There’s this funny mathematical equation that accompanies parenting, whereby the ordinary things you used to do for fun before having kids (X), take on this ridiculous euphoria (Y), because of the infrequency of which you can now do them (Z).
Before kids: X (backpacking) x Z (frequency: 8 x/year) = 10 (on a scale of 1-10)
After kids: X (backpacking) x (frequency: once in 8 years) = 11 (on a scale of 1-10)
Which is to say, shouldering a heavy pack for a total of 8 miles, sleeping on a wafer of a sleeping pad with my stiff, scrunched up rain parka as a pillow, and plucking small invertebrates from my drinking water for 2 days was utter euphoria.
It took a few hours to stop hearing the phantom first notes of my cell phone ring or to give up trying to figure out what time it was. And when I thought about the kids, it was in this vague whatever they’re doing, I’m sure they’re fine sort of a way that is the exclamation point of having a 5 and 7 year old and a stellar husband.
And really, the trip was simple and ordinary. Here is what happened while we waited (and waited) for water to boil for morning oatmeal: a hummingbird whizzed through camp, my legs got hot, Tara wrote in her journal, we heard the train whistle down in the Animas Valley (stopping at the trailhead for Chicago basin), I put 8 more sticks on the fire, the sunlight skipped across our campsite, my tummy grumbled, I checked the water 3 times, and I didn’t, even once, wonder what I’m doing with my life (which is something I’m prone to doing).
Maybe because out there life is distilled to the simple work of basic needs (which may or may not include 30 peanut m’n'm’s), in the absence of weird and modern time wasters (like Googling “digging a root cellar” to see if my blog shows up), I somehow feel more human, or maybe like my best human self, which is to say, simple and ordinary.
Something about living—even if just for a weekend—where every living thing has everything it needs, rewires my neural circuitry and tamps down my modern anxieties. My mind becomes calm; my heart satisfied.
Also, the flavors of happiness begin to look different, less about accomplishments and acquisitions, and more like:
* Traversing the treeless meadow in the absence of lightning.
* Bacon and avocado on a rice cake.
* Finding the perfect grouping of trees to set up my tarp.
* Abandoning shelter to sleep by the fire, under the stars.
* A raft of butter melting in our reconstituted potato soup.
* Spying 5 different kinds of gentians (for the plant nerds: bottle gentian, fringed gentian, little gentian, arctic gentian, star gentian).
* After dinner chores: washing my bowl.
* Spotting a pika running across the talus with its mouth clamped on a bundle of grasses.
* Gentle rain—no lightning—washing us as we walked out, back to civilization.
Unbeknown to us, we picked the weekend of the peak of the Perseid Meteor shower to camp. The night was clear and we watched meteors streak across the sky, long tails skywriting across the black night.
Like ordinary magic.