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My husband and I celebrated our 27th wedding anniversary while vacationing near the Great Smoky Mountains. The location and event accentuated the only notable way we've changed over the years, and it has nothing to do with the loss of hair, onset of agita, or pull of gravity. He has become a 50-year-old nature boy while I've remained a steadfast indoorsman.

He explained that years of fluorescent-lit desk time eventually led to a need to be in wide open, treed environments. Why those environments can't at least be screened in is beyond me. Even so, I try to share his interest, with caveats. I'll go hiking, as long as it ends before the DEET wears off. I'll sleep surrounded by trees, as long as I'm in a structure a wolf couldn't huff, puff and blow down.

And so it was that we rented a log home in Gatlinburg, Tenn. Because of the national park, the area has a large number of campsites. I was continually awed by folks who chose camping as a vacation and, much to my family's annoyance, never missed a chance to express my opinion.

"That's not a vacation, it's a historical re-enactment. I bet those women hate their husbands. Even the family dog is like, 'You call this a vacation? I sleep on a bed. Hello, domesticated.'"

After a long day of driving (eight hours), unpacking (four duffels) and stocking up on necessities (food, paper products, OFF), I collapsed into my civilized, nature-free bed. I slept until 5:30 a.m., when an extremely loud ant woke me up. How can that be, you ask. An ant isn't loud. Oh yes it is -- if it's IN YOUR EAR!

Have you ever used the phrase "freaked out"? If you have, you used it incorrectly. Whatever you saw or experienced that made you utter those two words was nothing compared to me that morning. My reaction was the gold standard for "freaked out." Noah Webster asked if I had a photo to accompany the definition.

I jumped out of bed and Lindy Hopped my way to the bathroom while screaming, "THERE'S A BUG IN MY EAR! IT'S IN THERE! IT'S IN THERE!" I tore at my ear like Van Gogh. My half-awake husband calmly said, "Put water in there -- flush it out." I put enough water in my ear to flush out a freighter. It temporarily drowned out the noise, but not the ant. It had burrowed so deep, my husband couldn't see it, which made me remember a frightening scene in a Star Trek movie. "IT'S GOING TO MY BRAIN!!" I saw him smile with both pity and pride that I made a nerdy Wrath of Khan reference.

I yelled for him to find a hospital. After what seemed like hours to search the 20-page Gatlinburg Yellow Pages, he suggested we go to the firehouse down the road. I could hear the ant moving inside my ear and I whimpered as my husband urged me not to grab his arm while he drove. Just before we reached the main road, I pulled the ant out and smeared it on the dashboard. My husband looked and said, "That's it? It's so small."

Because I needed time to come down from my freak-out high, we continued to the grocery store, where we got donuts, coffee and wine coolers (to calm my nerves). The icing: "You can't buy alcohol until after noon -- Tennessee law."

My husband's incomprehensible calm that morning and willingness to get fuzzy navels that afternoon made him my hero, and reminded me why I married him 27 years ago. For our 28th, I may just go camping with him. What's the worst that can happen?

[July 8, 2009]

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