CAMP: to live temporarily outdoors

It’s almost camping season.  I am excited!

I’m a camper.  That is an essential part of my identity.  I see camping as a mark of character; it is tangible proof of moral fortitude.  To be a camper is to be a person who values simplicity, enjoys the wonders of nature, endures mosquitoes with equanimity, overlooks oily hair, and consumes chili-mac with enthusiasm.  Or, maybe it just means you are too cheap for a hotel. 

My family’s camping pedigree is probably less about our moral fiber and more about meager finances.  Clearly, from a global perspective we were not poor.  However, compared to our neighbors who went on cruises and visited distant outposts of Disney’s empire, the vacations my single-mother could afford were modest.  I see that in hindsight.  At the time I felt that our trips to geysers that shot higher than a house and snow fields that provided opportunities for garbage-bag sledding in August were every bit as impressive.  I revealed my ocean-polished rock souvenirs with the same joy that my neighbor revealed felt mouse ears with her name embroidered on the back.

There were no pillow-top mattresses, high-thread count sheets, fancy restaurants, swimming pools or elevators in my childhood vacations.  We had egg-shell mattresses and cotton sleeping bags that attracted moisture like a magnet.  We slept in a WWII canvas tent with temperamental wooden poles and the permanent smell of mildew.  We ate boxed noodles and jarred sauce off paper plates held in wicker bases.  Any swimming we did usually came with the risk of hypothermia.  If you wanted to get higher, you had to propel yourself up a trail, a tree, or a glacial erratic. 

The financial advantages of camping still exist –a campsite and hot dogs roasted over the fire is cheaper than a hotel and Denny’s.  Husband and I had this lesson driven home for us when we gave in to Son’s assertion that, “When you’re four, you go to Mickey’s House.”  The previous year, we had divided our vacation into two segments – a two week trip to the National Parks of the Southwest and a one week circumnavigation of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.  Husband is many things – including a Quicken junkie. Through his meticulous tracking of our receipts, the depressing truth was revealed.  A three day trip to Disneyland costs more than three weeks of camping in six National Parks.

As I age, my appreciation for the experiences and opportunities of my childhood grows.  I’ve met many people who were raised with greater access to material goods, but I’ve met very few who had more access to adventure.  Camping is the poor man’s passport; a tent and some tenacity will take you anywhere.   Bank balances do not impact the smell of the forest or the sound of a waterfall. 

My camping passport includes stamps from the fjords of Alaska, stunning peaks of Colorado, rocky shores of the northwest, lush depths of the rain forest, vibrant autumn woods of New England, and snowy summits of the Cascades.  My camping passport also has stamps that are not destination related: clarity of purpose, personal insight, rejuvenation, new love, space for sorrow.  To remove camping from my life would be to remove the lessons and memories I hold most dear.

Older “C” post you may have missed: Convenient


7 thoughts on “Camp

  1. I never camped as a child so it was a fairly new experience for me. I LOVE IT! I love the feeling of 3 days of campfire smoke on my skin. I do admit that I am a “car camper”… I need to have the outhouse nearby and the “option” of a shower on the campgrounds, though I have never used it.

    We camped with our daughter when she was 7 months old – it was certainly challenging. Can’t imagine what it’d be like with 2 kids!

  2. My husband and I camped our way from Maine to South Dakota on our honeymoon…in a 1990 Geo Storm hatchback. Every summer we have a big “camping family reunion”. A few hours in a park just won’t do when you only see each other once a year. We need at least three days together. Half the family is usually too broke to rent the big beach house or spring for a hotel, so camping it is. And tents are an absolute must.

  3. I hate camping. So much. With a fiery passion. But I appreciate it and am so glad to have taken road trips to South Dakota, Colorado, and more as a kid. The national parks are awe inspiring.

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