Stop and smell the campfire
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
“Dreaming permits each and every one of us to be quietly and safely insane every night of our lives.” -Charles William Dement
My dad and I were the only ones left around the campfire on the eve of Father’s Day last week.
He poked the dying embers with a stick and we talked about life as thick smoke curled into our clothes and dissipated through the cottonwoods into the cloudy night. It was so dark I couldn’t see his face, only his hand and the stick stirring the orange, pulsing coals.
The last time we camped together was in 2008, and there was no fire then. I’d just quit my first job out of college after three years of solid work and was setting out on the road to see where I would end up. There was fear and the unknown, but also optimism and dreams hanging ripe on the horizon, which I was determined to chase down.
Sometimes I find myself living much too fast in the name of dreams. The “check engine” light flicks on in my car, and sometimes reality seems entirely blurred as I speed toward destinations I can hardly imagine fast enough.
Maybe reality is blurred – in flux, evolving faster than the clock can tick away the seconds. Maybe that’s what keeps me awake some nights. Maybe it would be best for me to stop micromanaging its evolution and simply focus on the only choices I have at the time.
At any given second, there’s a choice in terms of perception or action or both. A person can perceive something as positive or negative and decide upon a direction to move, which would be left, right or straight ahead. There is no reverse or staying put in life.
A person will make a choice in one set of circumstances and immediately arrive in another, and so on. After a while, a route made by his choices will begin to trace across a map as the road continues to evolve in front of him, mile by mile, second by second.
The way to reach his desired destination is rarely apparent until he is practically upon it, however. There are also often distractions – detours. Some are for the better, some not, and it’s easy for a bad turn to beget more bad turns. This is what makes dream-chasing scary.
In 2008, my dad and I parted ways after camping in the San Rafael Swell. He was going east and I was headed west.
Alone, the silence of the desert tempered my nerves as I studied my atlas. All my anticipation for that moment hardly prepared me for it. My new freedom (read: joblessness and savings) tasted like the red dust blowing into the open door of my black Subaru. I swallowed its dry grit and finally turned the ignition key.
There was no going back. My old job was already filled, and I couldn’t stay put in that stretching valley of sage, sandstone and nothing. The needle on the gas tank was at half full and I hoped I had picked the right dirt road – once I got back to a paved highway it would still be 50 miles before I hit a town.
Things worked out in the long run, of course. At least, that’s what I choose to believe (might as well). I ran out of money and felt plenty lonely and dirty for a time, but I feel I’m at least a little closer to my dream of life fulfillment.
I’ve got a steady job as a writer, a wonderful woman, a home and in general a lot of great people, things and places surrounding me every day. Yet sometimes I still dupe myself into believing I’m stuck in place because the horizon never seems to get closer.
As my dad stirred the coals last week, he reminded me, in his even, friendly voice, that so much of everything I’ve wanted has slowly materialized before my eyes.
I don’t know how long we talked or when we finally crawled into our sleeping bags. It seemed like a dream except that I smelled the smoke in my clothes the next morning.
When my dad asked me to go on the one-night camping trip, dropping the Father’s Day card into play, I was annoyed to abandon other plans, pack and drive for such a short excursion. Then I was happy that I did. Three years sped by so fast, I almost forgot how far I’ve really come. Thankfully, my dad is still here, reminding me to slow down and enjoy it while I can.
I bet I’ll hear his voice at the campfire for the rest of my life.
“Open Space” appears on the second and fourth Saturday of the month. Derek Franz writes for the Eagle Valley Enterprise and lives in Glenwood Springs. His email is
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Policy that dictates what for-profit activities should be officially sanctioned within Glenwood Springs parks is being reviewed by city staff and will likely come before the city council for final approval later this summer.