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My Friend John


I haven’t read Travels with Charley in about 15 years, but Steinbeck for me is like an old friend. My two favorites: TWC and Journal of a Novel. I love his novels, but there is something so sweet about these two favorites of mine, and I know it’s the difference in tone. It feels like my friend John and I are sitting at a campfire, drinking coffee and adding log after log to the fire as he tells stories of travel and writing.

Travels with Charley, an excerpt (in reference to Deer Isle, Maine):

There is something about it that opens no door to words. But it stay s with you afterward, and more than that, think you didn’t know you saw come back to your after you have left. Everything stood out separate from everything else, a rock, a rounded lump of sea-polished driftwood on a beach, a roof line.

How Steinbeck describes his feelings about Deer Isle reminds me of my recent trip to Fallen Leaf Lake at South Lake Tahoe. It’s hard to explain the way being a brief resident of a campground as beautiful as that makes me feel. The air is so crisp and clean. Maybe it’s that camping is so simple. Every detail stands out because it’s not cluttered. There is no to-do list. I told my friend that often I feel like I’m on a treadmill, a cycle, a constant list of things to do. It’s life, and I love this life. But with camping, that list is short. The moment you are in is the only moment. I wish I could say that in my day-to-day life the present moment is the only moment. Right now, as I’m writing this, I’m listening for the dryer to stop so I can move laundry, half watching a football game, and negotiating with the bootie boy over whether or not he can have another Dora pop for dessert since it’s not really his fault that the dog ate his quesadilla right off the plate, and had that not happened he of course would have eaten all of his dinner. I’m slightly distracted is all I’m saying.

With camping, there is a simple quiet. When you go to the bathroom while camping you don’t think, “I should really clean in here.” You might think, “They should really clean in here,” but that’s someone else’s problem. When you cook on the camp stove you don’t wonder why you own so many gadgets or whether spices really expire within 6 months of purchase or whether if you really, truly believe in The Secret and chant in your mind ice cream truck, ice cream truck, ice cream truck one might show up in your driveway and you might be able to get something better than a popsicle for dessert. Like Haagen-Dazs. When you get dressed in your tent you don’t think “I really should get shoes that match these pants better.” You just put on yesterday’s jeans and don’t give it any thought at all. Nature makes the best hostess and quells the neuroses.

Why kids are fun:

Mommy, where are my Cheetos?

I don’t know, where did you put them?

Where I left them.

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