We got home last night from a four-day camping trip to Kodachrome Basin State Park. This means, of course, that I will spend today washing smoky clothes, dumping sand out of shoes, catching up on emails from students who neglected to take the final exam (!), post-vacationing the car, transferring my trip notes into journal form, and posting something on my poor neglected blog. It appears that Nora will spend the day wandering around the house asking for her Dad because she doesn’t believe me each time I tell her that he has gone to work. She imagines—after being with her father 24/7 for the last few days—that he is now a permanent part of the air she breathes.
The thing about camping trips is that they produce extremes of highs and lows. There’s very little else I can think of to compare with the kind of polar opposites you get to experience while camping (with the possible exception of parenting in general).
Seeing the stars at night and watching a full moon rise up out of the red rock and float into the sky like a balloon that has slipped from a child’s grasp: this is a high.
Waking up after a wretched night spent looking at your watch every half hour and worrying about your children (who later report that they slept beautifully and never got cold, but you don’t know this yet) and wishing you had brought some kind of stocking cap because the top of your head is freezing and then realizing with dread that you have to use the bathroom, which means trading the semi-warmth of your pile of blankets for the frigid dawn air and taking that long long long walk to the only toilet on the other side of the campground: this is probably a low.
Another high: getting away from it all (the “it” being more like a “them” meaning the television, computers, ungraded essays, church callings, etc. etc.). I would sacrifice a good deal of comfort (and I do) to escape the clutches of these things. When we’re away from home, my kids seem capable of turning even the most simple things into fun. Never once did they complain that they were bored (a word I hear too often most days). Once we get far enough away from the passive forms of entertainment my kids are growing somewhat addicted to, a colony of harvester ants next to our campsite becomes the thrill of an hour or more.
Even within my own well-stocked, spacious, fully-plumbed kitchen, I hate cooking dinner. Put me in a tiny tent trailer with a howling wind outside and four loud, rowdy, hungry kids and limited water and pans that burn me for no good reason and I’ll soon remember why I hate camping and I’ll vow that whatever interval it is that allows a woman’s uterus to produce enough of that chemical that makes her forget the pain of childbirth and want another baby—I’m going to need at least twice as much before foolishly agreeing to another one of these trips. (Did I mention this was a low?)
But then I think it’s worth every bit of hassle to walk through the desert with my children, watching them play on the slickrock and marvel at the crazy rock formations and help each other up the steep spots and get excited about the lizards that dart across our path and the giant jackrabbits that spring out from beneath the juniper trees (Nora’s word of the week: bunny!). It’s worth every bit of personal annoyances to snap a photograph as cute as this one of Nora and Ethan.
Another low spot would be when I realized that I had left behind the baby carrier. One of the frustrating things about camping trips is that there are at least 50 essential items that if forgotten will cause grievous inconveniences (things like diapers, wipes, sunscreen, Gabie’s Panda, the matches, etc). Ken sees me stressing about all the little things and tries to convince me that we’ll just “make do” with what we’ve got. I disagree. How do you “make do” without children’s Benedryl when your highly allergic son gets bitten by mosquitoes and you’re many miles away from the nearest pharmacy? Anyway, the packing process takes at least a full day and even if I check and double check my list, I’m likely to forget something. Hopefully it’s not something essential. This trip, it was the baby carrier. Drat.
The corresponding high spot would be watching my broad-shouldered husband carry Nora nearly every inch of a four-mile hike without a hint of tiredness. Apparently, the only truly essential thing that must never be left home is the Dad.
On the way home (and by “way home” I mean the less-direct, scenic, and yes, longer route we took because Ken insists on never driving the same route twice) we stopped at the Anasazi Museum in Boulder Utah. The low point was wrestling with a toddler who was so sick of her carseat that inside the museum, she was climbing into all the exhibits, and on the outdoor path around the ruins, she was escaping into the sagebrush like a bunny! every chance she got. The high point, at least for me, was staring down into the foundations of little mud houses and pit dwellings and imagining what life must have been like 800 years ago for the people who inhabited this place. Were they happy? Did the women complain about the wind and the cramped quarters? Were their children in awe of the wildlife that filled their world? And why did they leave after only 70 years? Were they driven out by the harshness of the conditions? Was there hope of something better somewhere else? I doubt that even a culture as minimally attached to things and stuff as the Anasazi found it easy to move on without feeling a sense of displacement at the departure, a feeling that they'd left something essential behind. I don’t assume it has ever been easy to pick up a family and transfer one’s center of gravity from one place to another. It's hard enough for a few days. Imagine if you suspected you were never coming back.