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Breaking Camp





Fulfillment is not in just having a lot of things,

but in relating with pleasure and appreciation

to the things of the earth that we do have,

without possessing them.

Wild Rivers and Mountain Trails

Don Ian Smith


Life is a series of breaking camps. Here in the canoe country, it is not uncommon to select a breath-catching campsite. Life is good. The rocky shelf makes for ideal swimming. There is a bountiful wood supply; the ground is flat to pitch a tent. The vistas are glorious. The night sky brings a moon up over the trees, just across the lake. It rises slowly as it sweeps over us.


But in a day or two, we break camp headed for another destination. We could stay. There is nothing wrong here, but the journey calls us on.


Without knowing what or where the next campsite will be, we fold our tents, take up our packs, board our canoes and push off from shore.


There are many ways we experience this same phenomenon.

People who move leave one home headed for another. We

often don't move away so much as we move toward

something of greater necessity or value.


It is an uncertain journey in some respects. No one can fully anticipate what the new neighbors will be like or whether our children will discover new friends. But we bid goodbye to one "campsite" from the water and paddle towards the far shore and on to the next portage.


Families join together to say goodbye to a loved one in hospice or a hospital room. Suddenly that loved one is gone, and we are left to break camp — to sort through all the things we will take with us or leave behind. It is an awkward feeling, but an appropriate one as well.


As a marriage and family therapist, I often have witnessed people who leave behind a way they have related that might have been comfortable once.


Circumstances have changed. Life requires more.

The portages ahead demand hard work, but they have

another goal now, and they are determined to realize it.

They can no longer stay where they are.


Individuals leave familiar places to venture out. Retirement brings challenges as we must adapt and adjust. The ease of knowing where everything is no longer seems to fit the circumstances.

Children leave home. We move from one job to another; we are transferred even within the same company. We reach key bellwether dates such as turning forty or fifty or sixty. There are changes to our health, a rising depression, the uneasy intimation we are missing out on life.


All these and more make us take more

sustained looks down the lake.


We wonder. We dream. We think, “What if?" We spend more time contemplating the possibilities. We are more aware that time has changed us.

For people who are contemplating leaving the familiar to break camp, perhaps these questions might be helpful to you:

  • Are you moving toward something or just moving away?

  • Is there something to be said for the adventure of the journey and not just the comfort of the place?

  • Are your instincts telling you there is value in staying put? Thunderstorms and high winds can make inadvisable something that, on a whim, we decide because we can.

  • Can we be sure that the beckoning site is not even more beautiful?

This campsite might not be The Best. The next might be even better. The uncertainty might trouble us and make us hesitate, but staying may not be the only or best option. It is the same uncertainty that paralyzes action that can bring us new experiences, even more rewarding.

  • Are we overextending ourselves?

  • Is what we are doing within our resources?

  • Do we have the right equipment, enough food, the right people, a good plan? It’s crazy to go on a forty-day camping trip with thirty days of pancake mix.

How do we find the wisdom inside of us to know there is value sometimes in staying? Sometimes in leaving?


Breaking camp. We do this often. Life is not static.

As much as we want security, it is not always ours.


And sometimes, in complacency, we crave the novelty of a new campsite in a new place, even though it may not have the same rocky ledges to dive from we had before.

The fishing may not be as generous. But in time, the pleasures of this new site will take on a uniqueness all its own.


Poetry to relax to and to get a feel for the Canoe Country whether in a high-rise, before bed, on long winter nights, or to throw into a backpack for a canoe trip. Short nature reads. Poetry for the Unsuspecting.