Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I've Gone Soft

It's been said that life is what happens when you're making other plans, but I think that statement rings more true with a few tweaks: life is what happens only when you plan it.

When I was a touring sketch comic, life was interesting by default. A little too interesting, which is one of the many reasons I'm no longer on the road. Now most of my days are spent in front of the friendly little robot on which I'm currently typing (R.W. Apple called his "the piano"), and if I don't force myself to get up, get out and go stumbling around the woods just for kicks or for wild edibles, it doesn't happen.

Last Friday I was reflecting on how long it had been since I'd slept outside, and so Elise and I hastily factored in a camping excursion for that night. What I wanted was to scale a mountain with everything we needed on our backs, but that wasn't going to happen with only a few hours' notice, so we settled for car camping at a nearby state park. Of course campfire cooking would be part of the allure.

We arrived at dusk and barely had time to set up the tent and find firewood, so it was a good thing we didn't plan anything elaborate for dinner, else we wouldn't have eaten for hours. Instead we had burritos I bought that afternoon. We nestled them in the fire pit to warm up, protected by their aluminum second skins.

Breakfast the next day consisted of foraged tea -- hemlock, not to be confused with Plato's last beverage -- bacon cooked over the fire and eggs cooked in the bacon fat. Yeah, we went there.

Even though we had a cell phone and a car and were parked just off of a paved road that led back to civilization, the trip felt rough. It was cold, the ground was hard, and the dog kept waking up and shifting around throughout the night, and in a tent as small as ours it was impossible to not notice.

Also impossible to not notice was the howling wind and the howling coyote that got us up in the middle up of the night and made us wonder about whether the tent was a strong enough psychological barrier against predators, since it certainly wasn't much of a physical one.

In the morning I realized I'd been on edge since we got there, either because I was cold, busy coaxing flames out of damp wood, or just unused to unfamiliar surroundings. As the title of the post says, I've gone soft.

That's when I decided I had to turn things around. I took a swig of the bright, warm hemlock tea, straining the leaves out with my teeth, took off all of my clothes and jumped into the pond.

The air temp was in the 30's, and since there wasn't any ice on it I'm guessing the pond was in the 40's. I remember one instant of opening my eyes under the frigid, murky water, and it seemed that if I lingered any longer my head would implode from cold. I dried off with my pajama pants and sat on a piece of cardboard by the fire, watching my feet steam. Until then, I didn't know that feet could steam, and I wouldn't have learned that from sitting in the apartment watching Netflix.

As an 18th century Hassidic mystic once said, "Just as the hand, held before the eye, can hide the tallest mountain, so the routine of everyday life can keep us from seeing the vast radiance of and the secret wonders that fill the world. "

Just as a computer screen can hide from view the nearest state park, so can jumping into a freezing pond remind you why it's important to plan the good stuff.

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