The “Black People”: A Camping Story

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We found our camping spot without any trouble, compared to last time when we started late, couldn’t find the road, got turned around and then learned what a “soft shoulder” on the highway really meant. We had sat on the side of the road for hours with a man that had stopped to help, getting his own truck stuck in the process. Luckily, he had AAA and all we had to do was wait; all the while wondering if the “kind stranger” was really a psycho killer waiting for his chance to strike.

The tow truck driver was quick and efficient, pulling our truck and trailer out of the sand and then the stranger’s, righting both our vehicles on the side of the highway. When we told him where we were headed, he was happy to lead the way to the entrance road, stopping to give us a few pointers: head down the road about a mile and then pull off to camp, look for a better spot during daylight. It seems so simple once you know where the road is, but it seems that our memories of childhood camping spots, twenty years after the fact, aren’t as clear as we thought they were.

We went looking for the perfect spot at daybreak and have been returning to it for the last fifteen years.

This was the second time we had pulled our tent trailer, filled to the gills with three days worth of food and supplies for the five of us, out to what we now called “our spot” in the desert for a few days escape from city life.

Three kids piled into the backseat of the truck; my husband’s daughter, age 10, and our two sons, ages 3 and 5. They were so excited to be out in the wilderness again. The boys spent most of their days digging holes and playing army, bb guns within reach just in case there was an attack. Nikki spent her time reading and writing stories. She would play with the boys for a while when they begged her to join in their game. Listening to them was one of my favorite parts of camping. I wish I could have recorded them and all the fantastic stories they came up with together. From Indiana Jones scenes and Nazi invasions to Civil War reenactments and Star Wars scenarios, you just never knew what they’d come up with.

We took long hikes with the kids. I’d pack our adventure backpack, the one with all their favorite tools: binoculars, magnifying glass, baggies for collecting, bandanas, and first aid kit, with snacks for the “trail” and a few extra bottles of water. The kids all had their own canteen they carried, ones they got from Santa Claus the year before. The boys had their cowboy hats and camouflage on, bb guns slung over their shoulder for protection.

We’d head out away from the trailer in the direction of some rocky hill off in the distance. At first, the kids led the way and we followed along behind. They said they were “scouting” for a good trail to follow. We’d watch them walking and talking ahead. Every once in awhile, one of the boys would stop and stand alert, crouch down and signal for us to do the same. They’d pump their bb guns and fire a few rounds into a bush and then signal that is was safe for us to keep going. They’d scared off whatever bad guys that had been waiting to ambush us.

At some point in the walk, they’d get hungry and tired and we’d sit under a big creosote to picnic on salami and cheese or nuts and granola bars. That’s about as far as the trail went. From there, we’d begin to circle back toward the trailer, at some point ending up with us in the lead and the kids dragging along behind. The enthusiasm for the adventure had waned and they had reverted to simply three kids camping with their parents. We spent much more time getting back than going out, stopping every few minutes to let them catch up or to rest and get a drink of water. By the time we got back to camp, they acted like they had been dragged across the open desert for days, flopping into camp chairs and begging for someone to bring them a coke.

We got comfortable in our own chairs, thinking they’d be good to relax in one spot for at least an hour, but within minutes they were up and around again, digging through last nights campfire, looking for rabbits and birds in the bushes, and eventually back to being “bored with nothing to do.” Maybe we could play a game or build a rocket or pile these rocks up! We would have sworn they had been on the edge of death just a few minutes ago, but kids recover more quickly than their parents.

A “long” walk, a snack, a board game, lunch, another walk, a snack, a short foray into the wash on their own and then the sun started to set. I went inside the tent trailer to start getting dinner together while Dad and the kids built a campfire and dragged camp chairs around it.

When I came out to the fire, a bag of buns, a cylinder of Pringles, and a package of hot dogs in hand, they were all happily tending to a small fire in the fire pit they had dug out and surrounded with rocks the last time we were out here. Nikki was walking back and forth beside the fire relating the story of the ghost of a gold miner with pet goldfish that wandered the rocky desert chanting “Who’s going to feed my fish?” Dad and Tom were kneeling next to the fire poking it with sticks and finding little things to set on top of the logs to watch melt and burn. Jake, the youngest, was standing just at the edge of the firelight staring out into the darkness.

I set the hot dog fixings on one of the camp chairs and asked if anyone had seen the roasting sticks.

“They’re right here!” Tom said, reaching beside the fire to pick up the long wooden handled roasters his Dad had made the previous week.

Nikki threw herself to her knees beside her brother and reached for one of the sticks. Tom grabbed his stick and I slid a hot dog onto each. Dad helped them to keep them from burning up too quickly.

“Jake. You want a hot dog?” I called to my youngest, still watching the desert. No answer.

“Jake.”

“Jake!”

He just stood there, stock-still, looking. I walked over to him to get his attention. That kid always could get completely lost in his thoughts and not hear a word of the world around him. I walked up and knelt beside him, putting my hand across his back.

“Baby. Pretty out there, isn’t it?” I thought he might be watching the last of the sunlight seep out of the desert. He didn’t answer. He just stared out into the increasing darkness; his little brow furrowed.

“What ‘cha looking at, baby?”

Without looking away, “The black people.”

I laughed lightly and looked out into the darkness. “The black people?”

“Yeah.” He said in his tiny most serious voice.

“You mean the shadows? They do look like people.” Looking out at the bushes and trying to see what he saw.

“No. Shadows are under bushes.” He said, and then in a whisper, “The black people. They’re dancing.”

A chill washed over my body. What could he possibly be seeing? I turned his face to look at me and smiled nervously. “You have a clever imagination kiddo. Those are just shadows in the dark. The moon is coming up.” And I turned him toward the fire. “Let’s get a hot dog.”

He came with me but glanced back over his shoulder as we went. I refused to let his imaginings creep me out any more than they already had. I didn’t look back, even though the hair was standing up on the back of my neck.

As we joined the rest of the family, the kids were “sacrificing” a hot dog to the camping gods and Dad was dutifully putting blackened but cold hot dogs in buns because the kids said they were done and he wasn’t about to argue with them.

“Everything ok?” he asked as I reached for a hot dog to cook for Jake.

“Sure. He was just fascinated by the shadows.” I considered relating the story to him but thought better of it. I’ll tell it in the light of day, no need to freak everyone out with that. We had enough ghost stories already.

Jake sat beside me as I put a hot dog on the roaster and then helped hold and turn it as I kept it above the flames. When he said it was done, I put it on a bun, and he sat in a camp chair quietly munching it while staring out into the darkness.

Once we had finished eating and the kids had had enough of playing with the fire and singing silly songs, we all went inside the trailer to snuggle in for the night. Teeth brushed, jammas on, they all settled down in their sleeping bags, side by side, like three pigs in blankets. Everyone got a kiss goodnight and then Dad and I got into our sleeping bags on the other side of the trailer.

Once the lights were out, the giggling from the kid side commenced, followed by “Don’t touch me!” and “Mom!” and then more giggling.

“Ok, you guys. Settle down.” Dad’s business voice.

The ruckus quieted a little, picked up again, and then finally settled into quiet snores. They were asleep and I lay there next to my snoring husband, still wondering what in the world he could have been seeing out there.

Real Love Sets Us Free

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I found Wild Woman Sisterhood about a year ago and have loved just about everything they post. I am only saddened by the negativity of the Facebook comments they seem to get. I’m not sure if it’s social media itself or the people that tend to follow, but many commenters seem so self-centered, immature, and negative. Then again, maybe it’s just the written word that causes the confusion. It’s hard to write one or two lines and get a solid meaning across.

When I see a post on any page that I can’t get behind or doesn’t apply to me, I just keep scrolling. I’m sure it’s out in the universe for someone. That someone isn’t me at the moment. There are times when I do make a comment when I disagree, but it’s usually because I know the person that posted it personally. I’m talking to them directly, just as if they had said something over coffee. I don’t agree and I want to talk about that. But I’d never do that to a stranger and I especially wouldn’t do it on a social media post.

Maybe I just use it differently.

They posted something beautiful this morning and I felt compelled to add my own ideas to it. I kept thinking about it all morning. I even talked about it with my son as we went hiking through the desert.

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My morning routine was broken up today because he wanted to go hiking and, since it’s warming up out here in the desert, it couldn’t wait until the afternoon. After a lunch, a rest, and the dishes, I sat down to write, and the idea was still swimming around in my heart.

Here’s the quote.

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And this was my comment.

Such a beautiful sentiment!

A caged bird is “loved” too. But the best love is the kind that supports freely, the kind that makes you feel like you can do anything, including walking away.

That kind of love is precious.

I’m bound to my love, not because I feel like I have to stay but because I want to, because here, with my partner’s love, is where I grow and thrive best!

And then, when someone insisted that a caged bird is not really loved at all…

The person who caged it does believe they love it. They love it as an object to be taken care of like a book, pen, or chair.

Humans should never be loved that way, but we often treat each other as objects instead of beings. That doesn’t mean we don’t love each other. It means we haven’t grown enough to know the difference yet.

It takes a strong person to love another human as a separate being and not an object.

Lovers that treat their partners as objects to be kept, get scared and angry when their love isn’t returned or if their partner changes their mind.

Parents treat their children as pets, something to be controlled and cared for, instead of distinct individuals with their own wants, needs, and agendas.

And sometimes we treat our friends that way when we insist that they spend time with us and only us, as if they aren’t living their own life when we aren’t around.

Loving someone and letting them go, allowing them the space to be free, to say no to us, to walk away, is terrifying.

What if they find someone better? If you loved them, you’d want them to if they could.

What if they grow away from me? If you loved them, you’d want them to be the best they can be with or without you.

What if? Don’t ruin the time you have with your loved ones worrying about the future. Love them completely right now, so if the worst happens, you have all those beautiful memories to look back on.

If you LOVE someone, something, set it free. If it doesn’t come back…

Hunt it down! That’s what my Grandpa used to laugh and say! But we all know that just doesn’t work. The caged bird is safe and secure, but it will never fulfill its true reason for being on this earth.

The caged human is the same. She will never reach her own potential. He will never be who he was truly meant to be.

Love them but do not cage them. Support them, share with them, help them, but set them free and watch what they become.

Just Hiking with the Guys

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Life has become complicated lately. “Become.” I laugh as I write that, as if life is ever not complicated for anyone. Interesting though, that whatever you’re going through at whatever age or stage of life, you feel as if you are the first and only person to experience it…but then maybe you are. Only you can experience anything your way.

My sons are almost grown. One foot out the door, as they say. It’s a complicated feeling for me. I’ve spent the last 18 years being a Mom and not just any Mom, a hands-on (or, more precisely, hands-off) radically unschooling mom. I’ve attempted to be their supporter and experienced friend instead of an authoritarian and I feel like just when they’ve grown to the point of being great friends to have around, they are beginning to do what all young adults are born to do, drift away to find a place of their own.

It’s bitter sweet, both harsh and rewarding to see my life’s work come to fruition. And when my heart behaves itself, I can see how life will progress. They will establish themselves as free and independent adults, capable of handling life without a parent to support them, and then they’ll come back as strong equals. They’ll be better friends to me than they ever could be now.

It’ll be wonderful and I look forward to seeing the men they become. But transitions are complicated. It’s two steps forward and one step back. There are days when I’m amazed by them and days where I wonder where I went horribly wrong.

In the long run, I know where it will end up. Their Dad and I will be gone, and they will have families of their own to continue into the future. Life.