Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Life in the Field

Photo courtesy Flickr

Setting up week continues with a look at the fundamentals. They don’t call it camping for nothing. There seems to be a close link between improvising furniture and simply posing and frolicking to no particular end. I can’t think of a more rewarding way to approach the duties of the household.

Many traditional furnishings are relics of earlier technologies, like the candlesticks that preceded not only electricity, but gas light as well. Any household item from the low-tech era works beautifully in the field. Early outings with climbers taught me the pleasures of breaking out, say, a designer bandanna and a four-branched Barbie-scale pot metal birthday candlestick to set the table for a dehydrated dinner.

Choosing state of the art field gear as the core of the household invests money where it truly counts for emergency back-up, gets the most out of that investment by using it every day, designs high-performance into daily life, saves space and work, and blurs the line between recreation and labor. In my experience, wiring my private life around a hike keeps me moving forward in every aspect of existence. For me, field gear is the stage setting for lifelong learning. It fosters a deeply resilient approach to the unavoidable changes of life.

No one is immune to displacement. My ordinary middle-class mother hired members of one of the royal houses of central Europe to baby-sit my brother and me after World War Two.

For bedding, choose a high-tech sleeping bag, either down or synthetic, that zips open flat so that you can encase it in a duvet cover and sleep under it at home. The first bag I used this way saw fifteen years of service and no doubt slowed global warming by an unmeasurable amount. Sleeping under a good bag extends its life, because flat and open storage protects the loft of the insulation.

For the bed itself, I have found that a cushy rectangular self-inflating air mattress is literally the most comfortable thing to sleep on. My 24”x72” model replaces mediocre cushions on a clean, vintage standard flat-seated sofa. I made a sleeve for it out of a serendipitous length of Polartec upholstery. I can sleep on the couch or spread out on the floor.

Sleeping on the floor in a Western interior can be squalid, because we track filth into the house on our shoes and because the proportions of our spaces support leisure two feet off the floor. A rustic wood one-legged bunk, known as a jack bed, in the corner of an old-fashioned cabin raises a Western floor and provides a decent space to lay out bedding. We have a similar four-legged bunk that was built to furnish one end of a sun porch. I moved the memory foam mattress off this bunk to try it with a field pad and found that I sleep better, waking up with happy muscle tone.

My attic is short-person heaven, with one dormer that has floor-level windows. I set up an experimental sleeping area there a few weeks ago and, besides a night city view I hadn’t known existed, I discovered that a ten by ten virtual tent is an elegant boudoir. For day, I can fold away the bedding a la Japan and store it in a vintage foot locker, set the camping pad against one wall as a headboard, place the pillows (in upholstery sacks) as a seat, and in seconds have a living room. Dwelling on the floor keeps one supple.

Whatever the architecture, if any, sleeping on the floor demands a ground cloth. In the house, I like to use an appealing cotton bedspread as a base layer rather than as a topping. Over that I set up the pad and the rest of the sleeping amenities. A washable upholstery sleeve for the pad substitutes for a conventional mattress pad.

That’s for sleeping. For meals, the featherweight titanium tea pot, one man/one pot, is a durable unbreakable substitute for the carafe of an automatic coffee maker, a more than generous mug, and a homely but effective way to cook small quantities of just about anything. One titanium tea pot plus one coffee maker equals one very slow cooker.

A two-burner propane field stove works all year round, indoors or out, with a kitchen fan and a carbon monoxide detector. I use my stove on the back porch for vigorous stir-frying. Setting the stove with a cast iron griddle, I can easily turn out an old-fashioned heart-killing bacon and eggs breakfast, my favorite meal. When it’s time to hit the woods, I just take the kitchen with me, which reduces the shock of a change to primitive conditions.

The hiking coop sells an LED Japanese tent lantern that’s a honey designed to run off batteries or a laptop. It’s the best ambient light in the house.

The ubiquitous stainless steel water bottle lives in my side bag.

Way back in the day, when the fork was a new invention, people carried their cutlery with them. I tote a titanium spork and Swiss Army penknife everywhere but the airport and feel halfway prepared for emergencies with a two-inch blade and mini-shovel.

Nylon travel accessories hold the small essentials of personal life. Add a laptop and a fast wireless connection to the basics, and I can think of very little that’s missing to live a comfortable, profitable, and independent existence.

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