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