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Checkout Time: A Reflective Essay

Chris practices free writing which often produces humorous or introspective results with practical applications to living life more fully.


Wedding receptions are a great place to people watch, especially when it comes to dancing. You can usually spot a man or woman who appears to be dancing to a different song than everybody else—like Elaine on Seinfeld.

I often get the feeling that I’m living life one step out of time with the rest of the world. When I talk to people about events in my life, what I do for a living, and how I live on the road they look at me as if I’m one of Santa’s misfit toys. At least that’s how I interpret it.

I do a fair amount of camping as I travel. I enjoy the little tasks that make me comfortable in an environment of unpredictable weather, rocky ground, and wildlife prowling in the shadows. What I mean is that camping is setting up my tent or hanging my camping hammock. It’s gathering firewood, which can be the most time-consuming task depending on how big a fire I want and how long I want it to burn. Camping is starting the fire without the aid of paper or liquid fuels.

Camping and fishing go hand in hand. After I’ve caught a few, I stop and clean them. That’s camping as well. Then I cook them over the fire. I like to have just enough oil in the bottom of my cooking pot to cover a chunk of fish when I tilt it. It’s called shallow frying, and that is camping too.

Stargazing is camping. My first memorable experience with this was when I was about 19 years old. A friend’s family owned a small pond in a meadow. We all arrived at different times and carried our sleeping bags to the edge of the pond. Then we joined the rest of the gang, lying on the grass looking up at the spectacular sight. Today, it is fun and challenging to look for all those familiar constellations from different locations around the country as I travel and to know it is the same sky, filled with the same, glittery, old friends.

Night sounds are my favorite. Not the Snoopy night sounds of things going bump in the dark. I mean spring peepers and larger frogs. What a chorus they make. The sound can reach an unbelievable volume, and I can finally sleep.

I was out recently and experienced all of these aspects of camping. I’ve been working the night shift at a Dallas hospital and haven’t been sleeping well in the daytime. I ventured out into the National Grasslands and hung my hammock from two cedars. I could finally sleep.

After an evening and night of camping in all of its diverse forms, I woke up, not to the sound of frogs. They had grown silent with the rising of the sun. This new sound grabbed my consciousness and dragged it into the light of the day.

The sides of my hammock prevented me from seeing out. I unzipped the bug net and swung my legs out over the edge where my feet dangled and my toes searched for the ground. After I extricated myself from the cocoon-like shelter, I took in my surroundings. The sun blazed low in a cloudless sky of blue above the east end of the lake that rippled in a slight breeze.

There was that sound again, familiar, conjuring memories from my childhood on the farm. I slowly scanned the area until my eyes connected with another set of eyes. They were not the brown orbs of Darby, my dog. They were much larger than his puppy dog eyes. In fact, several pairs gazed on me with intensity and curiosity.


The National Grasslands is federal land and the government makes a little extra cash by allowing ranchers to graze their cattle on the thousands of acres. It was the eyes of these cows and their calves that were so preoccupied with my every move. The mooing of the older cows and the maaing of their calves had awakened me. The camping spot I had chosen was clearly a favorite resting place for them, and we had been allowed to use it for one night. Apparently, this was checkout time.


I busied myself with breakfast. When I turned around, a dozen cows and calves had moved considerably nearer to me and my camping equipment. I turned back to my tasks, and the cows moved even closer. Darby and I ate our breakfast under the scrutiny of those watchful bovine eyes. Then the bull showed up. Darby took the long way to the Jeep keeping an eye on the bull the entire way. I hauled my gear passing about twenty feet from 1800 pounds of black Angus testosterone.


This whole camping scenario takes me back to the thought of being out of step with those around me. Family, friends, and new acquaintances looked at me much the same way these cows looked at me. I am a curiosity. They stood wide-eyed wondering what I was up to.

What am I up to? I’m just living life my way, day by day, going from place to place, working some and seeing what there is to see, doing all the wonderful and exciting things there are to do. What people should keep in mind is that I’m okay with this. If you already knew and accepted that, you are an even closer friend than you may have imagined.


The Big Guy After He Moved Away About Twenty More Feet


© 2019 Chris Mills


Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on October 23, 2019:

Lawrence, no question about it. Get out there and start walking. Maybe it will be for a day, a week, even longer, who knows. Life awaits.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on October 18, 2019:


There are times when I miss doing things like that, I used to camp a lot when I was a teenager, and even into my twenties and thirties, but the last few years not so much.

The wife and I both love 'rambling' as we call it here, just packing a few things and heading off down a walking trail, maybe we'll do a few of them this summer.

There is a walking trail from the Northernmost tip of the North Island to the Southernmost point (about fifteen hundred miles) that we want to do, it's on the 'bucket list' but maybe we should get on with walking it!

Thank you for the story.


Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 22, 2019:

Dora, I've been to St. Croix, and I spent a lot of time outside. But I'm afraid I was so focused on the visuals that I didn't take time to listen to the night sounds. I'm a bit ashamed of that now that I think about it. I'll have to make a second visit.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on August 21, 2019:

Living life your way seems exciting. Being comfortable in nature is in itself a blessing. I like the night sounds as well (easy to hear in Caribbean country) and a fish dinner is always welcome. Your one step out, may be one step nearer to what life ought to be!

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on August 19, 2019:

Chris, that sounds amazing! Definitely an adventure to look forward to!

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 19, 2019:

Shauna, Yes, I'm in Texas, but only for five more days. I'm going to take some time off work, maybe 5 weeks. I do contract work, so I just won't schedule the next one until the beginning of October. My son finished his trek, is working, bought another, larger sailboat and is planning a transatlantic trip with me as his crew. How does that sound? Hopefully, it will happen in the next two years.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on August 19, 2019:

Chris, you sure lead an interesting life. I love that it takes the sounds of Nature to lull you to sleep at night. I can relate, although I don't sleep outside. However, I need sound when falling asleep. To me, silence is disturbing. Perhaps silence opens the door to my thundering mind. Who knows?

Thanks for sharing your life with us. So, you're in Texas now, huh?

How's your son doing? Did he finish his trek?

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 18, 2019:

Babz, I'm as glad as you are there was no snake. I'm in Texas, so it could have been a bad one. I'm glad you were able to visualize the setting. Thank you for reading and commenting.

Babz on August 18, 2019:

All I counld think of is when he swung his feet over OH GOD PLZ DNT LET IT BE A SNAKE!! I ENJOYED the read it actually gave me great visuals. Thank u sir!

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 17, 2019:

Pamela, Thank you for sharing your thoughts about the article. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on August 17, 2019:

Your camping sounded absolutely delightful until the bull showed up. I love the idea of cooking over the fire and gazing at all the stars while listening to night sounds.

The Seinfeld "Elaine Dance" was so funny! I thoroughly enjoyed this article. What a great way to live Chris.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 17, 2019:

Sean, I have great respect for many of the ways the Native Americans lived. All of our ancestors lived close to nature at some point in time. That is why we have recreation activities that mimic their efforts to survive. Enjoy life.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 17, 2019:

Ruby, this is a lifestyle I enjoy, and I'm happy to take my friends with me wherever I go. Thank you for your kind words.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 17, 2019:

Thank you Liz. It is encouraging to know that my writing can have such an impact.

Ioannis Arvanitis from Greece, Almyros on August 17, 2019:

My dear brother, Chris, thank you for the memories! I am proud to know you, and I am happy for you! You are a free Spirit, and believe me, you LIVE more than the most of us do! So, I think we are a step behind and on the wrong path. Native Americans knew the way, and they were some steps ahead.

Blessings and greetings from Greece, an excellent place for camping!


PS: Thank you for reminding me of the hilarious scene with Elaine on Seinfeld!

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on August 17, 2019:

Well, I certainly was thinking you were about to check out to the next world, instead, I found an enjoyable time camping and watching the animals. I love your lifestyle, and I'll bet many folks would love to be in your shoes. I just wish I could have a bite of that fish. You know that contentment is more important than wealth. You're a happy camper and that's good. Thanks for taking me along....

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 17, 2019:

Liz, I appreciate you reading and commenting here today. Thank you.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 17, 2019:

Sally, I am not a stranger to the macro setting on my camera. I can appreciate your love for that kind of photography. Thanks for commenting here. It is good to see you today.

Liz Westwood from UK on August 17, 2019:

You write with such clarity that you take the reader with you on your trip.

Sally Gulbrandsen from Norfolk on August 16, 2019:

I thoroughly enjoyed this insight into your life. I love nature and view it differently from most of the people I know. As a macro photographer, I seem to notice and hear the little things which most people walk past, such as the butterflies and bugs but you, however, seem to be perfectly in tune with the 'bigger picture' taking only what you need to survive the day. I like that. Thanks for sharing.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on August 16, 2019:

John, that is amazing. You are a step ahead of me with the motor home. In a week and a half, I will look at the truck that I hope will pull my small tailer. Later I will move up, but for now, I want something small. Enjoy life and relax as best you can. Blessings of all kinds on you and your wife, John.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on August 16, 2019:

What a wonderful lifestyle you live, Chris. I understand it fully. As I write is his I am sitting in the shade under the awning of my Toyota Coaster bus/converted to motor home at a reserve called Broadwater. No electricity, but there is phone reception which is a luxury. Cooked soup on a campfire bbq last night under the stars and our meager solar lighting.

Placed the camp shower bag and solar panels out in the sun this morning, so a shower can be had this afternoon. And guess what? We are parked near a cattle trough, so have cows and young calves moving back and forth constantly and eying us curiously. Thanks for sharing your wonderful lifestyle with us,

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