Friday, July 17, 2020

Finding a New Angle When Camping


I just published on my writing blog an article about how to write about a camping experience from different angles. After finishing the article, I realized that the article wasn't just about writing, though; it was also about experience in general, about ways to get more enjoyment out of camping. In this article, I focus on my camping experience rather than my writing experience (if I can separate the two).

Because of the pandemic, I haven't been camping so much. After all, for most of the spring the campgrounds were shut down! Now, though, the campgrounds are open, and I've decided to get out for more local camping, as heat and humidity allow. Lots of local camping means repeated stays at familiar campgrounds. Is it possible for those campgrounds to become too familiar? Will camping at the same old place lose its charm?

The truth is we don't have to repeat ourselves. It doesn't have to be the "same old same old." We can approach each camping trip with a fresh perspective or with new goals. What occurred to me was that any experience has three aspects or "angles" of approach, our personal experience, the dynamics of the experience, and the geography of the experience. I've heard this described as the perceiver, the process perception, and the object of perception. Any camping trip can focus on just one aspect of the experience . . . or can focus on all three. A camping trip doesn't just have to be about the drive, setting up camp, and what I did. I have more options, and looking through past articles in Green Goddess Glamping, I can see examples of where different camping trips have had different "themes," one might say.

I'm camping right now at Lake Darling State Park, in SE Iowa. I've camped quite a few times at Lake Darling, both as a tiny trailer camper and as a bicycle camper. I've been on hikes, ridden my bike, enjoyed the camp routines such as cooking, took in the beauty of sunrise and sunset. It's a beautiful park, one that my wife and I continue to enjoy, yet much of the park is familiar. Another interesting aspect of this park is that the phone connectivity is so low here that I'm pretty much off the communications grid. I can usually send a text message with the help of a signal booster, but three words still don't get delivered until about a minute passes.

I've come to this state park with the idea of resting, reading, and writing. Because the park is only seventeen miles from home, and because there have been some home circumstances to help with, of my three full days here, I will have traveled back home for a time all three days. The stay is still a good one, though, and I'm seventy-five percent of the way through my time here. I'm still getting rest and enjoying the quiet, having deliberately chosen a more quiet campsite that is not on the lake. My "angle" for this trip is obviously with an inner emphasis, but I'm still being active, both here and at home.

Lake Darling campsite, July 2020

What I'm saying is that I'm not becoming my own camping recreation director with a new tour or experience lined up for every camping hour; rather, I'm reminding myself each day I camp of three possible approaches to the day: Do I want "me time," do I want to do something interesting and fun, or do I want to learn more about where I'm camping. It's that three-in-one approach. I'm at the lake, and I can spend my time just soaking up the peace and quiet. On the other hand, I can rent a canoe and explore the lake, enjoying the exercise and my (minimal) canoeing skills. If I've brought my tree and bird identification books, I can gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of the natural world that surrounds me. It's a way to increase my immersion in the camping experience, even when I'm camping in a familiar place.

Personal Experience

When I arrive at a campsite, especially when I camp alone, sometimes the inner landscape of the mind melds with the outer natural beauty of the river or lake, the woods. Sometimes this leads to insights which I share in my articles.

Photo by Mark Busha, tiny trailer camper, in a remote location in Utah

One good example is my article about how being alone doesn't mean one is lonely, that solitude is not synonymous with loneliness. In "Traveling Solo: Being Alone Is Not the Same Thing As Being Lonely," which I wrote while camping, I focused on my inner experience while out camping. I wrote about how camping in nature can lead not to a sense of loneliness and isolation but rather to an experience of connectedness and integration.

The Process of Experiencing

Sometimes the process of camping dominates; perhaps it dominates most of the time if we let it. Towing the trailer, backing the trailer, setting up camp, and camping out provide many opportunities for writing. My "How-To" and "Reviews" tab links are filled with articles that relate to the process of camping, everything from how to stabilize the trailer to campfire cooking. Articles about equipment, how it works and how well it works are always popular and fun to write about.

Jomeokee Park, North Carolina

When I write about the process of camping, there is always that journaling aspect: I did this and then that. Photographs fit into the narrative, which adds to the enjoyment of the camping experience. Many of my camping blogs are about the Green Goddess Expeditions. Since the Green Goddess is my first camper, many of my articles have been about what I needed to learn in order to enjoy the trailer camping experience. One good example of a narrative of a camping weekend is my article "Unknowingly, I Tiny-Trailer Camp-Crash Woodstock," where I wrote about stopping for a quiet weekend at a private campground while traveling the Carolinas, and then discovering that a private camping group had organized a music concert for the weekend. A fun experience!

What We Experience

We show up to a campground for a few days, but the land has its reality outside our experience, it has its geography, its biology, its history. That is a subject for experiencing and writing about that is a source of great possibility. The more times I camp at a particular place, the more I learn about that place.

Statue at the west entrance to Lacey-Keosauqua

Lacey-Keosauqua State Park is a good example of experiencing a particular place. My wife and I have camped there many times, and I have quite a few articles about our "expeditions" there. As time passes and the number of visits to a campground add up, I think the experience becomes more "vertical" than "horizontal." We go deeper into a place and learn its secrets, something I wrote about in the article "It's Not Just How Many Miles or Places." Delving into the details can be a joy. What specific variety of oak is that? What variety of goldenrod? And since I'm writing during the Midwest summer: What exactly is a "chigger"?

Bur oak sketch

These three approaches to camping aren't mutually exclusive; there is no separation--one includes all. We can choose our emphasis, though, and as long as we don't become our very own nemesis, the autocratic recreation director saying, "You will engage in these activities exactly as planned, and you will like it!" then reminding ourselves that we don't always have to approach camping from same angle is a good thing. We can get out of our heads, we can change our activities, we can include a little local history. Habit can be reassuring, but it can also become an ever-deepening rut.

From the Gutenberg e-book

In Henry David Thoreau's narrative Canoeing in the Wilderness, he shifts seamlessly from his own personal experience to the process of canoeing to the beauty of the woods and river. He writes with growing awareness during the book of how he, even though an experienced naturalist, is not as knowledgeable in the woods as his American Indian guide Joseph Polis. Thoreau creates an enjoyable read as he narrates his experiences of canoeing the river rapids and the turbulent lakes in Maine. He writes about setting up camp and how his guide knows just the right place to be not too far from the river yet still dry and relatively free of mosquitoes. The physical environment is described with great regard and attention to detail, as seen in this passage describing canoeing down a branch of Webster Stream.

"As the shores became flatter with frequent sandbars, and the stream more winding in the lower land near the lake, elms and ash trees made their appearance; also the wild yellow lily, some of whose bulbs I collected for a soup. On some ridges the burnt land extended as far as the lake. This was a very beautiful lake, two or three miles long, with high mountains on the southwest side. The morning was a bright one, and perfectly still, the lake as smooth as glass, we making the only ripple as we[152] paddled into it. The dark mountains about it were seen through a glaucous mist, and the white stems of canoe birches mingled with the other woods around it. The thrush sang on the distant shore, and the laugh of some loons, sporting in a concealed western bay, as if inspired by the morning, came distinct over the lake to us."

Early morning fog

Whether we are backpackers, tent campers, big or tiny trailer campers, whether on an expedition into the Maine woods in 1857 or on a weekday romp to the local state park, we can all be explorers of the three-in-one nature of life. We can have our inner selves up uplifted, we can enjoy the dynamism of our activity, and we can appreciate the rich beauty of our world. As I finish writing this, I'm going to take a walk on this foggy morning. After yesterday's rain, this morning is warm and misty. A walk along the lake is just what I need.

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