June 23, 2016
Road Trip Day 8: Site 1
Cape Perpetua, Oregon
I’m talking with Diane, the Perpetua Campgrounds host, as she finishes cleaning the firepit ashes that the previous campers left behind. “Yep, there’s rain in the forecast for Thursday,” she says, answering my question. “Looks like there’ll be some pretty good showers.”
I look at the campsite I reserved online. The place for setting up the tent is in a low spot, beneath a hill.
“I don’t know about this one,” I say. “If it’s gonna rain, I guess it’s better to be on high ground.”
She laughs. “You betya!” I ask if there are other sites available, and she names a few. “Check out Site 1,” she says. “I think you’ll like it.”
It’s a little narrow stretch of lawn, right at the side of the road, near the campground entrance, across from the trailhead, close to the campground hosts — where everyone stops when they check in, check out, or need something — and not far from the bathroom. A kind of campground Grand Central Station.
I’m not thrilled. Typically I spend most of the year constantly engaged with people, and I so much look forward to my couple of weeks of solitude. I want to get as far away from people as possible, and experience being alone with just the trees and wild creatures, sky and ocean.
I sit at the picnic table to feel what it’s like here. A couple in an RV drive in slowly, looking around. The woman waves at me as they drive past. I smile and wave back. I look over toward the hosts’ RV, and see Diane and her husband Jim getting ready to make their rounds.
Then it hits me — today’s “aha!” moment. When I’m here at the campgrounds, I’m not alone, I’m in community with other people! My well-being depends on the interrelation of all of us: the camp hosts, the other campers, the people who haul the garbage and repair the plumbing, the day visitors. When the human community is functioning well, then I get to meditate peacefully.
I remember a conversation with Reb Zalman years ago at a Jewish Renewal retreat. He was sitting on a little lawn chair near the walkway that people used to get to the dining room. There was another chair next to him.
“Reb Zalman, what are you doing here?” I said. “Can I help you with anything?”
“Sit down Reb Aryae leiben!” he said. I sat. He explained to me that he was “setting up shop.” That meant he would situate himself in a public place where people were passing by. If people wanted to talk, or looked like they needed to, he’d invite them over. “It’s a way to practice what we learned from from Avraham Avinu (our father Abraham, whose practice was to welcome strangers who passed by his tent), you know? You ought to try it sometime.”
I walk over to Diane and Jim’s RV and ask them to sign me up for Site 1.
I start setting up my tent. Soon a car slows down and stops. The window rolls down and a woman in her 60s, round face, long grey hair that looks like it hasn’t been brushed in a while, sticks her head out. “What kind of a tent is that?” she says.
I get up and walk over. “Hi,” I say, “my name’s Aryae. What’s yours?” She tells me her name and we talk. She wanted to know if my tent is the same kind she bought a while back. She camps a lot, over 260 days a year. “Wow” I say, “you must be a real pro!” She tells me about the camping equipment she has, about the camping areas she’s stayed at, about how she travels back and forth between her daughters in Maryland and Seattle.
She sees me looking at the clutter of stuff that fills her car. She laughs apologetically. “Please forgive the mess. I haven’t had a chance to tidy up for a while!”
She tells me she’s from the Midwest; I tell her I’m from the Bay Area. We talk about the out-of-control inequality in the Bay Area, and in America in general. And about how so many people can no longer afford a home to live in. She and I both know we’re talking about her, but we’re sparing her dignity by not saying it. I supported Bernie; she supports Hillary; I now support Hillary too. What we both share with great passion — the dream of an America where everyone can live in dignity. We have that in common.
We wish each other well and she drives off.
I finish setting up my tent and sit down for my afternoon tea. An SUV with a young couple and their two little kids pulls up in front of my tent. The dad gets out. “Hey, excuse me, do you know where the camp hosts are?”
I point to my right. “Just another 100 feet up the road.” He thanks me. The little girl in the SUV smiles out of the window and waves. I wave back.
I picture Reb Zalman sitting in his little lawn chair with the empty chair next to him. He smiles and winks.