CLAY JENKINSON: In Search Of America — I Know The Path Well Enough

Sundays always remind me of my father, Charles Everett Jenkinson. He has been dead for a quarter of a century now, but Sundays, I often miss him acutely. But he would never come on such a trip, not for all the money in the world. He thought camping was very silly: Why jettison 10,000 years of improvements in comfort to sleep under a tree?

It’s cold this morning. I am therefore sitting in the cab of my Toyota Tundra with the heat on typing these words.

I haven’t really talked with anyone for days. Just the minimum. I’ve been reading and writing and thinking, mostly. No radio, no TV, no DVDs. I do sneak a look at the New York Times online every day, just to make sure we haven’t yet invaded Iran or goaded them into a Gulf of Tonkin incident.

I don’t know if this happens to you, but when I engage in periods of intense reading, I always get a little depressed, for several reasons. First, I wonder what the heck I have been doing when I was not reading hard and long. And second, I realize that even if I did nothing but read, 15 hours a day for the rest of my life, I would be hopelessly ignorant and under-cultured. I want all the time back that I have spent in indolence. At the moment, I am reading two books: a biography of John Wesley Powell, and Edmundson’s “The Heart of the Humanities.” I have 150 pages left in the Powell biography, which will help me to get ready for next week’s performances in Boulder and Vail.

I’m at a remote National Forest Service campground near Fairplay, Colo. The South Park, Colo., campground is called Horseshoe. It was nearly full when I drove in, a dozen miles on a really bad approach road that would turn any full-size RV around. There was some kind of race here Saturday, so most of the campers were athletic, serious, quiet, lean and purposeful. But this campground is so far off pavement that it seems to attract a Mad Max crowd, too. Somebody spent the afternoon shooting guns in the distance. When I asked the ranger about this, she shrugged and said, “They have a right to shoot guns in the national forest, as long as they are not shooting at something living.” I had thought of staying here another day, but I think Steinbeckian wanderlust will carry me somewhere else, perhaps near Westcliff, Colo.

So far, I have not lit a fire. I’m trying to be a minimalist, but a fire would be great right now. I slept better than usual last night. I am used to the creakings of the rig by now, and I have enough blankets to stay warm, even on chilly nights. I walked six miles Saturday. That helps, too. My routine is pretty simple. I read until I reckon I must make dinner or lose the light. Then I cook something on the butane portable (miniature) stove that comes with the rig (I think because they would rather we did not cook in the kitchenette inside). I eat at that picnic table, either drinking in the forest or reading. Then I do a bit of cleanup around camp and head inside to read or write until I reckon I ought to go to sleep.

There is no really comfortable place inside the camper to read. The table-desk has the wrong kind of back support, so I read in the big double bed over the cab of the pickup. There is a very handy light there.

Note: As I type this, the camp is waking up. People are waddling around in parkas. There is some fog. This is the sort of morning when you throw everything back into the car in a heap and drive out to a breakfast place somewhere.

I keep making serious resolutions about my life. The paragraph that rattles about my head and heart is from Thoreau’s “Walden“:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

That’s precisely it. Most of us, I included, go through the world on autopilot. I have accumulated so many books, so much gear, so much stuff, that I am drowning in it. Has it made me happy? Well, partly yes, and very significantly no.

In another great passage Thoreau says a philosopher is someone who lives a beautiful, intentional, deliberate, practical life, someone who maintains his body heat more intelligently than other men. Or put it this way. I have a great deal I still want to say to the world, and I don’t think it can be said by anyone who does not live and embody the change, the more enlightened life. You have to show others that you are not just all talk, that you exemplify, that you incorporate a better way. I need more energy to do that, better sleep certainly.

The funny thing is: I know the path well enough. There is no mystery about that. Eat less and more deliberately, move your body more, pare down your material world, stretch your muscles and your mind every day, simplify, say no to more distractions, find out what you want to say and then find a clear and unpretentious way to say it. As I say, it’s not rocket science.

Time to brush my teeth, do a sponge bath, change shirts, batten down the pop-up and strike out for the territories. I’ve been a poor Steinbeck. I have not engaged in conversation with Canuck potato harvesters or the son of a homophobic father or with an itinerant Shakespearean elocutionist. I guess you have to talk with people to get that.

Leave a Reply