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Commentaries & Essays

In Pursuit of Nature

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Years ago, I wanted my friend, Meredith, to take me with her on a camping trip to Lake George. I deliberately didn’t tell her that I knew nothing about camping. I didn’t want her to ditch me for a more experienced companion. Up until then, my only overnight outing had been during my brief stint as a Girl Scout. At eleven, I’d spent an endless night in a cinderblock hut, sweating on a canvas cot, watching the hours creep by on my glow-in-the dark Peter Pan watch.

Meredith and I hardly knew each other. We’d just started renting an apartment together near the campus where I attended graduate school.

I can’t remember why, but I volunteered to gather items for the trip. I found an orange tent and a black lantern— probably at a yard sale. To carry water, I brought a small container that resembled my Davy Crockett canteen from childhood. To prepare food, I packed a tiny metal mess kit with a tricky latch.  I forgot bug spray, sunscreen, rain apparel, life jackets, and sleeping bag pads. Meredith did not check our gear before departure. She trusted me. Indeed, I trusted me. Sadly, my confidence was misplaced.

On the trip from New Hampshire to New York, Meredith’s little Honda labored mightily under the weight of the large red canoe strapped to its roof. Upon arrival, we jammed our camping equipment into the canoe and paddled to an island across the lake. Mid-trip, far from any shore, the sky darkened, the wind picked up and the choppy water rocked our heavy-laden canoe. I chose that moment to say, “By the way, I can’t swim.”

Meredith responded, “Ha ha….”

“No, really. Not even doggy paddle.”

Fortunately, we did not capsize. By the time we reached the campsite, a light drizzle had set in. We attempted to pitch the tent. An orange nylon bag contained string, stakes and a few poles.  Definitely not a popup tent and definitely missing essential parts. We jerry-rigged a wobbly structure that seemed unlikely to remain upright through the night. As the light dimmed, Meredith tried to turn on the lantern but it had neither batteries nor a place to put kerosene.  Apparently, it was only decorative.

Later, I’d hoped to view a splendid night sky, unencumbered by ambient light, but the drizzle soon turned to a steady downpour. Instead of stars, lightning crisscrossed the cloudy heavens.

Who knew that the surface of this tent needed to be waterproofed? Not me. Who knew that the tent had holes along the seams? Not me. Who knew that the tent had space for only one normal-sized human being? Also, not me. We spent a miserable night huddled in a puddle. We didn’t stay a second night. Meredith doesn’t remember this part, but the engine of her overburdened Honda gave up the ghost once we got back to Hanover.

I don’t recall Meredith getting angry on that trip, just a little annoyed. Also, she never brought it up afterward. She’s had plenty of opportunities to do so since we’ve remained close friends for decades.  Maybe Meredith is good at forgiving and forgetting. Or, maybe she lives by the old maxim, “Sometimes the first step to forgiveness is understanding that the other person is a complete idiot.”