the great outdoors, part 4

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There were so many reasons why I didn’t want to go.

A week of vault toilets (no flushing toilets or running water)

Paperwork.  And more paperwork.  Taxes, lists, reports.  They take over my desks and files, at work and home, overflowing and cramming my file cabinets.  I’m running out of summer hours to organize.  I haven’t even emptied the backpacks from the last day of school in June.

The ever busy schedule.  I have no time for this.  The eldest was supposed to pick up his packet, his books, take his ID card picture.  How much more of the outdoors do I really need?  I mean, seriously, we’ve gone camping each month since May.

Group dynamics.  Planning, coordinating  and executing tasks for a week of camping is a lot of work.  Even if it is family.

The drive.  Just the mileage, alone, warrants eight hours of our time.  That doesn’t include restroom and gas stops; nor dining.  It took us 10 1/2 hours to finally reach our destination.

It is so much easier to stay within my four walls. 

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We were in gold country in the Sierras; the 49er trail.  My father-in-law (FIL) used to take the hubs and his sister camping here when they were kids; smitten with gold fever.  That was over 30 years ago.  In 2009 the family decided to return to this place full of nostalgia.  The town of Downieville, 13 miles away, gives a glimpse of this region’s rich history.  My FIL has been successful, in years past, in finding nuggets of gold with his power dredge/sluicer; but power, anything, is no longer allowed on any river for ecological reasons.  So he does things the old fashioned way;  by hand.  Hours are spent in the river as he digs beneath the river bed, moving boulders with chains, in the spirit of finding the elusive gold.  This is his past time.  This is why we are here.

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Without the distractions of: to-do lists, paperwork, technology and schedule constraints I had a lot of time on my hands.  To sit quietly.  To read.  To observe.

Because I am an only child I am always interested in how others interact with one another, socialization. My powers of observation have served me well throughout the years.  If only I could live the phrase, water off a duck’s back.  This was the phrase the hubs threw at me when my feathers were getting ruffled.

I own the book Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman which describes the ways girls negotiate the middle school through high school years.  It is a constant; the clucking and pecking order amongst females.  I discovered this as a songleader in high school as the girls within my squad jockeyed for center attention; belittling one another for popularity.  It is within these years that I learned negotiation.  I was neither the queen bee; nor the wanna be.  I was the negotiator.   Ms. Wiseman also wrote a book entitled, Queen Bee Moms and Kingpin Dads.  I think I will re-read it before the school year begins.  Girls can be catty.  But it always amazes me when it carries over into adulthood: family, PTA, bookclub.  It’s a fact of life.  Most times I can ride these things out.  One of my flaws, though, is my tongue.  Never will I lie.  I will always, to a fault, speak the truth; harsh as it may be.  My sense of self-righteousness tends to get me in trouble.

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And so I stuck to my Kindle with a drink-in-hand, most days, before 9 AM.  And I smiled and complimented.  Amongst the beauty of the trees and river ever-flowing, making stones smooth, I prayed to God that I would keep my mouth shut.   As the week waned on I was validated.  My observation skills were not skewed.  I am grateful for this gift.  Thank you Lord. 

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I finally finished Cooked by Michael Pollan.  I have only been reading it since its release in April.  I sat absolutely still, watching my sons grow before me.  We played cards late into the night, roasted marshmallows and shared the stories of our childhood memories.  It is a treat to be part of a family that chose to camp together.  But most important, to me, was in how they all chose to deal with one another’s idiosyncrasies.  It is in watching their behaviors and interactions, with each other, which shape the path I will choose for myself and my nuclear family.  Will I give someone the silent treatment?  Throw a tantrum?  Complain and nitpick?  Speak loudest so everyone can hear my contribution?

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In my life I choose the easier path of staying within my four walls.  But I am slowly gaining the confidence, the wisdom, to negotiate through these waters; feathers unruffled.  I had never really known the phrase water off a duck’s back; until now.  As they swam alongside us; the dogs barking to reach them, I watched them effortlessly glide through the rough, white water, riding over the jutting rocks and boulders.  I want to master this trait; of brushing all negative things aside and to bite my tongue.  To walk through this life without having to correct or critique another to make myself a bigger person.  I know it is innate in human nature.  But I want this type of elegance and grace.  I am no swan.  I only yearn to be more “duck-like” and learn to float on the surface or skip like a rock.

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I watched from afar as my boys maneuvered through the rapids; the duck analogy running though my head.  The youngest, sticks and bones, flew over the choppy white; gliding to smoother waters.  The hubs, the one with the most weight, crashed and burned, legs akimbo and tumbling along the rocks.   To carry that metaphor further; the more one burden’s oneself with the stones cast by others; the more you sink to the bottom.  I need to make myself lighter so I can more easily ride through the obstacles in my life.

During these seven days of camping I learned a lot about myself and the people around me.  Without the ability to close doors within four walls (only a tent zipper and vinyl separated us) human nature was revealed; mine included.  The memories forged are not ones through the lens of my camera.  It is the moments where I was actively, in them, rafting 2-3 miles down a river and rapids on cheap, colorful rafts from Walmart; both scary and exhilarating. Our family of five floated without cares in the world.  And I was humbled by the sheer trust of our dog; Snuggles, as he floated on my inner tube downstream.  Flipping over he didn’t swim for cover.  He treaded nearby as I righted myself out of the rapids; sputtering as I clambored for the nearest boulder, reaching for his shivering form.  I wish I could be so trusting.

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I am, normally, a morning person but whilst outdoors I tarried by the warm embers as the hubs and I read by the fire.  We gazed at the multitude of stars dotting the sky; the milky way clear with the half-moon rising above the alpines. The stillness of the dark created a cocoon as the noises of crickets, bats and owls echoed in our campground.  Our eldest would lean his head into his father’s shoulder; re-reading the Hunger Games with him.  This was my favorite time.

Am I relieved that I’ve reached the final installation of the great outdoors?  Yes.  Our family has been fortunate to experience many great destination vacations with lots of amenities.  But it is this one week, of going to a remote campground, in the middle of gold country with: no running water, paperwork, schedules/itineraries, with family, that has allowed me the true respite I needed.  Reflection.  Beauty.  Quality time.

To negotiate outside of my four walls. 

Affirmation that my observations are true. 

Like water off a duck’s back.

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