It's Friday afternoon at Lake Darling State Park in southeast Iowa, and my wife and I are the sole campers in the entire park. We are not alone, though, abut are visited by deer, geese, swans, squirrels, and a lone eagle. And, of course, we have each other, as we have arranged for this late fall weekend of camping for ourselves, a chance to be together, to walk together, and to even enjoy an experience more rare nowadays in this modern world--to be out of cellphone receptivity.
|It's much easier to get a lakeside campsite during the off-season.
"Solitary" has its etymological roots in the Latin word solus, which means "alone." Mirriam-Webster defines it as "being, living, or going alone or without companions." I see no reason, though, to not apply the term to a couple, such as a camping couple, traveling "alone or without [any other] companions." After all, by marriage or whatever process two individuals declare themselves to be a couple is really a declaration that two have become one.
I think we've all met couples who take out their rigs or tents and camp, enjoying the time alone and together. Maybe these are long-time couples, maybe two people new at this "couple" thing. Maybe they are enjoying the comfort of being together, celebrating a relationship strengthened with time; maybe they are using the camping time to increase the strength of the bond by creating experiences together. In either case, they are a unity, two become one as they sit together before their campfire, the crackling light of the fire illuminating their faces with the same flickering light.
|Bundled up, we enjoyed several leisurely walks along the lake.
Four months ago I wrote a piece entitled "Traveling Solo: Being Alone Is Not the Same Thing As Being Lonely," in which I reference a Psychology Today article in which the author says, "Loneliness is marked by a sense of isolation. Solitude, on the other hand, is a state of being alone without being lonely and can lead to self-awareness." It seems to me that couples can certainly travel alone by themselves yet not feel lonely, that they can come to understand and appreciate their relationship better by spending time by themselves. That campfire, after all, is the fire of the gods which symbolizes knowledge and consciousness. It is possible for time alone together to be a special time, a celebration of the reality that beneath the hustle and bustle of everyday activity lies that quiet unity of experience, hands warmed by a cup of coffee or tea, the fire warming faces, the day full of possibilities.
|Later that night, the full moon illumined the same view.
Lake Darling State Park provides a spectacular view of the lake right from the campground. My wife and I have camped there together only once before, since the cellphone signal is practically non-existent, which means my wife can't work online from camp. However, we decided this time to spend a weekend together and to not worry about the work. There is a phrase I just ran across that applies: "escaping default life." We have our daily routines, our habitual behavior, yet we don't want to live our lives on "automatic." the hours and days drifting past without our even noticing. My relationship with my wife and my relationship with nature hold special status in my life. The only word I can think to describe that status is "sacred." A true experience of the sacred can never be taken for granted; it cannot become blasé. We put our cellphones away, held hands, and walked along the lake, warmed by the late fall sun and serenaded by trumpeting geese. I don't know if that's romantic, but I do know that it's impossible to sleepwalk through the day while surrounded by garrulous geese!
It's impossible for a couple to camp in a tiny trailer and to not experience a real sense of closeness--be that positive or negative. Tiny trailer camping, practically be definition, is the experience of sharing--or invading--one another's space. Fortunately for my wife and me, our experience with tiny trailer camping has been one of graciously sharing one another's space. Our weekend of sharing began with my backing into our space on the first try with Sandy guiding me. Go, team! . . . because rumor has it that this activity can be a challenge to happy couple relations. Maybe tiny trailer backing is easier, even though the short turning radius makes the backing quick and quirky.
|Clear skies at late fall means freezing temperatures
For off-season camping in Iowa state parks, the water and electric remains on, but the shower and flush restroom facilities are closed due to freezing temperatures. (The dump station is available, but we didn't need it, of course.) There are two pit toilets for the campground/cabin area; we also brought our dry portable toilet to see how that works.
We immediately set up by plugging in our oil, electric heater for the camper. Having a great view of the lake, we were looking forward to sharing the campfire together, now that the weather was cold enough to justify a fire. We were essentially off the communication grid, although we could, at times, successfully push through a text or phone call with our signal booster if we were lucky. We hadn't realized how habituated we had become to checking our phones until we lost that option; then we embraced the moment, just enjoying the silence and one another's company. Our weekend boasted temperatures from 20-50, but we had brought clothes for the variety of weather.
|Our family comes for a visit.
Our solitary weekend wasn't lonely, though. Certainly not! In addition to our quality time alone, Sandy and I were visited for an hour by grandkids and family. Swings, walking the dogs, climbing, and lots of happy sounds extended our sense of sharing and unity. After the kids left, we were also not alone--two more teardrops increased the campers to three. Imagine, only three campers in the entire park, and they were all tiny trailers! We discussed that with the other teardroppers, and the consensus was that since most tiny trailers don't have plumbing, it wasn't such a big change to camp in the cold weather. We're already used to no indoor facilities, and sleeping with the potatoes so they don't freeze isn't that big an accommodation, is it?
|Across the bay, two teardrops arrive, this one a Silver Shadow
|A home-built teardrop, both teardrops about a hundred yards from us
Activity arises out of stillness and silence. Physics tell us that the universe arises from the Unified Field, an unmanifest field of pure potentiality from which all existence springs, a field of energy and (I think) intelligence in the most abstract sense in that the order of creation implies intelligence. I think that's why camping can be rejuvenating; both physically and mentally we can refresh and remind ourselves of the order of things. For a couple, a weekend together can be an affirmation of that bond of unity. It's a time to slough off the distractions and to celebrate our common bonds, a time to experience something of the "perfect love and friendship [that reigns] through all eternity," as articulated in the Christian hymn "Blessed Be the Tie That Binds," or Bruce Springsteen's more scarred journey to love in "The Ties That Bind":
It's a long dark highway and a thin white lineWe don't hook up our campers and drive to nature. We are nature, as much a manifestation as the largest galaxy or the smallest flower. We are sojourners, all of us, and blessed are we who travel in unity, whether we be one, two, or many.
Connecting, baby, your heart to mine
We're running now, but, darling, we will stand in time
To face the ties that bind
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