To borrow the phrase from Over the Rhine, if I may, camping and marriage have a bit of “lifelong fling.” Drop everything and pack some provisions. Live more fully, if only for a little while.
On our most recent excursion my honey and I spent time watching the sky and waves and fire. We hiked, cooked and wandered at the shore. We talked, spied on waterfowl to identify them, and–the first night–successfully erected a tent in gale-force winds. Camping brings a hightened awareness of surroundings, fellow campers, even Yahweh. I found an arrow head in the dirt and so many Petoskey and Charlevoix stones (fossilized coral dated to the Devonian Period 230 million years ago) on the beach after the high winds that I was throwing some back into the lake. We saw a shooting star and the Milky Way and so many many stars on a clear moonless night. Filled, thrilled, with vastness of space and time we were small in the best way possible.
The last morning we were sitting on our camping-chair-built-for-two on the beach, drinking coffee, talking and listening to the waves. Then a bird of prey that we still can’t identify coasted through the air in front of us, about 5 feet above our head. Its flight didn’t seem purposeful, more like this stout bird was checking us out or showing off. It was dark brown with white spots on the wings and bright orange legs. We can’t seem to find it in the Peterson bird book. Maybe it’s a very rare bird–more uncommon than even the ruffed grouse Jon saw in the woods the day before.
Then, despite the camper two sites away who brought his chain saw and enough gasoline to power it for 4 hours and the St. Mary’s Cement Company a mile or so upshore with lights and towers that brought to mind a power plant or oil refinery, I got it. Right there, as a world-weary 30-something at campsite 32 in Fisherman’s Island Sate Park, in my long johns and greasy hair, I felt a little like we were Adam and Eve. Here was almost-wholeness. Here was the paradiso masterpiece now locked away from its Maker by its own will. Here was the created–gorgeous and alive but bent and beat up. It was unmistakably Edenish. My imagination could squint and make out the shape of how life was for only a very short time a long way away and so many years ago.
Maybe those Petoskey stones I found were living coral at the time of Adam and Eve. Once they died and hardened into stones where were they when native hands worked the flint and formed that arrow head I found? When Yahweh gave life to this coral, did he think of me all these years later finding it as fossilized rock washed up on a shore? Did it make him smile to know that once I found it, turned it in my hand, showed my beloved, I would be jumping up and down with happiness? I’m just a mystic about all these story lines, the loose threads of ancient things and natural ways coming together in this seemingly anointed way.
So it shouldn’t be a surprise then, that I’m hoping we never can identify the bird that flew past us on that morning. I’d rather think of it as a non-existant bird, or an extinct one from the time of the arrow head. I’d like to think of it as a dark, orange-booted angel bird delivering a blessing, or a wink and a smile, to a man and a woman in their little throwback to Paradise, living it up wild and rustic on an inland shore.