Sunday, January 2, 2011

Into the Woods

Tomorrow morning, I am going out into the woods for some winter camping.  In a cabin, of course, nothing crazy.  But I am so excited that I can't sleep.  I won't be alone exactly; there will be two other people with me.  And yet, I feel like I am setting off on an adventure. 

This past June, I did a wilderness skills retreat through a Zen Monastery in the Catskills of NY.  For five days, I lived in a tent, cooked my food over a tiny camp stove (which is one of my ten favorite possessions), and swam instead of taking a shower.  I learned how to tie knots, and to use a compass.  Sort of.  I painted with watercolors, and read about Buddhism.

On the second to last night, we all packed our things and set off into the woods for a solo.  I chose a spot that I thought would be perfect.  I set up my tent, cleared an area to build a fire, gathered wood, and treed my food.  Yes--there are black bears in the Catskills who would have been more than happy to take my trail mix off my hands, and I preferred that they not have to enter my tent to do it. 

The solo did not go the way that I had hoped.  It turned out that I set up my tent under a tree infested (honestly, this is true) with a truly terrifying species of Daddy-Longlegs.  While I understand conceptually that these are harmless insect, not killer mutant spiders, I was unable to make that knowledge outweigh my terror of these spindly, orange beasts.  For the entirety of my day and night in the woods, they mounted a siege against me and all that I owned.  If I put my coffee cup down for 30 seconds to get more wood, they were all over it.  I watched one particularly determined fellow try to climb my Nalgene bottle for the better part of a half hour before he realized that was never going to be able to stick to the smooth plastic sides. 

On the first day, I spent a lot of time sitting inside my tent, watching the woods through a fine mesh screen (which was also assaulted by my little friends).  I did manage to work up the courage to take a short hike through the woods immediately around me, but I did not go far.  Our purpose for the solo was not to go hiking, but to sit and watch and think. 

On the second day, I made myself do just that.  I forced myself out of my tent and into the little clearing that I had made in front of it.  This area had been intended for a fire, which I made briefly.  But, it turns out that I am not particularly interested in fire, so once I had proved to myself that I was capable of starting one, I let it burn out and never relit it.  Instead, I spent the second day of my solo sketching my fire pit and the tiny baby trees that were just pushing up through the earth around it.  As I had cleared the leaves, they were able to get to sunlight for the first time, and they thoroughly enjoyed it.  I, on the other hand, was on high alert for invaders.  They watched me from the leaf litter boundary that I had created when I made my clearing.  A few brave souls dared to investigate further, but I persuaded them otherwise by poking them away with a hawk feather I found on my previous day's hike.  And eventually we found an uneasy peace: them not being sure what I was doing there, and me having no better idea myself.  Eventually, it was time to pack up my things and return to the group. 

I learned a few very important things from that solo experience.  But the thing that I realized most about myself is that I hate to be afraid of things, and yet I am so afraid of so many things.  And many of them, like those Daddy-Longlegs in the woods, are harmless.  At the same time, I failed to be on alert for poison ivy (which I got all over my feet and legs) and ticks (which I found on me later, and eventually discovered that one of them had given me Lyme Disease).  And so I am excited and yet nervous about my return to the woods, six months after that little adventure.  I believe that I will be safe, since there will be no insects about in the middle of winter.  But what will I fail to see the danger in this time?  And what might I miss because, even though I hate that it is true, there are so many things out there that I am afraid of?

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