Monday, October 10, 2011

Finding the Real World

I’ve been sleeping outside in the tent for a couple of weeks now, off and on, depending on my mood. The weather has been perfect. As bad as this drought is, the upside is that I haven’t had to worry about getting rained on. The tent is old and I don’t want to push my luck so dry weather is the best time. Being a true 21st century wimp I don’t like for it to be too hot inside the tent or too cold either. So I have a small window of opportunity here. My ideal temperature range is between 60 and 70. And even then to get a 60-degree low during the night it’s usually in the low 80’s when I bed down. And if it’s a comfy 70 at the night’s beginning it can get down to the high 50’s just before dawn. There is a lot of science involved here.

So my time is limited and that makes the current opportunity even more precious.

I try to keep the tent fully furnished once I set it up for the season. That way I’m not stumbling around in the dark dragging a sleeping bag and pillow through the dirt. I’ve got a great air mattress and for the other comforts of home I’ve added a lawn chair so I can sit comfortably to watch a movie or read a book on my new ipad in between listening to the night. An overturned bucket makes a great bedside table to the lantern. And I can tie a second one to the tent’s wall.


The grands made me change the spot where I put the tent up. We used to keep it by the pond where the overflow empties into the creek. But when we took the tent down for the summer there was a biggo snake hiding under the tent floor. It was only Harold, who we see all the time. Family mascot or not, I guess they don’t want to spend the night with Harold.

So now they want the tent out in the field far from water or brush, where the tent is surrounded by only grass and is not inviting to reptiles seeking sanctuary. This was OK with me because I realized I can see the moon better out in the field.


The first time this fall I slept outside was a couple of weeks ago when the moon was dark. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. But slowly there has been more and more light. A couple of nights ago it was bright enough to see the outline of the moon through the tent canvas. Bright enough that the trees cast shadows. Moon shadows.

There is nothing as peaceful to me as listening to the earth go to sleep. At dusk the birds start telling each other goodnight. Then, as though there was some invisible symphony conductor tapping his baton on the music stand, the frogs begin their song. There are four different kinds of frogs croaking four distinctive croak. I can identify the bull frogs and tree frogs but I’m not sure which the other two are. What amazes me is that they don’t have a “lead frog” who begins and the rest follow; they all start at once in unison. After the frogs come the crickets. The symphony goes on like this for some time into the night.

About an hour into dark I will hear a lone coyote howl. Then they will all howl and I get the impression that I’m surrounded by them because there is more than one pack howling. As soon as the coyotes howl the wild dogs answer. This is a very different sound. It’s not quite a howl but not a bark either. Then come the domestic dogs with very nervous, rapid, high-pitched barks. They sound as though they are trying to not sound scared but not fooling anyone. I know these dogs. They sometimes join us on walks. I know where they live and I know their barks.

Once in a while I will hear one of the neighbors’ donkeys bray at something. People with horses or cattle usually keep a donkey with the herd. A donkey will run off coyotes with a vengeance. This includes dogs, too, and I’ve seen the donkeys in action when my own dogs got too close. Donkeys are the most underappreciated animal on the farms.

This year the night has been sadly quiet. There is no water. All the ponds have dried up. The fish were the first to go. Then the frogs and the crickets. The only night sounds this year have been the coyotes and when I hear them I find myself worrying over them. Where are they finding water? Even the grass has dried up.

When I step into the tent and zip the door behind me everything changes. I enter a space occupied by just me and God. I wean myself from civilization slowly with some music or a book. Then it’s just me and God. Just the two of us in our own little world. A small civilization of its own where God’s Kingdom is no bigger than 9ft by 12 feet. Where I can trick myself into believing that I am the only creature on earth that God has to fool with. I can argue all night or ask embarrassing questions. I try to shut myself up and listen for answers.

Later in the night I may wake up at the sound of an armadillo snuffling by my head, separated only by the canvas, digging in the dirt for insects. At least, I tell myself it’s an armadillo because there is a possibility that it’s a skunk. But since it once literally bumped into the tent and armadillos are notorious for their bad eyesight I’m comfortable that it’s an armadillo.

In the morning I am ready enough to go into the house since that’s where the coffee is. But there’s a reluctance in the transition. I feel like I’m going from one world to another.

What is the real world? Is it the one inside my tent with an intimacy with God? With no distractions? Where you can zip the tent door and eliminate superfluous activities?

Is it the world we have created by putting up walls and roof, added artificial light and television? Or is it the one closest to the bare bones world God handed to us eons ago? Is it the world left as God created it? Outdoors with no barricade to God’s touch, with natural lighting and thermostat. Where the temperature is always the real temperature whether you like it or not. Where the sky reveals every star God created if you can get far enough from the city’s competing street lights.

Is the real world where we spend most of our time? How long does it take for a temporary world to become the “real” one? When I went off to college and didn’t go home until around Thanksgiving I had a strange feeling like I was a visitor in the house I grew up in. Returning to the dorm felt like going home. It had become my “real” world.

What is the real world? Is it the cubicle you sit in at work for about 8 hours? You spend more time there than in your kitchen, in your living room or in your bed. So does that make it the real world?

I tend to think my own real world is wherever I go as long as I can feel close to God there. For me the real world can be found in an old red and gray canvas tent on a clear autumn evening. Next week I will be in Guatemala and the real world will be a bus full of 12 Norte Americanos and the same number of Guatemaltecos.  We will bounce over dusty roads filled with potholes and wear out our translators with all that we want to say to each other. 

I know how incredibly fortunate I am to have so much time available to play with these ideas. So I try to appreciate every single day and draw near to God as closely and as often as I can. My mind returns to what Thoreau said about his life on Walden Pond:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.
I won’t be posting next Wednesday. I’ll be in Guatemala living inside the Kingdom of God: the real world. I want to "suck out all the marrow of life."  I'll be back in two weeks to tell you all about it.

1 comment:

lauraamlin@gmail.com said...

Jane, I'm just catching up on your blogs. I love this. I applaud you for getting out of your comfort zone, and realizing that you can, and in fact MUST, do that, even if it is your own backyard.

I, too, have wrestled with 'what is the real world?' Many times after church camp/conferences, and especially after my time in Guatemala I would find myself retracting to the statement "Back to reality.." by thinking, "No, THIS is reality. This is as real as it get." Thank you so much for the reminder. Blessings, hermana.