Saturday, October 1, 2011
The Ancient Art of Camping: Reluctantly Claiming My Birthright
Camping should be in my blood. It should be my birthright.
After all, I was conceived in a tent on my mother’s birthday in the middle of October above the valley that would become my namesake. As a girl, my dad took me on many long trips into the mountains where, between campfires, my friends and I were allowed to run wild, shooting bows and arrows, creating our own battle cries and imaginary worlds. We ate hotdogs and marshmallows, running through the woods in our nightgowns like feral cats. Even when we were miserable, we were happy. I remember cracking my eyes open in the pre-dawn light surprised I hadn’t frozen to death, and on weekends at home directing the AC vents into my face to recreate the feeling.
I was no Girl Scout (unless you count being a Brownie for a year in hopes of getting s special rate on the cookies) but my Dad taught me how to pitch a tent, gather kindling, build a campfire and hold onto the rails in the back of the pick up while he sped down the mountain. My mother too had a taste for nature, giving me a grand tour of KOAs from here to Wyoming, stashing a certain yellow “Homemade Soup” grocery bucket in our tent for after-hours emergencies.
In my early twenties I roughed it with the best of them. I knew how to wash my whole body in one small sink and thoroughly enjoy a meal of half-cooked rice and crunchy beans. Chain-smoking while hiking without coughing was a point of pride. Camping, back then, was cool. And, hiking boots over long johns beneath beaded, ratty dresses, I was the height of cool.
So I’m not sure when exactly I started connecting more deeply with my mouse than other woodland creatures. Or when Netflix, Tivo and Xbox became easier to operate than an oil lamp or a Sterno. Or when G-Mail and Facebook began to offer more lifeblood than sunsets and gargling brooks. Or why my husband is more prone to hunting aliens and zombies than our dinner.
In our most recent power outage (AKA: Armageddon) when I was sent reeling back to my nature-baby-with-no-status update-roots I had a come to Jewish-Jesus moment. I’d been out scavenging like a cockroach for WiFi through the crumbs of Krispy Kreme and coffee grounds. “Why, oh WHY don’t I have a Smart Phone?” I’d keened, feeling dumb indeed. But my son had a different reaction. “Let’s go camping!” he said.
“OK,” I said, because although this sounded about as fun as eating steel wool, my hair had already started to dread, making me nostalgic for the olden days. “If we’re going to be this gross we might as well go camping!” I said. My husband pulled his truck into the yard and we started to throw stuff from the inside out, including the Incredible Hulk sleeping bag that had given me nightmares as a child. We packed everything but the kitchen sink—or anything else that might need to be plugged in.
Even without power, something switched on as soon as we got to our campsite. Instead of feeling dirtier, I felt like a swath of static electricity had suddenly been stripped away. We went skinny dipping in the river and made our own pit for a fire. Although we ate food from wrappers, it tasted better- like we’d earned it. When we finally lay down in our bags, it wasn’t quiet and dark—the moon was bright and the crickets were loud. There was a lot going on in those woods--- a whole lot more than I had remembered. I was glad I’d gotten unplugged long enough to let it soak back in.
And I’m proud to say that I not only survived sixteen full hours away from civilization, but my son, who will turn seven the week of Halloween, now knows how to do everything the Pope knows how to do--- in the woods. It’s his birthright, too.