What a Camping Trip Taught Me About My Marriage (and Myself)

Does going back to nature reveal your true nature? Leigh Newman thought she and her husband were polar opposites—messy versus methodical, chaotic versus contained. Then a family camping trip turned the tables.

Photo by Courtesy of Leigh Newman

I am married to a textbook perfectionist. Watching my husband, Lawrence, slowly roll up a pair of socks into a ball with the toes and ankles aligned—as if performing the ancient art of argyle origami—fills me with a mixture of admiration, terror, and total mystification. These are perhaps the same emotions he feels when watching me fill out tax returns with the nub of a blue crayon or pour liquid hand soap into the dishwasher without even using the little compartment in the door.

It’s not just that I’m a slob. It’s that I’m sloppy. Not only does minutia escape me, but I ignore it with a glee that’s downright embarrassing. All that piddling stuff like baking powder will work itself out, I think. Right before the chocolate cake explodes in the oven.

After a decade together, Lawrence and I thought we knew everything about each other and our opposite ways. Then we went camping.

It was in 2009. We had just had a baby, another boy, and I was worried that Henry, our three-year-old, felt betrayed and alone. I thought a camping trip would be a bonding experience for the four of us. Not that I really knew what I was talking about.

I’d grown up in Alaska. My family’s idea of an outdoor excursion was to fly out to the tundra in a single-prop floatplane, hack our way through impenetrable alders to an isolated river, and spend the night on a frigid gravel bar only to wake up at dawn to fish for salmon—provided, of course, that the grizzlies didn’t show up. Lawrence, on the other hand, had gone on many a canoe trip with his cousins in the continental United States, where they drank a never-ending supply of beer and slept in old army tents. He wasn’t sure we should take a toddler and an infant out into the wilderness. But I thought Lawrence’s version of camping sounded like a cakewalk. And I was the one who got up with the baby at every hour of the night, so I got my way. Off to Maine we went, dreaming of pinescented forests and blueberry skies.