Went camping alone a couple weeks ago.
Point Beach, Northeastern Wisconsin.
A thousand acres of woods, sand dunes,
Mosquitoes, no AC,
Weather patterns which are out of my control.
And a mile long beach with no sign of civilization.
Spent a lot of time staring at Lake Michigan,
A kind of meditation.
This time the big lake was calm,
To tell the truth, I was a little disappointed,
I love it when the roar of three foot waves
Frightens me a little.
Makes me feel small,
But somehow part of a beautiful something
That’s a lot bigger than I am.
Small in a good way,
That smallness in the city can’t produce.
In the solitude of aloneness
I often feel lonely,
Without the distractions of civilization
All I’m left with is the beauty of nature
And the very mixed spiritual bag of my Self.
The Japanese, I’m told, have a concept called
Finding beauty in imperfection,
Profound truth in earthiness,
Valuing authenticity more than
Success or winning.
Myers Briggs told me what I already knew—
That I’m an introvert—
That I need to be with people but at some point
I need to retreat into solitude
I don’t always like what I find, of course
Going inside is often a journey
into the unexpected.
This time my pilgrimage to Point Beach
Included reading Dakota by Kathleen Norris;
She was talking about the barrenness of
Western South Dakota,
But she could have been describing
My journeys inward when she wrote that it’s
“a terrifying but beautiful landscape
In which we are at the mercy of the
And even angels proceed at their own risk.”
Part of who I am, you should know,
is a white boy from Wisconsin.
The first chapters of my story begin with
Camping in January,
Falling asleep to the sound of a foghorn
Believing that people are richest when
Their needs are fewest, that
Marshmallows roasted on a bonfire with a
Slab of a Hershey bar
Between two graham crackers
Is gourmet dining.
Those boyhood memories,
Keep pulling me back to Point Beach
To stripping life down a bit
Less of the conveniences and distractions
That modernity has blessed
And cursed us with.
Some of my neighbors think I’m crazy
When they see me stowing my sleeping bag
Into my van.
They say, “When you go camping
you have to pee where?!?”
More vulnerable to the blessings of
Seeing awesome lightning strikes over the big lake
And the curses of the downpour which preceded them
Spoiling my plans of a day on the beach.
Camping is not a trip to Disney World
Where everything is pretend. . .and comfortable.
What Norris said about life in the Dakotas
Puts into words what I encounter when I’m
Alone at Point Beach:
“Distractions are at a minimum
And you must rely on your own resources,
Only to find yourself,
On forces beyond your control.”
“The truth of asceticism [or Point Beach solitude]”
“Is a way of surrendering to reduced circumstances
In a way that enhances the whole person.
It is a radical way of knowing exactly
Who, what and where you are
In defiance of those powerful forces in society. . .
That aim to make us forget.”