Camping as it used to be

Cakewalk Chronicles by Esther Darlington MacDonald

This is the season for camping.

This is the season when families get into their vehicles, burdened with camping gear and food, and stuff that isn’t food, but fun to munch on around the campfire. And they make off for parts not unknown, but suitably far enough away from the family domicile, town, or  city, to try to forget what they left behind. Even for a few days or a couple of weeks.

But is that a vain hope? For many, that camping holiday turns out to be not quite what they imagined, to put it mildly.

Of course, your mind is geared to enjoy itself. If the campground is a fairly quiet place, with the traffic a mere murmur on the nearby highway. If, once parked, you can sit in a folding chair with a good book – say, Freedom by Jonathan Franzen – the shade of a few poplars nearby dappled with warm sunlight, and the lake beckoning the kids, and the wife busy with getting the groceries from boxes to prepare luncheon, cleaning off the picnic table with an old shirt you hated to discard but she insisted she could see through it, – if all is in hand, in other words, what is better in this world, at least for the moment?

Indeed, – but just as you are emerging into Chapter Two, and enjoying the ambience, there comes a call from the lakeshore, some 200 feet below, that one of the kids is about to jump off the limestone cliff in a sort of bungee jump without the bungee, – and you have to rush down and watch with a horror that is muted, at least for the moment, as your oldest 12 year old is embarked on an adventure that can only be described as a bit harrowing. He makes it, of course. Twelve year old boys can do anything. Fearlessly. And first born does swim quite ably toward the shore. If it is Crown Lake in Marble Canyon, which is not exactly a wide lake, or a long lake, like Pavilion Lake, just down the road, but wide enough to have you riveted-eyed on that head and those arms churning the water. And you watch, book in hand, as first born emerges, wades toward you with a silly grin on his face, and what can a good parent say?  “Well done, son”? No, a good parent says, “Don’t try that stunt again.”

Then there’s the episode of the snake.  Number two son has decided to climb the cliffs across the road from the campsite. He climbs a good 200 feet up, and, just as he reached for the ledge above his head and heaves himself up,  there is a hole in the cliff, inches from his left hand. The hole moves. It is a snake. Curled up. A living cable that is not supposed to move. Number two son looks down. It is kind of a long way down. But he’s in shock, kind of.  Not terribly, mind you – he is, after all, approaching 11 years old, only a year and a few months away from 12. And, somehow, with dexterity born from a low grade fear, he descends, reaches the shale below and returns to the campsite, bragging that he has seen a snake in a hole, just inches away from his hand. “Was it a rattler?” Probably he answers. Dad says, “Don’t try that stunt again.”

Camping in a tent of course is fraught with possible problems. Rain, for instance. A veritable downpour that lasts for a couple of hours. There is a flash of lightning. The tots begin to cry. The family dog begins to bark. Or it cowers, shivering under the pickup. And the tent caves in under the weight of the rainwater. And the boys are wet, complaining.

And wanting hot chocolate and hot dogs. And then there are always the mosquitoes. Big ones, that seem bigger than usual. When you are camping, everything out of doors is literally, larger than life. Spraying with insect repellent is the solution. But in the middle of the night?

Still, the fun of camping is swimming in the lake. Thrashing about like seals, splashing like diving ducks on a river, as an eagle swoops down out of a dead tree, beaks up a trout, and flies overhead. All done in a wink. And you marvel at the joy of the freedom. Freedom to enjoy the marvels of nature, Nature, tooth and claw. It’s so much better, this live show of speed and power. So much more exciting than watching it on TV.

As for mother, opening up the third can of beans with a can opener, of course, and buttering two loaves of bread, while dad cooks the weenies on the camp stove, – well, for mother, camping is, at best, a mixed blessing. In between cooking food that cooks fast, food that is not, necessarily nutritious, but filling, you can forget about making salads, about vitamins and calories. And using paper plates eliminates that other chore. Then, stomachs filled, mother can open a camp chair down at the lake, and get a suntan, relaxing, letting the sunlight play across her eyelids, or wearing sun shades bought at the pharmacy the day before, and  she can forget, at least for a little while, what to make for supper.

In the evening, the family can walk around the lake, crossing the little wooden bridge, with a few small troutlings swimming around under it. The boys can make a raft with driftwood, using the little camp hammer and nails that every prudent camper brings along. And when the sun goes completely behind the limestone mountains, and the air cools and dusk falls over the campground, and the stars begin to emerge from the heavens, well, then, the whole family can enjoy what it means to be outdoors.

Yes, camping can be fun. It can be quite different from the every day things you do at home. Maybe, that’s why people like to go camping. Cooking on a woodstove, say, or cooking over a camp fire. Washing in a tin basin, or in the lake. Drinking water from a pump, instead of from the tap in the sink. Let’s face it, camping is hardly ever boring.

 

Without the distractions we live with almost 12 months of the year, distractions like TV or Ipods or cell phones, or whatever. Without battling the traffic over the Pattulo Bridge. Without shopping in the mall and waiting for 20 minutes to have your groceries cashed out. Without all the myriad frustrations of every day city or town life. Heck, compared to those, the little happenings you experience while camping is a piece of cake!