It was my September birthday weekend, also a holiday (Labor Day), and the first weekend in six months that we were alone. We decided on a camping trip, and on that Friday (my birthday), we loaded up our gear, our two German shepherds, and set out for our awaiting campsite and three nights at the Davy Crockett National Forest.
We quarreled on the way there – I can’t remember over what – and Skye’s first act when we arrived was to escape my grasp and promptly dive into the neighboring lake.
By the time we set up camp and got the dogs situated on their respective tie-outs, it was time to begin assembling my birthday dinner – fajitas over the camp stove – and by the time we sat down to eat, unclogged heavy emotion hung in the air. I couldn’t eat. We flirted with and crossed the edge of vulnerability with each other – territory that felt threatening, unchartered, raw, necessary. I cried. The dogs barked at every rustling leaf and obscure headlight. We centered on our love for each other, our dedication to brave conversation and a future full of both.
We laid next to each other in our tent that night, fanning ourselves and each other to escape the blanket of September humidity that we weren’t expecting. One-hundred and eighty-two pounds of partially wet German shepherd encompassed us on the ground. Skye pressed herself into a corner at our heads. Tuck spooned himself around my legs. We gazed at the stars overhead through the open tent roof.
Over the three days in the national forest, we mourned his mother’s absence; she had returned to India the previous week. We hiked a bit, but turned back early to save Skye from heat stroke. We scolded both dogs repeatedly, until we laughed at their bullheadedness. We took turns driving to the bathhouse. We ventured to a neighboring national forest and picnicked at a dead end. We made s’mores over the campfire and read books. We concerned ourselves only with the daily tasks of maintaining existence in a campsite. On the second night, we thought about going home early. We didn’t. On the third night, we huddled in the tent during a rainstorm. Our dogs curled their bodies around ours every night. We made friends with our campsite neighbor children who hugged the dogs ferociously and cried when their parents peeled them away.
We wondered if we would ever do this again, sweeping our arms to encompass our quaint and oft-times-noisy campsite and all the things we found annoying and thrilling about it.
We agreed with each other.
We would do it all again. All of it.
“How was your camping trip?” my students asked me the next week.
“Our camping trip was representative to me of life in general,” I replied. “There were all the things that make it challenging, and the moments where we looked at each other and wondered what the hell we’d gotten ourselves into, but at the end of the day, we’d do it again. Willingly and happily.”