by Marc Piane
When I opened my eyes the sun was already high in the sky. The light filtered through the canopy of leaves and I could feel the warmth on my cheeks. The air was thick with the smell of wet leaves and pine needles. Usually when I go backpacking I wake up with the first cracks of sunlight but yesterday had been a long day of driving and hiking. I guess I needed the sleep. I had left all my technology at home including my watch. I’ve never been great at telling time from the position of the sun. Probably 10 am.
It was spring and not very cold so I slept outside next to the camp fire that was still smoldering from the night before. Slowly I nursed it back to health and set a pot of water on top to boil for coffee and oatmeal. Solitary backpacking trips like this are always a bit of a spiritual experience for me, whatever that means. I can see the wisdom of the “vision quest.” Really it is just being alone with your thoughts as you walk in the woods. Very meditative. I also always feel like it forces me to experience things as they come. I have left myself no choice.
When the water started boiling I reached into my backpack and located a packet of oatmeal, maple and brown sugar, and some ‘coffee bags’ that I had made by packing grounds in a piece of filter and tying it with thread. I put water in my blue camping mug and put the bag in to steep. In my bowl I emptied the contents of the oatmeal packet and put in some water. The smell of coffee and the oatmeal reached my nose and filled me with a feeling much like being covered with a comfy blanket.
I leaned back against a tree and closed my eyes.
On these trips I never set a schedule for myself. That is really hard for me. Back in Chicago I am self-employed so I have gotten very good at making a schedule for myself but as a result I always feel nervous at first being idle. Getting miles out in the woods you are forced to live at a different pace.
I took a sip of my coffee. Hot. Earthy. Almost chocolaty. I put a spoonful of the oatmeal in my mouth. It was sweet and thick and I could feel the warmth slide down my throat. After I finished both I started to pack my backpack. Everything has its place. It’s the only way it fits into the pack. I doused the embers with the remaining water. It was a very small fire so it didn’t take much to render it dormant.
I sat on a fallen tree and looked at my map. Last night I had slept in a valley near a river that ran through the area. I decided that today’s hike would be up to the crest of the mountain. It was a smaller rolling mountain so no climbing necessary but it meant an uphill walk all day with a 40 lb pack on my back. Just yesterday I had hike down the other side of this mountain. For a moment my mind wandered to thinking about how Sisyphus must have felt. The difference is that I was doing it by choice not as a punishment imposed by the gods which might make it even more absurd. The classic philosophical definition of the absurd is the place where the objective world and our perception of it meet. A backpacking trip was truly absurd and all about experiencing.
Once I had my backpack packed, I hoisted it on my back. “Lift with the knees.” I fastened and tightened the waist belt and headed out down the trail. For now, the trail followed along a small stream. It was spring and so the forest was coming to life but still with evidence of the carnage from the previous autumn and winter. This area is so alive in the spring. Almost a temperate rain forest.
Just then a light rain started to fall.
Bassist and composer Marc Piane is a self proclaimed jack of all trades, master of none. His love of his family, music, cooking, gardening, coffee, photography, yoga, and education means that he is severely under-employed but having way too much fun to have it any other way. He plays frequently with jazz saxophonist Chris Greene and much less frequently with is own group Walk East. He co-founded and co-directs the Summer Lab On Stage program, a theatre program for 5th-8th graders, at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. He also teaches privately at the Chicago School of Music. His love of jazz and black coffee runs deep, consequently he rarely sleeps. His list travels are too many to list here but you can go to his website at www.marcpiane.com to find out more.