For most of the last two weeks, I have been camping on Vancouver Island with my husband and two grown kids. There is something about camping that pulls me down into my body and out of my head. When I am camping, I slip into the Zen of living. The line between work and pleasure disappears; every task becomes a challenge, a puzzle requiring a creative solution, or a sensual pleasure. Each day involves a series of activities that fully engage me; cooking, washing dishes, setting up tarps, building a fire, taking a shower, watching wildlife, reading a book.
There is something satisfying about living simply, about requiring so few belongings, about using simple technologies that are within our control. The empty container becomes a hand washing bowl for the week. Ropes and tarps protect us from the rain. We focus on the basics of life; creating shelter, staying warm and dry, and preparing meals. It is grounding and satisfying. It is physically demanding and mentally relaxing.
When we are camping, we feel closer as a family. We hang out together; each doing his or her own thing but sharing the same space. My son sketches on a pad; my daughter writes in her journal; my husband plays with his camera; I scan the shoreline with my binoculars. Each of us assumes different responsibilities around the campsite according to our interests and abilities. I gravitate to the “kitchen”; enjoying the creativity required to prepare balanced meals with limited ingredients on one burner and a campfire. My son loves the challenge of building a fire after a heavy rain. My husband digs a trough to empty the puddle that has formed around the tent. My daughter re-arranges the tarp to protect the fire and wood. We are all warmed by the quiet companionship and co-dependence.
Our days are shaped by the environment in which we live. The rain pushes us under our tarp; the sun pulls us out on to the shoreline. We explore the tidal pools at low tide and move up into our campsites at high tide.
The creatures that call this place home provide the highlights of our days. We watch for whales and sea lions on the water. We are thrilled and humbled by the siting of two young bears that forage in the tidal pools along “our” shoreline. A pair of Bald Eagles pass overhead several times a day. Northwestern Crows, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Stellar Jays and Winter Wrens pass through our campsite. Oyster Catchers scour the shoreline at low tide. At dusk, a Swainson’s Thrush sings its plaintive song.
I am back at home now, readying myself for my first day back at work, trying to re-focus my mind. Recalling our holiday, I wonder how we can hold on to that feeling, the Zen of living, in the crush of modern life.