Our van rolled to a stop in front of the after-hours arrival board in the Canyon campground. Some of us assumed the reservation would be posted. Others imagined a long night in the van.
The Canyon Area is an outpost of civilization near the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone boasting two stores, a post office, Visitor Education Center, hotel, gas station and campground. A slow drive down a wooded lane leads campers away from commotion and commerce into an enveloping lodgepole forest. Among the pines, loop upon loop of campsites string together like so many cul-de-sacs, an exclusive neighborhood in the woods.
Our name was on the board. We had a place to pitch our tent. The pessimists breathed their sighs of relief and we drove on, headlights peeling back a sliver of the night.
My husband was at the wheel, and he, for the only time in our twenty years of marriage, yelled at my mom. Campgrounds are dark, lit by the moon. Campsites are designated by tiny signs. Mom was trying to read each sign we passed. He was driving too fast for her to read the signs and she told him–perhaps sharply–to slow down. J, who has a thing about knowing where he is, barked. He hasn’t lived it down.
Several silent loops later, we arrived at our campsite. It was time to make camp. In the dark. Noiselessly, we pulled our gear from the van. We didn’t want to disturb the neighbors.
In the midst of this, Mom whispered something about making dinner. Dinner? We didn’t want dinner. We wanted sleep. I don’t remember why we hadn’t had already eaten. It should have been obvious that it would be late when we pulled in. Maybe we just wanted to get there. Maybe Mom wanted to cook.
It was 11:30 at night. She hasn’t lived it down.
One obstacle stood between us and sleep: the tent. This was no pop-up. Old-style and complicated, metal pieces and canvas, it would have been formidable at high noon. On loan from my sister-in-law’s family, she brought it to my parents’ house one Saturday for a trial run. The guys set it up halfway, far enough to account for the pieces and get an idea of how to assemble it.
High noon was long past as Dad, my brother, and J hovered around the tent parts, trying to make sense of them in the shadowy lantern light. Mom, disappointed about dinner, lurked near the van. I joined my sister-in-law at the edge of the lantern’s circle where she watched the construction of our fabric shelter. “I knew,” she lamented, “we should have set it up all the way.”
The tent was raised and we fell into bed, content with our empty stomaches. When morning arrived Mom made breakfast. Morning brought more than a meal. It ushered in a fresh start, a powerful agent not just for the tourist in the national park but also for the traveler on life’s road.
That was a hard vacation in a difficult summer of surgeries and cancer, a wedding and the beginning of married life. Even with the pressures of that season and occasional heat of that vacation, it was good to be together. Together is an accomplishment for a family that is growing up and spreading out. Our family’s solution is to go somewhere.
It’s rough on the newbies. Entering a family is tricky business, to do so while traveling adds peril. We set out together hoping it will all go smoothly. It doesn’t always. Advice given long ago to ease the missionary’s clash of cultures would be beneficial at the premarital counseling table today: Not wrong, but different. Navigating different is a challenge. To pull it off on the road, a coup.
We ended up in Glacier National Park where we abandoned tenting in the aftermath torrential rain. We hiked and skipped rocks and tested our will and our sanity by shooting the rapids in a stream of glacial runoff. Mom served up some of her outdoor best and we wound our way home where the realities of that vacation–conflict, different approaches, and good desires run amok–linger eighteen years later. We deal with health or its lack and each couple is still learning what it means to get along after the wedding. And just like that first morning of our trip, we often need a fresh start. At least, I do.
One riddle science has not solved is why we sleep. They know some of what happens while we sleep; what they don’t understand is why. I don’t need to know why. I know that just like my body rebuilds and repairs, renewing during sleep the energy I’ve depleted during the day, always there is something in my life that needs rebuilt, repaired, or renewed. Because of sleep, every day I wake up to the hope of a fresh start.
God offers better yet. The rising sun brings his mercies, new for the day. And those I need every morning.