It’s a little scary to find out that history does repeat itself – it’s even scarier to see one’s own mind run like a CD player on repeat. A year ago I was writing about my mushy brain and the end of the semester. I was making lists and planning my summer. And here I am again. At this point it might be appropriate to give the end of May slump some sort of catchy name – at least then I’d be expecting it.
Like last spring, my brain is working on lists. I am trying to reset, to find creative space to write and think about something new, but for now there is great comfort in short bits of words.
My most impressive list is nearly six pages long. I’ve had help with this one – it’s a packing list for a long backcountry trip. I downloaded the checklist, and made my own notes in the empty margins. Then I passed it on to a friend who covered it in sticky notes and amended priorities. The list is nearly complete. I have gear stashed all over the house and in a week or so my post-it-note wielding girlfriend will double check my loot. But one crucial item has me stumped.
I only get to take one book.
Thirty days – one book. Electronic devices can’t be charged, so borrowing my son’s Kindle is out. My mother has suggested poetry. In her mind a good collection of poetry never gets old. I worry that poems won’t give me the narrative arch I need to escape from sleeping on the ground for a month. One of my writing friends suggested David Foster Wallace’s masterpiece Infinite Jest. I’ve been avoiding it for years and the three hundred endnotes alone could keep me busy. Another friend told me to take something familiar, a beloved book to keep me company. I could reread All the Pretty Horses or Stegner’s Where the Bluebird Sings from the Lemonade Springs. But I might get bored.
I made my first longish backpacking trip when I was 12. I spent five days in the Beartooth Mountains with my ten-year old brother, my father, and one Nancy Drew mystery. The Beartooths are rugged and impressive. We didn’t see another person until we hiked down out of our camp on day six. We hiked and fished and played in the mountains for nearly a week, but the most memorable part of the trip was the four straight days of rain. I spent more time in my little green pup tent than I care to remember. I read the Nancy Drew book slowly. Twice.
The one book dilemma has been with me for a while. My friends ask if I’ve figured it out yet. I look to anyone and everyone for suggestions. I consult every ‘best of list’ I can find. I decide and set something in the gear pile and then I get nervous and snatch it back. It feels like a big commitment.
Not long ago, my mother found the warped copy of Nancy Drew in the bottom of her old pack – the one I carried into the mountains twenty-five years ago. It’s a good reminder. Nearly a week in a wet tent could have been a disaster, but instead it was the beginning of a long love affair with the mountains. I’m sure this trip will be the beginning of something too. I just have to find the right book.