Now that school is over, I’ve eagerly pulled out my annual summer checklist: s’mores on the firepit, BBQ with friends, trips to the beach, ice cream outings... Unfortunately this year there’s something new on the list. Camping.
Camping shouldn’t be a yearly endeavor as far as I’m concerned. It’s more of a bucket list sort of activity that you should get credit for if you’ve tried it once. I already had it crossed off my list when I was 25. Since I was smart enough to do it in my twenties, I feel I shouldn’t have to experience it again in my forties, at least not without a tricked-out RV. Camping couldn’t possibly get better with age.
But it’s something my seven-year-old son has been looking forward to as summer inched closer. Those picture books make it look so fun with the campfire and the weenie roast and grinning people sitting on logs playing a guitar. He’ll be disappointed to know nobody in our family plays guitar. Besides, what the book illustration doesn’t show is in about four more minutes their butts will have gone numb sitting on those hard logs, which by the way are probably sprouting poison ivy. They’ll wake up the next day torn between which to scratch first, their oozy rash or all their mosquito bites. I didn’t want to squelch his love for the outdoors, but unless you’re a cartoon, after sunset nature is best viewed through a picture window.
The first time I went camping was in the mountains of Vermont with my husband and six of our nature-loving friends. It sounded like an easy weekend; we’d throw a tent and a couple of sleeping bags in the trunk of our car and head out. My new husband (an expert camper) kindly informed me that unless I was planning to hunt or fish for our food, I would have to take a little more time packing. Since I wanted to eat, I took his advice and our car trunk ended up holding most of the contents of our refrigerator… and something to cook the stuff in… and to eat it on… and to wash everything with afterwards. After we stuffed clothes, pillows, toiletries, folding chairs, lanterns, and the bug spray aisle of the CVS in the back seat, the tent and sleeping bags almost seemed superfluous. Getting away from it all is fine as long as you take most of it with you.
The eight of us arrived at the beautiful camp sight. I staked my spot and then sprayed what I hoped was an impenetrable barrier of OFF around me. My friends were horrified, but I was willing to sacrifice a pine tree or two to keep myself from being able to play connect the dots the next day with my scores of mosquito bites.
I will admit we had a lot of fun that night, even with the blood sucking bugs and having to haul the contents of our house to the middle of nowhere. In fact, camping might’ve won me over had there been a nice hotel to hop over to once everyone said good night. When you fall into your tent sleepy with wine and fresh air, it all seems fine. But then you wake up the next day having transformed into Pigpen. I had to shower.
The dimly lit outbuilding they referred to as a bathroom had a cold shower, which I was reluctantly going to utilize. It was the same building where I had used the nonflushing “toilet” the night before so I had practice holding my breath. I calculated that I could make it halfway through my soap rinse before having to gulp more air. But when I approached the shower stall, it was being guarded by a brown, fuzzy spider roughly the size of a tennis ball. I nixed the shower. The entire day I was certain I could feel my cells mutating from yesterday’s Deet left on my skin.
We got a sudden downpour later that day, which thankfully forced us to shorten the trip. Camping, check.
But here I stood twenty years later buying a tent so my son could experience camping. He couldn’t wait to put it up and sleep under the stars. The good thing about getting older is that you do, indeed, become wiser. I realized that when you’re seven, being fifteen yards from the house is camping even if it’s still technically our backyard. We’re going camping, son!
As the firepit wore down and darkness set in, I licked the last of the marshmallow off my fingers and waved good night from our picture window. You know what? Camping does get better with age.