I live in a tent. I do not live there permanently, not physically anyway, but rather emotionally. I wish I lived in a tent. Tent life is different—it does something to you. It is a way of life that meanders into your soul, liberating you from the gravitational pull of human narcissism. It is like a good book. The kind you read but never place on a shelf. The kind you carry around for fear it might get thrown in a cardboard box, never to be touched again. It is tattered and torn and bent, and its scent is like none other. It is always intellectually stimulating. Tents are the cover of a good book. Not a hardback, for that is too rich, but rather a paperback. A tent gives minimal protection to your physical being because its job is simply to encapsulate your psyche.
I have learned a lot while lying in a tent. It is where I first became intimate with Edward Abbey and learned that Ho Chi Minh was an intelligent man of meager means. I have learned that sometimes what I have been taught is not the truth. I have learned that man lies and I have learned to accept his fate. In my tent I have been afraid, but more often I have felt safe. I have frozen in the winter winds, and I have suffocated in the Utah heat. I have slept on an army cot, air mattress, and rocks. Sleeping on rocks is what I prefer. It is a humbling experience. Many Caucasians, Asians, Arabs, Mexicans, and other humans sleep on rocks—I am no better, and so I have learned to shift often and focus on something more problematic like, for instance, the javelinas now circling my campsite. Their snorting reminds me of the gluttony consuming people these days, a topic into which I will not delve, but instead let serve as a transition into my thoughts about tent people.
For the most part, tent people are a different breed. They are an eclectic group. Of course, within the last five years, even they have become somewhat soft. Five years ago, solar showers hanging from tree limbs and fire-starter bricks were considered luxuries of camping. Today, however, I sit here wishing for ear plugs as my tent neighbors play some Zen rendition of Celine Dion on their battery operated CD player, while simultaneously cooking steaks on their less than portable grill. Too, it is becoming more and more arduous to set up a tent where the humming of a generator does not disturb the natural setting. Nylon and aluminum-alloy are being replaced more rapidly by gas-guzzling RVs and tow vehicles. Similarly, quiet soul-seeking people are being replaced by their loud thrill-seeking adversaries.
I simply want to read with only nature as background noise, but Happy Meal children are running to and fro screaming at one another as they cast stones from the river bed. I decide to cast them as characters in Karnow’s book, but I suddenly feel like the merciless emperor at Huế and I realize it is not their fault, but the aforementioned gluttony that has probably already devoured their parents. Still, I look over at my daughter collecting insects for temporary viewing, and I am thankful that she understands the concept of solitude—at least while in nature. I suppose I have not advanced enough—by monetary means anyway. I tend to be judgmental which I admit, in all reality, makes me a hypocrite. Unfortunately, I cannot overcome that feeling of detest with the current tent yuppies in their SUVs when opposite of me an old yellow school bus with “poor, young, and angry” painted on one side and “ennui” on the other has just birthed a group of tent gypsies. I can relate to their spray painted thoughts. After all, I, too, feel a sense of dissatisfaction with the world as it is today.
It is a saddening experience to have to come home to reality. I have often wondered how people who have been dependent on their tent for months at a time cope with the transition. Even after one week of living in my tent, breaking camp seems equivalent to an eviction. To exile. By then, I have become so accustomed to a lack of amenities that I almost feel guilty when I come home to a mattress and a toilet I do not share with strangers. I cannot remember a time, before today, that I did not cry at the sight of the soil where my tent has left an impression. I cannot remember a time that I did not feel a sense of envy towards the next person to claim my site. But today is different as I sit on the ground writing these words. The tears have settled in my throat causing a feeling of panic in my being. As I look around me, I see the prints of the wildlife that I sometimes fear, and I wonder if I could truly live here. I wonder. I do not cry until the mountains, once serving as my shield, leave my peripheral view and Eddie Vedder’s voice reminds me that the soul that is inside me now is like a brand new friend I will forever know.
I live in a tent. I do not live there permanently, not physically anyway. My soul lives in a tent.