These photos were taken at the same time of day, a couple weeks apart. Obviously clean air is a blessing, not a guarantee.
People are a combination of surprised, amused, and sometimes envious when it comes out that I sleep in a tent. My initial reason for ‘tenting’ was simple: when plans to camp with friends in Big Sur one weekend fell through, I decided to simply pitch in the backyard. I wasn’t going to wait for others. I wanted to be outside. I wanted to feel the weather. I wanted to be close to the ground and to be serenaded by birds as the sky brightened every morning. I wanted to enjoy being a little less comfortable.
It worked. All of it. When one of my Trans Tahoe Relay teammates this year asked how the first couple weeks had been sleeping outside, I blurted out, “I’m a new man!”
- It made me move. Getting down to the ground at night, and up to the wheelchair from the ground in the morning, are two whole-body movements I wouldn’t otherwise have in my day. Check and check.
- It was a daily challenge. Those floor transfers weren’t easy in the beginning. From all my floor-based work inside, I had just enough strength to do it at the tent with the help of a small cushion, but not efficiently or reliably. Hundreds of repetitions later – both outside and at my home-gym inside – and I could do it literally with my eyes closed in the 5am darkness. That’s progress. (GIF above.)
- It reminded my body where it came from. This is evolutionary. Humans came from the floor, developing from aquatic creatures to quadrupedal amphibians and reptiles to land-reproducing mammals to prehensile primates and finally, extremely dexterous, bipedal humans. At each stage, our physiology adapted to new environmental challenges and we, in 2017, are the product of that evolution (plus a bunch of retrogressive sedentarism). Without even going into specifics, it’s easy to understand that spending more time on the ground, instead of supported by a wheelchair or a bed, would provide an evolutionarily familiar environment and thus help my body relearn what it is designed to do (i.e. move).
- It allowed me to embody my own abilities. It’s one thing to be able to stand or get off the floor. It’s another thing to do it regularly. And still another to do it with ease and enjoyment. I have to be intentional about using the skills I am developing. What good is all this recovery if I don’t use new movements I discover?!
- It gave me space. I’m still living in my childhood home. I’m lucky that I live in such a beautiful place and that I actually enjoy the company of my parents when we’re all around. Seriously, I don’t take that for granted. But I’m also someone with a lot of energy who needs space. And with 'space' itself blinking at me through the tent mesh every night, I could let myself expand in a way I can’t inside.
- It made me sense. Making sense and making me sense are different things. How often do you let yourself do nothing but listen to what is around you? When was the last time you used feeling as your primary sense to move around? Some nights I wouldn’t turn on my headlamp when I went outside – in the midnight blackness I would simply feel the uneven ground through the 4-point contact of the wheelchair, and up through my hips and feet. I say I want to use my body more…relying on more than simply my sense of sight is part of that.
- It let me let it out. You can feel a very tangible release when you’re outside on a cold night. Sometimes I sang myself to sleep. The crickets didn’t seem to mind my off-key rendition of Trevor Hall’s House of Cards.
After a paralyzing spinal cord injury, it’s easy to feel separated from both Nature and Human Nature – that is, whole-body movement.
‘Tenting’ is one way I resolve both parts of that separation. Maybe I’ll bring a tent with me to MIT.
A special shout-out to Katy Bowman for her book Movement Matters. It discusses movement ecology: how our individual and societal movement affect our environment and the way we live. I read it while tenting, and it resonated deeply.