I wake to a humid heat and yellow glow. My tentmate breathes softly and I lie still listening. I roll up my pad and stuff my bag as she stirs. Flip the fly over to dry in the morning sun. Grab my nalgene and amble to the bear locker. In camp there is time to amble. Water is boiled. Coffee is made. A comfortable place to sit is found. The river is adored. A bird is followed. Thoughts are subdued. And I find myself aware of my own breathing. In. Out. In. Out. Mmmmmm.
Life on the trail is gloriously simple. Walk…rest. Set up camp…break camp. Make food…clean up. Balance is easy. There is great joy in having nothing to focus on but waiting for your noodles to be done. As well as in watching what kids deem to be worthy trail food. There is a wide assortment of ichiban and KD type dishes. Canned goods from the rookies. And the shockers. 16 carefully diced raw potatoes. An entire XL zippie of cooked ham. One kid brings nothing but 18 bagels and a jar of peanut butter. Another only hot dogs. Kinda. The cushy buns became one in his stuffed pack, so he eats wieners with a side of white carbs, ketchup and mustard applied like gravy. Wonderful.
The day on the trail transpires: blisters to ducttape, gorp to consume, and packs to adjust…pretty mellow. I hang back as sweep, picking up earth and holding it to my nose…then I inhale the scent of pine and cedar rubbed between fingers. All good…all good…all good.
Camp that night is so smooth. At this point the kids are in a rhythm and need little guidance. They even break into teams to gather wood for the evening’s entertainment. There’s something about a campfire that stirs up the primeval in all of us. Add the sound of moving water and the cover of the constellations and it becomes magical in a hurry. People addicted to electronic popcorn in suburbia find themselves entranced by this different attention grabber. Conversation ebbs and flows comfortably. Naturally. Stories are told. Laughter comes easy. A kid speaks up: “I guess this is what people did before TV.” General laughter and head nodding then silence. And I ponder what we’ve lost in our gradual slide into the digital age. Human beings sit around a fire. They look at it, but also at each other. No one asks anyone to be quiet. There’s no rewind button. A kid gets up and puts more wood on. We watch the flames touch, then envelope the addition. Soon the orange becomes stronger and more active. We watch silently. In the moment. Together.