I made it to 41 years of age having only camped once in my life. It was with a group of friends in my early 20s for only one night. With the coronavirus lockdown in full gear, and tired of staying home all day for months on end, I decided to try my hand at camping in September of 2020. I bought the necessary camping gear and, on a slow road journey to Alabama, I camped in Bald Eagle State Forest (Campsite 5) in the middle of Pennsylvania and the Trail of Tears State Forest (Campsite S4) in southern Illinois for a total of five nights. Here are some things I learned…
1. God made a lot of bugs
I thought I had seen all the bugs that have ever been made, but I saw many new varieties that liked me and wanted to be as close to me and my tent as possible. I acted as a natural magnet to bugs, to a degree that was higher than what I could elicit from women at the peak of my pickup lifestyle. Without learning any type of bug game, I attracted at least a dozen species, particularly the daddy long legs. They would approach my tent before picking a spot to rest, and some found a way inside to watch me sleep. To dispose of them, I’d grab one of their long legs and toss them out.
2. God likes variety
It’s impossible to be bored in this life if we embark on a mission to view all of God’s creations. He made so many different categories of living things, and so many kinds within those categories, that some men have effortlessly dedicated their lives to simply studying one kind of species within one category. There are many men around the world who only study fruit flies, and nothing else, and when they die, they will lament that they don’t know more about fruit flies.
I have identified less than 100 birds from many hours of birdwatching. I could spend entire afternoons with a pair of binoculars to look at just a few bird species, and yet God has created over 10,000 species of birds. I could become a full-time bird watcher and not even scratch the surface of birds.
Boredom is a choice. Even in this fallen world, God has created so much variety for us, so many potential fields of study, that to be bored is more an indicator of our need for entertainment than there not being enough to do or see.
3. The night is for evil things
For most of my life, I’ve been a night owl. It’s effortless for me to stay up until 2 or 3am if I choose. Before, I’d use that time to pursue matters of the flesh, to watch pornography or exist in a state of sloth. So it’s only when I go into the woods, without lighting available at the flick of a switch, that I can understand why Satan’s best work is done at night. In the cover of darkness, when the Christian is asleep to get a jump start on serving God in the morning, evildoers focus their eyes on filthy things and hatch plots to better gain from the world.
I still go to bed rather late, around 1am, lured by low-grade internet content, but while camping, I was ready for bed at 9pm. My portable lantern could not coax me to stay up later, and even if it did, I felt genuinely tired. There was no screen to keep me energized or fluorescent lighting to trick my brain that it was still daytime. It turns out that I’m only a night owl in the modern world, but in a candle-lit world, I’d have no reason to stay up.
4. I spend half of my waking life in front of a computer
I am an extension of the computer; the computer is an extension of me. All that I can contribute to the world is through a computer. The way my faith in God is displayed to others is through a computer. The way I expend my creative energies and stay in touch with friends is through a computer. The computer is like one of my appendages, a third arm that I may even choose above one of my own. As long as I live, the computer will be my partner. We will never separate.
While camping, I easily adapted to not using a computer. I went for walks and read. I wrote using pen and paper. But the first thing I did when going back to the city was get on a computer (smartphone) to check everything I had missed, from text messages to world news. What an immediate feeling of happiness to be connected again, to receive information that, in the end, doesn’t matter an hour—or maybe even a minute—after it is consumed. Camping reminded me to use the computer as a tool for serving my mission from God, instead of me getting used by it.
5. It’s easy to turn nature into a false idol
It’s not hard to make nature into a god. You can master multiple methods of camping, embark on more extreme terrain, climb mountains, challenge yourself with bushcrafting techniques, or become a treehugger activist that attempts to save the forests. The variety that God gives us can easily lead to a deceived state where you put the variety above God.
Camping is one of the most wholesome hobbies you can have, but unless it makes you more humble or directly helps with your spiritual life, it is just another hobby, one that should be moderated and not exceed your love of prayer, church, and scriptural reading. The forest may allow you to feel more “connected” to God, but He demands much more of us than pleasant feelings while being surrounded by beautiful views. He demands that we repent, be baptized, and serve Him and our neighbor with love. Nature itself cannot save, so it must only remain a part of a Christian’s life, not the whole.
6. The natural order was on display without adulteration
I did not see a single living creature, whether animal or plant, going against the nature that God bestowed upon them. There were no homosexual birds or trees with tattoos. I did not hear the squirrels playing hip hop music or encounter a deer that demand I address him as xi/xir/they/them. While the hands of men were visible upon the forest, the vast majority of my sense perceptions of the nature that surrounded me was what I believe God intended. There was a harmony that made sense, both logically and spiritually, and from that I noticed that my basal level of tension and anxiety were reduced.
In the two forests I visited, I saw more abidance to the natural order in a square foot of dirt near my tent than in the entirety of a major American city. You can take your pick of which city—you will not find one that contains a holy patch outside of a church that is more pleasing on our spirit than a section of dirt teeming with visible plants and bugs and unseen bacteria. When I entered the city after camping, I did not feel as if it God was present.
Camping was what I needed after spending most of the year in my mom’s living room. I enjoyed having no worldly cares and being able to read at an accelerated pace. While I did miss my beloved digital screens, I could easily imagine a life where I would have to permanently go without them. If only I can find a middle ground between the city and the forest, to stay within arm’s reach of my neighbor but also worship God surrounded by His natural glory. Maybe one day He will grant me to live in such a place.