large landscaping company and then later joined a marketing company. It was here that I learned how to be in business.
I always had a desire for adventure though. I took two years off in the 80’s and travelled around the U.S. in a VW camper with my dog. I went to Alaska, Seattle, Hawaii…I met up with friends, saw the whole country and had a blast. After that I went back to work for the same person, then met a man, had a baby at 30 years old, and then I became a bit restless.
I’ve always believed that I’m taken care of, I try to listen to my innermost intuition and follow it. I was ready for a change and I wanted something to support myself and my daughter. I meditated for three days, did a vision quest, got into my center and came up with the idea to start my own plant maintenance business. It soon became successful, I’m very lucky. My dad says it’s not luck, it’s opportunity that I notice, because most people don’t notice opportunities.
What made you decide to retire?
After several years my business had grown to a point where I wasn’t really working with the plants anymore. I had overhead and a commercial building but I wasn’t designing or doing the work I loved. Working with people is not a pleasure for me, it was a struggle. So I decided to downscale and kept just a few residential accounts. It took about three years before I was ready to sell the business. It wasn’t that I wanted to retire, I just wanted to be done with the work because it was very physical. That, and I love to play!
How did you choose Arizona?
I wanted a different pace to my life, somewhere I could ride where the weather was good in the winter. I knew I wanted to leave Leelanau County but I didn’t really know where I wanted to go. In 2009 some Michigan friends turned me on to Arizona so I followed them out here and worked remotely during the winters for a couple of years.
The first few years were difficult, it was a lot to coordinate. Then one year I was trying to figure out how I would do this and one day a thought occurred to me – I wondered if there was someone who had a living quarters trailer who needed money, because the economy was going to heck. Then I was pulling out of my driveway the next morning, and the leaves had just fallen out of the tress, and I noticed a trailer and asked my neighbour if she would consider renting it. She said just last night she and her husband were talking about how to pay for Xmas presents and wondering if they should rent out the trailer.
My life is so full of coincidences, that’s how my life goes, it’s just amazing. So I rented the trailer, they bought Xmas presents, I checked out living this way and liked it, and the next year I bought my own trailer.
I had a very dear friend who traveled out to Arizona with me for three years and I really don’t think I could have done it without him. He offered to drive out here with me and I flew him back after I got settled each time. It’s a lot for one person to drive across the country with a truck, trailer and horses when anything could go wrong. Until I got comfortable with the trailer and the rig I needed some help. Back then it was a very new situation.
Now I have no trouble doing it on my own. I’ve got my horse trailer with living quarters, my pick-up truck, two horses and my dog – and it’s all I need.
What was the hardest part of your journey?
Probably learning that there is enough in the universe. When I ran my business I was always worried, raising my daughter alone, having enough money for my employees. It was very stressful and then I started telling myself ‘don’t worry, it will get done’. I’m an A type personality and I always have to make sure things are just right. Learning to trust the universe was important. The stress of running the business was self-imposed but I didn’t like it. When it got big and I was earning a lot of money but I hated my life, it wasn’t what I wanted. So learning how to let go and figuring out how to turn that around were probably the biggest challenges I overcame.
Can you tell me about an interesting encounter along the way?
There have been so many! My cousin lives in Phoenix, Arizona and we met for lunch one day a few years ago. I told him I wanted to meet someone to learn more about ranching and he suggested I look up a friend of his, Kate, who was an experienced rancher and lived in a nearby town to where I was staying at the time. The very next morning my friends Lanny and Cathy asked if I wanted to come look at a ranch they wanted to buy and the caretaker named Kate greeted us. I asked ‘what’s your last name?’….and when she told me, I said to her, ‘you won’t believe this…’
I just stumbled upon her. That’s kind of how my life goes. We hit it off and became good friends. She asked if I wanted to live on her ranch so I spent the whole summer there, we rode every morning, checked on the cattle, I learned a lot and it was great. That’s kind of how it goes for me. I have a feeling for what I want and then it happens.
You seem to always see the good in a situation
I’ve actually worked at that. I follow a life philosophy called Science of Mind and the belief is that everything is God so even something that appears to be negative on the surface has a positive ramification. I was raised Catholic but it didn’t sit well with me so when I was 12 I stopped believing in the Catholic way – not that I judge it, I believe there are many paths to the divine – but that one wasn’t working for me. I came across this book called ‘Science of Mind’ which is about aligning with the divine, we live in the divine and the divine lives in us, there’s no bad…there might be wrong choices or things I don’t want to be with but I never judge anybody or anything as good or bad, it’s not my place. And that’s the essence of what I believe. Why things work out, I don’t know, but I know they will and I just trust that.
What advice would you give to other people considering a new lifestyle?
Really listen to your heart and your intuition, trust your own feelings, even if it takes a bit of work to know what those feelings are. Also to honor the things that happen, be grateful and excited. I’m always excited that there’s potential for something cool to happen.
What are you most satisfied with?
That I get to follow my heart’s desire. Not very often do I have to do something. Yes, there are certain days of the week where I have to do certain things, but it’s really nice to wake up in the morning and ask ‘what am I going to do today?’
This is a very good landing place but I don’t think I’ll live here the rest of my life. I envision two to three years at the most. I don’t know the next thing and I’m not tied down so I can do anything I want.
I would love to find a partner, I think that’s probably the next thing that will happen. A guy to have a fun life with and then just live it out. Do all the fun things, travel more, I’d like to go to Europe and see Scotland. Then settle down in a way that’s more peaceful than my life before.
I’ve been so independent for so long it’s really a stretch for me to be in relationship, maybe I’m a little too used to doing what I want to do! I think I can handle it though. Anything can happen.
*Sheila can be reached at: email@example.com