So today as I was pitching my fort (see my first post), trying to recall how the screen tent went together, I remembered a time camping cross-country alone in my twenties. I pulled into my site after dark and needed to set up my tent.
I threw the bag on the ground and attached my dog's leash to the picnic table. After shaking out the tent I snapped the poles together. I heard two young males at the next site laughing as it took me a few attempts to get the poles in the right places.
Grrrr. . . .
Then I realized I'd locked my keys in my pick up and couldn't quite get my arm through the cracked window. Nothing to do but ask the guys for help.
Grrrrrrrr. . . .
As I unlocked my door (yes, this was before electric locks) I dreaded going back. I knew their snickers were about my girly struggling over simple tent erection (pardon me). But when I returned their hanger, one offered me a beer.
In a nice, not creepy, way.
So I broke one of my personal rules and accepted.
Then he told me they were impressed. That they'd laughed at how they wouldn't have been able to put their tent up in the dark.
I learned a valuable lesson about making assumptions and about how I beat myself up for not being flawless. I like to think I've taken both lessons deep to heart.
Still, I'm damn good at setting up tents, and believe it's an important life skill.
Especially for girls.
It's been a very wet spring, and I keep waiting for the back acres to dry out. I pace at the window. I curse the clouds. Puddles mock me.
Last summer, I was tired of dreaming of snug pre-fab cabins that, if I had the money, I could buy one day and start writing in the next. I have an office that is also my kids' art room—my chaos on one side of the half-wall, their chaos on the other. In some ways, this was lovely. I hate to admit how many of my poems are inspired by things I overhear my kids say. But more and more I found myself wishing for a spare space that was mine, and mine only. A room of my own, as Virginia Woolf, would say. And since I started writing fiction, I figured I deserved one. (Actual quote: "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.") And though I didn't have money, I did have an idea. And an L. L. Bean catalogue.
Any mother who is an artist knows how hard it is to get away from clutter and caterwauls. This is no doubt true of many fathers as well, but in my experience, my husband can tuck away in his upstairs office (that doesn't even have a door) and not be bothered much. But if the kids know I am around--even if my husband is in the kitchen or living room--they holler my name until I emerge like a banshee to ask them what they need. Since I stopped nursing them years ago (they are 7 and 10 years old), what they need is always something Daddy can give them, or answer, or say no to just as well as I can.
The day the tent came in the mail, I hefted it back to the space I'd mowed in the meadow, a place carefully chosen for the lack of view of our house or any others. As I started threading poles in sleeves, my children wandered back to watch.
"Is this your fort?" my daughter asked.
"No, this is my writing . . . Yes, this is my fort. Mama's fort. And no one is allowed unless invited. Understand?" They both nodded solemnly. They knew the rules of forts.
"I can make you a sign if you want," my son said. "Like I made for mine."
I thanked him and went to grab the folding table and chair. Wow. A fort. Now this was really sounding like fun.
Last summer, I woke early, grabbed a big mug of coffee, snatched the bag with my manuscript and laptop, and strolled the short commute to my fort. Zip, I was in. Zip, everyone else was out. Ahhhh. Here the table was always as clear as the air, and I could think. Imagine. Sort things through.
That's what a fort is for. I had forgotten.
John Muir, one of my hero's, said, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." Writing outside helps me make sense of my obsessions that seem so random and embarrassing within civilized walls: raising healthy (but dirty) children; teaching students about why and how to get outdoors; trying to get outdoors myself, and with my husband like we used to; gender issues; great books I'm reading (mostly middle grade and young adult novels); writing poetry and my first novel and the very different paths to publication; married life (Hi, Honey!); higher education; odd natural history facts. . .
So join me in my fort this summer. Bring your biggest coffee mug, or green tea, or a gin and tonic. And if we can't solve the problems of our day, at least we can laugh at them.
But seriously, it has got to dry out so I can pitch the tent.
I write, read, recreate, and raise kids in rural Pennsylvania. I teach part-time in Outdoor Recreation Leadership, Creative Writing, and Women's Studies at Mansfield University.