Skip to main content

Zest When Camping

It was a record morning for camping this winter: 34 F inside the trailer. (Oh sure, I have a catalytic propane heater, but it would have been unsporting to use it.) As I learned long ago you simply cannot get warm by putting on more clothes; you must move your body some, even if it means flapping your arms. But I had to keep reminding myself how glorious this discomfort was, or would be, once the sun starting cooking the opened trailer.

What interested me was that it actually took effort to "suffer" a few minutes of chill in order to glory in the warm sun that I knew was coming momentarily. Was it just my weakness or was it the old idolatry of Comfort sneaking into the mind of an experienced camper who should know better?

Long-suffering readers are familiar with my standard stump speech against bourgeois idols such as Comfort, so let's not repeat all that. But since this was the best experience of this type in some time, let's honor the occasion by looking at it from a different angle.

In his chapter on Zest in The Conquest of Happiness, Bertrand Russell illustrated the general principle by imagining several types of men sitting down to their meal:
There are those to whom a meal is merely a bore; no matter how excellent the food may be, they feel that it is uninteresting. They have had excellent food before, probably at almost every meal they have eaten. They have never known what it was to go without a meal until hunger became a raging passion, but have come to regard meals as merely conventional occurrences, dictated by the fashions of the society in which they live. Like everything else, meals are tiresome, but it is no use to make a fuss, because nothing else will be less tiresome. [Italics added.]
On a more general level he said:
The human animal, like others, is adapted to a certain amount of struggle for life, and when by means of great wealth homo sapiens can gratify all his whims without effort, the mere absence of effort from his life removes an essential ingredient of happiness. The man who acquires easily things for which he feels only a very moderate desire concludes that the attainment of desire does not bring happiness. If he is of a philosophic disposition, he concludes that human life is essentially wretched, since the man who has all he wants is still unhappy. He forgets that to be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness. 
There is simply no way to experience camping and outdoor zest without being able to tolerate discomfort with patience and courage. Zest comes from contrast -- from the dialectic of pain and pleasure. It helps considerably when hardship and the frustration of desires are voluntary, and when you can see through to the end of it. Essentially discomfort should resemble the earnest play of children and dogs. Another comparison is that of an aristocrat of olden times who lived the life of a romantic adventurer, exploring the Poles or climbing the Alps. He suffered genuine hardship; comfort-worship would have been ignoble to him.

This is the opposite of the approach of the travel, tourism, and RV industries, who make a lot of money by selling Status and Comfort to middle-class chumps. When the novelty wears off, the chump gets bored. I guess the industry's advice to them at that point is to buy something newer, more exciting, and more expensive.


Anonymous said…
I agree with you on lack of comfort. I live in my van. I havr come to relish a can of beans in the evening as a meal. Hunger is the best condiment. I am grateful for the food, the farmers and the soil. True happiness.
Ms. Minimal said…
I've been a full timer since August of last year and have been shocked at how much my body has acclimated to the weather. I no longer need AC to be comfortable in the summer, in fact I prefer to not use it. Heat has become tolerable. :)
Unknown said…
Well said! Great post.
Unknown said…
I loved that! So true as I can relate since have stood around camp roasting and rotating my body around a raging fire while freezing snow/rain is blowing. Why do i do that! Cuz I cherish nature and all she has to offer.
I had an easy time imagining the situation you described; but it is a little further than I have been willing to go.
Mr Ed said…
I love to listen and I love to read. But on cold mornings without heat it is just OK for me to stay inside the sleeping bag until things warm up after the sun comes up. Maybe I take a stretch and try out the coffee cone. But I have been loving my French Press which is all stainless so no worry about breakage.