Sunday, June 26, 2016

A Breath of Fresh Air

I had a nature break. Sophie came up for a visit and we all went out kayaking in Prince William Sound.

This is what happens on a nature break:
  • You breathe air that has not been inside walls. (Tent walls don’t count as walls.) Air flows. Do you know this feeling?

  • You get to be inside a tent while mosquitos hover outside or rain pelts the tent. The sense of protection is very immediate. I am home right now, and it is raining outside, but I don’t notice it. In a tent, you notice.
  • You pay attention to the tides. You have to locate your tent above the high tide line. You choose lunch spots and new camps by the tide tables. In my regular life, tides don’t even get a mention.
  • Your day consists of waking up, preparing breakfast, packing lunch, and setting off. The big decision: choosing a lunch spot. In between, you look around. That’s all: you look around. When you come back to camp, you make dinner, maybe read your book, wash a pot, bowl, and cup. Your day is FULL and you feel satisfied.
  • Whatever you look at is beautiful. Giant glaciers and mountains, tiny wildflowers, spectacular waterfalls, smooth beach rocks, oddly-shaped icebergs, orange-billed oystercatchers, a whale (!), paths through foliage. Tim explores a little, says he’s found a “magical world.” He shows you. Yup.

  • All your personal items fit in one small dry bag: underwear, one extra pair of clothes, rain gear. Two books. A camera. Nothing electronic.
  • You cook and eat things you would never buy otherwise: salami? Instant mashed potatoes? Cup-a-soups? Black bean flakes? Instant oatmeal? Beef jerky? They’re incredibly delicious – those black bean burritos were phenomenal – and they’re done in one pot.

  • You smoothly fall into your camping roles. Tim handles kayaks and tarp erection. I pack food and organize tent interior. I am intensely proud of my system of using the plastic bags I have saved from every shopping venture to code the meals: lunch was in the Container Store, beverages in AARP, noodles dinner in Alaska Regional.
  • Nevertheless, when you figure out that poking the paddle into a corner of the tarp raises it just right and holds its position, you feel like you have accomplished an architectural feat.

  • You get really, really dirty. You are a medley of salt water, sunscreen, bug dope, glacial silt, sweat, mud, berry stains, grass and seaweed stains. After a while, you look like something discovered out there, not something that came from somewhere else. You have to stop brushing your hair because it is a gluey mass of bug dope.

Back home, you have to pick up the mail, catch up on emails, water the plants, tend to the garden. You have to clean the sink and tub, make the bed, recycle the newspaper, check voice mail. Doing the laundry and cleaning and storing the camping gear is a pleasure because they are Big Jobs. Those other tasks, they’re Maintenance. They’re Chores.

Back home, there’s another Mom Crisis. Back home, Sophie has to leave.

Back home, the air is inside walls.

Back home, you take a shower, get clean, sit on a toilet with a sink right next to it. You brush your clean, sweet-smelling hair. Tim shaves. You get into a delicious bed with sheets and pillows.

You’re back home, the same You who was there before the nature break. Your demands on yourself resurface. How come days of just preparing meals and exercising were so full out there, but back home they feel lazy, maybe self-indulgent, not “enough”?

Back home, you realize you need an attitude adjustment. You need to figure out how to bring the pleasures of the break back home. How to feel full, how to just look and find beauty, how to de-clutter the maintenance tasks.

How to pay attention to the tides.


  1. Ah....for the simplicity of camping....Great post, sweet illustrations.

    1. Thank you! Still trying to hold onto that taste of simplicity....

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