Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Happy Campers

I managed to make it on a family camping trip. Husband, two sons and one roly-poly half Corgi/half Chihuahua puppy. We packed up the old loser cruiser and briskly headed out to the highway where we moved like turtles. The traffic finally broke past Portland, and Mt. Hood filled up our windshield, shimmering in a winter snowy gown, reminding me of how slowly summer has been in coming to Oregon.

Our friends had gotten up early to secure a spot. Luckily they managed to arrive in the nick of time and get the last two available sights. We pulled up around 6 p.m., the kids spilling out of the car and my husband unpacking the tent, cots and Coleman grill. I tended to the dinner details – a few London broil steaks for the grownups, hot dogs for the kids and a big salad. Sean hopped and bumped around like a ball in a pinball machine, so happy to be making camp in the forest.

Now I’d be lying if I said I was a fan of camping. We didn’t camp as kids. My dad, as a young man, enlisted in the army. On the application it asked him to list the places he’d prefer to be stationed. Hawaii, he checked. Germany seemed nice. He guesses they must have had a good laugh at that because he ended up in Alaska. He lived in army tents during freezing winters and ate half frozen food out of tin cans. He swore he would never “camp” again. And so we never did.

As I got older, developed a career I was treated to nice hotels for business and the idea of camping to me was more like, “Oh, the Hilton is filled. Looks like you’ll have to camp at one of the motels off the highway.” And prissy me would sigh, promise not to let myself snuggle up in the scratchy bed coverlet and remind myself to wear flip flops in the room and shower. So how did I go from that to tumbling into a four man tent with a broken zipper, dressed in layers of clothes that are filled with pine needles and forest dust and rationing enough water to brush my teeth for the next two days?

That’s easy – the things we do for love (my husband loves to camp) and the things we do for our children (they’re fans, too.) So I’ve gotten over myself and really embraced the idea of smelling like I’ve escaped a burning forest (camp fires), pretend that when I have marshmallow in my eyebrows that it’s just an inexpensive, on-the-go form of waxing and that not washing my hair for almost three days is preserving the expensive highlights I got a couple of weeks ago.

My only big dilemma is when I have to use the bathroom at 3 a.m. and I can’t see my hand in front of my face, not to mention there are three other people wrapped like sausages lying like a minefield around me. The dog peeks out of the bottom of my sleeping bag, but I can feel him scurry back as if to say, “You’re on your own, sis.” And that’s just making it outside of the tent. Then it’s only a sparse lantern to guide me to the outhouse. I can’t help but imagine mountain lions waiting in the boughs of trees and black bears running up from the river to pair their salmon with some human flesh.

I have gone as far as to consider astronaut diapers but haven’t made the purchase. I do have some pride (not much) but some left. For the time being, I have mustered up the courage to run and stumble as fast as my tired legs can move me to the outhouse while hoping there’s not some deadly spider or snake coiled up waiting for me when I get back.

But all kidding aside (but I’m not totally kidding) camping has been an experience to me, one that I have not grown up with, but one I have had to try as a grown-up and have continued to do for the joy it brings my family and mostly for the time we have together without interruption from all the noise in our world. We can’t get a signal in the forest to talk or text or email. No Wi-Fi to connect.

All we have is each other, books, the river, pitch black evening sky decorated in the most amazing starlight and the crackle and spit from the kindling in the fire. I can’t get enough of seeing my kid’s faces aglow over the campfire, their eyes wild with imagination and discovery, puffs of cold clouds escaping their lips as they talk over gooey marshmallows or play charades with our friends’ kids.

There’s connection in the forest that we don’t always have back in the city, in the house. Sean often reminds me of this when I see how unburden he is swimming freely in the forest air, how in tune and linked he is with us.

I don’t want to take it for granted. This connection that sometimes I worry might go away all together someday if we don’t pay attention. In our modern world with all of its comforts and conveniences, the one thing we can’t completely simulate or replace with technology is the hard work, effort and joy that goes into real human relationships (or is there an app for that now?) Gosh I hope not.

So for now, I’ll soldier on and be a happy camper. I have to admit that when we do it right, (pack the best “can’t put it down” books, get a cloudless night with fat, electric stars and build a roaring fire) a tall glass of Pinot (even in a plastic camping mug) makes it all the better. Just one though. Trying to minimize those middle of the night adventures to the outhouse…


Michael said...

Wonderful read, Katie. You are a wonderful writer. Thanks so much for posting. Mike O'C

Gimky said...

Love this. Wonderful!