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The Necessary

Crater Lake view with evergreen trees and sandy colored cliffs

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?”

View of Crater Lake with island in the middle and blue skies dotted with puffy white clouds

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.

Crater Lake snow on the mountains and evergreen trees

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.

A bit of blue Crater Lake seen next to closeup of evergreen branch

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. 

A view of Crater Lake with island in middle of water seen from the back of wicker wood rattan rocking chairs

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. 


TRAVEL NOTE: 

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.

102 replies »

  1. I’m not so much a “stuff” person, but like you, I like a few nice things, some beautiful things within my orbit; beauty is a need in its own esoteric way. I might argue that ALL luxuries are enjoyed at the expense of other lives and limited natural resources, sadly. By definition, luxuries are not necessary, and the expense and difficulty in obtaining them are always going to compromise something else.

    Your sunglasses themselves on this trip do not strike me as a luxury, but maybe your mood was! No judgment there; I am the WORST at hanging onto disappointment and frustration, and I find that having a companion exacerbates that. On my own, I have to just deal – either buy the cheap new pair at Walgreen’s or shut up because there’s no one there to whine to. I have Crater Lake on my schedule for mid-June and will make a big note-to-self to pack sunglasses!

    • I agree that all luxuries are enjoyed at the expense of others. So often though, I don’t realize the luxuries that I do have the privilege of owning or having access to…and that is a problem I continue to work upon. Excited for you to be exploring Crater Lake later this year! It was so gorgeous…despite my attitude I REALLY enjoyed the place.

  2. Sunglasses are essential when it’s sunny with snow or water. Have you ever seen historic sunglasses of Arctic peoples? They’re basically eye covers with slits to be able to see but to block most of the light. And depending on what type of skin you have and where you are, sun screen is also necessary. Okay, pajamas you could probably do without, but they’re nice to have. I sort of look at this situation from reverse. By not buying those sunglasses, you just about threw away the moment. I imagine you could have gotten by with fewer shirts and socks in your suitcase, but you shouldn’t deny yourself something necessary and then expect to enjoy it. You don’t have to have dessert, but you have to eat.

    • I like your perspective, Karen. I won’t feel so bad next time I’m skimping on the shirt packing. And you’ve got me intrigued about historic sunglasses. I’m off to research them…

  3. I keep a packing list file in my computer and use it every time I pack. The list has everything I could need for all kinds of weather, and I skip the ones that wouldn’t be appropriate. It works very well for me. I never forget anything.
    By the way, I loved Crater Lake. We met a lovely lady there with whom I corresponded for years. She once wrote she could not trust a God who couldn’t get his plumbing right. She was fascinating….

    • I definitely need to apply your organization skills to my life. Glad you loved Crater Lake…I too found it a gorgeous place, despite the lack fo sunglasses. Your pen-pal lady sounds like a humorous and intriguing personality. Thanks for stopping by to chat! Wishing you well.

  4. Hello Atreyee,
    So happy to read this latest post from you. I love your frankness, and how it mirrors all of us in many ways. Everything has already been said, so I just want to say how much I enjoyed this. Hope you’re staying safe and well.

    All best,
    Takami

    • Thank you Takami. I so very much appreciate your taking the time to tell me how much you enjoyed my post. It is always such a pleasure to hear from you. Wishing you a wonderful spring season.

  5. I give you credit for continuing without the sunglasses. I have to wear a big hat and sunglasses or else suffer through a migraine for days afterwards. As for consumption, I got so used to living out of a suitcase that I’m no longer able to be a respectable consumer. I love nice things, but few things. I’ve been back in the US for 3 years and I still can’t believe the stuff people accumulate. Hope you are having a beautiful spring.

    • Now in your case the sunglasses would be a necessity. It’s jarring isn’t it to return to the US after being away and see so much stuff? I remember being undone by the size of dishes served in US restaurants. Who would eat all of that food, I would wonder. Wishing you a beautiful season amongst your woods and fields.

  6. Thank you for your frank post. 🙂 We all had moments like this, when a lack of something is overpowering all the lovely there is. It also reminded me of the time when I forgot to pack my skiing poles on a skiing week, and another time I forgot ALL the socks. But really, this blue… 😮

  7. I think you are too hard on yourself. Sunglasses in this setting were essential, I think (I have blue eyes and could not have enjoyed the scenery in these conditions without them). But I can relate how one instance sets into motion a cascade of self-critical appraisal.
    I hope you will figure out what’s important without simply giving into thoughtless consumerism. I hope I will, too.
    Best wishes,
    Tanja

  8. I know what you’re saying here, but I have to say I was with you on the sunglasses – I can’t enjoy being out in bright sun in the same way without them 🙂 I know that I have far too much stuff, though I don’t live a life of particular luxury. Luxury to me is being able to buy books.

    • Haha…my indoor acclimated eyes couldn’t handle all that brightness. I think luxury varies according to what we are accustomed to growing up, what we are told is worthy of our birthright. Some privileges become necessities we forget to question and even during COVID while many of these have come under scrutiny, we live in a world where both opportunities and essentials are not equally available for all. I consider books to be a luxury too, especially now that access to public libraries is no longer easy. Also being able to go into the woods and or be beside bodies of water. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic. Hoping you are enjoying the changing of the season.

  9. A lovely, thoughtful read – as always – and so well written.
    Since you asked… I’d say travel is a luxury many people love to overlook, in the name of hedonism, as being in any way harmful to the environment… (I’m just as guilty as anyone)

    • Thank you so much for your lovely praise. I know! And agree wholeheartedly. I listen with trepidation to what the return of travel might mean to exploited communities and for our airspace, our waters, our nonhuman companions. And I wonder if traveling in any capacity without harm is possible…

  10. The difference between “I want” and “I need” frequently become the same, and you can get there without even noticing. I’ve recently come through this dilemma. I’m going to retire in 15 months and have had to get everything organised, especially around finances. The temptation to “work another year” (or two) has come up repeatedly, and it’s around the “necessaries.” What is and isn’t necessary, is, in my case, more about what I want versus what I need. My M and I have had interesting conversations about that! The bottom line is that we’re privileged enough to have them, so enough said.
    Great post, well said. 🙂

    • “The bottom line is that we’re privileged enough to have them.” Yes…it boggles my mind how easy it is for me to forget that these are privileges and accept them as necessities. This is something I’m understanding I need to continue to think through over and over about how I live my life. Thanks so much for your thoughts on this! Take care.

  11. Really lovely post. It is so easy to let modern annoyances, like forgetting something we perceive as a necessity, distract from appreciating the beauty around us. People have been to the rim of Crater Lake for thousands of years really, enjoying the amazing landscape before them …. without sunglasses. I’m a minimalist at heart, but fall prey to the same struggle if I forget something on a trip that I think I really need. I’ll think of this post the next time that happens! Cheers!

    • “People have been to the rim of Crater Lake for thousands of years really, enjoying the amazing landscape before them …. without sunglasses.” Haha, you’re so right! I think about this often too when I get annoyed by the lack of a modern convenience. We so quickly get used to our comforts. Thank you so very much for stopping by to chat. I appreciate your understanding. Cheers!

  12. I’m too greedy BT. Everything feels necessary to me. So I end up drowning in stuff. It would be helpful not to cling on to things so tightly. And there is a sense of lightness when I do let things go. Just don’t like the sense of loss that comes with it too.

    • I so understand. Our belongings accompany us along our journey through life and carry so many of our memories and emotions in them. When it is time for me to let something go (like an old pair of shoes I talked about in a post — https://tinyurl.com/yh425eao), I always take the time to thank it for how well it has taken care of me and I accept that I’ll carry the loss with me for some time too. Wishing you a wonderful week.

  13. You had me at the headline. The Necessary. You have taken me down another absorbing trail through life on this wet night Down Under. And here I thought it was a matter of ageing … the sense of panic we feel reaching for a ticket to a new destination or hoping you are in the correct traffic lane when approaching a car parking station. You have reminded me of what really matters in life … thank you.

    • What a wonderful comment. Thank you. These times are definitely separating what truly counts from that which falls to the wayside. Wishing you a nourishing season Down Under.

  14. I had such a good giggle at your honesty, Atreyee. We so often edit those bits out.
    I love this post as in so many ways it reflects my own struggle to live with less. To treasure the possessions I have without feeling the need to constantly add or replace something that is not useful and absolutely necessary. I do need to be surrounded by beauty, though. That is an important value to me, and I find when I keep that in mind, I think differently before I buy anything. Also now that I have moved into our tiny house in Portugal I think even more carefully before acquiring anything new. Like you say, we cannot avoid consumption, but how we choose to engage with it is something we can control.

    • “Also now that I have moved into our tiny house in Portugal I think even more carefully before acquiring anything new.” I too have a small space in which I have to manage my belongings. I think these constraints which we often chafe at help us live in better communion with one another and our earth. Wishing you a wonderful intentional life in your little house in Portugal. And thank you so much for your insight, Jolandi.

      • Thank you for your good wishes, Atreyee. Yes, I definitely want my life to be more intentional. I also want to live a less cluttered life – not just where it comes to possessions, but also thoughts, interactions, demands . . . A life of simplicity. Not sure that is reachable, but I’ll die trying. 😉

  15. I’d be very happy if I found this article republished in the Travel or Features section of a widely read daily newspaper anywhere in the world!

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