Every summer my mother took my two brothers and me camping. Every year we went to the same campground, secured the same campsite, and joined her friend’s family of three girls and one boy for two weeks of what they called fun. Our guarded interactions usually passed after the first day had passed, leaving us able to interact as if we were the best of friends. With fears of unfamiliarity and unspoken attractions diminished, we were free to go about our days swimming, fishing with a hook on a string off the deck, eating, playing ping pong, riding bikes – we only had a few – hiking, swimming and more fishing and eating.
Parents only existed in this world during the in between time – the time between our doing “this” and doing “that”. They probably played a significant role relative to food, but who knew. From our perspective, sure, they cooked, whatever that meant, and the food showed up. It was always on the table or coming just as we sat down for a brief in between time.
I don’t remember the exact details of how the great journey developed but at the end of dinner one evening, the other family’s father, a stranger to me at the time, raised his arm, pointed across the table and announced that he was going over to a field in the distance to look at the cows. The details blur together in a fog for me but I remember turning to look over my shoulder in the direction he was pointing and seeing a few cows grazing in a large field off in the distance. The open area of grass appeared as if it sloped up and away in a grand vista that no kid would ever notice without an adult pointing it out. I remember thinking, “what, all the way over there” because while I could see the field, it appeared to be very far away.
Now who would have thought such a thing would be appealing to any kid my age, but for whatever reason – boredom maybe – it seems to me that most, if not all of us were intrigued by his announcement. To me, the field was well beyond the other side of the campground and the woods beyond that. That field with the cows was somewhere much farther than any of us had surely ever been. Nevertheless, he was going and somehow I think he was going not only for himself, but to occupy our in between time as well.
Unlike all the other in between times of camping that I cannot recall, I remember getting ready for the hike in detail. I remember talking about what we would see and what we were going to do when we got there. Once we start out, the anticipation filled me with excitement and energy that made the hike almost effortless. I even remember details of the hike itself; the woods we’d never been to on the far side of the campground, the creek we crossed by stepping on rocks, the fence we climbed over and the final trek up the long field that seemed to go on forever. I remember feeling at ease while sharing this experience with those people that just a few days ago made me feel shy and insecure.
We eventually reached the field. I remember breaking through the edge of the woods and looking out onto the upward slope of the field. I don’t recall if we actually found any cows when we got there, but it seems to me we did because I have a memory of us all standing around and actually petting one, but maybe that’s just an ending I created.
I do know this; that day, whether he knows it or not, that one adventure was my first experience of the wisdom that it is not the destination, but the journey, that holds the depth of life, and the journey is the destination. Somehow, I think he knew that and he was giving us our first glimpse of the joy the journey allows.