This past weekend, I went on a camping excursion.
I live in New England. There is snow on the ground. Lots of snow. And ice. The air temperature is frigid.
And yet, I signed up to sleep overnight at a Girl Scout facility so I would be qualified to lead a group of girls on an overnight camping trip. Yes, there were no Girl Scouts involved. And yes, I voluntarily chose this wintry weekend.
I attended with the leader of our troop. She was planning on going already, and I agreed that this session would be best since we’d be in a lodge for actual sleeping, rather than the platform tents used during warmer months.
What we failed to take into account was that in order to learn the things needed to go camping outside, we’d actually have to go outside to do them – regardless of the snow banks and bitter cold. We would not, alas, be sleeping in the heated bunk room all weekend.
We hiked, we sawed wood for the fire, we cooked breakfast on inverted tin cans.
By the time bedtime Saturday night rolled around, I felt like a caterpillar about to burst out of its cocoon. I couldn’t wait to peel off the eight waistbands of the many layers pushing into my middle. My feet sighed with relief as I wiggled my naked toes in the bottom of my sleeping bag.
Either the cold coddled my brain or I was getting used to this ‘roughing it’, because I actually lamented when the leader told us it was too cold to go outside to whittle cooking sticks. I wanted to set bearings with my compass on tree limbs burdened with snow. And my insulated snow pants precluded the need for the heater in the car on my way home.
I dove into the wood pile with gusto when I arrived home. I trudged through the snow without hesitation. No snow drift too high or approaching storm would stop me from collecting wood; I was insulated to within a half inch of movement.
I unpacked my vagabond stove and coiled cooking sticks with ambivalence – thanking God I didn’t have to use them to make dinner that night and wishing I could. I remembered jokes I’d shared with the eight other women I’d camped with, but let them roll no farther than the tip of my tongue because ‘you had to be there’. I snapped at my children when they asked for help or needed to be told to do something after running on the smoothly oiled machines of patrols and kaper charts all weekend.
The irony of choosing to rough it in our privileged society did not elude me – when there are societies who have no choice but to use such survival methods to last the day and we complain of the inconvenience of doing them for fun. Why wouldn’t we stay home with our running water and electric ovens; why scorn the luxuries of modern society?
Because running a dishwasher doesn’t make you feel like a superhero. Popping a casserole in the oven doesn’t make you feel like a survivalist. Removing the convenience and accessible ease of everyday tasks helps us realize not only how lucky we have it, but also our own resourcefulness, resilience, and ingenuity. We realize strengths and abilities we never knew we had. We aren’t so afraid of losing power or running water anymore. We have options. We are not completely reliant upon services and systems provided by other people.
That is not to say, however, that we don’t need other people. The success of our weekend lay in the expertise and assistance of our leaders; the teamwork and willingness of our compatriots. Work is lighter and more productive when coordinated and collaborative.
By the end of the weekend, I felt like a cross between MacGyver and Grizzly Adams. I could fashion a stove with a pair of tin snips. I could close a jackknife without slicing off three fingers. And I could almost tie a bowline knot.
Granted, taking twelve girls on such an excursion might produce an entirely different set of results. But that’s a risk worth taking because camp provides so many lessons.