spice

[This is a post-dated post because when I wrote it I was trying to say something and I can’t quite get it to say what I mean and I’m having one of my crazy times where I need for everything to be perfect or else not exist. And it still isn’t right, but if I don’t give up and post it anyway, I’ll get even further behind trying to revise it and everything will get backed up and then I’ll have a complete chronological trainwreck on my hands and won’t be able to post anything for two months and dammit, autocorrect, if I wanted “train wreck” as separate words, I bloody well would have typed it that way. Buzz off.]

Monday, August 4, 2014

I started this morning the same way I started last Monday: by putting away the camping gear. It made me so happy that I had to wonder why. After all, cleaning up after a camping trip is really just like housekeeping and housekeeping doesn’t improve my mood at all, let alone on a Monday.

But scrubbing out the mess kit is somehow much more pleasant than scrubbing ordinary dishes. When I’m folding up the tent, I smooth it all flat and make the sides neat and square as if it’s a little game, even though folding regular laundry seems to me one of the vilest impositions of adulthood and one to be gotten over with as fast as possible, square corners be damned. I clean out the refrigerator only under threat of houseguests, but I’ll gladly wipe down the cooler and stow the ice packs.

The difference, I think, is partly the illusion of accomplishment. Keeping the house even marginally clean requires endless repetition. I swept and vacuumed today, but the floors will be covered in cat hair again by Wednesday. I made the bed this morning but I’ll have to make it again tomorrow. And the next day, and the next, and so on with the dishes and the laundry and the bathroom sink. Whatever I do is never enough to stop the grunge from returning. But the camping gear? I use it and then I put it away and there it stays, sorted and tidy, ready for the next outing.

But the biggest difference is just that ordinary dirt is ordinary. It piles up during the days that don’t stand out. The crumbs that I wipe off the counter on any given Tuesday are indistinguishable from the crumbs of the Tuesday before or the Tuesday after. Or from a Thursday, for that matter. I’m not saying that ordinary life is bad, but it tends to blur.

Camping dirt suggests an escape from the blur. Every pine needle that I shake out of the quilt is the memento of a tiny adventure. Wiping the mud spatters off the rain fly reminds me of how nice it felt to fall asleep with raindrops pattering above my head. This morning I rinsed coffee dregs out of the thermos because yesterday I drank my coffee in a Ponderosa forest with Kaibab squirrels and Mountain Chickadees chattering from the branches.

It’s not fair, but camping clean-up chores have more obvious poetry than house clean-up chores. Of course, this only works as long as I have a house to escape from. If I had to live in the tent all the time, then it would be its own kind of blur.

But I don’t live in a tent; I live in a house. And once in a while, I want out.

The weekend before last was an impromptu expedition. We tried to stick it out here in the valley, despite a disgustingly hot weather forecast that followed a week of disgustingly hot weather. On Friday (high: 109) we went to dinner at a restaurant that has a nice patio, but the patio was closed on account of an impending thunderstorm, so instead we shivered in the air-conditioned indoors where the music was too loud and the tables were half empty and we speculated that all sensible people had left town. The next morning, on the way home from a very steamy farmer’s market, we decided to do the same. We threw the tent into the car with some blankets and a cooler full of snacks and headed for the Sierra Anchas, which make an excellent getaway on short notice because they are only a couple hours out of town but hardly anybody knows about them. So don’t tell.

Our favorite campsite was empty. I like to think it was waiting for us, but all the campsites on the whole road were empty.

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At 5,000 feet, the trees were green, the creek was burbling, and the air was cool enough that I got to wear jeans AND a sweater. And a rainjacket when a late-afternoon thunderstorm came rolling over the mountains. Once it passed, the air was even cooler and the robins and redstarts sang us lovely sunset songs and the bats whizzed overhead. Many hours later, after the frogs woke me up in the middle of the night, I sat looking at the sky for a while, watching the stars just because there were so many of them to watch. Down in the city, the sky is a blur, too.

But up in the Anchas, things come into focus.

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In the morning, another storm rumbled overhead and dripped rain down the back of my neck while I was scrambling eggs over the camp stove. Not a diversion I want every time I cook, but in context it was entirely fun.

After breakfast I waded up the creek for a while. Just because I could.

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A couple years ago, a rather spiritually inclined massage therapist told me that my soul craves water.
I’m not sure where she got that idea, but I can’t really say she’s wrong.

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Eventually I drug myself out of the water long enough for a hike through the greenest forest I’ve ever seen in Arizona.

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And out onto the mesa.

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And then back down to the cool creekside for a picnic.

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That was all so lovely and happiness-inducing that we planned another getaway with friends for this past weekend. As the weekend got closer, the weather forecast got worse and worse—sliding from 20% chance of rain to an 80% chance, and by the time we got to Flagstaff on Saturday morning, I was reading flash flood warnings on the NOAA website. But we were undeterred. Besides, we like rain.

We do not so much like flash floods, however, so we picked a campsite partway up the side of the San Francisco Peaks, deep in the trees and far from any creeks. Because what’s good for the soul isn’t always what’s good for survival. Everything worked out swimmingly. Or non-swimmingly, to be more accurate. The rain held off all afternoon and the half of us who wanted to go mountain biking zipped off along the Arizona Trail and the half of us who did not want to go mountain biking took the dogs for a walk through meadows of wildflowers and groves of aspen.

There are no pictures of this, but I promise that it was beautiful and leisurely and nothing at all like being cooped up in a hot house.

After dinner, a series of mellow showers sprinkled down, and we hung a lantern up under the canopy and played cards and drank bourbon until it was time to go to bed. At which time I snuggled underneath my old quilt, on top of those pine needles (and a sleeping pad). In the morning, of course, we had coffee with the chickadees. And then we hiked up Abineau Canyon in the rain. We had to stop a few times to add layers and by the end we were all soaked and shivering, but nobody complained.

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Being cold and wet is like living in a tent, I guess. Wouldn’t want to do it all the time, but it sure feels good once in a while.

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