First person singular

I forgot one of the things I like most about camping is getting dirt under your nails, that way your hands look like you’ve really done something when you haven’t, it makes your hands look honest, like they’ve got character. And sitting around the fire, a wet one with a lot of smoke, having to rotate our heads like arms on a clock each time the wind blew, my face started to feel dry and wrinkled like a map that had been folded too long, some of the names on the towns rubbed out now, forgotten.

The constant adjustments with camping. The fact I think it’s engineering types and project managers who get drawn to this for the excuse to micromanage, to organize, to draw things down to precise moments they can control, a refusal to allow anything irregular or askew, which can lead to tics.

I find myself ganging together our gear by theme, establishing a logic of where everything should go so I don’t have to think about where it is or might be, it’s just right there — and I’ll reconstruct worlds of exactitudes, a kind of well-strung universe that’s highly strung but functions, a world where I can find anything I want with my eyes closed.

The fussing about with things, putting things inside other things and double-checking where it got put is like what they call grooming the backlog in Agile Scrum project management, a way of running projects in bursts of two-week focus and daily, painstaking reporting, stand-up meetings where literally, you stand up.

Grooming the backlog by the Scrum Master is going over a list of activities everyone agreed they wanted to complete and assign points to, and empower some twerp to then produce daily email reports with graphs showing the team’s rate of progress that no one pays attention to after the second or third time it’s sent but feels the need to save even though it’s all on SharePoint (and that’s the power of the project manager, they know where everything is).

And somewhere I associated the image of a cat when it’s in the litter box scraping the sand to cover its waste with the phrase grooming the backlog because it has a similar, compulsive quality but it’s also cleansing and restorative, though appears obsessive at times, like the cat’s pawing at something unseen, just pawing for the sake of pawing, and to the irritation of everyone — but because the cat, the project manager, can shit wherever it wants to it still commands some level of respect, it’s like one of those pieces that can go anywhere it wants to on the board.

You combine machismo with this anal tendency to put things in their place, to have exactly the right amount of gear should anything happen in the outdoors (sawing off the ends of toothbrushes to conserve weight), this kind of self-reliance thing, and you run into some real tools on the trail. I’m one of them, and realized it on Saturday when we met a couple guys who asked if I’d been there before, and if they wanted to climb Earl Peak was it idiot proof, were there signs, and I said I don’t think you should assume anything and I meant it, a bit self-righteousand tried to ignore their tube socks, their tennis shoes — though I couldn’t remember, I probably had an ax with me my last time up there and a lot of duct tape, a first aid kit, extra water, fire starter.

It’s troubling what gathers on the undersides of the hot tub cover, the snails and their remains, and when you want to just unwind and let go, I can’t help picking the pine needles out of the water, that gets in the way of my Zen, or maybe allows it. It gives me a singular focus for a while, the sense there’s some small part of the world I can control and I know where everything is, it’s right where it should be.

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About pinklightsabre

William Pearse publishes memoir, travel journals, poetry and prose, and lives in the Pacific Northwest.
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23 Responses to First person singular

  1. Lynn Love says:

    Oh, love this. That first paragraph, where you describe your face as dried out, a map that had been folded too long – perfect. Love the cat litter analogy too, had me smiling as I imagined Scrum Masters reading this and thinking ‘he’s comparing me a a cat covering its mess’!
    Beautifully picked words, Bill, as always, and seeing the macrocosm in the microcosm – such a skill.

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    • pinklightsabre says:

      I have a lot of respect for the Scrum Masters, I couldn’t do it. I was lucky to take a course in it and really enjoyed the logic and seeming simplicity of it, but couldn’t stand the day-to-day of it. I think your husband is in IT if I recall correct, but I don’t know…they have my respect, though it does remind me of a cat pawing the litter grains. I have that to be thankful for, that view on things — I’m glad you appreciate it and call it what it is, seems to give me some credibility — thanks, I’ll take it! Now my moleskin is missing and I have no idea, where. Enjoy your Thursday, Lynn. — Bill

      Liked by 1 person

      • Lynn Love says:

        Sounds like a trying job, definitely. My other half knows about as much about computers as I do. No, he’s a stop motion animator for Aardman (the Wallace and Gromit people) and other companies, which means he spends all day in a darkened studio, moving puppets one – frame – at – a – time. He says I spend all day playing with flowers while he plays with dolls. Not ‘proper’ grown up jobs at all 🙂
        I don’t need to give you credibility – you’ve earned that through the sweat of your own brow. Hope you found your moleskin, all the best, Lynn

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      • pinklightsabre says:

        One — frame — that’s good. Flowers and dolls, all good things. I can see where it would darken you some, though.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Lynn Love says:

        Haha! I think both hubs and I are drawn to the dark by our very natures. He made a film called The Dark years ago about bogey men, vampires and werewolves on their downtime. Clever man my husband. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Dina Honour says:

    Nice to see you back. (Or am I back? Have we missed one another?) I always have trouble reconciling your former project manager/attention to detail self with the writer self. Though the precise attention to detail threads through both, it’s hard to imagine the squared at the corner, collated PM with the dream like words. A happy conundrum.

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    • pinklightsabre says:

      Thanks Dina — we came back to the States at the end of April and I’ve been posting pretty regularly throughout. I like your observation about the PM vs writer selves, that’s very insightful. Though you have had some really nice observations you’ve made on my writing over the past year or so (I recall one when we were in Oban that really made my day). A happy conundrum, indeed. It’s tricky times, some of what I’ve read you remarking upon, with the US and being an expat and reflecting on it. I think for me, I’ve decided I’m really proud to live here and love Europe, want to see more of the world, but consider this home. And for the ugly parts I don’t like, I want to be here to speak to that. I can appreciate people saying they’ll leave if Trump gets elected, but if you go a level deeper, that’s pretty weak to say something like that. Stick it out, you know. Do something. It is terribly strange though to feel less safe here than we were in Germany, though it was a small village. It sucks, but it is what it is. I still see bumper stickers praising Charlton Heston, and we’re in a pretty liberal part of the country. Anyhow, thanks for popping in, nice to hear from you. Have some green tea and enjoy the sun breaks.

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  3. daveply says:

    Nicely written. Although, as I spent the last four years of my career before retirement working for a Project Management company (software, not as a PM, but I worked with them a lot), and pretending to be a SharePoint guru some of your comments brought back memories I’d just as soon leave retired. But I have to admit, I never thought of camping in terms project management.

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    • pinklightsabre says:

      I get those memories, they bubble up from my sub-consciousness still in dreams. I guess the camping/PM comparison pertains to the need to keep things organized, which is a talent in some, and a disease in others, and I subscribe to the latter. I bow down to the IT PMs, to the people who bring technology forward like that. It can be so unthinkably hard; I saw a lot of very talented people crash and burn trying to launch projects that were way too big to get off the ground. There are a real minority who can do it well and I’m not one of them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • daveply says:

        Yes, those sort of projects can be hard, but if you allow enough time to solve the the glitches and unknowns that invariably pop up they can succeed. What kills most of them is the same thing that kills non-IT projects: politics, or vendors selling pipe dreams to managers that don’t know any better.

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      • pinklightsabre says:

        “If you allow enough time” the key phrase there. Sad and ironic, how much the most important parts, at the very end, get compressed. The training, translation, testing, documentation…blah, blah, blah…nightmare-city. We’re near-rant here. I’m going back to my coffee and my happy place and some Bob Ross, puffy clouds.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. walt walker says:

    I love camping, so long as it’s about 70 degrees out, the sun is shining, and there’s no wind. I like my campgrounds dry, and the wood of my campfire the same so that it burns with as little smoke as possible. First sign of even slightly less than ideal conditions and I’m breaking camp and going home. Some might call this wussiness, and those some might be correct. I never thought of it as project management, either. There appears to be a good bit of Samwise Gamgee in you, Bill. As for me, as much as I love to travel (or maybe, to BE traveling once the momentum’s going, or to HAVE traveled) the thought of packing can be enough to make me stay home.

    Liked by 1 person

    • pinklightsabre says:

      You sound like a Coleman camper, so to speak. Yes, I like that kind too but you can’t bank on it in the Northwest obviously. In fact, it’s the threat of crappy weather that makes the good weather so much better I think. We were driving through some torrential rains Friday night over the pass, and I kept telling Charlotte it’s going to get better, going to get better, and thankfully, it did — Gamgee sounds like a Vietnamese seaweed drink, doesn’t it? You know how we become more ourselves as we get older, well I’m enjoying packing more for some strange reason, for camping, and I think it’s related to OCD.

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  5. Barfbag says:

    Grooming the backlog in Agile Scrum Project sounds far too much like something a boy scout would say. Over a compost hole. While bossing six small boy cubs into actually doing the grooming. I don’t know how anyone ever went camping before ziplock bags, especially being able to put the small zip locks into one big ziplock with a label on it: ignition. I’m with Walt, the thought of packing is awful. In fact, my brother announced before our last trip that packing to go camping is officially the worse day of the year. But bliss once you’re there. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Bill that was my evil twin responding about the boy scouts. I’m sure she’s never been camping.

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      • pinklightsabre says:

        I thought you were the evil twin? Now I’m totally confused. Maybe you were triplets, or there’s some multiple log-in thing happening here.

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    • pinklightsabre says:

      There is a bossy quality to this, you’re right. I caught myself being borderline myopic about things, about the right way to hold things or zip things, nesting things inside other things, constant consolidation/drawing everything down. And that’s where the Ziploc comes in too, and compressing all the air out of it over and over again. God I love Ziploc. I love reusing Ziploc, and the different sizes and fastening options. Have you ever used compression sacks, with the straps? You can put a whole house in a compression sack and get it down to the size of a muffin. Bliss once you’re there, no doubt. Now I have the bug and I’m going out again tomorrow night, solo. Got to start packing!

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  6. rossmurray1 says:

    I’m more a student of Tarpology myself.

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    • pinklightsabre says:

      That’s the good stuff there — my friend Brad does that when he goes like really long distance. A lot to be said for that. And for waking in a cold pool, too.

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  7. My knees told me my hiking days were over about 5 years ago, but I still like to pretend I’m some kind of hiking expert who carried the bare minimum. What I remember and what is true are always two different things, but there is something especially manly about carrying all your stuff on your back and then getting dirty. I miss it.

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    • pinklightsabre says:

      I think knees are like brake pads and they start to squeak just before they need replaced. I burned one of mine out doing stupid Yoga poses. (The Yoga wasn’t stupid, it was my application of it that was.) It’s fun to pretend you’re an expert, you can fool most people, especially your kids.

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  8. It looks and sound great but I cannot camp. I’m too frail. Too delicate. I freak out if I have a bad wifi signal. My poor daughter pictures herself a Woodswoman. She want to be dropped off in the middle of nowhere with just her bow and arrows and a big knife. Who’s kid is she, anyway?

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    • pinklightsabre says:

      You are where you belong my friend, and as for your daughter, never let her west of the Rockies or she’ll be gone for good, home for the holidays.

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