Of all the questions that people are asked after they return from vacation, “Where’d you go?” and “What did you do?” are probably the most prevalent. Last month, Jeannine and I took a vacation to celebrate our 18th anniversary, and one of the highlights was camping over the trip’s last couple of days. I know camping isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but we love it, and since we hadn’t camped for several years, it was wonderful to get reacquainted with one of our favorite hobbies.
We remembered pretty well what to pack, how to set up the tent, and how to build and cook over a campfire, but we were a little rusty on some other parts. For example, we forgot to take a lantern, so we had to rely on our cellphone flashlights for light once the campfire had died down. Overall, it was a great trip that gave us the chance to experience some sensations that we can’t always have in our “normal” lives. Experiences like: feeling grateful for a cooling breeze rather than air conditioning, relishing a simple meal cooked over a fire, delighting in the symphony of sounds that come from birds, bugs and leaves, and luxuriating in the deep peace of simply sitting and watching a river roll by. Thoreau talked about the best way to live as “living life close to the bone.” I’ve always loved that sentiment and find value in paring back experiences to their essence. Camping does that for me; it helps me “get out of my head” and experience life more bodily than usual. Close to the bone. At the basic grounding points. Water. Shelter. Warmth. Food. I suppose it is a commentary on the amount of privilege I enjoy that I rarely have to work for these essentials. Having to work for them, even in paltry ways (carrying bottles of water, pitching tents, building fires, preparing food) shakes me awake from taking them for granted, inspires gratitude for them, and nurtures compassion for those who have to work hard daily to enjoy these necessities.
Camping also reminds me of temporariness. Even in a place like a state park (we camped at Harmonie State Park near New Harmony, IN) the campsite looks untouched when we arrive. Then, light and laughter, relaxation and fun, cooking and all the things that make up living will happen there. And before we leave we make sure it looks untouched for the next people. We have to enjoy the time we have there because once we break camp, re-packing the car and scattering the ashes of our last fire, we won’t have any more time to enjoy that place. We’re not permanent residents but travelers, sojourners. Like a mosquito that gets inside the tent, we’re here for a while, we make our mark, and then we move on. I’m sure there’s a sermon about life in there somewhere.
If you’ve read this far, please let me know at email@example.com if you love camping or hate it and why. What’s your favorite thing to cook over a campfire? Are you planning any camping trips for the next couple of years? I’d love to hear from you!