Shaking my head, I walked back. My thirty second jog ahead had not turned up the Stone Elephant that had inspired us to choose this trail.
“I told you we should have just turned back before,” said a particularly hungry camper.
“Well it’s just 2:03 now, so we would have walked this far no matter what,” I told her to a chorus of agreement from the campers who were either positively convinced by the sane tone I attempted to inject into my voice or negatively terrified by the bizarre instability of it.
My assistant director, Star, interjected, “Okay girls, why don’t you take a big drink of water and then take a seat on the ground–” suddenly refined, the girls looked warily from the seats of their shorts to the dirt, “–You can use your backpacks as sit-upons.”
I rushed to make an example of the action, throwing my backpack on the dirt and shoving the whole of my itchy sweating mass against it. I didn’t know where she was going with this, but I trusted her experience and prepared to assume the role of dream camper before the frustrated counselor lurking at the corners of my mouth made any more appearances. Authority is a dangerous thing when you’ve sweat yourself a third layer where your backpack meets your back and the bugs find any centimeter of skin that escaped the range of the spray and you have ten impressionable charges following your every drip and scratch until you lose your own sense of self possession in the frenzy. I felt a new sense of empathy for soldiers.
As I sat, conducting my desire for battle to play out on my face rather than on my campers, Star explained that we would be taking time just to sit and be one with nature, and I felt myself inhale fully for the first time in miles. She was explaining the activity but she meant silence. Silence. I repeated what she had said in anxious fragments to the girls. Quiet right? One nature? Yes. No talking. Listen. Breathe. Sit.
I became exhausted with my whirling dervish of unclear reiterations and plopped down to pull out my journal.
I began writing my way through the trees and shrubs that surrounded me, framing a view for myself with my words. As I wrote I realized the strangeness of it, why was I going beyond the visual experience of it? The deep greens and the leaves rushing in the breeze and the blur of gnats against the branches. Why not just look?
The camper with the thick hair and inquisitive eyes behind the glasses that took up half her face tapped my knee and pointed to a centipede. I smiled and turned back to my journal in a huff.
Why’d she done that? She was one of the good ones. I was the third in a long line of her camp counselors for the summer. She should have known how to behave.
I sat with my pen stalled on the page. Why why why why. A bird called to it’s brother in the trees. The wind answered. I took a deep breath.
This wasn’t her trying to evade quiet time. This was her demanding that I participate in her joy. We can never understand each other. Especially not when we are hungry and tired and hot and bitten, but we give to each other nevertheless. We give even if our excitement isn’t perfectly understood by someone else. Were willing to sacrifice the integrity of our own discoveries to the altar of hope that someone else may enjoy them and they will endure.
He popped into my head. I thought about the last time he saw me and took a step back and raised his eyebrows at one of my outfits and I raised an eyebrow at him and we froze until he smiled and pulled me in then we laughed until we were tangled all together in each other’s arms like love locks on those bridges in Europe.
That little glimmer of mental camaraderie. That simultaneous delight. It’s worth more than perfect, unadulterated understanding.
“Okay. It’s been five minutes,” Star said.
As she began the discussion about what the girls heard during their quiet time, I looked back at the camper and pointed at the centipede. See.
We saw ourselves smile in each other’s eyes.