A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do.
In the photo above I am happy and smiling. It had rained hard the previous day, and my Camelback had leaked and completely soaked my sleeping bag at the bottom of my pack. The rain had continued into the night, and I had slept wet and cold. Still I found something to smile about the next morning. Of course I did. I was sitting in a beautiful place with a book on my lap, my precious teacup by my side. What could be better?
In last week’s post I made reference to a book store in Moab, Utah that always draws me in when I am there, Back of Beyond. I do not know why it so appeals to me, perhaps because it has a wide selection of books about the southwest as well as many of my favorite authors: Edward Abbey, Ellen Meloy, Craig Childs. And when I last was in that store a few weeks ago I was happy when they lovingly placed my books in a paper bag on which were the words: Sleep, Eat, Read.
Ah yes, rules for living, my rules for living, and there they were in print. I would add just one more: Walk.
There you have the perfect day. It seems simple enough. Why then does it so often elude me? Yes, I make time for each of these activities almost every day. My home in Washington’s Okanogan Highlands is only a short distance from the Ferry County Rail Trail, where I walk my dog twice a day along the shore of Curlew Lake. At least once a week I go on a longer hike in the mountains near my home. And in the evening I typically sit on my deck with a good book as the sunlight fades. This would indeed be the perfect life if there were not so many distractions in between.
In east Africa there is a Swahili word for light-skinned people from Europe and the United States: muzungu, a verb that means “to move around in circles.” After my morning tea and breakfast, I do the dishes and clean up the kitchen. After dinner several hours later I do the dishes and clean up the kitchen. In between I may go into town and run errands and shop for groceries. A few days later I will go into town and run errands and shop for groceries. Yes, I am moving around in circles, or so it seems, and though none of these tasks are particularly unpleasant they do detract from what I love most, the rules for living I have shared with you here.
Then there are the electronic distractions that are so ubiquitous: email, text messages, Facebook, notifications, phone calls. Again, none of these things are necessarily bad, they just keep me from the more important things in life, walking and reading. Sometimes they may even keep me from sleeping and eating if I am not careful.
I have often wondered how it is that I allow these distractions to entrap me in the circle, but the fact remains that if the dishes pile up in the sink, there are no clean plates on which to eat the next meal. If I do not go into town every few days, there is no food in the house, and satisfying meals are an important aspect of one of those rules. And why is it that dust bunnies matter, demanding that I open the closet and haul out the vacuum cleaner? Nothing terrible will happen if I ignore them. They will be back again next week. But there I am, trapped in another circle. . .with the dust bunnies encroaching on my space.
The best circles are the ones that take me from the trailhead, up the river valley, over the pass, and into the next valley, finally to return to the trailhead after a few days to complete the circle. Each day is the same. I crawl out of my sleeping bag and tent in the morning. I heat water and prepare oatmeal for breakfast. I drink my tea while I read the book I have brought along, usually something that these days would be called “nature writing” or perhaps a novel. I listen to the satisfying sound of each page turning. Sometimes I bring a book that I have read previously so that I can read it in a beautiful place and allow the words to speak to me more deeply.
No dishes and clean up here, just a swirl of hot water to wash out my Sierra cup. All the planning and shopping have taken place before I left on the trip. Pack up camp and walk. . .over the next pass to the perfect campsite, where I will again prepare a meal and read or write in my journal. Sleep, eat, read, and walk. Repeat.