Sleeping Under Trees

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sleeping Under Trees
What camp overnights taught me.

Last summer, when I worked as a camp counselor, I had to participate in what the camp called “overnights” which was basically the one night of the week when my campers and I spent the night in one of the primitive campsites set up for us.

Every week, after our evening activity, we gathered our sleeping bags, blankets, and other nighttime accessories and hiked until we reached the campsite. There, we cooked “hobo packs” (which consisted of frozen veggies and meat pre-wrapped in foil) over the fire pit we created, and laid out our sleeping bags on the large, blue tarp that was provided for us. After dinner was s’mores, and if every camper insisted (which they always did) we’d hike to “Lookout Point” to watch the sunset over the entire camp. By the time we returned from Lookout Point, it would be dark out and the campers would happily retreat to their sleeping bags for an attempt at slumber.

These overnights were the most complained about events of the camp experience. It was hot, buggy, and often uncomfortable. Plus, all the hiking involved was utterly exhausting, especially when everyone is half asleep and forced to carry all their disorganized belongings.

And yet, the overnight experience was also the most rewarding. Personally, overnights were my favorite part of the week. And I didn’t even have a sleeping bag. I used my regular pillow and queen-sized blanket to sleep with (I poked holes in my pillow case, and stuffed my blanket into it for easy carrying). Bugs crawled on me frequently as I slept, my single blanket and the tarp did little to soften the hard, dirt ground underneath, and since I was the counselor, I was naturally the last to go to bed and the first to rise. And yet, I woke up every morning from the overnight feeling refreshed, energized, and completely at peace. I’d go to sleep with the stars and moon above me and wake to the sunlight shining through the tree branches.

Nature is a powerful and beautiful source that in our current days of the technology-obsessed we have come to undervalue. These overnights were my weekly reminder of how essential nature is to us. We had virtually no access to cell phones, internet, or anything else with a digital screen. We had only the clothes on our backs, the essentials we could carry, and each other. And that was enough.

It was a humbling experience that taught me what it meant to live, and how very little was required to live a happy, healthy, and fulfilled life. It’s so easy to get caught up in all the glitter and gold flashing from our screens in tech-obsessed advertisements that we forget to catch the glittering effect of the golden sunlight shining through the tree branches. 

How many material things do we convince ourselves we need? The truth is, we don’t need as much as we think we do. We simply need a hot meal, and fresh water, enjoyed with a campfire surrounded by good people. We need laughter, hugs, and long hikes to watch the sunset. We need trees, stars, and sunlight. 

Not the fake, processed, man-made material goods we’ve become so heavily dependent on.

We need real.

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