A week ago Saturday night, around sundown, I was comfortably ensconced in my camp chair, knitting as long as the fading light allowed. I was keeping one eye on my project and the other on the darkening sky, watching for the first visible star””or more likely, the first visible planet, as Jupiter was riding high in south and had dominated the early night sky the previous evening. Pausing a moment to lean my head back and look straight up into the heavens, I realized I was feeling something odd, though quite pleasant. It was a suffusive warmth, a deep relaxation, almost a lethargy; it was a sense of not wanting anything to change, except for the relative light in the sky””I didn’t want to move from that spot, ever, and I didn’t want anything around me to change, either.
It was contentment, as bone-deep as ever I felt it: a thorough-going happiness with myself and the world around me. The day had been long and hot, but enjoyable: we had roasted under the scorching desert sun at the Highland Games, returned to camp mid-afternoon, showered away the dust, and then hopped into the pool for a leisurely soak that returned our core body temperatures to something close to normal. After the sun dropped low enough to cast shade over our campsite, taking the edge off the heat of the day, we grilled and ate a delicious dinner. Once the clean-up was done and the evening fire built, there was nothing to do but relax and wait for dark. Nothing, that is, but whatever we wanted to do: read, knit, chat, smoke, nap, take snapshots, pet the dogs that wandered by, poke at the fire when it died down””all of that, or some or none, and two more days empty of deadlines, pressures, demands stretching away before us. No wonder I felt so relaxed! There was literally nothing in the world that I had to do for the next couple of days, but a wealth of things I could do if I chose to. It was the perfect balance point between stress and boredom; it was contentment.
It’s pretty funny, if you think about: we’re comfortably well-off citizens of the wealthiest, most technologically advanced country in the world, so what do we do for vacation? Why, we go play at being semi-homeless in the pre-Industrial age, of course. It’s very Marie Antoinette at Petit Hameau; I guess the more you have, the more you need to take a break from having it every now and then. Or, as the Simplicity movement likes to put it: you don’t own your possessions; your possessions own you.
Which isn’t to say that I’m ready to call the Goodwill truck and load it up with half our household; I like my trinkets and my comforts and my entertainments. But it does make me wonder about how much we have versus how much we need, and how to find a happy balance between them. Even if we did pare down to the bare minimum of clothes and kitchen goods and sell the TV, there’s no guarantee that living an “˜indoor camping’ lifestyle would translate to that same contentment I felt at the fireside. Still, I would say that our household scales tip well past the “Need” marker and deep into “Have” territory. Perhaps a small donation to Goodwill is in order”¦