When I told my friends I was going camping last weekend, they responded in a mix of amusement and horror.
“What will you do without your hair straightener?” one asked, with mock aghast. “What if a rat crawls up next to you while you’re sleeping?”
“Firstly, that’s why I get keratin treatments,” I replied chirpily. “And secondly, rats are city animals.* I’d be much more worried about one crawling over my feet on the subway than turning up in my tent. Besides, I’m only camping for one night, and it’s next to a farm house with a kitchen and running water. It will be fine. This is not an episode of Sex and The City.”
“But what will do you if you need to go to the toilet in the middle of the night and the house is locked?” And, well, my answer to that question is not suitable for publishing online. Nor is the below paragraph, but here I go anyway.
My friend was (wildly) overstating things, but she had a point. I am not known for my love of the outdoors. When I was in high school, I wrote one of my creative writing assignments about an aspiring actress who was forced to return to her small town roots after failing to make it in Hollywood. It was a satire, but the character’s behavior may have been loosely based on my own during a family holiday the previous summer. When I was 20, I turned down an opportunity to go zorbing because I didn’t want to get my hair wet. In retrospect, my hair looked like something akin to a clown’s that day anyway, so I probably should have just bit the bullet. But you live and you learn, I guess.
On a weekend trip to Bath shortly after moving to London, I met a woman who told me that she wouldn’t be able to live in the city for too long, because she needed trees. I remember thinking that I would never grow tired of the city. As for trees, wasn’t that what parks were for?
And yet here I find myself, four years later, craving time communing with nature. Hence the camping.
It’s not that I’m tired of cities, per se. I just moved to one, after all, and I have no plans to leave any time soon. But over the past year or so, I have started to feel that my desire for “city-ness” – for people, and speed, and serendipity, and frictionlessness – has been sated. That I now have so much “city” in my everyday life that when it comes to what I want to do to get away with that life, my answer is no longer “New York!** Paris! Tokyo!” but “How about we go look at some rocks?” I’ve been lucky enough over the past four years to see a lot of what Western cities have to offer. Now I’m interested in seeing the things I haven’t yet experienced.
For the record, my camping experience (brief as it was) was great. I fulfilled my dream of swimming in a river before the end of summer, and summoned the courage to jump off a waterfall. I felt a calm wash over me as I watched the river and trees sweep past me on the train out of the city. And no, I didn’t take my hair straightener. (Like I said, keratin works a treat.)
The world is a beautiful place. Here is to many more trips like it.
* Not true, it turns out, but I didn’t encounter one anyway.
** Well, duh.