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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. We have forgotten items while packing, it seems impossible since we have a list and only take carry on. More so we have forgotten things while traveling. I’m not sure if it because we are older, or it is coming with each of these experiences, but the intensity of our reaction and how it affects us is lessening. Perhaps now retired, living with less, downsizing, getting rid of stuff, is setting us up for a better state of mind. Most of all we find being kind and gentle with each other when these things happen is the vital part of it all. A work in progress.

    • That is so reassuring to hear. Thank you. I keep reminding myself that as long as I’m alive I shall continue to be “a work in progress” in so many ways…and that should be part of the adventure as well. Wishing you well.

  2. I doubt it would be sunglasses, but it’s bound to be something! Any part of camera or computer gear and replacing it would immediately take precedence over *every* thing. And I’d obsess about it, and watch myself obsessing about it, until it’s fixed. I rarely forget to take stuff (I have a list! I’d be lost without it!) but at the same time if asked I’d swear I never lose anything because I’m so organized, but I’ve managed to lose heaps. Heaps! Orthotics, laptop charging cord, sunglasses, gloves . . .
    I’m generally not too entrapped by consumerism, not because I’ve had to scrabble hard to get to be comfortable (tho I have) but because I seem to have a bit of an aversion to stuff – it weighs you down. And also because I think I’m unworthy. Staggering isn’t it the stories we tell ourselves?!
    Beautiful photos by the way.
    Alison

    • Thank you for sharing your experience Alison. It is interesting the stories we’ve told ourselves and continue to…and the stories we’re unwilling to tell ourselves too. I’ve been thinking a lot lately not just about the complicated views I have about what I own, but also the stories I don’t want to tell in order to continue to stay in my comfort zone. Hoping this finds you well.

  3. You have your priorities right. Now, you just have to familiarize yourself with living with less and sticking to it – quality over quantity! 🙂

    Living in the moment is a nice and appreciative thing to do, but sometimes this is easier said than done, especially when we are in a bad or frustrated mood. Sometimes taking a little break from whatever is causing stress or frustration. In your case, maybe, sitting on a bench facing the view, closing your eyes for a few moments, then opening them again – squintily – to appreciate Crater Lake. It is stunning.

    My husband and I are not consumerists at all. We don’t buy “stuff,” we live experiences. We don’t spend much and therefore we don’t have to work (too) hard and can travel fulltime. We are just completing a trip from the west of the US to the east coast (in five days!) with all our belongings and a 60-pound dog and her stuff packed in a mid-size rental car. Granted, we should have rented a full-size sedan, but… it all fits. Plus a heavy-duty bike rack disassembled and two bikes on a different rack in the back. Phew. 🙂

    • I’ve learned so many lessons from the way the two of you have managed to mostly stay off the grid while making a wonderful life for yourselves. Your ability to let go of what most humans prize continues to inspire me as I read your memoir. It’s knowing a very few people like you forging their own journey and being honest about life that keeps me motivated to stray farther from the set circles of expectation. Thank you.

      • What a lovely thing to say, Atreyee! I’m so happy to inspire. 🙂 I totally respect and appreciate the way you go deep into yourself in every one of your posts. Very inspirational as well!! Happy weekend!

  4. I think love and compassion for yourself and others are absolute necessities, which we often forget. Hugs and laughs instead of scoffing and irritated looks will work wonders. I have an extra pair of sunglasses in our car and almost every trip we went on, we bought another cork skew for wine. Nothing wrong with that. On the other hand people got by without sunglasses in the last century. Native Americans who lived close to Crater Lake at that time did not wear sunglasses, for example. Like Bob McFerrin sings: “Don’t worry, be happy.”

    • It is all about the attitude indeed. I want to continue being thoughtful about what kind of harm my thoughtlessness causes the world and orient my journey according to least harm. Thanks for stopping by to share your thoughts. Wishing you well.

  5. Crater Lake is something else. We camped there, so crisp, cool, and bright – so yeah, I can see why not having your shades would dampen the experience. I’m surprised you just didn’t buy another pair, even if you have a ton at home. It’s strange how we impose these ‘rules’ on ourselves. And I’m not saying I’m guilt-free either – FAR from it. But reading about your story just makes me think about how, if it was a toothbrush or a lost shoe, you would have bought another one, no matter how many you have at home…right? It’s so weird how we do this to ourselves. I wonder why…

  6. Vos photos sont magnifiques, quel bel endroit et j’espère que vous avez eu beaucoup de plaisir même sans vos lunettes de soleil.
    Mes amitiés

  7. “What did we forget?” That’s the question my wife and I ask each other before going on a trip, and mostly it works. I was probably more OCD about it back in my working days – as a guy who wrote computer code I was used to sweating the details purely by definition. But I’ve never been that hung up on “stuff.” Maybe that’s why when we travel souvenirs are mostly pictures rather than something to fill up a suitcase. (And ignore that blog post about filling up a suitcase with a rug haggled from a Moroccan merchant 😉 )

    Like one of your earlier commenters, I also had a glasses mishap at the beginning of a trip. Back in 1980, I was snoozing on the deck of an overnight ferry between Ireland and France when some dude stepped on them. So for the next six weeks, things weren’t as sharp as they might have been…

    Crater Lake is gorgeous. It’s been waaaay too long.

    • It’s funny. I make my packing list, I follow it, and yet for some reason I still manage to forget something or other. I’m not one for souvenirs either. My wonky memory of the experience is good enough. So…in trying to fit the Moroccan rug into your suitcase, did you have to consider what you might have to leave behind to make space for it?

      • My wife likes to bring along a bunch of bottled water on trips – never really trusts the water supply. It’s a self correcting load, and makes space should we need it…

  8. I’m good in small ways: I don’t use Gladwrap (a plate over a bowl serves the same purpose), I take a tiffin with me for takeout, I don’t buy tissues (I use old fashioned handkerchiefs) etc etc But it’s the big items — I still drive a car that needs gas, I still want to go to Japan when all this is over. You see, you are not alone. We are all spoilt in this part of the world. And by the way, I never forget to pack everything before I leave but I ALWAYS forget to pack everything while on a trip. In Oregon I left my leather hat in a hotel room.

    • I’m so sorry to hear you lost your hat in Oregon! And thank you for your kind words. I guess as individuals we can continue to do more, but things won’t get better unless the systems we live in change.

  9. I’m so sorry you forgot your glasses. My partner once stepped on my glasses and broke them the day before we left for Europe. I was so cross so I can sympathise with you completely.

    Sometimes it can be the smallest things which set us off. I tend to view these moments as an opportunity to check-in as to what’s going on underneath the surface. It’s never about the glasses.

    Stunning scenery, hoping your safe and well xx

    • Ouch. Sorry to hear you had your glasses broken. As you say, so often these moments are about something deeper and I’m working on trying to understand those reasons as well as the ways in which I’m blinded to my privileges. Thanks for stopping by to chat and wishing you well. X

  10. Interesting & so true….What ever way you look at it travel is no more the simple pack you bag & set off. We are so used to ‘luxuries’ that misplacing or forgetting one item can turn pleasure into pain

    • “We are so used to ‘luxuries’”…this is revealing itself in so many ways during Covid for more than traveling. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts on this.

  11. Must have been a lot of very pretty views… Just say you have begun a sunglasses collection. That’s it.
    Now “the right angle of a thigh”? Seriously? 🤣
    (I knew you hadn’t posted in a while.)
    Hope all is well with you?
    🙏🏻

  12. I found myself nodding as I was reading about how you got more and more worked up about not having your sunglasses. This kind of stuff happens to me too and I get mad at myself later for how a seemingly insignificant thing (though sunglasses are important) could have such a negative impact on an otherwise beautiful new experience. On various travels, I have forgotten ear plugs, sunscreen, extra camera batteries, water bottle…and they’ve all thrown me into temporary tizzies.
    Nevertheless, your Crater Lake photos are stunning. Hope I’ll get to visit and remember my sunglasses, among other things.

    • Thanks for your understanding. Isn’t it funny how such tiny incidents throw us so off-course? It’s gotten me thinking about my relationship with what I own. Hoping this finds you safe and well.

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