I do not like sand in my bed.
I do like crisp clean sheets, multiple throw pillows, and a dust ruffle. All of these items must perfectly coordinate with both with the comforter, and (obviously) with each other.
To make my world complete there should also be an afghan that offers not only a pop of color, but a soft place under which to read an interesting book.
My friends all know this about me.
So in 2009 when I decided that my husband Tim and I should take our 6-year old son camping over Labor Day weekend, I received some shocked reactions. Especially from Tim, who had already known me for almost two decades by then. Two decades in which I never once suggested giving up my bed or my throw pillows. Even for just one night.
I remember that my life-long friend Mary, who is also an ardent lover of crisp, clean sheets (as well as all things practical) found this idea of camping to be incongruous with the friend she knew from Milwaukee. This same surprised reaction seemed to be the general consensus with all those from back home who heard about my idea. My idea to use our son’s new two-person tent for a camping trip that included three people.
I wasn’t trying to shock people.
All I wanted, was to spend Labor Day weekend at “The Beach.” The beach which I had heard so much of since moving to South Carolina in November, 2008.
For most of a year, I listened as various acquaintances would say things like “we’re going to ‘The Beach’ this weekend.” Or proclaiming “my girlfriends and I are spending spring break at ‘The Beach’ together with all the kids.” Or yawning, as they stated: “We just got back from a week at ‘The Beach’ and boy are we ever exhausted!'”
“What Beach? Did they all go to the same place? Was this ‘Beach’ really large enough to contain all the people I know who had went there? Didn’t South Carolina have more than one beach? It seemed like they would, as an entire side of the state borders the ocean.” These were all questions that nagged in the back of my mind for months.
Curiousity finally triumphed over the fear of sounding ignorant. So I began to ask the obvious question: “What ‘Beach’ exactly, are you referring to?”
It was as if I had asked what brand of tissues they preferred to use. “Kleenex?” “Puffs?” “Seventh Generation?” “Genuine Joe Facial Tissues? ‘Genuine Joe?’“ Who really cares what brand you use? Nobody. It is just what you use to wipe your tears and blow your nose. The kind you always use. Because that is what you’ve always used.
“Which ‘Beach’ did you go to?” was obviously unspoken information, needing no clarification in traditional Southern conversation. After I would drop the “Which Beach?” bombshell, I was always given a polite, yet somewhat perplexed response. Which I then immediately followed up with question two: “Is this your favorite beach?”
Judging from the across-the-board reaction to my Inquiring Minds Want to Know! type interest in their beach preference, it appeared as if this question of favorite beach was something they had never given any thought to. It was just their family’s Kleenex beach.
It pays to ask questions.
Thanks to my inquisitive nature, and fearless questioning that spanned many months — I pieced together that there are MANY beaches inside the walls of South Carolina, each with distinct personalities.
I also discovered that some of these beaches were located inside State Parks which offered camping along the water.
By WATER I mean Ocean. And by OCEAN, I mean the place we used to spend hours flying to, leaving the Northern comforts of our first world country only to be stacked like sardines inside a mediocre hotel with a distant view of the ocean (or sometimes parking lot.) All to be warm. But even more importantly, to sleep near the water.
This was game-changing information. Information I accidentally stumbled upon while looking at the South Carolina Parks website.
“Seriously? You can camp right beside ‘The Beach’?? The same beach that is touching the Atlantic Ocean?”
These were questions I spoke out loud with an open-mouthed reverence to my iMac computer. (The iMac G4 that sat on a round base, and had a 17″ screen that swiveled 180 degrees and went up and down on a long silver arm. The same iMac G4 that is sitting in a box in my attic because it is way too cool to part with.)
I’m obviously not from here.
Looking back, none of these beach-vacationing acquaintances were visiting “The Beach” in a two-person tent with three people. They were staying in condos, or beach homes. Usually ones that had been in their families for a while. That was great for them, but didn’t help me out at all.
My family lives in a state called Wisconsin. A state much closer to Canada than Florida, so going to “The Beach” was not part of our family history. But on the very rare occasion that somebody we did know went South, they were always sure to boast of exactly where it was they were going. “We are going to Disney!” “We are going to Sanibel Island!” “We are going to Clearwater Beach!” “We are going to Sarasota!” This was big news. This was something special.
They wanted us to know exactly where they were going. And we all wanted to know. That way we could live vicariously through them while they were gone, already knowing and appreciating the origin of their newly darkened complexion upon their return home to the North.
My history with camping.
Camping actually was part of my childhood, but it was mostly at my grandparents trailer which stayed at one location all year long. This “camping” happened at the trailer which they drove to every Friday afternoon and drove home from every Sunday afternoon. All summer long. For decades. Upgrading their experience as the years flew by.
By the time I joined their fun, I’m not sure it could truthfully be classified as “camping” anymore. It was simply spending the weekend with my grandparents at their nice outdoor home on wheels which included a TV, shower, and full kitchen. It also included a shed that housed both a lawn mower and a full-sized refrigerator stocked with a wide assortment of drinks and delicious foods.
By this stage in their lives, the camping trailer had an attached screened porch which was lined outside by a bed of lush flowers that my grandma planted every Memorial Day weekend each year. In the screen porch, I would eat the scrambled eggs and shrimp salad my grandma would make for me in her kitchen on these “camping” weekends. In the screen porch, I could enjoy the beauty of the outdoors yet stay clean and bug-free.
In the screen porch, I had yet another space in my childhood to rest in unconditional love. A place to soften the transition into my early teenage years. A priceless gift that allowed me the freedom to become the free spirit I am today. Camping with my grandparents allowed me a place to breathe. A place to get away from whatever it is that pre-teens are burdened with. A place to be loved and nurtured for who I was, not for what I did.
Camping is where I fell in love with South Carolina.
If it weren’t for the two-person tent we had given Nathan for his 6th birthday, I may have never been to some of the magical places we’ve found along the coast of South Carolina. Places that weren’t brought up in the same context of “The Beach” I first heard about back in 2009. Places without hotels. Places that allowed camping on the edge of the continent.
Over the next several years we camped at two of the most enchanting places I have ever been: Edisto Beach State Park and Hunting Island State Park. Some of my favorite beach paintings are ones that were inspired by visits to both of these two State Parks.
Our two-person tent weekend for three was where I became fascinated by South Carolina’s beauty. An intangible beauty I still never grow tired of trying to emulate through my paintings of places which have caught my artist’s eye. Our two-person tent weekend was the beginning of a whole new genre of landscape paintings which I continue to work on, even to this day.
I’m still not much for “real” camping.
What I am for, is the way the salty air and wide open spaces of the Low Country have a way of breathing life back into my often weary mind and tired body. What I am also for, is the way that camping takes you away from everything in your real life that seemed so pressing and important before you left home. Things that can wait. Things you won’t even remember when you look back five or six years later at your camping photos. Wondering what stole away all those in-between years from me?
Why did we ever stop camping?
My first store opened up in the fall of 2012 and there was no time left over for fun. No margin in my life which could allow me the ability to overlook sleeping with sand. No margin to step outside of life’s comforts for the greater good of myself and my family. This is not a healthy way to live. Which is why I stopped doing something which people said they loved. Something I was pretty good at too.
Even though I knew how to make a store look really beautiful, it was not what I loved. Or needed. Or what my family needed. I am still trying to listen to what my next steps are, but am confident they must include something which allows for more mental space in my life. Something that energizes me enough so I can embrace opportunities that require sandy sheets for a greater good.
Labor Day 2015
My store is closed and my brain is unwinding. After three years of distraction, I am free again to explore South Carolina’s Lowcountry. Free to be spellbound by her loveliness; mesmerized by her glimmering marshes and lulled by her gentle waves.
Despite my steadfast Lowcountry fascination, I’m still not yet quite ready to be sleeping with sand in my sheets. But now that my head and my heart are slowly beginning to defrost, I can start to feel the itch for adventure returning.
Everyone can benefit from a new view from time to time. If you haven’t seen my downloadable monthly calendars yet, here is the most recent addition to my desktop calendar collection — September, 2015.
May it remind you this month, that stepping outside of your comfort zone will sometimes open up a whole new world of wonder. (Just be careful not to step out too far. You may find yourself stepping off the edge of the continent.)
With a defrosting heart,