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The value of traveling with a light pack

Time magazine essayist Nancy Gibbs wrote a piece earlier this year that pointed out a startling fact about American life since the Recession began.

The simpler life can be pretty good.

More Americans are learning to do without the frills of life and in the process they are shredding credit cards, shedding debt and gasp! -- saving money. What is more, that most horrible of sentiments, "I'm satisfied," seems to be making a comeback. An idea is taking root in the minds of many people that runs completely counter to where we were not so many months ago.

No one likes to see people go without the basic necessities of life or live in poverty but that is not where a lot of Americans have been. They have been in the Land Of I Want It All, I Want It Now.

In the Land of I Want It All, I Want It Now the newlyweds are living in homes priced at a quarter of a million dollars. They are have a Chevy Tahoe and a Lexus in their double garage. They are lost without the Palm Pilots, their cell phones, their laptops, their big flat screen Dolby Surround Sound set, their television remote control and their satellite dish. They need a triple garage because they have to keep their 16 foot Crestliner out of the weather. Never mind if they could afford it -- the big banks were there with the cash.

A couple we know moved to another town a few years ago. They owned a house but decided to buy one in their new town before selling their old one. They finally got the old one sold and then they moved back. That is when they decided to build their "dream home." The fly in the ointment was the fact that they still had payments to make on their old house -- which was not selling. Before they knew it, they were looking at a double foreclosure. It is a sad reality of the U.S. real estate market in 2009 that home sales have depended heavily on foreclosures.

A guy should always ask himself how much he wants in his pack.

When I was 15 I went to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area with a church group. We were tenderfoots but our leader and pastor, the Rev. Fred Norlien, was a rugged veteran. He told us what we needed beforehand and left the rest up to us. We had to travel light he said, because we would be carrying everything we brought along over portages between the lakes. We staged for our trip at his cabin on Lake Superior the night before we set off. Norlien surprised us all by making a spot inspection of everyone's gear. We thought we were traveling pretty lean but the inspection revealed a lot of deadwood.

In the week that followed we discovered the truth of what the pastor had told us. There was, and still is, much to be said for traveling with a light pack. When you have to portage your entire caravan over rocks and up hills in hot, humid summer weather you quickly learn the value of having only what you need.

My dad worked at a fish camp owned by his uncle when he was a kid. The resort was on the Minnesota-Manitoba border and it was both wild and beautiful country. Across the bay there was a hermit who lived in a cabin. This "hermit" had once been the president of one of the biggest banks in Chicago but he become fed up with that life. One day, my dad crossed the bay to pay him a visit. They got to visiting and dad lost track of the time. He had to be getting back by a certain time so he asked the former "time is money" executive what time it was -- that is when he found out this recluse did not own a clock. When my dad asked him why he didn't own one he replied "what difference does it make to me?" That was power.

It is amazing how nice the simple pleasures can be.

One winter evening many years ago I found myself on the off-ramp of I-94 trying to hitch a ride into town. It was cold out there hitching and I was pretty hungry. A friend of mine came along and gave me a ride to his house where he gave me a drink and had his wife make some supper for the three of us. When he asked me how things had been going for me I had to tell the truth.

"Sig, 10 minutes ago I standing on a freeway off ramp, cold and hungry. Now I am sitting in a warm house, with a good drink in my hand and waiting for supper -- things are looking up quick!"

We're at that time of the year when Old Man Winter is showing us what he can do. Christmas is rushing at us and the pace of life is pretty quick. We want to make things merry for our families and friends. Money often helps in these matters but when you ask yourself what you really want, what do you think of first? Chances are it is not a material object.

Some friends of ours got their wish of wishes this fall. They are great people who have worked very hard and they are now well-to-do. It is hard to think of one luxury they do not have. Back in October their daughter had a healthy baby boy, on her dad's birthday, and they became grandparents for the first time. That kind of joy is priceless.