I woke up just at first light, lay awake for a little while beginning to turn the idea for this essay over in my head and then drifted back to sleep again. The mattress on my bed here at home is well past its “use by” date, and it’s begun to develop a few little lumps here and there, but the springs are still tight. It’s not uncomfortable by almost any reasonable measure, but that’s the best you can say for it if you’re being objective, which, of course, anyone engaged in such intimacy as sleeping with it never is. But after a few days of being away, anywhere away, it’s wonderful to come home to, luxurious and welcoming.
Waking up at Grand Canyon over the last few days was surreal. With my foam pad under me, I was deliciously comfortable, and I awakened each morning to rapturous birdsong, the robins chirruping overhead in the Ponderosa pines, the woodpeckers knocking away as they hammered for bugs, ravens calling to each other as they spied over the campground below them, collaborating or contesting over which of them would be robbing any food left out in the open or scattering any aluminum foil crumpled into a fire ring. The exuberance of morning in the national park was delightful, and of course, part of that delight was simply that it wasn’t home.
But after that few days away, it’s so good to come home and be greeted by the chirps of my house finches, the whit-wheat of the curve-billed thrashers, the chatter of the cactus wrens and the distant cooing of mourning doves. It’s cloudy here and looks like we might get some monsoon rains today, which would be a blessing if it helps to break the heat. It was 111 degrees yesterday when I arrived home, and so the camping equipment that can stand the heat is still mostly packed in the car for me to unload before it gets too hot today.
I still have most of the other unpacking and reorganizing chores to do, so I’m glad that I left myself a day at home in which to do them. The plan for the day is to get that done in the morning, the tent unpacked and repacked properly, since at the campsite I stowed it away in its bag and then turned around and saw its fly still draped across a lawn chair like Mae West on a Victorian parlor sofa; the camp kitchen to be stowed inn its proper place in my garden shed after I have extracted the cast iron pans that I also use at home; places to find for the two new tarps I acquired at Grand Canyon after someone else had discarded them next to the trash container.
Then I’ll ease myself back into my real life – the one in which I’m not a casual camper who doesn’t really like going to bed smelling of smoke – I understand the allure of the campfire for others, but I’ll always bless whoever thought up both the charcoal briquet and the fuel-burning stove as better alternatives for actual cooking. By easing myself back into my real life, what I really mean is easing myself back into my working life. I am going off to Montana in a couple of weeks for a conference on bison, a topic about which I know next to nothing, and I need to study up. We’ll be talking about bioregenerative agriculture, and what I know about that so far is merely that it’s supposed to be good for the land if the soil is turfed up by the hooves of nomadic herds of large ungulates, and that modern bison ranching involves intensive management to simulate what those animals would have done in the prehistoric wild. I know that it’s being thought that, if it’s managed this way, the prairies sequester carbon, which is a help in the fight against climate change. But that’s all I know, and it’s not enough.
The chance to take a day and do some research is why I left the Grand Canyon and the relative coolness of northern Arizona a day earlier than I really had to. My plan now is simply to find the research materials I need on the Internet, print them out, and take them with me when I leave for New York on Friday so that I can read it all on the plane on the way there.
Thus I manage my life as an urban dweller who’s interested in rural life, the agriculture that provides the food resources that make the cities I love and my life in them possible. I am a spiritual descendant of Thomas Jefferson in that way, although I hope without the moral deficit that allowed him simply to overlook the gross inhumanity of slavery and all that implied. I’m referring simply to his deep interest in agriculture and the natural world folded into a life of urban sophistication. Mercifully, the moral ambiguities there are not a problem that I have to deal with today. Today is for tidying away the camping gear and using the Internet to learn about bison.