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ordinary magic

August 13, 2012

There’s this funny mathematical equation that accompanies parenting, whereby the ordinary things you used to do for fun before having kids (X), take on this ridiculous euphoria (Y), because of the infrequency of which you can now do them (Z).

Before kids: X (backpacking) x Z (frequency: 8 x/year) = 10 (on a scale of 1-10)

After kids: X (backpacking) x (frequency: once in 8 years) = 11 (on a scale of 1-10)

Which is to say, shouldering a heavy pack for a total of 8 miles, sleeping on a wafer of a sleeping pad with my stiff, scrunched up rain parka as a pillow, and plucking small invertebrates from my drinking water for 2 days was utter euphoria.

It took a few hours to stop hearing the phantom first notes of my cell phone ring or to give up trying to figure out what time it was. And when I thought about the kids, it was in this vague whatever they’re doing, I’m sure they’re fine sort of a way that is the exclamation point of having a 5 and 7 year old and a stellar husband.

And really, the trip was simple and ordinary. Here is what happened while we waited (and waited) for water to boil for morning oatmeal: a hummingbird whizzed through camp, my legs got hot, Tara wrote in her journal, we heard the train whistle down in the Animas Valley (stopping at the trailhead for Chicago basin), I put 8 more sticks on the fire, the sunlight skipped across our campsite,  my tummy grumbled, I checked the water 3 times, and I didn’t, even once, wonder what I’m doing with my life (which is something I’m prone to doing).

Maybe because out there life is distilled to the simple work of  basic needs (which may or may not include 30 peanut m’n’m’s), in the absence of weird and modern time wasters (like Googling “digging a root cellar” to see if my blog shows up), I somehow feel more human, or maybe like my best human self, which is to say, simple and ordinary.

Something about living—even if just for a weekend—where every living thing has everything it needs, rewires my neural circuitry and tamps down my modern anxieties. My mind becomes calm; my heart satisfied.

Also, the flavors of happiness begin to look different, less about accomplishments and acquisitions, and more like:

* Traversing the treeless meadow in the absence of lightning.

* Bacon and avocado on a rice cake.

* Finding the perfect grouping of trees to set up my tarp.

* Abandoning shelter to sleep by the fire, under the stars.

* A raft of butter melting in our reconstituted potato soup.

* Spying 5 different kinds of gentians (for the plant nerds: bottle gentian, fringed gentian, little gentian, arctic gentian, star gentian).

* After dinner chores: washing my bowl.

* Spotting a pika running across the talus with its mouth clamped on a bundle of grasses.

* Gentle rain—no lightning—washing us as we walked out, back to civilization.

Unbeknown to us, we picked the weekend of the peak of the Perseid Meteor shower to camp. The night was clear and we watched meteors streak across the sky, long tails skywriting across the black night.

Like ordinary magic.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. August 14, 2012 8:53 am

    I am so glad for you in my heart. I am at my best also, when my life is distilled down to what I need rather than want, and what I can carry on my back.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    August 14, 2012 9:10 am

    Dear Rachel,
    Thanks for taking me out camping with you right here at my computer~ the light drizzle
    I felt will soon melt off in the Santa Barbara summer heat.

    Ah, I just love you. My greetings to all,

    Grandma Sharon (once a grandma, always a grandma)

  3. Cynthia permalink
    August 14, 2012 9:17 am

    Every living thing has everything it needs.” Well put, my friend!
    Welcome home and I hope to see you soon

  4. Christine permalink
    August 14, 2012 9:17 am

    I am catching up with your blog because life has not been ordinary. Too busy. Reading this made me miss backpacking the Adirondacks. Been a few years. It is time for me to have an ordinary weekend. Thanks! :)

  5. Sue permalink
    August 14, 2012 9:18 am

    You just made me want to go backpacking again!

  6. Kathy permalink
    August 14, 2012 9:57 am

    Nothing but tears and tangled thoughts in response to your blog. My heart aches so for this distillation. Who am I? Who was I? I surely have no clue. I would sell my soul for time as you have experienced, and that must mean I am pretty desperate. Thank you so for sharing this scene. Oh, to have a satisfied heart…

  7. August 14, 2012 10:57 am

    “ordinary and simple” I love that! I’m so glad you got away to do something that is so dear to your heart. it’s time like these that help get us focused on the real meaning of life….

  8. August 14, 2012 2:21 pm

    Lovely and perfect!! Thanks so much for filling my heart.

  9. Diane Petersen permalink
    August 14, 2012 4:39 pm

    Wowzer. Just beautiful…

  10. Jenny Miller permalink
    August 14, 2012 8:21 pm

    Yes, magic! Thanks for sharing with us, Rachel.

  11. Karin permalink
    August 14, 2012 9:02 pm

    Loved it. Ordinary magic or extraordinary truths!

  12. Sarah permalink
    August 14, 2012 9:43 pm

    Wow. That was awesome. Thanks.

  13. August 15, 2012 7:32 am

    Oh. I get it. Down to the peanut M&M’s. Yes.

  14. August 15, 2012 4:24 pm

    this is just dreamy.

  15. August 17, 2012 8:58 am

    Yay! I’m so happy for you that you got this time away! I hope it stays with you for a long while.

  16. August 17, 2012 5:59 pm

    This sounds so unbelievably wonderful.

  17. August 18, 2012 7:22 am

    oh, it’s been a while…but i still remember how incredible a hard pilot cracker tastes with a sliver of nibbled cheese and a spread of precious jam, in the presence of gentians and a glacier…

  18. August 20, 2012 7:02 pm

    Well now, my last comment (on your previous post) is making less sense now. I still do hope that you had a lovely weekend. But evidently your trip was two weekends ago? What day is today? (And yet, somehow I’m still making my deadlines these days. Hm.)

    I love the sunflowers! And any time when just washing your bowl is pleasure is indeed a good time!

  19. Anonymous permalink
    August 22, 2012 10:54 pm

    Hi Rachel, I love this. Amen to everything you said. Makes me want to jot down some of my favorites from the trip: climbing over the saddle and being shocked by the Animas Valley and all the mountains that suddenly came into view, having my wildflower teacher all to myself with nowhere for her to hide (!), floating on my back in Crater Lake while getting pelted by a light rain shower, Rachel’s response to finding some rare flower (“arctic” something or other), the meteor shower, no lightening, feeling comfortable in my skin being a few miles by foot from a car and many more miles from civilization, having three kids (including a nursing baby) and making time for myself anyway in the backcountry, ample time by the campfire and not having to keep three kids from burning themselves in it, and perhaps most splendidly – being able to backpack 8 miles when a year and a half ago I had to use a walker just to get around my living room and I couldn’t even bear the weight of my seven pound newborn back then!

  20. September 6, 2012 4:03 pm

    deep sigh. catching up…. this is gorgeous, so glad you got some time!

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