A story in the September issue of Cruising World, a magazine for cruising sailors, tackles one of the most nettlesome issues in the world of the modern outdoors person: acquisitiveness.
The author, a Midwestern doctor, confesses that despite the fact that he is and has been completely satisfied with his family's annual month-long Cape Cod sailing vacation, he cannot stem the urge to improve, bigger, better and more expensive being the American way.
So when the sailboat shows arrive every fall he forgets the sturdy 25-footer that has carried him and his family to intriguing adventures for years and lustily explores every larger, more luxurious yacht on display and every gadget, gizmo and gewgaw on the market.
The doctor has more common sense than most. He looks, but so far he's withstood temptation.
Why? Because, he explains in the article, a pensive moment brings back to him the very reason that he went sailing in the first place, which was to get away from the complexity that is life in this age and return for a while to a simpler set of goals and needs
Fact: When you go camping it takes longer to wash the dinner dishes than it does to throw a whole day's worth of pots, pans, dishes, cups, glasses and silverware into the dishwasher at home, if you're lucky enough to have a dishwasher.
Fact: It is not easy to fix chicken, rice and a salad when you have only one pan, no mixing bowls, a one-burner stove and bugs are sucking your blood.
Fact: It is not as comfortable to sleep in a bag on the floorboards of a small boat in a quiet cove off the Chesapeake Bay as it is to sleep in your own bed at home.
Fact: It is ore fun to wash dishes in a pan by a brook; to fix chicken dinner on top of the Blue Ridge in autumn or to fall asleep under a blanket of stars in a small boat than to do any of these things at home.
I am as guilty as the next guy of trying to update and modernize, improve and complicate the gear with which I enjoy "simple" pleasures.
One of the luckiest people I know is a science writer who rents a cabin in West Virginia. Once I asked him why he didn't try to buy it, since he obviously loves it dearly.
"Because if I bought it," he said, "I would feel compelled to fix it up -- put in indoor plumbing, insulate it, paint it."
As it is, he lets the cabin he and enjoys the 2,000 acres of woods it sits in the middle of. Once he had a United States senator spend the weekend there, sleeping in a lumpy bed near the old woodstove that goes out in the middle of the night, leaving you to wake up freezing. The senator didn't complain.
It's possible to learn things from simple places like that. You learn, for example, that it's impossible to place an outhouse the proper distance from a cabin -- it's invariably too close in the summer and too far away in the winter.
If you stop to think about it, the way the good Midwestern doctor did, you also find you learn a little about the reason you were drawn to this type of recreation in the first place.
Things happen fast in this world. A hundred years ago people had summer homes in Takoma Park. Today if you jump on the Metro at Takoma Park you are whooshed downtown, into the crush of commerce and big government, in 15 minutes.
Gadgetry has solved all the little problems that used to be big problems. You don't sweep the floor, a machine does it. You don't entertain yourself and your friends, the television set does it. You don't patch the leak in the roof, a roofer comes around in a truck with special tools. You don't walk over to see if your friends are home, you call on the phone; if they're home you drive over in the car.
You strip away all that when camping in a tent or cruising in a small boat. Strip away air-conditioning. If it's hot you sweat; that's how God fixed it up.
Want hot water? Heat it up. Put a potful on the fire. It's not hard. No fire? Build one. It takes time and even a little thought.
When you camp in a tent or live aboard a small boat there is no idle time. These little jobs, the things people occupied themselves with for thousands of years to survive, take up the time.
After a while people get the feeling that there is something tyrannical about that. Like the doctor, they start dreaming up ways to avoid the very things that appealed to them in the first place.
Tey start collecting labor-saving devices. Soon there isn't enough to do. Then they need a television to fill up the extra time.
Might as well be home.