On May 14th, I resigned from my job of four years and eight months without another job to dig into. I have given myself four weeks of nothing. Dad visited the day after my last day of work and so for a week, my time was accounted for. But he left a week ago, giving me a glimpse into the next few weeks. The great unknown. This has been a first.
As a teacher, time off was summer, but I always had a job come fall. I wrestled with enjoying such a long span of time to myself. The first two weeks were always perfect: finally catching up on sleep after that excruciating last month that is May as an elementary sped teacher, organizing my life and laundry which hadn't been done in forever, catching up with non-teacher friends. But then....after sleep got back to normal, and rearranging every inch of my house, there wasn't much else to do. I partied and shopped too much in my first summer off and watched my bank account dwindle.
Now, sober curious with an aversion to shopping, but with mountains and beautiful weather most days, this stretch of down time has felt markedly different. Maybe it's because I'm nearly 34 and/or because I quit a job on my terms that really made me unhappy, but I'm really enjoying this time. I'm able to attend morning and mid day yoga classes instead of dragging my tired self to evening classes right after work. Hiking mid afternoon is so incredible, especially being able to nap before dinner. Giving myself permission to binge watch shows I've wanted to watch for a while, letting the laundry and the dishes pile up a bit, it feels like vacation every day. That's until I actually go on vacation.
I put a lot of pressure on vacations in the past, perhaps because I was so stressed out that I needed my downtime to be perfection in an effort to compensate for my crappy 9-5. It wasn't that my work was hard, I just reached my peak potential in my position a long time ago and due to the nature of the company, there wasn't any room to grow. And I overstayed because I was scared I wouldn't find anything else, that I wasn't good enough for anything else. Somehow, I found some courage and self-worth this year, and it became clear that I had to leave, even if I didn't have a plan on how to do that.
But having some space in between my last day and this Memorial Day Weekend camp vacation, this one was different. I didn't feel the need to overplan. I actually forgot a few things, and instead of feeling ashamed and guilty, I felt proud. I let go of organizing every minute of our weekend and kind of just let things unfold. It was quite possibly the best weekend I have had in a really long time.
We slept in on Saturday and got on the road around 8:30, rolling into Patrick's Point State Park Campground just before 4. After setting up camp, we explored actual Patrick's Point, Wedding Rock, Abalone Point and Observation Lookout, all within walking distance from our camp site. The cliffs off the Pacific Ocean were spectacular.
Saturday night, we made campfire pizzas and smores and stared at our campfire for hours. We both slept a solid 8 hours (rare for both of us and for camping). Perhaps the best sleep of our lives? So far, that could be true.
Sunday, we woke up with the birds and got on the road to Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. A mere 53 minutes away, we headed straight to Fern Canyon. Parts of Jurassic Park: The Lost World was filmed here and I couldn't help but feel like this place was ours. A holiday weekend and we were one of three groups on this short trail. It was magic.
The beach was feet from the parking lot, so after Fern Canyon, we took in a few minutes of Gold Bluffs Beach perfection. Paul said it smelled like cauliflower. I thought it smelled like a dead bird, which is what we happened upon eventually. This is still a debate in our household, but I maintain that cauliflower does not smell like dead birds. Tomato, potato.
Similar to a campfire, I could stare at the waves of the Pacific Ocean for hours. This portion was deserted and although the coastal air was a bit chilly, the sun helped.
A short drive away from Gold Bluffs Beach, we headed to Trillium Falls. On our way, we drove past a meadow with a dozen or so elk idly grazing. A cautionary sign warned us of getting too close. Because, duh.
Trillium Falls was a 2.6 mile loop in the heart of Prairie Creek. We got deep into redwoods country here, but also these majestic shaggy muppet trees were everywhere, along with fat clovers called sorrels that have purple underneaths and beautifully striped white flowers, and so many ferns. So much green, life, moisture, history. I reached my "wow" quota for the year. Also, your neck gets pretty tired trying to take in such giant trees.
We stopped and took a PB&J break before hiking down to the coast via the Carruther's Cove Trail at the northwest corner of the park. 0.8 miles straight downhill was nothing, but we did work a bit to get back up. Worth the view, though. So much driftwood made us feel like we had been carefully placed on a desert island.
We took one last, easy 1.5 mile hike before dinner at Lady Bird Johnson Grove, which was crowded but beautiful. We had dinner at The Lighthouse, a delicious vegan-friendly casual restaurant that is known for a mashed potato waffle cone (strange but good) and vegan coconut kumquat ice cream with ginger chips. I'd drive the 7 hours just to revisit that dessert.
After dinner, we managed to make it back to the coast albeit waddling from so much food. The sunset over Wedding Rock was incredible and the clouds at the end of the sun drop made it look like a 16 bit video game. Strange and awe inspiring.
I always have moments where I think about the prep of camping, the amount of stuff we take to feel comfortable outdoors, what it takes for us to set up a life without a permanent house for a few days. It makes me realize how much we've outsourced our survival, especially the amount of work and energy it takes to maintain a campfire. This source of warmth and a way to cook food for survival has now become a novelty, something we do to create a sense of ambience. But we don't need it. And we don't need to camp, or hike, or surround ourselves with ferns and trees and sorrels and wildflowers. Why do we do it?
Instead of having survival skills, we now pour our energy into our careers, which provides us a way to survive and thrive at whatever level we choose. But I wonder if this has become more of a competition, and if we've tied our self worth to getting more, earning more, taking home more, buying more, instead of really understanding what we want and just making sure we get it. Is more really a goal? Isn't there a limit to more? I've been considering what "true north" really feels like, what we're all collectively drawn to and why, and I wonder if we're all just heading in the same direction because we're afraid other paths will be lonely, dark, unsure, bumpy, leading to nowhere. I mean, watching a peer do the traditional steps of life, college, career, marriage, house, kids, boat, isn't that a fairly well-defined trail that seems pretty straight forward? Isn't it easier to walk in that path versus trying to figure out what you actually want, even if it differs from that life order? And if we do that, stick to that groove, and we're still drawn to something else, want something else, and instead, we just avoid it by getting wasted after work, isn't that telling that we're not actually listening to our internal compass?
Don't we all actually know, we just don't want to listen to ourselves because it's hard? Because we might not like what we hear? Because what we hear would urge us to change?
There has been a quiet voice that I've chosen to listen to lately. I haven't always chosen that. It's easier not to. But now, I'm listening. And that voice has told me so many things, but it's mostly giving me permission to quit or keep going, on my terms. Quit the job you hate, turn down the job offer that you don't want, stop reading the book you don't like, go on a hike that you think is too hard, try skiing that run you don't think you're good enough for, apply to the job you think you're not qualified for, break up with people that don't like you or that aren't rooting for you, talk about the hard stuff even if it's awkward, do the hard stuff even if you're tired, do the damn thing, do all the damn things. Count on trying to talk yourself out of doing the hard stuff, but do it anyway, even if you've crafted the perfect sensible reason or reasons not to. And then perfect the art of napping because this kind of life is incredibly rewarding and equally exhausting in all the best ways.
This chapter of my life did not come with an outline. I didn't carefully craft this narrative and it shakes me everyday. "What are you going to do in two more weeks?" I sometimes let myself wander into critical mass territory, but I've also been practicing the radical notion that I deserve some reflection, some perspective, some self-care, and most importantly, to get everything I want out of life, out of a job, out of vacation, out of a super chill Tuesday.
Balancing on logs to get across a shallow stream in Fern Canyon on Sunday felt like a secret: we were the only ones in the canyon for a moment and the subtle sunrays had started to creep in, giving the air a sweet scent of warm green things. That's where the good stuff is: the quiet warmth of a perfect summer morning that you didn't really prepare yourself for. There's that overwhelming feeling of happiness that seems to make your chest cavity swell like your breath could either crush you or spill out your ears while watching someone you love cross a stream like he's seven again. I don't want to feel that way a few times a year when we find time to get away: I want to expect that out of my weekly life.
And sometimes it's that simple. Heart swells regularly. Just make room for them.