“I like everything about camping,” he said, “except camping.” My friend and I were hiking to what the guidebook described as a “spectacular, yet little-known waterfall.” Both the “spectacular” and “little-known” descriptions had special appeal to each of us. Skinny-dipping is a whole lot more fun without other people – like family groups and scout troops – showing up unexpectedly.
“I like hiking,” he went on, “I like eating outside around a fire. Though I do prefer calling it a bonfire rather campfire. Bon,” he said, “means ‘good’ in French. C’est bon. ‘Campfire’ implies, well… camping.”
“Not a big fan of sleeping outside, myself,” I responded. “I remember doing it as a kid and being covered in the morning with mosquito or flea bites. I’ve never considered bugs – any kind of bugs – and sleep to be a good mix. And anyway, when we set up a tent outside, we are most certainly invading other creatures’ territory, aren’t we? What would the Sierra Club say about that?”
It was a perfect day for hiking. Light breezes inviting leaves to join in a choreographed dance or simply flap about. Brilliant spots of sunlight mottling ferns, roots, huge stones and mysterious holes. Temperature not beastly, but with enough therms to entice a scout-and-family-free swim. It felt as if we were in a Disney movie and at any time, an animated Pooh would appear on the path in front of us and say, “O bother! Neither of you is Piglet.”
“But I’ve always wondered,” my friend continued, “if there was something wrong with me – not liking camping. My friends all love it. Or say they do. But because I prefer sheets, bed, toilet and hot shower, I have often felt less-than. Sort of a wussie. You know? Spoiled. Sort of like I wasn’t man enough to do the camping thing.” He was on the trail ahead of me, or he would have seen a big, goofy, knowing grin spread all over my face. “You ever felt that way?” he asked.
“Constantly,” I replied. “In my junior and high-school years, I took piano lessons. I was into it. Big-time. So I practiced every day after school. Every day. Every friggin’ day. Two hours. I never went out for sports. And anyway, musicians don’t go out for sports because if you break an arm, hand or even a finger, your music gets put on hold for weeks. And all that teen-age time, I felt like a wuss: scrawny, delicate, puny. Unlike the football players who got all the girls.”
We made it to the waterfall, put down our backpacks, glanced at each other, smiled, scoped the scene for scouts or families, pulled off our clothes and waded into the cold water with a whoop, a squeal and a howling, “Holy Jesus!” “I say,” he yelped an octave higher than his regular voice as his butt disappeared under the water, “I say that whatever brings you joy is what makes you a man. Or a woman. Or whatever the hell you are.” Up to my waist now in the icy water, I was pretty sure if I emerged from the stream, no family or scout would know which I was.
“Well, call me a wuss,” my friend said through chattering lips, “but I got to get out of here and find either a hot shower or hot rock. The rock was there and we lay back to thaw. “Why do we put ourselves down?” he asked. “Why do we let others’ ideas direct our choices? I remember reading somewhere that comparison is the thief of joy.”
“And I would say perfection is comparison’s sidekick.” I added. With a little help from a flask, we toasted to joy even as the rock toasted our backs and butts and somehow reminded us both that we were both just fine – wussie and all.