27 October 2013

that dim glow {a poem}

Dark mornings
still have a glow to them
and I feel my way by the gleam of the moon,
by the pinpricks of Orion.
Those are tiny spotlights from heaven, I think,
aware of the vast silliness of this thought,
but the sky above me—
it is so broad, so deep, so limitless
that I am flattened under it,
a moving speck in the millennia of light:
Any thought at this moment runs the risk of smallness.

By the gleam of the moon,
I feel my way down the path,
leaves scattering beneath my feet.
Parting the darkness, stepping over the threshold between dream and reality,
I push ahead,
towards what I do not know,
but moving always
in that dim glow
that leads us before morning breaks.

07 October 2013

an introvert in the woods

Over the weekend, I took a little retreat from my normal life, or as I like to refer to it: I ran away from home for a night. It's so much more satisfying, by the way, to run away from home when you're old enough to drive.

I brought Miss Daisy the Pug with me to go camping at the Richard Bong Recreation Area near Kenosha, Wisconsin. I picked that because 1) it was the first thing that turned up with I googled "camping near Kenosha" that wasn't an RV store, 2) it was just an hour and 20 minutes away, and 3) I could reserve a campsite with just a few days' notice. All these campgrounds in Illinois, you have to reserve a week in advance, or of course, you can risk it and just show up.

Risking it is not in my genetic make-up, and if I'm going to drive an hour+ after packing a car of camping supplies, I would like to be darn sure that will be a campsite with my name on it at the other end.

So to Wisconsin I went, where they allow for my level of spontaneity: you can make reservations with 3 days' notice and feel assured of your "spur-of-the-moment" planning.

It was such a good decision.

I've never done the solo camping thing, although I am well-equipped for it. By that I mean that I have all the stuff necessary, but I also mean that I have the personality necessary. I told a few people at work on Friday what I was doing, and I received mostly comments of awe that I would dare to do that.

"Won't you be scared?"

"But it's so dark!"

"Who will you talk to?"

"What if you have a problem?!?"

"Are you going to pretend to be Thoreau and come back with your journals to publish? Are you going to talk exclusively about living deliberately when you come back on Monday?"

But all I kept thinking—ever since I made the reservation—was, "I can feel my soul expanding with this possibility of being so far away from my normal life." {No offense to all the people in my normal life.}

My introvert self was very much made for solo camping trips, and thanks to my parents, who began outfitting me with camping equipment when I was still quite young, I have everything I need to run away from home and pitch a tent and cook over a grill and pump my own water out of a spigot that looks like it's been there since Laura Ingalls Wilder was alive.

I love camping for many reasons, and it's one of the continual joys of my life that my parents raised me on a foundation of outdoorsy-ness. {It's such a joy that I've even written about it before when I was flying over the desert on the way to Las Vegas.}

I love camping now because it reminds me of growing up, and I can't set foot in a campground without remembering the hundreds of other campgrounds I've been in {all blending into a generalized one, of course, with a mish-mash of red rocks, mountain streams, and tall trees that always smell sweet in the morning air}.

I think about how my sister and I used to spend hours (it seemed) riding the loops of various campgrounds on our bikes. We'd read for awhile, bike for awhile, volunteer to go get water, set up our own steeplechase course {hey, you see what sorts of activities you come up with when you are so far from humanity that you start to think it's normal to shower just once a week}.

And in the evenings, our whole family would sometimes take long bike rides around whatever national park or state park we were in before settling in to play Hearts or study the stars. {All those star lessons, and all I can pick out with any confidence is Orion, Cassiopeia, and the Big Dipper.}

So I love camping for that nostalgic reason—but I also love it because it pares you down to the essential. Everything—from boiling water to cooking breakfast—takes longer than you ever budget for in your regular life, and there's a quiet beauty in saying: I would like coffee, but it's going to be a little while. Delayed pleasure and all that.

Your day essentially becomes about the survival tasks, and so instead of running from activity to activity, you take your time and focus on where you are. I am scrambling eggs over a grill. I am boiling water to clean the skillet. I am doing the crossword while drinking coffee.

I think that's what I needed when I ran away from home: to be present where I am. There is nothing else in a campground to distract me, unlike at home where I could always be cleaning a bathroom or organizing recipes or re-doing my budget. There's always some task to be done, but in a campground, I cannot do any of that.

I cannot clean the bathroom; it's a pit toilet and the thought of cleaning that is something to avoid contemplating for very long.

I cannot do laundry; I wear the same clothes for several days.

I cannot see friends; they are over an hour away back home.

When I was camping, it was just me and my little pug surrounded by trees and a soft dampness to the air that helps you remember that life is more than running from one thing to the next.

And as a bonus, when camping alone with a pug, you get to see faces like this all the time—faces that say, "But I thought we lived inside!"


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