It happens on every trip. There’s always one item I forget to pack. I rummage through my utility bag, cursing. “Ugh…I can’t find my sunglasses anywhere. I think I forgot to bring em,” I tell her.
“Just use your hat,” she says.
I’m too busy panicking to listen. The whole excursion to Crater Lake will now be a failure. I fret. “Should’ve rechecked my list…I need a better system in place…I really wish you’d reminded me about them.”
She gives me an irritated glance. “Right, this is becoming my problem now?”
We park at the lookout and exit the car. “Wow! Just wow…have you ever seen such intense blue,” she exclaims.
I shade my watering eyes from the glare. “Too much,” I mumble, “how can anyone enjoy anything under these conditions?”
She sighs. “Maybe I should get a new pair at the convenience store? Think I saw some cheap ones by the register,” I say.
“Wouldn’t that be a waste? You already have so many pairs at home.”
“And what good are they doing me now?” I ask.
She rolls her eyes.
“I’ll be in the car,” I tell her, stomping off in frustration. She follows me and we admire the scene from the protection of the vehicle’s tinted windows.
A shiny expensive auto parks next to us. A high-heeled visitor steps out accompanied by a photographer. They scurry to the fence and begin a photoshoot. “Now take five of me this way,” the subject commands the camera person. “Now to the left…no…more left…more…no, you need to be on that side, so you can get my thigh at the right angle. Take one more…and again…”
“How many of these do you need?” the exasperated photographer asks.
“As many until I get the perfect one,” the person posing retorts.
“Unbelievable how annoying people are!” I whisper.
“Isn’t it?” she murmurs pointedly at me, “so much to take in and they worry about unimportant things.”
“Can we move on?” I retort.
We walk along the rim trail. The sun glints off snow, blinding me. I squint, unhappy. “The hat does not have the same effect,” I complain, “…I really need my sunglasses.”
She scoffs. “I’m sure they’d be nice to have, but you don’t need them.” I scowl. How does she know what I need?
We slither towards the shadow of colossal conifers. In between their emerald branches the deep azure lake peeks through. An undoubtedly gorgeous scene, but I can’t focus on such brilliant beauty because I’m fixated on how my lack of sunglasses is ruining my experience. I inhale slowly. “Stop obsessing,” I tell myself, “you’re throwing away this moment…be present…be aware of that blue…appreciate the world around you.” It’s no good. I can’t. Instead, I brood on other things I’ve forgotten to pack during past trips: sunscreen, flip flops, gloves, pajamas…all of which seemed hugely necessary at the time I was missing them.
Though I’d like not to be, I’m defined by my belongings as much as anything else. They affect how I live and think; they influence my emotions. Like many who’ve progressed from scrabbling for food, water, and shelter into a life of higher privilege, I’ve come to view various luxuries as indispensable. The question is: can I go backwards? Can I give up my desire for a new portable media player, the upgraded hair brush, the daily coffee…the disposable sunglasses? Can I learn to live with less comfort and less convenience? Is accepting the limits of our natural world a regression?
There’s no avoiding consumption. I inhabit a body which requires nourishment on multiple levels from the physical to the aesthetic. And as a part of the ecosystem, I have to take in order to survive. The problem is I have an unhealthy and complicated relationship with that which sustains me. I seesaw between the quixotic dream of living as a hermit revulsed by possessions to getting seduced by marketing into bacchanalian product bingeing. My need of stuff is entangled with my warped ideas of success, security, and self-esteem. Novelty, gratification, expediency have become my necessities.
But, I can change these harmful connections to what I eat, what I wear, what I purchase, what entertains, what sparks joy. I can exercise restraint. I can choose to feed the ecology from which I extract. I can practice generosity to extricate myself out of the ‘never enough’ philosophy. I can cherish what I own, appreciating the life-force of each item, honoring the different ways these objects care for me.
Perhaps I need to be better organized, develop greater packing skills. However, as I blink and sniffle and squint my way through our Crater Lake hike until the sun mellows into an evening of soft color, I’m also nurturing gratitude for what I have and what I’ve lost.
The forests at Crater Lake National Park are some of the few remaining old-growth woodlands still surviving. Their diverse composition creates a variety of wildlife habitats which circularly promote the continuation of these essential trees. Protecting such essential ecosystems requires practicing smaller footprints and voting for policy changes.
What luxuries do we practice at the expense of other lives and limited natural resources? I’d love to know your thoughts about this in the comments below.