I don’t know about you but I have become more and more dissatisfied with the rush and hurry of life. Being all the time physically busy and mentally going through the next steps, phone calls, emails on the list is depleting. Our connectedness at times feels like a disability when I can hear the latest news from a college friend hundreds of miles away but I know nothing of my neighbors lives across the street. We are surrounded by a distracting luxury that makes it hard to turn away from the great glowing blue screen. So I went to the woods for a camping getaway and I could not believe how much I loved living outside and sleeping in a tent.
I have noticed a craving over the last few years that I can only describe as a desire for real things. I am lighting candles and reading more physical books. As we are considering taking out the gas logs and going back to the original design of the ’80s of a real wood-burning fireplace in a living room, I started a garden and found the pleasure of eating food I grew over time is the stuff we make into poetry.
I did not understand how all these things are part of the same desire and the answer to my discord; that is until I went camping for the first time last fall. And I loved it! Let me tell you how and why that weekend completely refreshed me. It starts with a history lesson.
Contemplating Connection and Cucumbers
Have you ever thought about this: the way people have been living for the last 100 years is completely different from the previous thousands of years of human history. The work of the Industrial Revolution changed everything. It gave us engines, moved us from farms to the city, gathered people in factories and urban centers, and separated us in ways we are just now contemplating and combating.
One hundred years ago my grandmother was limited by where she could go in a day to as far as she could walk. She could buy what the money in her pocket would get her. Her food came from what her family had grown, slaughtered, and preserved. She wore the clothes that her mother had fashioned for her and her sisters. Life was hard, nothing was easy or cheap. Every part of life required thought, planning, and work if they were going to survive.
I have no desire to romanticize that time. In fact, I love being a modern. But as moderns, we know that something is missing. Something that we can’t quite name. We are immersed in social media and still distant from the real struggles our friends and family are facing. There is food everywhere but what we are hungry for is connection and community, not another night alone talking into a speaker at the drive-thru.
Just like life 100 years ago, camping requires planning, effort, and learned skills. It brings people together with a common purpose: survival. You have to think about everything before you take your people out to the woods to live in a tent. How are you going to eat? What are you going to eat? Where will the food come from? How will you keep the cold things cold? Where are you going to sleep? How are you going to sleep? How are you going to stay warm or cool down? Where will your water come from? How will you accomplish the work of setting up and breaking down camp? What are you going to do to fill your free time? Living like this even for a few days is a lot of work that we don’t engage in on a daily basis and it is so good for us as humans.
The pleasure of making chili in my dutch oven over an open fire was the same kind of poetry in my soul as eating a cucumber I grew. It’s not just that it tasted better. The cucumber that I grow is a miracle that I have watched for months. That meal was not just a bunch of cans I poured into a pot and heated. The chili at camp was the product of planning and foresight that becomes real as we gather and were nourished by it.
The Real World All Around Me
As I was camping, I found the freedom to sit by the crackling fire when that day’s work was done as warm and real as the flames that captivated me. I overcame the adversity of living a whole day without electricity. I found water, fed my people, everyone survived. My grandmother would be so proud and I feel like I have honored her in this work. When the time came to sleep close to the stars and trees, breathe the unconditioned night air, I have never slept so well. I woke up full to the brim of that night air and all the energy I needed for the day’s work ahead of me.
At the picnic table where I sat with my steaming coffee, I wondered why I loved this camping so much. I am not the kind of person who camps. I am the person you will meet at an all-inclusive resort. The kind of person who refuses to eat buffet food on a cruise so you will find me in a dining room with a cloth napkin in my lap for three meals a day. You can understand why I was contemplating my sanity sitting alone at a table in the woods.
As I sitting there with steam floating up from my super cute enamel mug, my lungs full of air in the quiet morning thinking about the work of the day and I was finally able to name this what I had been craving for months. I have been grasping for real things in the real world. I was finally able to stop long enough to figure it out. There was no glowing blue screen to give me the answer to my question. I found my answer in the realness of the dirt beneath my feet, the canopy of trees above, and the bird song that serenaded me. By removing ourselves from the conveniences and the busyness of modern life we had become dependent on each other in a way that was so real I could feel it. We slept in the same tent, ate every meal together. All the work that had to be done needed all the people we had. Our weekend required planning and work and we survived in the real world together.