© Anthony Thompson (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
For many years, I rejected anything to do with the camping experience. A semi-flooded tent during a teenage camping nightmare was enough to turn me off of the idea forever.
However, my husband persisted and, eventually, I relented. It was becoming clear to me that I was cheating my kids out of the full nature experience with my selfish insistence upon four walls and indoor plumbing. So, after a trip to Death Valley and Yosemite where we would bathe in nature and all its glory only to return to a hotel at the end of the day, it seemed only right that our next road trip as a family include sleeping under the stars.
So my Eagle Scout husband bought a water-proof tent that anchors well into the ground even during high winds and an air mattress so this camping wimp could stomach the tenting experience. I stiffened my spine and went along with the rest of the family, certain it would be an absolutely miserable experience. The plan was to simply endure it so the rest of my family wouldn’t have to leave nature’s holy grounds in order to sleep for the night.
Of course, the first night in our tent, I woke up in the middle of the night with the urgent need to use the bathroom. So, I dragged myself out of the sleeping bag and managed to push myself off of the air mattress, which seemed reluctant to let me go. I reached for the flashlight and unzipped the tent for the anticipated dreadful night-time walk to the latrine.
However, once I stepped outside and stood there in the moonlight, gazing at the amazing cascade of stars, all of my trepidation melted away. There was the belt of Orion, and the Big Dipper, and the spray of the Milky Way—all right there before me. Darkness surrounded me, yet the moon lit a path so that I didn’t even need the flashlight. I could hear some night creatures rustling about, and the chirping of the crickets overpowered the deep silence of the campground. With no other human beings in sight or making noise, I was truly alone, making this deep connection to the sacred only more intense. As I marveled in the experience, feeling the awe of all that was around me, I moved through the grass quietly to absorb it all. Even after I took care of the bodily need that had initially woken me, I continued to walk, now reluctant to return to the tent and leave the beauty of the night.
That first night’s trip to the facilities turned into a night-time sojourn and was a real eye-opener for me. All those years I resisted the very idea of camping, then finally relented so my children could have the experience—only to discover it was just what I needed.
Since then, there have been many middle-of-the-night trips to the bathroom—some with plumbing, and some without—and, over the past few years, I’ve even managed to ride out a few thunderstorms in our tent. While I can’t say that I appreciate every night-time walk as much as I did the first, I always lose my breath for a minute when I step from the tent and become enveloped by the stars and nighttime sky. As my eyes adjust to the darkness and the quiet of the night surrounds me, I remember the words of Unitarian Universalist architect, Frank Lloyd Wright: “I believe in God. Only I spell it N-A-T-U-R-E.
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Michelle Richards is the author of Tending the Flame: The Art of Unitarian Universalist Parenting (Skinner House, 2010).