Another weekend spent camping, so it is another Monday with the back yard full of drying gear and laundry on the line. This time, we were camping a little closer to home, and not far from the sea. The site was fairly crowded, and predictably so. This was the first weekend of the school holidays around here. There were lots of big tents – those jumbo, multi-room ones that boggle the mind of anyone who has ever backpacked with a tent – and a number of campervans, too. We set up our little tent beside our friends’ slightly larger one, underneath an oak tree halfway down the grassy field. Looking one way, we could see a wooded hill, with castle ruins at the top. The other way offered a view of the sea. It was a fantastic spot, and easy to see why it was popular.
The strange thing about this campsite was that campfires weren’t allowed. On the one hand, it’s understandable. Without set campfire rings, there was more flexibility on a crowded July weekend. And too many folk with too many fires might have posed a risk. Makes sense, but it felt strange to be camping with neither the work nor the focus of a fire. No sending the kids off to find more sticks. No gazing. No sparks rising to meet the stars overhead. No smores.
Part of the joy of a campfire is the quiet it creates. It holds our attention. It slows us down. We sit together and watch and talk and listen. It gives us a centre.
Instead, we spread a picnic blanket in the middle of our pitch and the kids piled on. Beangirl played storyteller. I’d packed a large shopping bag with books – picture books, nature books, collections of poetry and from the depths of this makeshift library, she dug out Jacob Two-Two. Win. Over the course of the weekend, she read through the whole thing, with plenty of great character voices.
On Saturday, we went for a hike. First up that hill to the ruins, and then down to the beach. We met cows on the hill and had to tackle a jungle of ferns and prickle bushes when we lost the path on the way back down. And then we found the beach which was wide and perfect. Blue took off for the sea, running as he always does, while we spread out the picnic blanket and unpacked the food. Later, there was time for sand castles and deep holes that very nearly did reach China. The older girls made underwater cities in small pools, tiling pathways with tiny shells and building stone towers topped with seaweed flags. They ran up the beach to gather the mothers and together we went to see and then we went to swim.
I can’t remember when I last swam in the sea. The taste of salt on my mouth and the water cool and soft around me. I grew up swimming in lakes and the ocean surprises me with its continuing movement. It is stronger than I am, but makes space for the strength of my strokes.
That night, I missed the campfire again. The kids were tired out and tumbled off to sleep easily enough. The adults stayed up, shared stories, ate chocolate, talked about our lives instead of the world. We sat at a small picnic table and watched the sky grow dark, then clouded. My shoulders felt stiff with the beginnings of a sunburn and my face felt cool in the night. As I went to sleep, I missed the campfire’s warmth and the light in the dark.
That’s what I’m thinking about this morning. While I was getting breakfast ready, the Spouse asked if I wanted the radio on. We always have the radio on at breakfast, but when he asked it today, it felt like he was asking if I was ready to listen. To step back into worry about the world. It’s been a crazy summer, hasn’t it? It feels like so much in the world is broken. It feels like we all need a good campfire, a circle of light like a reminder of Love where we can be gathered and warmed, and find rest and strength in dark times.
Or maybe the sea is enough. Maybe it is enough to remember what it feels like to be immersed, to know that we are held.
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. Psalm 107