My son has, apparently been infected with some kind of zombie virus, which he did not catch after being burned, drowned, struck by lightning, falling into latrines (likely on purpose), boiled in oil, attacked by cougars, or any number of disasters that could – and have – befallen the Barnhills in their excursions into the woods. Still: he has been zombified, and I have proof:
Zombification aside, it was, in truth, a magnificent trip. Not that the weather was perfect (it wasn’t) or the condition ideal (are they ever?) but still. Here’s the thing about camping: even what it sucks, it’s still pretty awesome. We faced rain and wind and cold. Bee stings. Busted thumbs. Sore backs. But there’s nothing like carrying a canoe on your shoulders for 3/4 of a mile, lowering it back down onto the rocks without a scratch, and then hiking back down the trail to shoulder your 80-pound duluth pack just to do it again. And there’s nothing like filling a bunch of empty bellies with a bunch of fried dough or curried rice or pesto on shell noodles. And there’s nothing like watching the space station cruise through a star-ridden sky and seeing every constellation you’ve ever heard of, and inventing some new ones of your own.
There’s nothing like it at all.
Also, there’s nothing like the process of letting go, either. The BWCA is utterly off the grid. Even if you got all fancy and had one of those waterproof solar collectors to shove sunlight into your i-phone, it wouldn’t do you a speck of good. No cell towers. No signals. No phone calls. No email. No tweets. Nothing. This is good for me because social media – while incredibly fun for spending hours and hours dorking around on the internets, are kind of the crack of writing: it feels like writing; it looks like writing; it requires the same attention to language and diction and subtlety that writing does. The composition of a tweet, say, uses much of my skills that I’ve honed as a writer – we make deals with our readership, don’t we? We compose tweets that begin like hello and end like goodbye. We play with words and build with words and suck on words like hard candies. And then we are rewarded with retweets and comments and funny reparte, and whatever.
Social media gives us what our manuscripts cannot.
But it’s the manuscript – not the twitters or the books of faces or the things with pins on them or any other one of the nattering pixellated heaps of ones and zeros that clutter our brains and our screens and our limited thinking – that pays the bills. That feeds the soul. That pulls us toward something large, something beautiful, that brief, ephemeral glimpse at truth. The manuscript can be a jerk sometimes. It can be witholding. It can be prickly. But it’s the important bit.
This is why I like to go into the woods. To get back to the important bit. We turn off. We tune out. We slink away from the endless, meaningless noise (recognizing our own part in it), and we recalibrate.
I wrote thirty longhand pages while in the BWCA. Despite the ache in my back in and twinges in my knees and the endless cricks in my neck. I wrote another fifty since coming home.
It was a good trip. Maybe I’ll go back.
(All of these photographs were taken by this guy. Beloved friend, and darling of my heart.)