As promised in yesterday's post, today I'm finally writing out the small revelations that came to me on a week-long camping trip in Pfieffer Big Sur. With no cell phone and no laptop, I had nothing to do but think, float down the river, eat, and -- as you'll read below -- wash my children's underwear. All turned out to be worthwhile experiences that are resonating with me six weeks later.
Lesson One: Beauty belongs to everyone.
This is in stark contrast to the lesson of the luxury resort, which is that beauty can be mine only for a high cost. Once I have paid that high cost, the staff will treat me well, perhaps even call me a VIP. Nature at the resort is packaged with my tiny lanai situated to maximize the ocean view, the forest view, etc. The sheets are softer. The tub is cleaner. The shampoo smells better. But this is a life I have rented. It is not mine for the long run, and it whispers the whole time, "The life you are going back to is not quite good enough."
When I am tent camping for $45 per night, beauty is all around me. It includes river rocks, pine cones, and the scent of the redwoods. It may also include squirrels, blue jays, and raccoons (who might eat all the tortillas and grapes out of my cooler...but that's another story). This exposure to beauty trains me to tune into nature, not just on vacation, but all the time. I spent a lot more nights outside in my backyard than usual when I first got home. And because my tent is not as comfortable or clean as my condo, even while I'm on vacation I think fondly of my home and feel grateful to return to it.
Lesson Two: I have too much stuff.
Particularly in my kitchen, which I justify because the stuff all has a specific purpose. See, I need six spatulas because they are all used with different kinds of pans to turn different types of foods. Imagine my chagrin when I realized we had not a single spatula of any kind in our kitchen box on the camping trip. I went into three different "general stores" in the Big Sur area looking for a pancake turner that cost less than $10 (since, you know, I have six at home). Finally, on our last day, I made ham and cheese stuffed crepes using nothing but a Tupperware cereal bowl, a 7-inch fry pan from Ikea, and a thrift store fork. So take those silicone tipped tongs (great for frying scallops!) off my wish list for Christmas. I'll make due without them.
Lesson Three: All that work I do to keep my kids clean has an actual benefit.
My daughter Livie, who I will heretofore refer to as Pig Pen, is fond of dirt. Camping is, truly, hog heaven to her and she digs down into her play tent with a family of Barbies and gets compeletely covered in dust. Occassionally, she looks down at her hands and sees that they are brown, and licks them clean. Licks them! I'm pretty sure she also drank from the river. So, by the afternoon of Day Two, I was abruptly jumping from the inner tube as we floated down the river to find a cluster of trees for Pig Pen to poop in. Only to have her, five minutes later, say, "I pooped in my pants again." It was at this point, washing loose stool from my daughter's cargo shorts in a utility sink, that I asked Hubby if this was a vacation or an endurance test.
And yet, validation! It's not true that God made dirt so dirt don't hurt. If you play in the dirt, eat dirt, lick dirt, you get diarrhea. so all my house cleaning is not for naught. (Alternative lesson: stop cleaning so much so Pig Pen's stomach can build up immunities to a wider variety of microbes.)
Lesson Four: Television is a poor substitute for a camp fire.
I've decided that slumping in front of the television the second the kids go to bed is just a substitute for our primal need to gather around a source of light and warmth. TV also satisfies our culture's need to feel we are doing something, specifically something with a start and a finish: I will now be entertained from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. after which I will go to bed.
At night, when I am bone tired, the temptation to veg out in front of the tube is one I succumb to almost every single night. This practice had a threefold negative effect:
1. Conversations with Spouse are limited to commercial breaks.
2. What I watch is basically crap and often either violent, carnal or stress-provoking, and almost always shows people who are impossibly thin and living an unrealistic lifestyle. With these skewed images still swirling in my subconscious, I go to sleep.
3. I don't listen to my body. I don't go to sleep when I'm tired but when a show has wrapped up ("Yay, they caught the serial killer, now I can go to bed.") And I eat sugary foods without really thinking about it.
The campfire is a much more healthy centerpiece. I can relax and sort through thoughts from the day instead of having thoughts planted by NBC. My husband and I talk whenever we want to. My evening embroidery takes on a much more "in the moment" quality. And then, when we either get too cold or too sleepy to sit outside anymore, we go to bed. I've tried to implement some other kind of evening activity since we got home, but six weeks later, I'm becoming one with my leather sofa during prime time again. The desire for something better still smolders in me, however, and perhaps I will find a way to stoke the flames until I actually change the habit (Too much campfire metaphor? Yeah, you're right).
Lesson Five: My days are a breath; I'm a small part of a much bigger picture.
Here's a bizarre thought that struck me in the middle of the night: the river never stops running. I go to sleep, and it doesn't shut off like the fountains at the mall. Well, duh. But I get so locked into a small reality, driving down the street in my air conditioned SUV, that I forget how tiny I am in a great big natural world. And being on the bank of a river that never stops opens my heart to the idea of a huge universe that keeps spinning regardless of the small crises in my life. My brother wrote a brilliant song with a lyric: "the sun don't disappear every time that you blink." The even bigger reality behind my smallness: the Creator of all this vastest "who never sleeps, nor does he slumber" graciously cares about the small things of my life anyway. That revelation is worth seven days in the dirt.