It is a blessing and a curse that my parents took us camping when we were little. On the one hand, we got to play in nature--keep ourselves occupied with creeks and rocks and trees and imagination, we got to see things way bigger than ourselves. We also experienced a huge range of natures, from massive redwoods and epic mountains to Death Valley to the likes of what I think must have been Mount Mitchell, the tallest mountain east of the Rockies (I believe), which we were disappointed to discover that you drive most of the way up, only to hike about a thousand feet on a paved road to the summit at the end.
All in all, it was rad of our parents to help us see how spectacularly vast this country is, and how beautiful the untamed parts.
The downside, I'm discovering, is that now there's always the part of me that's unsatisfied with normal, conventional, job-and-house living. Having slept outside, backpacked, camped, run around barefoot, swum in frigid, crystal-clear lakes, it's very difficult to settle down to the concrete jungle of city living, even relatively small city living. Of course, one of the reasons I love Portland so much is that there is green space practically everywhere--seriously, it's hard to turn around without seeing another park--but it's still city, full of people, full of buildings, full of... paved. It's enough to drive me crazy after a while--and most of you are very familiar with how I keep myself sane: periodic epic rides, or trips to Tahoe, or excursions to the coast, or trail runs in the Gorge, or solo bike camps... Every once in a while, I need to get away to remember. And when I'm out, I always wonder why I'm not living like that all the time, like Alex perhaps, a van and a plan and going anywhere I want, free to sleep under the stars and wake up with the birds, hike the forests in any direction and not run into another person or obligation or reminder that the world as people experience it is mostly timelines and deadlines and responsibility.
That being said, I've never really lived the mountain woman existence, away from civilization for extended, indefinite amounts of time. My living in nature has been confined to a few weeks at most, always with an expiration date that tells me when friends and family will once again be in reach. So this weekend, when James and I stayed in our bitty tent at a friend's parents' 2000-acre, lakefront, beautifully wooded, far-away-from-everything ranch, though I was incredibly (let's say it again: incredibly) jealous of their situation, I wondered if I could live like that. The nearest big store was a wal-mart, about an hour away (and ugh, a wal-mart), and the possibilities of going to concerts or lectures or cultural events of any kind are slim to none. I also imagine that it's difficult to get together with friends at a moment's notice. But how soul-nurturing it was to wake up and have a lake right there, or woods and hills and deer and cougars and eagles, all that nature, right there, nary a paved road in sight.
Bill McKibben writes that nature breeds a sense of "enoughness," that you never think oh, this view certainly is lovely but it certainly could do with a few more flowers, or man, this river could use a few more rocks, or I would certainly enjoy three mountains instead of two over there. And I think it's that sense of sufficiency that makes me so happy in nature. There's no need for more, except maybe in the sense that I want more of nature itself, and less city. But there isn't the sense of material more that we have here, like I need more clothing or more bike or more house and of course more money to pay for it all. So even though I wonder if I could do it sustainably (or if I'd end up missing all the stimulation of having people around me after all), it is incredibly tempting, very often, to pack up everything and become a hermit. Especially when pretending to be one every so often makes me so happy.
So even though it sort of opens the periodic midlife-crisis-type floodgates, so to speak, I'm thankful to my parents for the formative camping experiences. I don't really know what to do with it best--if the answer is simply to keep living as I have been, taking excursions every so often but always coming back to a conventional city life, or if it's to give it all up and find some land somewhere, or if it's to give it up, not find some land somewhere, but bum around and be a transient. I don't really know what to do with it, but I'm glad to know it's out there, anyway, the tempting whisper of nature and sky and wide-open spaces.