Camping Alone: A Story of Solitude

I'm doing something I haven't done since college: camping alone. And back then it was for RA training. We all got dropped off in the woods (okay it was really an old cattle pasture) for a night of solitude.

My wife's been encouraging me for a while to take some time by meals for retreats since I'm with the kids all the time and she gets to do several trips for her work. I'm bad at relinquishing my duty of parenthood, but part if being a good parent is self care. 

I've been wanting to go camping this fall but it hasn't worked out to do yet. So this  weekend my wife said why don't you go camping by yourself. And I finally listened to her. 

After lunch I loaded up my backpack with a few clothes, camping pillow, mat, sleeping bag, and tent. I gathered the camping bin to extract a few supplies from and some reading material. My wig had made me a hobo dinner packet for supper and I gathered some hard boiled eggs and fruit for breakfast (though the banana apparently got left at home) and some sunflower seeds for snacking on while hiking. 

It started sprinkling about a half hour before I reached the state forest where I planned to camp. It continued for almost four more hours. 

This is not what I had in mind. I had hoped for time to hike and sit around the campsite reading, writing, and talking with God. I was able to get the tent up before it started coming down harder, but as I sat in the car seeing the drops roll down the windshield I wondered if I should just head back home before paying for a night. 

I had looked at the forecast in the morning. That 30% chance of rain was feeling more like 30% of the day. But it wasn't too heavy and it said it would let up before night so I decided to stay and go for a hike. As long as it wasn't too heavy of a rain I should be able to stay relatively dry under the forest canopy. 

I hiked for about 3 hours. I never encountered another person (though I did hear gunshots a few times). Even the wildlife was silent. I only heard birds twice. I never saw an animal--not even a squirrel. 

This was solitude. So why wasn't I hearing anything from God?  I wanted some spiritual direction, some healing, some psychological break through. I got nothing. 

I called a friend who I check in with weekly. I needed to talk. I got his voice mail. But as I left a message I realized that I was mostly struggling because my expectations weren't being met. 

Yes, the weather wasn't great but I was still getting time alone. And maybe God wasn't speaking in the way I wanted, but His creation was beautiful. I was getting some good exercise, taking some fun photographs, and breathing fresh air in deeply. God was present. 

I am sitting around the campfire now allowing myself this technological moment to type since it is too dark to read or write and my lantern didn't charge for some reason. 

Wolves or coyotes had been howling in the distance. I love the sound. But apparently I've read too many stories of Pa getting surrounded by wolves in the Little House on the Prairie books because I just got freaked out when I heard some breathing and rustling next to me. That's when I discovered that the lantern didn't charge. Once I got my phone unlocked and found my flashlight app I saw something black wandering back in the woods. Probably just a raccoon. Little bugger. 

That's one of the downsides to solitude: no one to talk you out of your irrational fears in the dark. Still, the sign about bears didn't help. At least the moon is out now. It's quite chilly though and the fire is slowly dying down so I think I'll head to my tent soon. 

Old Blue is the second tent I ever owned (the first being a pup tent my parents got with green stamps from the grocery store when I was going into 6th grade). She's just a cheap 2-person dome tent (really cheap) and she's been around since college I think, but she didn't leak any rain. She now has a set of large nails for tent pegs and most of the poles have at least one crack. Still, she held up. Thankfully my sleeping bag isn't cheap. My fingers are starting to get numb outside. Time to go bundle up and listen to the wolves howl at the moon.

It got cold overnight. I went for a hike around 8:30 or 9 and there were places with frost. As sunlight hit the trees, the leaves began dripping the melted frost.

I stayed fairly warm overnight. But the two problems of camping in the cold are: 1) having to get up and pee in the middle of the night (and with a good sleeping bag, generally you stay warmer by wearing fewer clothes, so I'm usually in my undies and a t-shirt) and 2) trying to get clothes on in the morning while staying within the confines of your sleeping bag--especially a mummy bag. Thankfully, I managed both.

I headed home wishing the time alone was more. Maybe I should have prayed more. Maybe I have more I need to confess to unblock something between me and God. Maybe I should have left my camera/phone in my pocket so I wasn't distracted by using technology and looking for pictures to take. These thoughts all crossed my mind. I had wanted to hear more from God.

I can come up with my excuses and find reasons to blame myself for the time of solitude not going the way I desired. I don't know why it wasn't the deeply spiritual experience I hoped it was. But I'm sure plenty of dessert fathers and mothers experienced that almost every day as they spent years in solitude. Sometimes it's just about obedience and taking the time away to listen.

I wonder if listening with my ears was less important than listening with my other senses. I did see God's awesomeness through the colors and sights of autumn. I breathed in the freshness of the woods, being reminded of God's provision for life each day. While reading around the campfire, I was reminded of God's crazy love for me. Maybe those things were all I needed to hear.


Denise G. said...

Glad the wolves didn't get you. They probably were afraid of all the bears.

K said...

I love your heart, Davey. That's all.