It’s a wonder I have anything from my past. Photographs, keepsakes. I moved around so much in my twenties (and went through numerous purges of personal possessions) there isn’t much in the material that has remained.
There is one solid constant that has served me for nearly twenty years. It’s seen snow and beaches, sunrises and sunsets. It’s been with me through thunder and wind storms. It’s seen me in safe and sound, and petrified to the core. It was the first stepping stone toward adventure that lead me to this very point in time. It’s my little Kelty tent for two. And yesterday, I pulled it down and opened it.
Jeb had a friend over and the two of them wanted to make a ‘hide out’. “Please, mom, can we set up the tent!”
I bought this tent back in 1994. I was twenty, about to turn twenty-one, and I had decided that I would spend the summer traveling the West coast, exploring Oregon and Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. It was critical in my mind that I undertake this journey alone. I wanted to see if I could face my fears. Test my theory that with good intent and openness, deep truths and spiritual connection could be attained.
Step one. The tent. Before I ever started out, I had to overcome my doubt that I would be adept enough to set up my own tent. I was afraid I’d find myself in a downpour in a Washington rainforest, unable to remember how to prop up my shelter. I remember iterating this point clearly to the salesman at the sporting goods shop. He assured me that the tent we were looking at was very simple to erect. He did give me a demonstration. I was still unsure. All reservations about my pending adventure were directed to the tent.
Knowing I had no control over the circumstances that may occur on my summer trip, I focused my energies on being prepared. Standing in the living room at my mom’s house, I would practice setting up the tent as quickly as I could, imagining inclement weather, darkness, or other crises. How fast could I create my shelter?
Of course, the tent was very simple to put up and that summer I got plenty of practice. It saw a parking lot with 90,000 Grateful Dead fans in Eugene. A beach-front bluff in coastal Oregon. That tent and I spent time in thick, mossy forests on Washington’s peninsula – quiet and lush with morning butterflies. The tent-for-two aspect proved handy when I softened on my strictly solo travel plan and spent a week with the Swiss Traveler I met in Seattle. For those few days I had a kind and gentle companion with whom to meander up to Orcas Island, wandering forests and sand together before he flew back home.
That summer marked a fork in my life road, and by the Fall it was apparent I had set foot on a path less traveled. Not a decision made with my mind, but rather a knowingness felt with all of my instincts – a guidance that had been so sharply honed that summer in my travels.
I packed up my tent and continued to quest. Eventually, I drove all the way to New England from California, camping along the way. That Kelty tent served as my touchstone in every state. Later, I’d spend another summer living in my little pop-up. I camped in the Vermont woods at night while working at a local bagel shop by day. The Swiss Traveler even returned for two more weeks of wilderness and tent-life living.
Nearly twenty years later, I’m in my front yard on Kauai with my seven-year old son, opening the original bag that houses my little tent. The bag is brittle and tearing, held together with patches of old duct tape. Jeb and I unzip the bag and unroll its contents. The scent of the synthetic material wafts to my nose, so familiar. All of these years and the smell of my tent has not changed. With it comes a flood of memories. All of the places where these four corners have been staked. Nearly two decades of feelings experienced within these flimsy walls.
Woven in this scent is adventure. The courage to embark on something new. The bravery to try. The willingness to love. The desire to find some truth. The need to forge ahead towards something different. A yearning to have the journey matter. And one solid thread holds at the core of all the information carried with this whiff of Kelty tent. Youth. My own. And all of it’s precious, earnest seeking.
Now I have my own son. And we set it up together, easy as one, two, three. No matter that the bungees have lost their elasticity (I will not indulge in parallels or metaphors at this juncture). The rain fly will still hold.
By day’s end, a tropical rain has passed and soaked the tent. Jeb and his friend have wrestled inside it, leaving it twisted and misshapen. But this reliable old tent is still standing solid. Now a place of refuge for my offspring.
It stands as a reminder of that spirit of adventure. That trust. That haven. I’m still on the quest. And all that’s held within the scent of my Kelty tent, still lives inside me.