The Woods Make Me Uncomfortable — And That’s the Point
Life takes on a neat simplicity, too. Time ceases to have any meaning. When it is dark, you go to bed, and when it is light again you get up, and everything in between is just in between. It’s quite wonderful, really.
You have no engagements, commitments, obligations, or duties; no special ambitions and only the smallest, least complicated of wants; you exist in a tranquil tedium, serenely beyond the reach of exasperation, “far removed from the seats of strife,” as the early explorer and botanist William Bartram put it. All that is required of you is a willingness to trudge.
There is no point in hurrying because you are not actually going anywhere. However far or long you plod, you are always in the same place: in the woods. It’s where you were yesterday, where you will be tomorrow. The woods is one boundless singularity. Every bend in the path presents a prospect indistinguishable from every other, every glimpse into the trees the same tangled mass. For all you know, your route could describe a very large, pointless circle. In a way, it would hardly matter.
- Bill Bryson, A Walk In the Woods
Last weekend, my girlfriend and I joined a few of our friends who were camping at a provincial park. We rented a car, ensured Barney (our dog) was safely buckled in the backseat, and fled the city as if our life depended on it (with Arcade Fire blaring through the speakers, of course).
When we arrived to the campsite, I was pleasantly surprised to see that our tent had been pitched for us. We unpacked our cooler, large bag of food, knapsacks, pillows, and other ancillary items that one needs when spending time in the woods. Here we go, I thought…
You see, I grew up in monotone suburbia. In my world, everyone drove to their destinations, shopped as a form of mindless entertainment, and mostly operated within the confines of the comfortable bubble, never seeking to engage with communities dissimilar to them. No one viewed analog activities as forms of pleasure, including camping. Why would you want to sleep on the ground and use communal outhouses when you have a perfectly clean and modern cottage (I didn’t have a cottage but nearly all my friends did)? What’s the point of sitting around a fire doing nothing when there’s jet skis, cable tv, and a complete kitchen to prepare meals?
No question, camping is an inconvenient activity — and that’s the point. It requires thoughtfulness before you even get into your car. You need to take inventory of all your food, all the essential items (i.e. tents, towels, sleeping bags, warm clothing), all the non-essential items (i.e. water toys and floaties, wireless bluetooth speakers, ingredients to make the perfect smores), and the just in-case items (tarp incase it rains, first aid kit incase of injury, feminine hygiene products incase it makes a convenient appearance).
Then after you pack all of that in your car, you have to drive for X amount of hours to the campsite, unload everything you packed, and set up your sleeping quarters and organize your stuff before you can finally settle in, crack open a beer, and start to unwind.
But there is a certain type of reward that comes from learning how to do the above. It’s embarrassing to admit but I used to think that I was someone who would just never be good at assembling and disassembling a tent. I also used to believe that cooking on a camp stove or over an open fire was something I’d never master without singeing my eyebrows off. But, like anything, these are skills that are easily acquired.
Although I am not a hardcore camper (i.e. portaging for a month in the middle of Algonquin Park), it’s wonderful to head into the woods and be capable of feeding and sheltering yourself for a certain amount of time. I am infinitely prouder of myself when it comes to developing these analog skills then mastering SEO or email funnels.
The purpose of spending time in nature, whether it’s in a provincial park or some remote area ten hours away from the nearest town, is to return to an enjoyable state of being: Focused on the present, embracing boredom, working with our hands, subjecting ourselves to the whims of nature’s temperament, and simply letting things be.
There is something freeing about the uncomfortableness of sleeping on the cold, hard ground, seeing dirt underneath your fingernails, and never quite feeling like you’re clean. It reminds us that underneath our High Modernism, we are still messy, imperfect, and still wrestling with how to survive. So now if you’ll excuse me, off to the woods I go.