I didn’t even look in my foot locker before I arrived at a Tennessee mountaintop this past weekend.
Packing it was a team effort by the Boy Scout leader and Star-ranked Scout in my life — with perhaps a little extra help from our resident Tiger Cub Scout.
What they gave me: An easy-peasy, dummy-proof tent (which I still had a hard time with, honestly). A tarp. A pad to sleep on. A sleeping bag rated for 30-below temps (it reached a high of 98 degrees in my part of Tennessee this weekend, but it was cooler on the mountain, and the bag was good to sleep on, if not in).
I also had a mess kit. Some toilet paper. Work gloves (though I did no work, I’m happy to report). A rubber mallet to help me drive my tent stakes.
Also included were bug spray, sun spray, disinfecting wipes, a first-aid kit, a fluffy pillow and an electric lantern.
The thing that charmed me the most, however, as I looked over my provisions, was the zipper-lock plastic bag that contained, in my son’s best handwriting, my emergency contact information. These guys really did think of everything.
Sometimes it’s nice to get away, and it’s especially nice to get completely away — miles from every last unfinished project, mess or commitment.
I enjoy peace and quiet, but anyone who has spent time in the outdoors knows that this equation is heavier on the "peace" than the “quiet” side. The bugs are surprisingly loud at night, and the birds make a real racket in the morning, starting around 4 a.m. I’m pretty sure they’re all just checking in with one another — "I’m here! I’m here! I’m over here!" — and I didn’t mind listening, especially since I had no one to check in with myself.
What drew me to Tennessee? My book publisher, Sundress Publications, is there, and the imprint also operates a good-sized goat and sheep farm, plus a farmhouse where writers are welcome for weeklong residencies to work on their poems or stories, provided they also feed and water the livestock and gather the chicken and duck eggs every day.
I was not there for a typical residency, though; that takes place at the bottom of the mountain. At the top, there is a whole lot of nothing, aside from trees and a rumored defunct still that no one has managed to find. I was joined on my campout by a small group of poets, and my job was to lead them through some writing exercises and discussions around a campfire.
Because I’m me, I also did some mindset work with the writers, helping them to set goals and to embrace their poet identities.
There’s something about getting away that helps us, sometimes, to remember who we are. The 11-hour drive there on Thursday and back on Sunday offered even more time for my own contemplation, much of which dealt with the overwhelming aroma of honeysuckle and my memory of my father teaching me to extract that flavorful drop from the flower — the tenderest, softest thing I ever saw those dad-hands do.
I hope my poets will hold on to the memory of who they are — bold creators and truth-tellers. My box of supplies reminded me of another important component of my identity: I’m part of a loving family who go the extra mile to take care of one another, while always remembering the importance of letting each other be our own person.
I’m lucky that way.