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Finding Strength, one campfire at a time: a meditation on light

Last updated on September 19, 2020

2020, yeah, everyone gets it. Personally, I am waiting for frogs to rain from the sky. Any minute now. Here they come. But in the meantime, tonight, I am thinking about all my solo camping and local hiking trips from this summer. One of my colleagues calls these “micro-adventures.” I’ve been going to Great Seal State Park every damn weekend after finally breaking out of the house, like a mad man, to hike the Lion’s Head loop with a very close friend of mine when Ohio relaxed its initial COVID-19 restrictions at the beginning of June.

I was crying a lot back then. Like at the drop of a name, a melody, a movie scene, or even once, over a bit of code while thinking about one of my favorite co-workers would have said. He’s the most incredibly opinionated person you’d have the privilege to meet. I went home a little early back in February as the news started to get ominous. I love my house, though I can’t take credit for it, that’s all my husband’s work there. Yet, even with the no pants, or let’s be honest, no underwear, during meetings thing, I grew to feel trapped at home. It ground on me like a belt sander. Eventually causing things to snap out of place in my head.

The only things that have helped have been time and these micro-adventures. Great Seal State Park has these awesome sets of trails that boast some challenging elevation. For a very flat state, that’s kind of rare. It’s also been helpful to give into the downturn and embrace the crappiness of the hand we’ve all been dealt. Granted, I speak from a place of privilege, I still have a job, my work is valued, and, while I have heart disease, I am healthy.

With that in hand, the course of these local, weekend by weekend, micro-adventures have been emotionally effective. These would have been to the RRG, the Smokies, Ohio Pyle, Hoosier National Forest, Big South Fork, the Badlands, and a handful of other places I had planned for this year which I posted about earlier before the world turned upside down. I was in bad shape most of Spring. It felt like sinking. Summer is where I took a stand, even somewhat broken, toward getting back up again. It was like an exploration of hopelessness at times. The exact opposite of my writing plan. Ask anyone who knows me and I think you’d get “he’s the biggest optimist” kind of comment about me. So this was, well, shocking. But life is a driving force for me as a heart attack survivor. Slowly getting back up from one of the worst depressions of my life has been something I have methodically structured a haphazard path toward.

You see, when I lost human contact, for weeks, then months, that’s when the floor dropped out from under me. While I don’t identify as an extrovert, I draw strength from others and offer mine freely in return. When that circuit died, part of me did too.

Tonight I dragged my “go kit” out of my truck and back up to my loft tonight. It’s a backpack I took with me to do a 6-day hike through the Olympic Mountains with my very best friend Doug a couple of years back. I keep it packed with my basics at all times for these GSP trips. A tent, foam sleep pad, inflatable pillow, quilt, solar camp light, enamel cup, camp towel, first aid kit, knife, fire starter, ditty bag, and so on. I’m cleaning what I can and swapping out the lighter quilt for a sleeping bag now that the temps are dropping. I’m also adding my Uco three candle lantern for warmth (while awake) in the tent as a heater. Anything below 40 to 15 degrees makes me shiver now that I’m on blood pressure meds. I also have a luxury box, since this is base camping, so I have been packing some nice things in there along the ways of creature comforts.

The thing is this though, 2020 feels worse than that shitty 20-mile race I did nearly 4 years ago. Honestly? I am more comfortable doing half marathons. My body and brain understand that kind of pain. But 2020, into 2021, gratefully working from home, yet no physical contact. In an era where a damn handshake or shared air over a campfire represents something that makes me walk back from my fear reaction. Not just for me, but the people I am closest to physically. But also, the person who’s hand I shook and the choice they just made to share a part of me with their circle. It’s a shift in the term intimacy in my head.

Such a different thing than an STD mind you where both parties share “intimate contact.” This year, intimate is breath and touch, not penetration. Back then, circa the late ’80s/’90’s, I wore condoms, however, when the HIV cocktail came out, I swore I would never wear another one. Let alone be afraid of HIV, or anyone who is positive, ever again. I wore fear on my sleeve so much back then and it warped my relationships to a degree. I never wanted to support the dialogue that so many gay men advertised about being “clean.” Meaning others were “dirty.” That is something we face today in our various forms of isolation. All of us are clean and worthy in my eye.

Yet, echoes. In the era that we currently live in, people are actually griping about face masks, and it blows my mind just how selfish and short-sighted these ideas are. I mean, the gay community came together, aside from the “bug chaser” crowd that made me scratch my head, and protected our own with the safer sex movement. Which I fully supported and was a member of in my most rambunctious years. Yeah, it was a loss for me in my teens when I came out in the era of GRID which became AIDS. But it was all about supporting each other’s health since it was a “gay cancer” back then. I am not seeing this today with COVID and the mask deniers.

Aside from all the grinding tectonic movements of cultural, counter science and research, reactions we are enduring as America seems to be turning backward and darker toward a Nationalist, or worse, path, I still find myself discovering moments, mostly by myself, outdoors, and alone, where I can just breathe. Smile once again. Look at the trail, and, as I used to mantra myself over and over again, mostly on fucking hard hikes up the sides of mountains last year, coaching myself to “just keep moving.” This summer, while I am sad to see it go even while resisting the temptation to compare it to 2019 as a massive lifestyle loss, on every level a man can, it was exactly what I needed to begin to piece my head back together again after I shattered somewhere between April and May.

So, to close, with a repacked go-kit, I am headed back out to camp overnight, keep working on my hiking miles among the young trees out at GSP, light my final summer campfire, it’s gonna be a doozy, track some planets and constellations in my monoscope, write a bit, have some whiskey living a life that is wholly my own. No compromise.

Sacrifices? Gladly. But always worth it. Three months of sitting around these weekly campfires have taught me that there is always light, and warmth, to be enjoyed, as long as we show up and stoke it.

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