"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn." -John Muir
Today, it is my goal to convince you to go camping. Of course, if John Muir hasn’t succeeded in the three sentences above I’m not sure what more I can do. Alas, I’ll try…
Last weekend my husband and I set out on a grand adventure—the first camping trip of our with-children life. We waited to go camping until our kids could sleep through the night, manage their bladders and capably express themselves should they need to say, for instance, “A long black snake just bit me.” Or as London actually said last Friday, staring at a spider crawling on her hand, “Is this spider poisonous?”
Finally certain our girls were ready for the challenging delight of camping, we packed them into the truck alongside our as-yet-unopened tent, some borrowed sleeping bags, and a box of vegetables (not sure most people take quite so many vegetables camping). When we arrived at our campsite, I felt like a kid again; Damp leaves and lake water smelled like freedom.
When I was a girl my family camped at Juniper Springs in Ocala, Florida. Sometimes we’d camp three out of four weekends in the spring. Because we knew the campgrounds and because my parents were generous (and quiet-starved) my brother and I were given free reign. We rode our bikes for miles. We hiked the trails. We “discovered” small springs. We caught lizards. I remember so clearly riding my bike on a narrow trail, the jar of crossing thick tree roots, the quick, constant crunch of rocks and mulch under my tires. I remember feeling free—wild and strong.
I felt free this past weekend. My girls did, too. You could see it in their twinkling eyes as they danced on the rocks, twilight painting their lean little bodies—two fairies, flying down flower flanked trails… We made smores and sang songs around our campfire and told scary stories.
But this is not the time for reminiscing. I promised I’d convince you to go camping, and I suppose you will need arguments for that. Maybe you’d be fine with stories, but I have points, too; so hear them:
1. You should camp because nature is true.
If truth is “what is,” and that’s as good a definition of truth as I’ve found, nature is truth. Trees are true. Lakes are true. Fire ants, true. When you camp, you leave behind the lying billboards and the lying television and the lying tabloids. You leave behind the lie that work is most important and the lie that a perfectly clean house makes you a better person and the lie that your flat iron is your savior. When you camp, you step out of a man-made world of brick and plastic, fabricated steel, wi-fi and cable and into a God-made world of wood, water, and air.
This week I pushed off a rock with my bare, unpainted toes and propelled myself into the freezing cold lake. My fingertips broke the liquid plane and I plunged like a missile until I was immersed, wrapped in the so-cold water. I felt that moment with every single nerve ending in my body. Every goose bump on my skin attested to it: This is true.
The Apostle Paul said to the Phillipians, “Brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” When I’m camping, I can’t help it. I’m surrounded by such things.
2. You should camp because camp-life is simpler.
I didn’t call my car insurance company or the electric company or Texas Tollways during my camping trip. In fact, I kept the phone in the car. I didn’t respond to emails or try to figure out what was wrong with the air conditioning or debate whether or not to cut my bangs in the mirror. Because I didn’t have a computer or air conditioning or a mirror. Every time I go camping I’m reminded that I prefer a simpler life. And I’m reminded that my life doesn’t have to be as complicated as I’ve made it.
When we camp, my husband and I camp simply: One tent, a lantern. We cook over the fire. It’s not the only way to camp, but I like it because it reminds me how little I actually need. Turns out I don’t need my own bathroom or fitted sheets or bookshelves or matching dishes. More than that, it clears away the clutter and helps me see. With fewer distractions calling out for my attention, I can be still and listen for the still, small voice of God.
Paul says in I Thessalonians, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands.” Washing one skillet and a wooden cutting board under a dripping faucet, looking out over a sun-kissed lake, I want a quiet life and this simple work; I find space in it, silence, room to find and meditate on the presence of God.
Looking back at my two points, I’d say camping’s selling feature is that it offers an unobstructed view of God. Simplicity dispels the obstructions, and nature provides the views.
On the way to Inks Lake (where we went camped), the girls asked Justin to play camping songs. You’d be surprised how few songs there are about camping. We found a few though; this was one of them. I love the line, ”Every day I’m camping.”
No matter how much I might like to, I can’t spend the rest of my life beside a tent on Inks Lake. I can strive for more truth and more simplicity. I can tear down distractions, turn off the noise, and look around. That’s a sort of sustainable, everyday camping.
I should also, of course, literally camp. I should drive away from my house and my job and my instagram account and my creeping-too-high grass and sit silent surrounded by beauty.
As John Muir writes, “Break clear away, once in awhile, climb a mountain, spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
I can’t help but think of Jesus at the Jordan, washed in a wild river by a wild man in the wilderness. And of me diving into Inks Lake, immersed.