If you want to read Part 1 of this memoir...
The Gray Space of Worry
The night before we were to leave on the camping trip, I had a hard time getting to sleep. I couldn't slow my brain from the pace of all day packing and supply runs and last minute remembrances.
I kept getting up from bed to pull some important item from a drawer or closet, and place it on the floor where I would all but trip over it in the morning, in the final dash about the house, scooping personal toiletries and glasses and device chargers into a backpack.
When I finally resettled (again), closed my eyes, and sighed loudly across the pillow case... the sound of my breath continued. The noise sustained itself. My lungs paused and reversed. The sound -- the hissing -- did not.
I had the sensation that my bed was sinking and shrinking beneath me…
In the gray worry of believing I was still awake, I could feel cold ground through the material of my bed, hard gravel, the pointy corner of stones, the bones of tree roots. When I rolled over, pockets of trapped air crawled around my elbows and huddled up along my legs.
That hiss. That awful hissing sound was dying away. The only thing worse was when it ceased altogether.
And then I was giving in to the frustration, to waking up unrested and uncomfortable in predawn light, in the middle of the woods, with a punctured air mattress.
So, I was back up at 3 am, with an alarm on my phone ominously counting down in silence to a 6 am wake up call.
I was back up in the attic, having powerful second thoughts about the thing I had decided in broad daylight that I did not need.
I have this extra camp bed. An old air mattress. A perfectly good one, just not the new double-high queen I had purchased for my last trip, my most recent big new equipment acquisition.
A punctured air mattress is just god-awful. It may be the singularly most deflating unfortunate event that can befall a camper. It's all the more terrible when it happens to a new mattress. No piece of blow-up technology is 100% guaranteed.
Surviving the Future
And you can't just run to the store when you're camping. The purpose of it -- indeed, much of the game of camping -- lies in the ability to foresee every possibility, to forecast weather, and to predict all kinds of other primitive challenges.
Camping is a sport of seeing into the future and surviving the unexpected, being prepared to live through the story for which no one ever wishes.
It's Anticipation, with your Pessimism filtered turned off.
Consciously loading the mindset of potential future disaster scenarios is the very definition of anxiety.
How is that even fun? A holiday?
Well, the human brain is a problem solver, and many of our happiest memories are made from mishaps. A good vacation tale is seeded by misadventure. The rough drafts are usually something terrible in the present that we can one day afford to invite others to laugh at.
Nick thought my backups and contingencies were (his words) "a little ridiculously thorough." I admit, I felt embarrassed that my scouty preparedness might be a bit overkill.
Part of the practice of living with intuition comes from going along with impulses and not judging them. And you don't get credit for saying, after the fact, "Oh, I knew… I had a feeling… I should have..."
Shoulda coulda woulda doesn't count.
To play the intuitive with a premonition, to successfully communicate a feeling that may have no logical argument, to put your incidental inklings up for possible ridicule… It's an exercise in not caring that you might look and sound like a fool.
In anticipation of quickly and efficiently loading up Nick's Jeep Cherokee that morning, I had arranged everything on the floor of the garage, in reverse order of how it needed to be packed so that it could be properly unloaded.
The only exception was the small black roll of the old air mattress. It was off on its own in a corner, nearby, but still under consideration.
"What's that?" Nick asked.
"An extra bed."
"Do you want me to pack it?"
"I'm not sure yet."
"Do we need it?"
"No. Maybe. I don't have a satisfying answer for that question…"
I stared at it, remembering my sinking feeling of the night before. (Was it a dream?) I tried to reevaluate it in the light of day.
"What's the big deal?" Nick asked, frowning.
I shook myself free of the spell, this worry, this irrational compulsion. "I don't know. It's not a big deal."
"Well, it's not that physically big either," Nick offered a voice of reason and decisive compromise. "There's plenty of room. So, just bring it."
Later that day, when we unloaded and transported everything to the camp site, the extra bed was noticeably left behind. It was the only thing we brought that we really didn't need. It sat there alone on the folded-down seats in a cargo area that was an embarrassment of space for such a compact yet completely unnecessary package.
Where Confirmation of Your Intuition Comes From
Every Memorial Day I go camping at the same campground with the same group of friends. (I've written about it before in the post Jack Daniels Makes You Telepathic.) We all faithfully return to meet each spring, like salmon or sea turtles or homing pigeons. Even though I rarely speak to them during the year, I can count on them to be there in the same clearing among the trees, beside that fallen log and the slick trickle of a creek where somebody always spots a snake.
The laughter and the easy comradery speak of a more constant bond.
I was on the lookout for the arrival of my friend Keith, one of the people I feel the closest to and most look forward to meeting again. An old soul, with a wise center, a calm happy outlook on life, and a boyish sense of humor.
Keith must have slipped in late and set up in the dark. I didn't see him until the next day.
Nick and I had gone back to the Jeep to lock our valuables in the glove compartment or hide credit cards between the seat cushions. Some little errand that took us back to the parking lot. There was the extra bed roll, cowering in the cavernous back of the vehicle.
I saw Nick see me look at it, worrying about it yet again. He rolled his eyes and chuckled.
Then there was Keith at last, with a friend of his, digging through junk in the bed of his red truck.
He greeted me happily and we exchanged the small talk that follows a hug and a hello. His companion waved briefly but then went back to their mission, searching for something in a toolbox.
"Hey," Keith said. "Surely you guys brought some duct tape? Or better yet, an air mattress patch kit?"
Nick and I exchanged a glance.
"I have something a hundred times better."
"You do?" Keith looked puzzled.
"Yes, I do. Why do you need it?" I was having a hard time suppressing a grin. "Go on, I need to hear you say it."
"…my bed has a hole in it and I woke up sleeping on a cold little flat layer of plastic with a root or a rock or something digging into my hip bone…"
There it was. The relief.
Some part of me had been holding my breath for two nights waiting for the confirmation on that nagging intuition, for the affirmation that can only come through the feedback of another. From somewhere -- or from someone -- outside your own head.
I wasn't wrong. And I was better than half-right. It wasn't a prediction about myself, exactly, it was about one of my dearest friends. Even better, there was relief that my anxieties and my efforts weren't even self-serving.
It was all about Keith. Keith, who excitedly posts the law of attraction truth bombs he discovers on Facebook, a sincere devotee of All Things Oprah, the man with a truer soul than just about anyone I know.
Of all the people in those woods, if anybody might be capable of sending me messages from the future, it would be Keith. Sending solutions for himself through my opportunity to obey an intuitive impulse of generosity, however neurotic and misunderstood it may have been in its initial form.
When you've already spent the first restless night of a camping trip on the ground, with the prospects of a tedious repair job just to get through the others with your fingers crossed, an extra bed is a godsend.
And it makes an awfully satisfying gift for the giver.
Happily ever after. For the moment, anyway. For now.
Image credit Simon Pais-Thomas via Creative Commons on Flickr