Friday, August 14, 2020

The Best Camping Advice I've Heard in a Long Time: Drive Less, Stay Longer

Dawn at Lake Sugema Campground

Dawn and dusk are special times when camping, times of transition when the light changes and there is a pause, almost as if the world is holding its breath, almost as if that veil of earth, water, fire, and air that shrouds the eternal thins and becomes transparent. We can experience this transition anywhere and any time--on a street corner, from our home's front window, or while sitting beside a campfire that pops and crackles as its ruddy light warms us.

Why not call this experience for what it is, a spiritual experience, an inner experience, a moment of silence and stillness when we recognize that between breathing in and breathing out, within the silence behind the chatter of the stream beside our campsite, radiating from the lambent majesty of sun caressing the distant horizon--we recognize that we are spiritual beings, that the reality outside ourselves is no different than the reality inside. Like raindrops falling toward the immense ocean below, we recognize our kinship with all that exists, that we are myriad but also one, that we are both individual and cosmic, completely both.

Immersing ourselves in the natural world reminds us in ways subtle and wondrous, that we are not alone, that we are intimately a part of the cosmic ecology. That's why I camp, to gather the natural world around me like a warm and soft blanket, and yet that "safe haven of home" experience in no way interferes with the everyday experiences of swinging my grandkids on the campground swings or of making s'mores around the campfire, reminding the kids to let them cool a bit before gobbling them down. Life need not be frenetic; we can be in a hurry if necessary, but we shouldn't rush.

Table Mountain from Carrick Creek (Annie Wynn photo)

In terms of camping, a fellow camper recently stated an idea that for a long time I've been thinking and feeling: "I’m trying to stay longer in places. Move less, drive less, relax more" (Wynn Worlds). During this time of the pandemic, it's good to establish our safe havens, our tent or trailer or van campsites--and then to stay a while. Even if we have to work and interact, we can keep our cool. We can move through our day with the regal grace of an elephant; we don't have to be twitchy jitterbugs. Camping can remind us of that. Even when a buck crashes through the brush or a squirrel stares us down with its black eyes, scolding us, even when a bluejay loudly announces our presence, still the quiet of the forest is the backdrop to these individual explosions of energy.

Dawn Kister photo

Camp nearby--I assure you that there are great camping spots with beautiful vistas almost everywhere, and since restful and peaceful camping is as much a state of mind as a geographic location, if there is no Walden Pond campsite nearby, then make one! A great many campers this season have found their backyards or driveways to be perfect spots to enjoy a sunset or to relax in a camp chair and enjoy lunch with a side order of fresh air and blue sky. Drive less, stay longer. Pause long enough to appreciate greater possibilities. "I’m in northern Michigan watching the sky. This makes me smile. I lost count of the number of shooting stars I saw last night," said a writer recently on her blog (Change Is Hard). She's been camping at some "dark sky" campgrounds that are low in ambient light so the stars are easier to see. Possibilities are all around us.

Pick the rig that should be somewhere else!

Move less. I'm willing to concede that for some, driving can be relaxing--my dad was one of those folks--but driving certainly takes more energy than sitting and relaxing around a campfire, and even if a hike might be more physically exhausting than driving, we can dial back the mental attention more on a casual meander. When we are driving, we can see a lot of beautiful territory, assuming we aren't experiencing the mono-culture of freeway driving, which carves its own reality of gasoline fumes, asphalt, and concrete overpasses (not to mention truck stops and fast food joints). We push through that interstate freeway reality like a knife blade through a watermelon, but we have to watch out for our fingers. It isn't till we sit back at the table, the ripe red watermelon before us, that we can take a breath, take a bite, and enjoy. If you have to drive a great distance to get to your destination, well, all right then.

Once you get there, though, try to stay longer. Think of yourself as a homesteader rather than a sojourner. Savor the moment, and extend that moment. You may never come to this particular place again, and you certainly will never experience this same moment again. If you leave and then come back another time, another weekend, it will be a different time and you will be a different person, having experienced new things. Cherish the "less-traveled" moment. You deserve it, and the moment deserves it.

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  1. Thanks for the shoutout. I just got home, put everything away and am starting to itch to get out there again. My last three mini trips have been wonderful night sky watching adventures. I didn't take Katie on any of them, though, and she's miffed, so the next camping trip will be at the state park 1 exit up the road where she will get to go on walks in the woods and take naps under the picnic table and I'll sit and read and maybe nap along with her, though probably not under the picnic table.

  2. PS: While at Hartwick Pines State Park campground I saw two small trailers that I was interestered in. One was a Luna which is a modified teardrop trailer with a huge front window, and one was a SylvanSport Go pop up camper. I didn't bug either owner, but I did grab a picture with my phone so I could remember to look them up when I get home. I think the Lunda is a lot of money at over $20K, but maybe that's typical... The popup camper is more around $10K but I couldn't find any good pictures of the inside. Still, it's a cool concept.

    1. The RTTC campers are less. The Grizzly (the mid-sized) start at $7,995.

    2. Thanks, I'll go explore those!

  3. Love this blog. Thank you Tom!

  4. Glad you like it! Knowing people are reading adds to the fulfillment.