Return from the Wild

canstockphoto0687059The 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.

27 Comments on “Return from the Wild

  1. You’re a great mom is all I can say. I’m all for well-appointed hotel rooms and hot and cold running staff. Although I do like s’mores.

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    • We did indeed have s’mores and hot cocoa around the fire. Food and drink are more enjoyable when you can’t see all the bugs floating about or stuck to your marshmallows. We also enjoyed the company of very bold squirrels, chipmunks and raccoons. Our next vacation involves hotel rooms. Thank goodness!

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      • The first and only time I went camping I woke up to find a skunk on my sleeping bag. No thanks!

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  2. Sad when it becomes clear you’re in a rut. Except for knowing that you can get out of it.

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  3. Michelle, this made me chuckle as I recognized myself in your words. (what’s new) Speaking as a speck in the scheme of the world who is grasping for that sense of purpose, some days I think, purpose is overrated. Welcome back!!

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    • Thanks, Honie. Sometimes I reach too far, trying to find a sense of purpose. Maybe what I’ve really needed is a “course correction”. I know what I want, but get sidetracked by that pesky little thing called life. It’s good to be back!

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  4. ‘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 […] 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.’

    You speak my mind. We have had a few days in a luxury hotel, which I loved, but head off camping with my sons next week. We do it for the experience, to give the children the memories. I would be happy with solitude and a few good books, and feel guilty as hell for thinking that.

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    • Don’t bother with the guilt. As was pointed out to me by a good friend, there are rarely people we’d want to spend 24/7 with, family included. I wish you a happy camping adventure, sans rain and mosquitoes!

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  5. I enjoyed the story you wove around camping with the perfect ending twist. I have always thot some amazing things had to happen if I went camping again and sometimes they do but it’s a value discussion. You ended up with a different sort of valuable perspective.

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    • You might have enjoyed the constant procession of critters that came through our camp site. And I wish that I’d had a photographer on hand when we saw 2 bald eagles tangle with each other mid-air.

      Changing scenery is sometimes the only way to change perspective. I certainly have a renewed appreciation of hot water and mattresses!

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  6. I have just returned from a camping trip with my children and friends. I love how you wrote that you would fall into “silent observation” around the campfire as that is what I found myself doing night after night simply laughing and enjoying the conversation going on around me. Often for me the camping trip is more enjoyable in retrospect than in the moment….but that is changing each year as my baby grows into a pre-schooler. From a Canadian….congrats on surviving the Manitoba mosquitos! They are fierce and large and often require such toxic levels of pesticides that it counteracts all the “natural” in a camping trip.

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  7. I have not gotten to camp yet this year, I love it, but as I’ve gotten older I need to take more creature comforts with me. Inflatable mattresses, hammocks, battery powered fans. I loved the way you wrote this, I got the sense of being there and feeling the unease. Well done. Glad to see you back!

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    • We are limited by vehicle size on the creature comforts. Last year’s cots were a fail and this year’s foam pads were useless. We used an inflatable mattress several years ago, but it lost air mid-trip. I think I can handle almost anything with a good night’s sleep, but without, I simply devolve into a big baby!

      Thanks for your kind words and the welcome back – definitely glad to be home!

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      • I think that as I get older the value of good sleep becomes more and more important. Those foam camping pads are useless. I did a backpacking clinic recently and couldn’t wait to get home to my own bed.

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  8. Michelle — I resonated with this in so many ways. We live in BC (British Columbia) and I spent much of my youth camping. I feel so done with it now and can’t even muster up the enthusiasm to do this for my kids. I know I seem cranky and cantankerous and stubborn, and maybe I am. I’m sure I’m in a rut, but it’s also comfortable. Your post reminded me of how much I may be missing out on (conversation) and what I could let lie for a while (to-do lists).

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    • That’s the nature of ruts – comfortable, familiar, safe. I’m still fighting out of a rut that seems to have started back in February. I keep thinking circumstances will knock me out of it – Spring, end of school year, vacations. No dice. I’ve got to really apply myself to get out of this one, which seems deeper than any rut before. Sometimes just sitting with it, instead of struggling, reveals the answer, solution or perspective that I need. So I sit for awhile.

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  9. For the first birthday after we were married, my husband gave me a sleeping bag. My birthday is in January. I’ve never used the thing. Never will.
    Coffee with bugs in it pretty much sums up the experience.

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