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-righteous, and 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.