ONE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH

Have you ever noticed? We are inundated by the human form, from the moment we get up in the morning and look at ourselves in the mirror, or see our sweetie on the next pillow, till the moment we fall asleep at night.  And then, there they are again in our dreams: more people.   What with TV, movies, magazines, FaceBook, smart phones, plus all the live people that cross our paths, we must see hundreds, maybe thousands, of humans every day, in one form or another.

Yesterday I decided to keep track of the number of times I see my own reflection during one day here at home.  I’m astonished at what I discovered.  There I was, reflected over and over again, in mirrors, house windows, car windows, store windows, others’ sunglasses, the grocery store’s frozen food case doors, even cellophane packaging.  Most of my looking at myself wasn’t even conscious, it’s like a tic:  if there’s a reflection, I look.  In fact to not look took effort.

In contrast, I recently came across an account I had jotted down of another time I spent looking.  It was an afternoon a few years ago, up in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, when I sat on a rock by the side of a field, shaded by a tree.  I spend many hours like this wherever I’m camping.  I got comfortable and sat and waited for my mind to settle down.  At first I was aware only of the vast beauty all around me.  Then a butterfly came to check out my red sweater, a clump of lacy grasses swayed, an ant walked along my foot carrying cargo, a squirrel ran up the neighbor tree and chattered at me, tiny bright blue flowers caught my eye, many birds flew about until a hawk came into sight, a deer leaped past, small pebbles and mysterious indentations in the earth could be seen through the grass, clouds passed over the sun, bugs of intricate variety went about their business, a chipmunk sat on a rock across the field looking at me. I noticed more and more and more life pulsing around me, and slowly it dawned on me:  I’m merely one of the many life-forms here, we’re all in this together.  It’s always such a rush, that moment.  My compass gets reset, all feels right with the world.  

You’ve probably stood looking up at the stars and for a split second felt, really felt it through your whole being, Earth’s minute place in relation to the entire universe.  That’s what it was like, sitting in that field. I palpably felt myself in relation to Earth.  And it’s odd: when I truly sense what a tiny speck in this whole picture I am, that’s when I start breathing more slowly and deeply, and an extraordinary feeling of peace descends.  

It was quite another story yesterday when I was tracking my mirror reflections.  There were a number of reactions going on in me, and I imagine there were many I didn’t even notice.  I saw myself of course in different lights, in different moods, with different expressions on my face. I felt reassured if I looked okay to myself, and disgruntled if I didn’t.  The context made a difference.  Right after looking at a magazine with all those ideal human images in the ads, I saw only all the spots and splotches on my face.  Right after someone had said something positive about me I saw myself smiling.  If I had just seen an appealing man many years my junior I frowned at myself regretfully.  If I was thinking about the cruel thing I had said to a friend – without meaning to! – I didn’t even want to look.  Most of these reactions were split-second and only noticed because I was making a point of it.  I think they’re always there and they flit by so quickly I’m not aware of them.  

In the mornings when I’m camping I look into the little mirror hanging in my tent when I pin my hair up on my head.  When my bun passes muster I solidify it with hair spray and then forget it till the next morning.  In fact, for the rest of the day I pretty much don’t give a thought to how I look.  After all, the people around me are all strangers, I probably won’t ever see them again, so what does it matter? I’m so much less aware of my Self, my body, how I look.   I’m not plagued by all those split-second reactions to my image that whiz by when I’m at home.   Living out in nature provides me a vacation from all that.

Such a dichotomy!  My whole life has been split in this way.  As a psychotherapist, I spent hours every day intensely engaged with people, my eyes riveted to their faces, my whole attention locked on them.  When I got to work in the mornings I had already practiced my cello for a couple of hours, and in the  evenings I played string quartets with my musician friends.   Two such totally different universes!  All my psychologist colleagues experienced burn-out now and then, I never did.  I attribute that to my being able to restore myself in the world of music, in the same way I restore myself now in the world of Nature.   

 

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DEADLOCK

I haven’t left yet for my winter camping trip, darn it.  I’m still here in my comfy living room chair, looking at my maps and checking the weather reports for all the places that catch my eye.  The thought of cold evenings and mornings in the campgrounds is keeping me immobilized.  I can’t tell you how much I dislike this state of affairs.  Once I decide to do something I want to do it right away.  I don’t like waiting.  Not at all.

I know this impatience is a trait I was born with, it hasn’t been learned, and I actually have proof:  a picture of me at age l5 months, swaddled in thick hand-knit woolies pulled tight over a huge cloth diaper, walking away from the camera, down a path in the Alps (I was born in Switzerland, though I hastily reassure you – or myself:  I’m not Swiss).   I had been fitted the day before at a cobbler’s shop in the next village for tiny shoes with nails on the bottom.  I was to be taken on a mountain trek with the adults, and that’s how hiking boots were made in 1937.  I couldn’t wait another minute to have mine, I’d waited long enough, so I was off to get them.  Thinking of that picture I realize now that it shows not only my impatient nature but also my fearlessness in going out into the world all by myself.  Oh dear!  Maybe all it shows is my self-centered desire to have what I want when I want it, no matter what.

I tell you this so that maybe you’ll understand just how difficult these days are for me, waiting for this part of Earth to warm up a bit.  All I’m needing is about 10 degrees, that would make all the difference.   And please, 10 more degrees but only in the evenings and mornings – the daytimes are perfect in the Southwest right now.

A few days ago I had some excitement thinking about spending a few weeks traveling down the warm Baja peninsula.  I love Baja!  Mike and I used to cruise the Sea of Cortez in our sail boat.  We’d anchor in a small cove, sometimes for just a few days, often longer, before sailing on to explore another one.  We were usually the only humans around for miles and miles, surrounded by incredibly rich wildlife in both sky and sea.  It’s the closest to the Garden of Eden I’ll ever come.  I ordered a guide book for tent camping in Baja, and reading it got me really pumped up.  But then one evening I sat thinking: what are some of the dangerous things that could happen?  And how have I dealt with such things in the past?  With words, that’s how.  I’ve talked myself out of many a difficult situation, some even involving guns.   Thinking of those incidents I realized that going to Baja alone without being able to speak Spanish would make me vulnerable and helpless if I had to face anything scary.   I closed that tempting guidebook and put it back up on the book shelf.

Oh, I’ll bet some of you are wondering why I made such a point, a few paragraphs ago, of not being Swiss.  Let me just say that when I drove through Switzerland some years ago and saw their woodpiles, I knew that I would never be accepted as one of them.  The ends of each log on their woodpiles are so perfectly lined up you can run your hand over them and it feels like the flat smooth top of a table.  I wonder how they’d describe my woodpile.

But wait a minute.  Is it only the dislike of cold mornings and evenings that’s keeping me sitting here in this chair rather than just getting going?   Maybe the fear of the cold has other fears behind it.  There’s no denying that it’s daunting to go off into the unknown, with only a piece of thin nylon for shelter from the elements and from all the bad things in the world.  And it’s always a lurch to leave my close-knit community here, where I’m a small knit-purl in a loose fabric that holds me tight.

And then there are all the what-ifs – a heart attack, or just flu, or having everything stolen, or being out of reach if a daughter or a friend suddenly needs to get hold of me, or feeling too lonely, or…or…or.  No, these fears haven’t kept me down in the past.   And anyway, there are perfectly good ways to deal with all these things while traveling. These risks, for me, are very worth taking.

Maybe the proclivity for stasis is at work, akin to what often happens to me late at night when I know I should get up out of this very same chair and go to bed, but the thought of all the work involved – closing down the house, brushing teeth, putting on pjs, hell, just standing up and moving – keeps me rooted to the spot.

I like the image that word “stasis” conjures up:  in this chair I’m sitting equidistant from my wild gypsy life and my comfortable home life, the pull to both so equal at the moment that the chair isn’t even rocking.  But no, that’s not accurate.  I’m chomping at the bit to get going.  “Comfortable” feels passive to me right now, as though I’m just treading water.  I want the excitement of challenge, of the unknown, and the fun of exploration, seeing country the likes of which I’ve never seen before. I want to be that person I become when I’m off camping, it feels so right, I feel more truly myself than at any other time.  I want to be away from all these houses and people.  I want to be out in nature, where that’s all I see all day long.   I want I want – and I want it now!  I’m still that tiny person in the thick woolies waddling down the alpine path.

HOW I PLAN A CAMPING TRIP

Some of you have been asking me to write about how I plan my trips.  I’ve started doing that very thing, sitting in a comfortable chair here in my living room.  On my right is a cup of tea, and on my left, on top of a pile of books and magazines, are all my maps.  Sitting here with my maps is one of my favorite winter pastimes.  I’ve been contemplating next summer’s camping trip, trying to decide what part of the country I want to explore.  Right now Colorado/Wyoming/Montana are at the top of my list, but that can change at any moment.   

Today as I was looking at the map my heart began to beat faster:  my eyes had zeroed in on Death Valley.  I’ve wanted to see that strange other-worldly place for years, but in summer it’s up to 120 degrees so I’ve steered clear of it.  But it occurred to me that maybe I don’t have to wait till summer to go off in my tent, maybe I could go right now.  It’s an unusually warm winter here, and even though the nights sometimes get down into the 30s the days are in the high 60s/low 70s.  

I’ve slept in my tent in freezing weather before, and have always been snug and warm.   The problem is mornings and evenings.  It’s awfully hard to pull myself out of that warm sleeping bag and get up in the frigid mornings.   The choice I have, even with lots of layers on, is to either sit huddled over my big cup of tea at the picnic table, my face bent over the steam while I rub my hands together to keep warm, or to sit in the car with the heat on, which just isn’t very appealing.  Evenings are a problem too, although I can always go into whatever little town I’m near and read in their library or go to one of their restaurants or see if there’s a movie, play or concert to keep me warm till bedtime.  I could make myself a fire and sit by it, but I just don’t enjoy doing that all by myself.  Campfires and wine are two things that to me are not nearly as gratifying alone as they are with good company.  I think I’ll consider this first winter camping trip an experiment, and try out different ways I can deal better with cold mornings and evenings.  I’m certainly open to suggestions!

Besides worrying about the cold I’m also afraid that everywhere I go now the campgrounds will be chock full of all the snow-birds’ huge RVs, probably more even than during the summers.  It’s good I’m writing this blog, I’ll be able to complain loudly about them to you and maybe that will help me bear up.  At least it means the campgrounds won’t be empty, which is reassuring.  

As of now, Death Valley is my main destination.  Probably it will be warming up a little each week, so I think I’ll travel around to a few warmer places first and then go there as the crowning finale of this winter trip.  Right now, off the top of my head, I’m thinking the southern California coast would be a good place to start, maybe somewhere around La Jolla, a town I’m not yet familiar with.  Checking my map here, it looks like it’s about a six hours’ drive, just right for the first day.   It’s exciting to picture myself set up again right on the ocean.

Now I’ll start looking online for all the campgrounds that are near La Jolla.  I learn a lot about them that way, whether they take reservations (important only if I’ll be arriving late after a long day’s drive), where they are, how big, whether they have flat areas for my tent, whether they have drinking water, what they offer in terms of electricity and hook-ups (the less the better, as far as I’m concerned).   I even scan some of the comments people leave because once in a great while I find a useful nugget of info.  I’ll also be checking frequently on temperatures and rain odds with NOAA, for all the places I might go on this trip.  

La Jolla is where I’ll start my research, but that could change in a flash.  A friend might suggest something else that sounds terrific, or something else might catch my eye while I’m studying my maps.  It’s all so arbitrary!  I never really know for sure before I leave where I’ll be ending up, I just know where my first stop is.  This past summer the one destination I had firmly in mind was British Columbia, with the Oregon/Washington coast along the way.  But it turned out that I never got to BC – the coast had me in its thrall the whole three months, I couldn’t leave, I was so happy there.  Also, there were fires and floods and bears reported in BC, and I just don’t take certain risks anymore.  

So for now, Death Valley is where I’m headed, and I wonder how long I’ll take to get there, and where I’ll be stopping along the way.  I’m going to day-dream and plan here in my comfy chair for a week or so before I take off.  It’s almost as enjoyable as the trips themselves.

A DAY IN THE LIFE

Today I’m going to let you look over my shoulder and read one of the emails I sent my three daughters this past September, when I was in my third month of travels on the Pacific Northwest Coast.  Usually I have no trouble moving from one campground to the next, but this time I did.  Here’s the email:

Hello there daughters – Oh my, what a day it was yesterday.  I had thought it would be easy and straightforward:   pack up camp at the Elwha River, drive about two hours to Mora Campground on the coast, set up camp, and voila!  It didn’t work out like that at all though.

I got to Mora, which is in the Olympic National Park, with no glitches.  Everyone had spoken so glowingly about Mora, said it would be my favorite campground ever.  I’ll never again listen to another person’s opinion on such a matter without doing my own research.  I drove into Mora and immediately turned around and got myself out of there.  It was dark as pitch, even though the day was blazingly sunny.  The trees grow as tall as the clouds, and are so huge and close together not a whiff of air or light can get through.   Fascinating spook-house mosses hang from them, with prehistoric ferns below.  It’s strikingly beautiful, but not a place I want to live, even for a few days, it’s just too dark.

Luckily, it was still morning, so there was plenty of time to find a better place. I checked my map and saw that the nearest campground, called La Push, was right on the beach, so I was full of hope as I drove.  It turned out to be the ugliest place I’ve ever seen – hundreds of huge RVs packed together hugger mugger, and the three tent sites they offered were in tiny spaces tucked inside rows and rows of those beasts.  I tell you, when I’m queen my first edict will be that anyone who so much as thinks about buying an RV will be shot at dawn.  I hightailed it out of there, pulled over and again examined my map.  Nothing until 40 miles south, so that’s where I went:  the Kalaloch Campground.  I was so excited when I got there – most of the sites, 300 of them, were in those dark woods, but on the rim at the edge of the beach there was a long row of tiny little sites that had views out through the bushes to the ocean.   But aargh!  Every single one was taken or reserved,.

I waited two hours for the ranger to get back from his lunch, hoping he’d have a cancellation on one of those ocean view sites.  He didn’t, and when I asked whether he had any suggestions for me he said with great scorn, “There’s place a few miles down the road called South Beach, it’s first come first served.  But it’s primitive and they don’t have any water.”

Well, I thought, what choice do I have?  By now it was the middle of the afternoon, time to get settled in somewhere.  And “primitive” always sounds good to me.

I turned off the road at the South Beach sign and there it was.  Oh my god!  It was perfect!   Just a field sitting on a low bluff above the beach.  No trees,  just huge sky and sea.  About 50 campsites in the field, no privacy at all but for once I didn’t care, I was so excited to be able to be right smack on the ocean.  Everyone in an RV, all corralled in the small field, but with the miles and miles of wild space in every direction all around it didn’t matter.  All the beach front spots were taken so I set up way in the back row between two white metal behemoths, knowing that I’d move in the morning as soon as a place on the ocean was available.  I cooked myself a delicious supper, then took a long sunset walk on the beach.  The tide was way out but half the depth of the beach was still wet and the setting sun was reflected in it – a double sunset!  The beach is empty, miles wide, the horizon at least 180 degrees around, the sky the biggest I’ve ever seen.  It’s an incredible place.

The people here are very chatty, everyone knows everyone else, some people have been coming here for 36 years, most of them are retired professionals of one sort or another, lots of nuclear and electrical engineers for some reason.  Most of the women are retired teachers or nurses. It feels like Camp South Beach, but without any camp counselors, yippee.

This morning I got up at first light (love that expression) and walked and walked on the beach.  I had it all to myself.  Imagine!  When I got back people were starting to wake up and I found a couple getting ready to leave.  They had the very best site, right on the beach, at the edge of a little river that flows into the sea, so there’s a neighbor on only one side.   Now it’s my site.  My spirits are soaring.  I’m camped at the very edge of the world!

After getting set up it started to rain and now the wind has started to blow….. Oh my god, a huge storm is coming in.  The wind is howling, now it’s raining hard, the ocean is positively roiling, I’ve never seen such huge hectic waves.  The old canopy is whacking around in the wind, will it rip or blow away?  I’ve tied down each of the skimpy little legs with three ropes each, it looks so gauche, will it hold?  If it doesn’t, how will I cook?   The tent is swaying wildly but seems likely to hold if the wind doesn’t get more ferocious.  I’m sitting in it writing this, the front flap completely open facing the ocean – by some miracle the back is exactly against the wind so I’m perfectly sheltered.  It’s very exciting!  But now it’s time to go find a water source, and some wi-fi so I can send this, and an electric plug so I can charge my laptop.  It’ll be a relief to be snug in my car for a bit.

….Now I’m sitting at the bar in the Kalaloch Lodge, a few miles up the road from South Beach.  They don’t have a public water faucet, they don’t have wi-fi, but they do have a plug, and my laptop is sucking on it while I have a cup of tea and write to you.  The only thing between the campground and here is the ranger’s station which has a faucet outside from which I’ll fill my water jugs every day.  Oddly, there’s no wi-fi here; in fact Erin, the very cool bartender, says there isn’t any along this entire 100 mile stretch of road.  Hmmm.

I gotta say, it’s good to be sitting inside looking out at the storm.  It’s warm, it’s dry, nothing’s flapping madly in the wind.   Maybe I’ll eat dinner here tonight.

….And now I’m about ten miles down the road from the Lodge at the only other sign of civilization around here, the Queets Trading Post.  There are about twenty falling-apart shacks rising up out of a foot of garbage everywhere, with the Trading Post in front by the road.  The Native American woman at the counter told me if I drive to the back of the building I might find a wi-fi connection there.  So I’m parked now amongst some old rusty car parts and piles of broken furniture, but sure enough I’m connected.

It’s no longer rain out there, it’s solid sheets of water, and the wind is so strong now that gusts are rocking the Prius.  Good lord!  What am I going to find when I get back to camp?  Will my tent be in shreds blowing across the ocean?    Oh god, I’m getting scared now, what should I do?  This is the worst storm I’ve ever faced while camping.

….I sobbed for a while there, my head against the steering wheel.  The storm is now even worse, but somehow the crying helped.   I’ve got to get back to camp to see what’s what and figure out how to deal with whatever has happened there.  I’ll write you again soon and let you know how it all turns out.  I feel you three with me, always, your spirits surrounding me with love and encouragement.  No storm can touch that! Much love – Mom