I always get creeped out the first night of camping. After weeks of living inside walls, shielded from the outside world, and then traveling at high speed in a humming metal box to get to our campsite, I lie down in our tent after kissing the kids goodnight and smile at the shhh of wind in the trees.
But then, as distant soughing builds like a wave – sshhHHH – and treetops carry wind towards us til it sounds like the roar of a flash flood against the narrow walls of a canyon, then? I freak out. I am reminded of the wildness of nature, and that a nylon sheath is scant protection from out there. Our shelter, one of the basic necessities to sustain life, is barely a membrane. It does not insulate me from the sounds, scents, and temperatures on the other side of it, and with every snapped twig, with every gust of wild mountain air, I am reminded that we are outside. It is powerful out there, and we are small and squishy. My heart thumps hard in my chest. In our tent, we are without thick, protective walls that keep us safe from the elements, that help us pretend nature isn’t there.
I always smile the first morning of camping. Soft dawn light shines through the thin membrane that separates us from out there, and it is beautiful. My sleeping bag rustles as I turn onto my back and pull snarls of hair out of my mouth. I watch a daddy longlegs crawl on the screen roof of our tent and reminisce about my brother and I letting those crawl on our hands when we camped as kids. We were amazed that they looked like spiders but didn’t bite. Inside, above my head on the ceiling, a crane fly rubs its back legs together. It looks like a giant mosquito, with spindly legs two inches long, and I wonder how many people mistake them for “mosquitoes so big they’ll carry you away.”
The scent of old campfires clings to the walls of our tent. I breathe it in like I breathe in the salt marsh when I go home to Tybee, deeply, and with pleasure. I close my eyes, my hands behind my head, and savor the sounds of morning. Green leaves sigh in a gentle breeze, and small birds twitter. My husband motivates before I do, and I hear the beloved sound of a tent zipper as he steps out into the morning. Crisp mountain air wafts into the tent before he zips the door closed. He clinks pots on the picnic table. I hear the tinny stream of water into a metal pan, then the hiss of the camp stove. He unscrews the lid of a Ball jar and scoops coffee into my French press for me.
The crane fly rubs its legs. The daddy longlegs explores. My heart beats softly in a peace without refrigerator hums, without electric lights, without dishes and dusters and the complexities of walled life. I listen to the world wake up in the soft light of morning, and I am glad to be out there, outside the protective walls that let us pretend that nature isn’t there.