I usually think of camping as this thing that I do when I go somewhere else. Glacier National Park: camping. The Bad Lands: camping. The remote foothills of the Andes Mountains: camping. As a result, when I don't travel–when I don't go somewhere far away–I don't go camping. But that means I don't get to go camping that often anymore. And I miss it. I miss how simple it is.
This year, to celebrate my birthday, Sarah planned a camping trip pretty much right outside our back door. Four miles from our house to be exact, at a little lake in the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest. At first it felt a little silly packing up all our things to go just down the road, but once we pulled off the paved road and claimed the little site along the lake shore where we planned to stay, the rest of the world fell away. And we were camping.
The thing I like about camping is moving slow. Nothing is a rush. You rest when you're tired, you eat when you're hungry. You walk, you paddle. You stare quietly into the glowing coals of a dying fire that's just barely holding the darkness at bay. You wonder at the myriad of stars. And all of it, every little part, ties us back to our past. Not our little individual past, but the vast expanse of past that we all share. Our past.
Over the last 100 years, harnessing and honing the power of the internal combustion engine, we have traveled at an ever increasing rate, eventually breaking the sound barrier in our pursuit of speed. But for roughly 195,000 years preceding that human beings traveled at something like 3 miles per hour pretty much all the time.
Three miles per hour. Think about that. We walked, 3 miles per hour. We paddled, 3 miles per hour. Riding horses entered into common usage something like 4000 years ago in certain parts of the world (much later in others) and even then, that only increased our pace to roughly 5 miles per hour for any significant distance. We moved slow. And anywhere that we traveled we felt the earth under our feet and the movement of the water that carried us. We actually touched every place that we went. Not figuratively, but literally touched it; skin to earth. And at that modest pace we stepped out of Eastern Africa and walked around the world. That's our story as the people of Earth.
We walked north into Asia, turned in opposite directions, and at 3 miles per hour, over the wandering course of generations, we circumnavigated the globe. And when we finally met on the other side of the world, we couldn't recognize each other anymore. So, we fought– we still fight– not remembering that we all started this walk together. How bizarre.
But camping, in its own simple way, brings us back to the people we were at the beginning. Reminds us that we all walked here together; that we all sat at this fire and stared at these coals, deciding which way we should walk tomorrow. I like that. Thanks, Sarah, for reminding me.