Sunday, August 17, 2008

Traveling Light

We're back from a week of camping which means, as my friend Dave puts it, that we will now be doing laundry "for the rest of our natural lives." Whenever I tell people at work that I spent my precious time away from work going camping with my four children, they have tended to be incredulous or say things like: "Wow. You're brave." K. and I get the "wow-you're-brave" response to a lot of things--having four kids by our early 30s might have something to do with it--and it gets tiring when you realize that what the response really means is "I sort of admire you but not really because a normal person would not have made the choice you made."

When people have asked why we go camping, my stock response is to admit that while I enjoy camping as much as the next boy scout, my wife is the driving force behind these trips, and I think that's a pretty accurate statement. My inner aesthete likes untamed nature, but it also likes showers and sofas and carpet and all kinds of things that you can't get in the wild, so while I'm amenable to camping, I'm less likely to suggest it on my own. K. wants our kids to form the kinds of good memories and associations that she formed while camping with her own family, but has also realized that, as a child, she was spared most of the extra costs of camping that naturally fall on parents. I have no great love for the logistics of packing, unpacking, and endless cleaning, but I guess a big part of being the grown-up is accepting that you are the one who needs to suck it up and do unpleasant things for the good of others. Then you get to watch your children play in the sand:
Sherando Lake in the George Washington National Forest has a shallow beachfront full of imported sand, and I think it's safe to say that Ian and Sage could have spent the whole trip there, in and out of the water. Ian continues to be fearless when it comes to water, and Sage with her ever-present floaties will go just about anywhere he will. Lucy was often the odd one out, unfortunately, but campaigned tirelessly until she was adopted into one play group or another. Nora, still a novice wader, needed a little more convincing:
There was an island not too far off the shore, still shallow enough for a walk although I preferred to swim.
Our first day at the camp a friendly old man named Henry Alan came over and offered us his extra firewood and showed Sage the proper way to roast a hotdog. I was reminded how good it is to be back in the South where first reactions are often less guarded and hospitality seems to come more naturally. Henry, his wife and grandson were traveling from North Carolina to a VA hospital in Richmond where they hoped to save Henry's arm from infection and possible amputation. I hope they did.
Mid-way through the camping week we took the kids on their first real hike up a mountain. We wisely chose to take this picture early in the hike, when spirits were high and countenances were still bright.
This is* how we completed our ascent to the craggy peak of Humpback Rocks.

Even the kids agreed that the view from the top was worth the climb. We had a fine picnic and soaked up the countryside.

A thunderstorm dumped on us all night, but the next day everyone pulled together and scrounged up enough dry wood to roast a delicious foil dinner.
Taking a baby camping is an exercise in futility, because there is absolutely no place you can leave them where they will not make an unholy mess of themselves. In one of her rare clean moments, Nora got religion.
For several years now, my homing instinct has pointed back to Virginia and the Blue Ridge Mountains, but I think this trip may mark the the turning point in my geographic re-orientation. Coming back to Virginia used to feel like coming home, but this time I felt more out of place, like someone walking into their childhood home only to find that someone else is living there. Maybe it's true that we have no home but the present, and can revisit our past only as strangers. In general I think that it's better to be pulled towards the future than mired in the past, but for whatever reason I've found that lesson increasingly bittersweet. What is it about this world that makes me so restless even while I long to be at rest?

*definitely not