Gero-Punk Practice: Zig Zagging

ImageI make it a practice to pay attention. But I didn’t see this coming. When did this happen? It feels abrupt! Though I suspect it is the result of a process so gradual and emergent as to be almost imperceptible except in retrospect.

When did I begin waiting for my daughter Isobel to wake up – wishing she’d wake up, rather than wishing she’d sleep longer (or wake up later)?

How funny and fascinating the way something that seemed frustrating at one point in time becomes the occasion for nostalgia and longing at another point in time.

It is 7:00 a.m. on a Friday in early August – this past Friday, to be precise — and my daughter and I are camping along the Zig Zag River in the Mt. Hood National Forest. After a night of strange disrupted tent-sleeping I am awake early. After dozing off and on for a bit in the cool air trapped inside the tent, I carefully unzip the tent flap, remove my gear, and exit, doing my best not to disturb the still deeply sleeping young woman who is my daughter Isobel.

When did that happen? When did she become a young woman? When did we arrive at the summer that will most likely be her last summer living with me before she flies off into the world? Holy crap!

I layer on some clothes—it is a chilly, misty morning. I light the little camp stove so I can make a cup of coffee. I putter around the camp, setting up our camp chairs, gathering twigs for a campfire. I brush my teeth and find a good place in the woods to pee.

At 7:30 a.m. I take one of the camp chairs and situate it on a little bluff facing the river and overlooking the tent where Isobel is still sleeping. I intend to engage in my morning contemplation and meditation practice. But before I can even settle myself down and into it, I start to wonder when she will wake up. Should I just let her sleep or decide on a time by which to wake her? I realize I am staring at the tent. (Maybe if I sit facing away from the tent inside of which Isobel happily slumbers ensconced in a down sleeping bag she’ll wake up sooner. I remind myself that a watched pot never boils.) I decide that if she’s not up by 9:00 I’ll make her hot cocoa and invite her to arise and join me.

Having made my decision, I feel my mind relax and expand a bit. I decide to keep the camp chair facing the river. I decide to use the tent as an object for my meditation. I rejoice in the auspicious opportunity to spend part of the early morning in the woods in silence and stillness.

Then I watch my mind do what minds do.

I can hear simultaneously the distant sounds of vehicles on the highway and the closer, more dominant sound of the snow-melt river. We aren’t camping in the back-country as would be my preference but in a less rugged campground nearer to home. I wonder if I could convince Izzy to take one last back-country trip before she leaves for college next year. (At home, Isobel is in the habit of sleeping with a fan on—her version of white noise. I wonder if the river serves the same function for her? As she is still asleep, I imagine it does.) Oh, and I hear birds, especially one that has an impressively loud screech.


Isobel’s father and I began camping with her when she was a toddler, mostly at high altitude in the Rocky Mountains. I have fond memories of Izzy in between us inside two zipped together sleeping bags, wriggling around, restless, and murmuring as she wound her way down toward sleep. And not so fond memories of being woken up in the middle of the night by her foot in my face because she’d turned her body horizontally and her foot end was on my side of the sleeping-bag bed. In those days, camping or not, I always wanted her to fall asleep sooner and wake up later than she wanted to because I was a tired mommy trying to keep so many responsibilities going.

I am still a tired mommy trying to keep so many responsibilities going but now I am in the second half of my fifth decade (I’ll be 47 in December) and my daughter will be 18 in February. When the hell did this happen?

When is Isobel going to wake up? The day has commenced, there are adventures to be had! (Perhaps if I stare long enough at the tent, by force of will I can beam energy to Isobel and she’ll spontaneously awaken!)

Camping was one of the activities that Isobel’s father and I enjoyed doing together. We camped regularly during the decade we were married (when I was in my 20s) and have continued to do so with Isobel on occasion throughout the past sixteen years of not being married. When we were married, I felt closest to him when our complicated life together was pared down and focused on a few days of living in the wilds. He’d spend most of his time fishing, I’d hike around on my own, but our reunion around the campfire for dinner, wine, reading until it got too dark to see the words on the page was my favorite part of camping with him. When we were on a camping trip together I’d believe we were going to be okay. I would feel almost certain that he was in love with me. The return to civilization was always a rude awakening.

It is almost 9:00 a.m. – time to start the water for Izzy’s hot cocoa. Time to build the campfire. Wouldn’t a morning campfire be nice to wake up to? I’ll wait to awaken Isobel until the camp is welcoming and warm.

About Jenny Sasser, Ph.D.

I am a freelance educational gerontologist, writer, community activist and facilitator. I am former Chair of the Department of Human Sciences and Director of Gerontology at Marylhurst University. I joined the faculty as an adjunct member of the Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies program in 1997 and since that time, I've been involved in designing many on-campus and web-based courses and programs for adult learners, including in Gerontology. As an undergraduate I attended Willamette University, graduating Cum Laude in Psychology and Music; my interdisciplinary graduate studies at University of Oregon and Oregon State University focused on the Human Sciences, with specialization areas in adult development and aging, women’s studies, and critical social theory and alternative research methodologies. My dissertation became part of a book published in 1996 and co-authored with Dr. Janet Lee--Blood Stories: Menarche and the Politics of the Female Body in Contemporary US Society. Over the past twenty (or more!) years I have been involved in inquiry in the areas of creativity in later life; older women's embodiment; sexuality and aging; critical Gerontological theory; transformational adult learning practices; and inter-generational friendships and cross-generational collaborative inquiry. I am co-author, with Dr. Harry R. Moody of Aging: Concepts and Controversies (now in its 10th edition!) and first author, also with Moody, of the recently published Gerontology: The Basics, as well as author/co-author of several book chapters, articles and essays. I am on the Portland Community College Gerontology Program faculty.
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