Last weekend my husband and I went to a Christmas party given by a local geocacher in Hayward, over in the East Bay. It was a fun party: lots of good food and conversation, and a contest. Every year this person puts out a series of puzzle caches on the first of the month, and at the end of the year, prizes for Fastest Solver and Fastest Finder for all 12 caches are given out at this party.
Last year we had arrived in CA mid-year and as a result hadn’t worked on the earlier puzzles in a timely manner. My husband likes challenges like this, though, and he still managed to find the beginning of the year’s puzzles belatedly and earn a mug at the party for his efforts. This year, he wanted to move up in the rankings, and he did. He was the #1 geocache finder for this 2016 puzzle series.
Even I, who help out occasionally with the puzzles and tag along on the finds in this series, got one of this year’s prizes: a cute Christmas stocking. In the rankings I was somewhere in the mid-20s–no bragging rights, and none deserved. Sure, I’d made the cookies that we brought to the party, and I’d shopped for and wrapped our gift. I enjoyed the party and hope it will become one of our regular yearly social events in CA. But I’m in it primarily for the socializing and people-watching; I’m just not that interested in challenges, rankings, competitions and the like. Some of that disinterest, admittedly, comes from the fact that I don’t like to lose, and in some situations the only winning move is not to play.
But much of it is that I get bored with single-mindedly pursuing goals and achievements for their own sake. I also get distracted. I’ve noticed this with myself relative to other goals too: for example goals on the violin. I never wanted to enter competitions, I suffered from performance anxiety for years, and I don’t care that much about being the best or even about making progress beyond a certain point. Like with the geocaching, I tend to hover around the more serious and accomplished practitioners of the art, and observe them without fully committing myself to the same pursuit.
In our prize stockings there was a little toy with coordinates for a new cache for the finders to find. People took off, some of them running. I don’t like running even under the best of circumstances, but it was nice to be outside on a cool, green day. The housing development where the cachers live is right in the middle of some spectacular hills and scenery. You really don’t have to run very far to be out in the middle of nowhere.
A little girl who looked to be about 7 years old, the daughter of one of the more enthusiastic and goal-oriented cachers, got out ahead of everyone else. She wasn’t completely clear on what she was running after; she was running for the sheer joy of it, of getting out in front of all the adults and getting her new riding boots muddy. Her father soon ran after her, keeping up so she wouldn’t get lost. My husband went after them too, trying to keep up as they charged up the hillside towards the cache. I decided to stay behind and take pictures.
Even though I continued walking at a brisk pace, they were soon so far ahead that their figures blended into the scattered bushes on the hillside: they were just another speck against the green and brown. Migrating birds circled overhead.
The cache itself was pretty easy to find once you reached the coordinates–or so I’m told. By the time I arrived, it had already been retrieved and the little girl was tired. About fifty people signed the log on the first day.
It occurred to me then that I’d been doing my usual watching while participating. Rather than running for the cache myself, I’d been watching the girl and her father and my husband. I’d been chronicling the progress of the three first finders up the hillside. I’d been taking pictures of a dark green and brown landscape beneath a cloudy sky. I’d been viewing everything with a writers’ eye.
And this–the forbidding clouds, the rain, the green hills, and the mountain hidden by fog–is Northern California in December.