The customs agent asked if we were bringing anything back into the U.S. that we didn’t have before. Had he not been so serious, I would have said 15,000 mosquito bites and a renewed sense of determination. Levity might have brought a full on search and I don’t know if we could have repacked the car without leaving out the kid and a couple of sleeping bags. We are magicians when it comes to packing camping gear and 3 people into a Prius, but I always have a nagging suspicion that it’s because we’ve accidentally left something behind.
We went up to Canada for Winnipeg’s Folk Festival this last week and to camp with friends. Every year I forget how much I hate camping. When you have a child, you often go through the motions just so they can have the experience. And you ignore how much everything hurts when you sleep on the ground and how you hate having your ass bitten by mosquitoes every time you have to pee. She shrieks “This is the best vacation ever!” while you desperately count the minutes to a hot shower and coffee without bugs floating in it.
I love music festivals as a way of “discovering” new artists. And we walked away with a few new favorites, but not as many as in the past. Alternating heat and rain had us spending much of our time in recovery and drying out mode.
We camped with a family we know from Manitoba. They have kids, so our daughter, an untiring socialite, is concerned with neither music nor bugs, as long as she can play with her friends. The moments that rescue me from camping misery never came. Last year, I had an uninterrupted morning hour of reading and coffee, but this year it was all about moving gear into the sun to get things dried out or walking somebody, once again, to the bathroom a half mile up the road. Even though I asked 55 times when I made the trip 10 minutes ago, if she had to go.
Vacations usually help me break a cycle of doldrums or take me out of a rut. This year, everything seems like hard work, even while on vacation. Dishes and laundry and picking up after other people follows me wherever I go and I feel wrung out. I try to imagine the myth of a real vacation and surprisingly, it involves only me, a well-appointed hotel room with a view, books and a largely invisible staff of cooks, cleaners and laundry elves.
Our Canadian friends are hardworking, amicable and intelligent people. We seem a bit soft and pampered by comparison. They’re like younger versions of ourselves, from the days when we worked slavishly to improve our house, ourselves, our future. That’s the rut I’m in now – one of comfort and little to challenge me. It’s fortunate in many ways, but in others, I’ve lost the hunger and enthusiasm to be better than what I am – riding along comfortably until catastrophe hits.
We sit around a campfire at night, talking politics and parenting and home improvement projects. I realize that I’ve lost, if I ever had it, the art of conversation. I’ve been with my comfortable, familiar range of people and topics for too long. I fall back on silent observation and admiration and invisibility. This is my true nature and stripped of creature comforts, I sink into it, content to be.
A small longing begins to grow. Not a longing for youth or times past, but a longing for a sense of purpose. My vision and sense of direction have become muddled by the mundane tasks of everyday living. My priorities shifted until my to do list became more important than finishing a book (both the reading and writing of). I’m wound so tightly these days that I nearly lose my mind at the most minor inconveniences. I am unrecognizable to myself.
Listening to the rain pummel our tent, the wind whipping the trees about us, I can feel the thumping of my heart – fearful and wild. As the rain fades and the wind dies down, I lay back in my sleeping bag, close my eyes and see myself in the scheme of the world – tiny, imperceptible, a whisper in time. It is all unimportant. I can choose what matters to me. And of late, I’ve not chosen wisely.
I return from vacation, bug-bitten and sunburned, but determined to choose more wisely. As we cross the border, my daughter pipes up “I can’t wait until we go next year.” She gets points for enthusiasm, but her timing could use a little work.