We went camping this weekend and I was hoping that getting out of town in the woods would help my mind to settle. It’s been chewing on a lot of thoughts about mom, family history, about work, and travel and what to do next.
Mom used to say, “My mind is in a muddle,” and that described me to a tee. But all camping did was make me want to travel for the next six months.
We didn’t get out the door until 2 p.m. Saturday, but that was a major triumph considering all the work that went into getting the trailer ready. We bought this 20-foot trailer last summer and when we took it to Colorado for a wedding in October, we learned its quirks. For starters, the refrigerator and heater didn’t work.
Thanks to dear husband’s tenacity, instead of paying $500 for a new converter, he discovered a tiny thermostatic circuit breaker that cost $15.
Earlier in the month, he backed the car into the trailer (so glad it wasn’t me) and made a big dent on the corner of the trailer. Car was fine. He removed the trailer side door to get to the bent panel. In the process he put new weather stripping and caulking on the door. Then he discovered the hot water heater was busted from last winter so we had to have it soldered.
We also removed the old mattress, under which was mountain dust from the previous owner’s hunting trips. We cleaned and had a four-inch foam mattress custom made to fit the space, three inches shy of a double. It’s amazingly sleepable for both of us, eliminating the need for me to make up a bed in the breakfast nook each time we travel.
We drove about an hour and a half and found a campsite in a campground that is always full. But just as we arrived, the 26-hour reservation window expired for an anonymous camper and we got their spot. It was a sweetheart of a site, right on the river, with trees and shrubs providing a buffer zone between our dog and our neighbors and gave us more privacy.
I read and cooked outside and sat by the river and told DH I needed to sit there for a couple of weeks, allowing my thoughts to tumble with the river without having to decide what I’m supposed to do next.
I think about mom often. But during husband time, it’s an intrusion for her to be in my thoughts as they were when she was alive and I felt responsible for her. The catch-22. Now that I’m no longer responsible, I’m left with the sense that there’s no one to return to, no one is missing me, wanting to know “how was camping?” and telling me the M’s lost again.
Her loss has also created a surprising vulnerability. After setting up camp and having something to eat, DH went fly fishing up the Bumping River leaving me and Taz to read a book by the river. I was content, but Taz was not, creating a to-do before she was finally banished to the kennel.
Then, after a couple of hours, I began to worry. The river was, after all, running fast. What if he fell in, drowned, and floated by me while my back was turned, absorbed in a book.
I got Taz and walked up the bank of the river, through the backyard of other campers, noticing anew the swift water, the rapids, the depth, the width, the savagery of this river I was only recently sitting by and thinking of my thoughts tumbling gently over the rocks. I always saw him fish in much calmer waters.
By the time I got to a footbridge that crossed the river I was near tears, telling myself over and over how silly I was being. Then, I spotted him, like in the movies, jaunty and content, sauntering across the bridge with the late evening sun on his face. My heart went to my throat. I went to him and buried by face in his vest and wept. To say the least, he was as surprised as I was.
The next day as we came off the mountain and cell service returned, I thought, as I had many times before after being out of cell range that “I need to call mom.” It was as if a needle on an old record got off the track before I quickly moved the needle back in place.
But it’s not just mom I miss. The tribe has scattered again, this time no longer gathering at the feet of the great-grandmother, sitting around the table to eat dinner and laugh and talk and watch the great granddaughter play.
I knew it was going to happen, this scattering of the tribe, but that didn’t help the happening. And it didn’t just happen with mom’s passing. It has been happening in our tribe and assorted clans for the past 100 years.
As we got closer to home, my phone beeped that I had received a message. I saw that my brother had called earlier in the day. I smiled. It had only been two or three weeks, but I love the connection and his effort at keeping it open.
I called him back and told him about mom not letting go of her apartment and how the retirement home hasn’t had to buy so much sugar. We laughed together and I told him that I wondered if I was going to have to talk to her.
“Should I go to the apartment, or can I just talk to her, do you think?” I queried innocently.
“I think you can do it long distance,” he said.
And then a clear thought. The tribe may be scattered, but perhaps, like the cell phone losing connection in the mountains, maybe it’s possible to reestablish connection once we are out of the proverbial woods of grief and loss. Maybe we can begin to undue the scattering of the tribe.
But I can’t do it alone. I will do my best and do my part to keep the connection open. That’s all I’m responsible for.