The ‘In-tentse’ Goodbye
As I stared at the huge monkey baring his teeth, it was finally time to say goodbye to an old, faithful friend.
This friend was thirteen years old , had travelled the country with us, been battered and abused, saved us from discomfort and after all this, in his retiring moments, had been ‘shat’ on by a samango monkey who couldn’t even be punished because he was an endangered species. Endings are not always sacred or nice and can often be intense or in this case in-tents’ because we were letting go of our old blue tent.
Our journey together started after camping in the bush with our three, under three, children in a three man tent, when suddenly, at two in the morning, we were awakened by the sound of projectile vomiting. There is nothing worse than being forced from a deep sleep by a sound that will start a chain reaction in everyone else, a smell that can have a life span of five years and worst of all a lack of light that is combined with the inability to find the torch and the knowledge that you will almost certainly put your hand on the contents.
It was time to upgrade and earmark everyone’s space clearly in case of a repeat event and we proudly bought our six-man blue and yellow tent. It was the size of our kitchen at the time and would ensure that anyone else camping nearby would give us a wide berth when they saw the array of push chairs parked in the awning.
The first unpacking was great, “such a large tent in such a small bag” we said. The packing up was far more stressful and was when we discovered that tents are only supposed to fit in the bag whilst in the shop. After the first unpacking it doubles in size and will never again slide effortlessly into its home, despite degrees in mechanical engineering or driving over it with the car to expel all air. In the end the bag became the tent pole bag and we used a bag designed for a marquee.
Of course when you upgrade your home it seems only right to upgrade the furniture inside and over the years the pillows changed from clothes rolled in the sleeping bag cover to memory foam and the beds increased in size, cost and comfort.
We started with the roll up yoga mats, great for upward facing dog but not for downward, lying all night people with back problems and soon after we progressed to airbeds and passed down the mats to the girls. More comfortable but too much work. The foot pump required at least a year in the gym preparing for quad muscles that could sustain an hour of squats, the noise was that of mating walrus and as you flopped exhausted on the thing, the bung forcibility ejected and we were left on a plastic flap for the night.
The double air bed also cannot enhance restful sleep unless there are two anorexic people of exactly equal weight who take sleeping pills and therefore do not move a muscle at all. If, like us, you have one, much larger, much heavier restless male who turns by flipping like a pancake, the lesser sized female is likely to be rudely awakened by the feeling of being airborne and then just as suddenly dumped in the gap by the tent wall.
The kids now got the airbeds and we moved on to the camp beds and the bliss of having our own boundaries and adjustable head height. In these beds however the centre of gravity is critical and once again the night would be broken by shrieks as I moved my head too high up and was catapulted backwards with blood rushing to my head and my legs ending up in an inverted yoga posture.
After the kids used one as a rebound exercise facility we were down to one and we upgraded again- this time to full bed mattresses that would have to be strapped onto the top of the trailer, covered with fifteen bin bags, an array of sailors knots and needed a permanent spotter in the back of the car who could shout if she saw the mattress sailing off onto the highway.
With the luxurious bedroom furniture it was time to upgrade the kitchen and whilst on a healthy food camping experiment we brought the bar fridge- fresh milk, salad that lasted more than three hours, it was a revelation to us – and the local wildlife. The battle of the apes began, with the mongeese joining forces to gain access to the tent, raid the fridge and plant their flag or whatever calling card they felt like. Once again the sailor’s knots came in handy and catapults were a necessity throughout the day. When we left the tent, padlocks had to be used as the zips posed no difficulty to our presently evolving SWAT squad. To by-pass the padlocks, the mongeese chewed a hole at the bottom and a higher up hole appeared in the inner tent where the monkeys, frustrated by the fridge had decided to open every toiletry as revenge. This new entrance then allowed every crawly, bug and spider free access to the sleeping occupants during the night and camping became nature’s way of feeding mosquitoes.
However we still had the waterproof tent itself, until we forgot the fly sheet in an unseasonal cold front with torrential rain. That was the weekend the kids moved out, preferring other drier tents with friends where mom didn’t also make them sweep, tidy clothes and create sock bins. We were left with lots of room, empty nest syndrome and a permanent mouldy patch in the corner.
The zips were the final thing to go. Zips in tents are not used all that often in the day but at night they become the most utilised part of the tent. Usually just as you have got warm and comfortable at exactly the right temperature to sleep, the bladder wakes up and in a mummy bag the urgency of one’s need to urinate is inversely proportional to the amount of clothing worn, the temperature and the degree to which the mummy bag is zipped up.
As you stumble around cursing, trying to remember whether the zip starts at the top or bottom you forget that there is also an inner zip, outer zip, fly sheet zip and they all have to be done up again on the way back. If it happens to be someone else going, you lie there trying to ignore all the sounds and feeling slightly smug that it’s not you – until the exact moment that they have done all the zips and got into bed and you become immediately desperate to go. With all the nocturnal pulling and forcing zips in the dark, they finally lost some crucial teeth and we now had a gazebo rather than a tent.
“Just one more trip” we’d say as we unpacked it again or sometimes ” that was the last time” but out it would come over and over again.The grand finale coincided with a cyclone. As Dave Barry says
“it always rains on tents. Rainstorms will travel thousands of miles, against prevailing winds for the opportunity to rain on a tent”
Rain saturated the mattresses so that we were left lying on giant sponges, the zip- less flaps whipped around, the animals were in and out of the supermarket via the holes and the one remaining inner tent zip stuck at knee height so we had to execute the limbo to go to the toilet.
The next morning, feeling miserable, I was carrying a bunch of bananas to the tent fridge. As I bent to crawl in, a giant samango monkey grabbed the bunch, commandeered my bed, and ate the whole lot, snarling and baring teeth at me if I tried to remove him. It took four of us banging the tent with a stick, while it shrieked inside enraged, before it shot out and ‘shat out’ all over my sleeping bag ( also an old faithful friend from college day) and sprayed liberally.
I was furious, I had wanted to decide when the goodbye would happen, had wanted it end when we had bought something new and better to replace it, leave with a last fond memory. Instead it finished with someone invading my space, taking what was mine, showing no respect and taking charge of the letting go.
How often in life does this happen? Where we have spent our energy upgrading, buying more, bigger and better, creating permanency and memories, and although we can see it’s time to change, move out of the comfort zone, let go of some things we have hung on to, we revert to the familiar “maybe next time -one last time.” We assume that life will remain unchanged until we are totally ready to change, we patch up things that are broken, tolerate the things that don’t work too well, and make do.
And then someone or something makes the decision for us that it’s time to move on, the signs have been there, the intention to do something has been simmering but not the action, the impetus, the energy that it takes to let go of what we have been holding onto. Often the ending is done without warning seemingly, a shock, an action of disrespect, a violation of rights or a sense of uncaring as they move in and leave us adrift.
“New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings” Lao Tzu
It’s easier when we seem to have been the one making the choice or when the new has already appeared, a positive, gentle transition but often there is that uncomfortable void where the new is not visible. The old has gone and the new has not appeared, the memories hang around and are recreated over and over, morphing into a magical reality that suddenly seems more positive and brighter that when we actually experienced it.
And yet that space is necessary, an inner space is required to assimilate, grieve, and sit with, to give clarity before deciding on a new direction, to create anew rather than recreate more of the old. We have to experience the lack, the nothingness before trying to fill up, a state which seems more comfortable and purpose driven. The more intense the goodbye, the more space and time is needed.
This year has seen a lot of endings, loss, goodbyes, a moving on and when there is not a sense of knowing what is replacing it, it has meant getting comfortable with being uncomfortable as we strive for a better life. It means living in the now and the unknown and going with the flow. It has required that we adjust to impermanency, be able to simplify and pack up reality when needed. Life’s become a bit like camping really!
However when we are prepared to live like this we start to appreciate the simple, we become aware of the interconnectedness of living, we find true friends and our true self and we pay attention the beauty of the stars (especially if there are holes in the tent).
We left the tent at the campsite, a bit skew, a bit forlorn but readily accepted by a local who apparently is going to turn it into a shabeen for his friends, it is to be recreated as a ‘party venue’.
Our tent is to begin its new life, it’s moving on and we have to decide what to replace it with- another similar, a trailer tent, caravan, RV, a chalet? We’re not sure yet. It depends what future we decide to create, which values are still relevant, what excites us and what presents itself. We have the memories, the stories, the photos showing our evolution and journeys but more importantly we have the knowledge that ‘adventure lies outside the tent’.
Some camping tips
Camping: A potato baked in the coals for one hour makes an excellent side dish. A potato baked in the fire for three hours makes an excellent hockey puck
Life: know when enough is enough
Camping: Average temperature increases with the amount of clothing brought
Life: Travel lightly, pack well
Camping: Your side of the tent is the side that leaks
Life: Hardships are easier if there’s someone else to share
Camping: All tree branches is a forest grow outwards at exactly the height of your nose. If you are male, tree branches will also grow at groin height
Life: sod’s law is real
Camping: Enough dirt will get tracked into the tent in the first day, that you can grow the food you need for the rest of the trip in rows between sleeping bags
Life: From the dirt, new things will grow
Camping: The sun sets three and a half times faster than normal when you’re trying to set up camp
Life: Endings have a way of speeding up if you’re not paying attention
Camping: If you can see the stars, someone has stolen your tent
Life: When all is lost or taken, look for the stars to appear