Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Luxury of Roughing It

I have decided that the ideal vacation is one in which I am surrounded by beautiful scenery, but have less luxuries than I do in my own home.

I came to this conclusion as I lay in my husband's inflatable boat in the Big Sur river. Just down a sandy bank from our oak-studded camp site,the river widened into shallow water that bounced along sun-drenched multicolored stones. There I tied the boat to a log and drifted on my back, drinking a Diet Coke, eating a package of peanut butter crackers, and reading my new favorite book (Blue Like Jazzz by Donald Miller -- more on this in other blogs). This is a heaven I hadn't known existed: a perfect, unglamorous way to completely unwind. And yet, even as I lay there, miraculously undisturbed by any small human for 45 minutes, I could still think of my own house, where awaited me a Temperpedic mattress, an indoor toilet, and a front-loading washing machine. Thinking about home from the camp site, I felt a little stab of joy.

If I were staying at the Biltmore in Santa Barbara, which I have been fortunate enough to do before, my encounter with nature would have been much less organic. It would be packaged in a well-framed view from an upscale teak lounge chair, the exact placement of which would have been determined by a team of designers. In my hand I would have a $15 gin and tonic. And even though I would have been laying on an Egyptian cotton towel instead of a rubber raft, my pleasure would not have been so complete. At the luxury hotel I would be conscious of the richer, more well-dressed people around me. And I would not be thinking of my little condo in Irvine as a luxurious heaven. When I'm at the Biltmore I never want to leave. Camping, after a few days, and I'm ready to go home.

In general, the camping experience was so much better than I expected. When Jeff and I spent a few days in Pfieffer Big Sur ten years ago, we were not very well prepared. What I remember most clearly is shivering late at night in my inadequate sweater, trying to read by the creepy light of a small fluorescent lantern. There was poison oak surrounding our site, and we were both totally paranoid about being infected by it, and practically stripped off all our clothes every time we entered our little tent to avoid contamination.

But this time around, we came prepared. Thanks to the Andersons, who have been giving us camping gear for Christmas for years, we have an eight-person tent, a propane lantern, a stove, and a coffee maker! Thanks to the state park personnel, who have trimmed up the poison oak, we had clear paths to the river without danger of contracting itchy rashes. And thanks to long hikes and tons of sun exposure, my kids slept soundly in the tent every night, so I got to read by the fire with Hubby by the light of our heat-giving lantern.

Truly, it was one of the best vacations I've ever been on. I loved being totally unplugged -- no cell service, no e-mail -- though the things I wanted to blog about kept me up at night. As I wrote before leaving, I was afraid I'd feel like camping was just another day in the life of a housewife, but without running water. I discovered that when I don't have a phone call to make or an e-mail to answer, and the kids have dirt and rocks and trees and squirrels to occupy them, I can cook and wash dishes with a lot less angst than usual. But again, I could still think about my sink at home with a pleasant sense of anticipation.

I have to make the obvious observation that being out in nature -- truly in it, not just looking at it from the deck of a luxury hotel -- is an amazingly restorative experience. I don't think of myself as particularly materialistic, vain, or competitive, but camping I realized that I must be, because it was so freeing to be out in my raft not thinking about my hair or the cut of my swimsuit. (It must be confessed, however, that I still found myself coveting this one cute No Cal mom across the campground from us, who actually had on a plaid dress over her requisite jeans and t-shirt, and I wished I was a hip as she.)

As I type this, my six year old is sitting next to me, sighing with impatience. How dare Mommy get up at six a.m. to blog, and not meet her needs? I told her Mommy doesn't come on duty until seven. Welcome, home, Amanda. It's 7:02 and your time is up. I'm off to prepare breakfast on my full-sized stove and my sink with running water. While I'm at it, I'll think of my campsite, and get a little stab of joy.

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