marks

I moved into a new apartment three months ago, and I still have lingering paranoia about ruining the hardwood floors. You have to put coasters on all the furniture, the landlady said. Put pads on everything or else the floor will get scratched. I won’t say I’ve mopped the floor once since I moved in (I sweep fairly often, as I hate getting sand and pebbles stuck to my bare feet – more on dirty floors here). But I will say I notice tiny marks on the floor and squeal out to my partner, “IS THIS MARK NEW?!” – to which he replies, “Probably not,” or grunt, or nothing at all, because I was squealing at too high a frequency – at least once a week. My paranoia stems, of course, from fear of depleting my security deposit, and I’m fairly careful (read: “uptight”) about all the things that fall into that category. I don’t put holes in the walls and I worry about the plumbing. But I really worry about the hardwood floors.

Some people are homemakers because they can’t work. Some are homemakers to look after their children. Others might stay at home for their animals. Me – I am not disabled, nor do I have children, nor pets. But if someone else won my bread for me, I would be a stay-at-home mom for the hardwood floors.

There, under my watchful eye, not a bump, not a scratch would go overlooked. I could truly discover which marks rub off and which ones don’t. Who knows – I might even mop.

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five

Slender, rustling steps –
a doe is softly munching
leaves as I wake up


deerdog
This forest friend was an early riser.

It might not be an exaggeration to say that I saw more deer than people in the last three days. A few friends and I spent the weekend camping in West Virginia, in the beautiful and remote Big Bend Campground in Monongahela National Forest. If you don’t enjoy camping, there’s a good chance you won’t understand the sentiments behind this post, but I’ll do my best to express myself anyway.

The anxieties many people deal with on a daily basis fall into categories, such as bills, debt, car, job. These are anxieties for me as well, and while I’m grateful they don’t extend into the categories of food and shelter, I still opt to shed them whenever I possibly can. The most consistently successful way I shed them is by camping.

When camping, you exchange the usual concerns for the more immediately pressing ones: will a bear get into the food, is that a storm cloud, have I peed next to this tree already, I must gather tinder now. These concerns are so wildly different from the usual ones, it verges on absurdity. It’s like taking a final exam and suddenly being asked the question, “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?”

It makes a world of difference that I have elected these troubles rather than having been thrown unwillingly into dangerous or uncomfortable situations. So, to avoid these elected troubles as much as possible, I do an outrageous amount of preparation beforehand, from planning meals to planning for the worst. But, somehow, even camping in the midst of Hurricane Joaquin last fall (“hurricamping”) was a far more enjoyable time than living a normal day at home, and it wasn’t because it was warmer or drier or more comfortable or more predictable. By all accounts it should have been completely miserable (and it was, a little). But I came out of it having had an immensely fun and memorable experience. Why?

hurricamping
Hurricamping in Shenandoah. So windy. So wet. So cold. So happy.

My father once said of me, “Leslie without a list is like a peanut butter sandwich with no peanut butter.” I don’t know if you other list-makers out there are like this too, but even though I make many different lists on paper (e.g., a shopping list, a list of movies to see, a list of places to visit), they all end up being mentally added to The List. I’ve only recently discovered this phenomenon, and it explains a lot about why I get stressed out by stupid little things. My mind processes each list and adds it to one virtual, unending, ultimate To Do list. Unsurprisingly, then, I have a lot of trouble unwinding. Time is a precious commodity, and I tend to feel pressured to always continue onto the next thing on The List without allowing myself to recover. Even when I give my body a short break, rarely am I successful in relieving my mind from The List. I have often come home from work on a weekend and promptly started making a grocery list, despite my partner’s suggestion that I decompress for a while first, as the grocery store won’t close for several more hours. Only when I find myself in tears over whether to buy kale or asparagus do I concede to his advice.

When I’m camping, however, the time of day – even the day of the week – melts from my mind as I deal with more immediate challenges. These challenges more often than not arise unexpectedly, so I don’t have time to put them on The List. They are not unavoidable drudgeries, but stimulating microadventures that give life rather than suck it away. For the most part, very few real challenges appear, and all the uncharted time left in the day is available for relaxation and opportunity, disencumbered by The List.

Such pure moments – moments like waking to the sound of a deer nibbling on a leaf, or lying on the ground to watch the full moon rise over the mountain top – are not impossible to find in daily life, but they are much rarer and certainly harder for me to enjoy. Fog swirls over the river and a rocky mountain face stares at me from above, but I can’t fully see them unless I’m uncertain of the time and honestly don’t care to know it.

mountaintrail
Trail on the way back from fishing
IMG_5762
Camping in WV. For those of you who don’t know us, we rarely look this relaxed.
IMG_5772
A tiny spider made a home in a camp mug overnight

limelight

I look to my left, I look to my right. Behind and before me, not a single person doesn’t have a bad tattoo. I mean the kind that’s randomly slapped on their body like a doctor’s office sticker on a toddler. The only person without one that I can see is a little girl, maybe nine years old, who’s sitting with what appears to be her dad and her dad’s pretty girlfriend (both of which have more than their fair share of bad tattoos). The girlfriend has dyed, jet-black hair, which serves to make her blue eyes pop, and her ears are gauged. The dad sports a pair of cargo shorts, displaying more than one unfortunate tattoo on his leg. The young daughter wears a bright, multicolored sundress. The three of them sit together on a small blanket, often turning to each other to joke and smile.

We’re at an outdoor concert in the evening, all sitting on a hill facing the stage, but fairly far from it. The sun’s out, but it’s setting and we’re shadowed by the trees, so it’s plenty cool despite it being mid July. Aside from this little family, everyone has come either as a couple or as a larger group of friends. Everyone else is at least a teenager. Everyone else is imbibing multiple ridiculously overpriced drinks. The scent of cigarettes, and occasionally weed, wafts all around us.

And then there’s the sundressed girl, sitting with her family, laughing.

The crowd stays seated through the first band, and I spend most of that time observing the little family in front of me. The girlfriend and the dad each drink a can of Corona Extra or two, but they’re thoroughly invested in their family outing. They buy the girl a bucket of popcorn so she can have a treat, too. Finally, the sun goes down, the world darkens, the second band comes on, and the crowd stands.

Up until now, the girl has mostly been lounging next to her father, who is in the middle of the three, but now she stands in the middle, body turned towards the girlfriend and chatting excitedly with her, like perfect confidants. The girl does many trust-falls into the girlfriend’s arms – too many. So many that I would’ve snapped “Cut it out!” at her long ago, had it been me. But the girlfriend is still laughing, still catching the girl, a million times. She doesn’t turn a single look of annoyance toward the dad. She is completely present with this girl.

Then they dance.

The two of them – one in her small black dress, the other in her striped rainbow one – dance together through the rest of the set. It’s probably past the girl’s bedtime at this point, but the family doesn’t leave the concert early. Instead, they dance together, holding hands and shimmying in the distant colored lights of the stage.