Hi all! Happy Tuesday to each of you! I hope things are starting to settle in to a new normal for you. Slowly, but surely, that is where I am now. A little time off a couple of weeks ago, even while spending much of the time busy, was a clarifying and life-giving time. However, the time I took off wasn’t particularly relaxing. My thinking is I would take this Friday off and do something new with my family. I decided on the nuclear option to get my way as to the destination: our first camping trip.
Oxymoron, you say? Mutually exclusive at the least? Camping and relaxing are strange bedfellows. I mean, this comedy spot by the amazing Jim Gaffigan says a lot:
So, why would I want to camp and does it have anything to do with dementia? It is complex and probably needs therapy more than it needs a blog post, but this little blog is at my editorial discretion, so off I go. 😉
Camping was a fun part of my childhood. We weren’t rich growing up, but we did fine. However, we didn’t do so fine that we frequently went on long, hotel-laden vacations. We opted instead for experiences. We would go to places like my uncle’s amazing ranch in Douglas county to explore and appreciate nature. We would frequent another place near my hometown that we referred to as our “dead aunt and uncle’s house” even though they were alive and not aunts nor uncles. (No idea how that came about other than to say it came from the same Applegate kids’ minds that gave us Prune Grandma as a nickname for my dad’s amazing mom). My dead aunt and uncle’s place had a creek, caves (with cave paintings), arrowhead collecting, and a host of other places to explore. We would also camp.
Camping in the 1970s and very early 80s was fun, in my limited recollection. We had a large tent and miraculously there was some of the most amazing food that suddenly appeared at every mealtime just like at home. (Note here that we failed to notice and/or appreciate the hours and hours and hours my parents spent getting ready and that mom spent cooking like a cave woman with no conveniences. Then, after my folks got divorced in the early 80s, we went camping a few more times with my mom and stepdad. It was also fun and was absolutely no work at all (for me). One camping trip in Oklahoma, we came upon an odd creature as we explored. From a distance it looked like part small dog and part anteater. When we got close enough to see it better we discovered we needed a ranger…it was an angry fox with a Pringles can stuck on its angry head. For those of you that think this is what a fox says, I have news for you…they swear like sailors in their native tongue:
The ranger pulled off said can and dove headlong into the bed of his truck to avoid the wrath of the fox. Good times. 🙂
Camping took our minds off of our already pretty easy lives and reconnected us with fresh air, fishing, nature, animals, and each other. I mean, it wasn’t like we were stuck on our phones (not invented), our video games (waaaay too big to take on the road), or social media (our only social media was walkie talkies with friends while at Silver Dollar City. Camping, and nature, hold 99.9% positive memories to me because I was a kid. (The small negative was the Seed Tick Disaster of ’78, but I will spare you the anatomy lessons.)
Flash forward to 1991 and me and my pretty darn newlywed wife decided to go camping. We went to the same lake as we planned for this coming weekend. I dutifully bought a week’s fare and some equipment only to discover that we, like Jim Gaffigan, were “indoorsy” too. It was 500 degrees in our tent. We were ill-prepared because of me, not my camping-averse wife. I just always assumed the stuff just magically happened. The trip was a bust with the exception of feeding a squirrel at our campsite and seeing him play dead when we moved. Even tents we scraped the money to buy at Wal-Mart didn’t fix the climate and food was hard. It was a mess…and we gave up and went home 36 hours into our 5 days trip.
Dementia anyone? Shoehorn out and off I go. 🙂 Just a couple of random thoughts:
- The many things mom did/does get lost in the moment. Our childhood didn’t “just happen”. My kids’ childhood didn’t just happen. Why is it so hard to see that at the time?
- I guess I can see why memories like this aren’t as quick to “stick” as other ones. Experience-based memories are often special because they are so out of the norm that you do not have a memory handle to grab. They blaze trails in your mind that don’t necessarily become anchor points to future memories. We commit things to long-term, more or less permanent memory either when it anchors to something or is anchored to something important. Some amazing memories are just memories. Sometimes a picture may jog a memory, I suppose oftentimes because they were explained to us over and over. My mom told me many stories that have stuck by associating them to pictures…and I hope I keep them forever. However, some things are just unique, wonderful experiences with nothing anchored…still wonderful, but without reference. Those lone antelopes are easy prey to dementia’s carnivorous cats.
- Mom and dad were trailblazers for their age in promoting experience over things. They knew the value of memories and also knew the fleeting nature of stuff. I am very thankful for that.
- Do yourself a favor and write down everything. Better yet, video them. Video the old stories. Video hopes and dreams and the mundane. Don’t get so busy recording it that you fail to experience them…but do record them. I have all sorts of memory gaps of great things with no obvious anchor points. Occasionally I find an anchor that was lost and the lights come back onto the event…and I find a moment of fresh joy.
- Love, serve, pray for, and share time with your loved ones early and often.
- And if you have to camp, do it with all of your might and soak it up.
- Leave things better, cleaner, and nicer than how you found them…whether at a campsite, a life, or a world. Consume less. Inhale and exhale more…
Things don’t always go as expected in camping, or in life. In fact, I started this piece a few days ago and have since moved our camping trip from this weekend to a future one because of strong storms being forecast. Mom would have turned the lemons to lemonade…but I ain’t going to take a chance on ruining the first time camping for my kids any more than going camping with me will already do for them. 🙂 Such is life…
Update: Nothing new to report. Tomorrow is picnic day. Mom, for the two years prior to her symptoms getting worse, LOVED to picnic with her kids, grandkids, and the rest. I look forward to trying to find that anchor point as best can through the window at her nursing home.