“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity…” ~ John Muir
Nature is the great equalizer. You never really know who someone IS until you take them out of their element; and this is true with camping. This trip I found myself an hour from my childhood home, ten miles from a lake I camped at as a tweener. It is in these same mountains that I became a high school camp counselor for the 6th grade camp from my school district. Amongst our group of families the majority of kids were tweeners and older, with four incoming 6th graders. I was reminded of how I was at their ages; exploring and divining who they are going to become. But it is when camping with friends that I discover their true characters.
Thus, we embarked on our weekend trip with eight families; five of them who have never tent camped before. It was an ambitious endeavor; logisitics of feeding 29 people and traveling keeping us busy most of the trip. Before we had even arrived at our campsite we had one disabled parent, a lost vehicle in our caravan and were told NO CAMPFIRES ALLOWED. What is camping without a CAMPFIRE? The region was in a drought with temperatures in the high 90s and little water to be found. Over Memorial Day weekend a fire had burned within its canyon. The lake, ten miles away, is a reservoir and there is no swimming allowed. As we packed our car my children grumbled under their breath. What kind of camping trip is this gonna be with no water and no campfire? How are we gonna make s’mores? The families took this all in stride and optimistically opened their minds to our new adventure.
For this I am most grateful. It is in their grace and acceptance that I learned of their true grit and character.
Our family has gone through various adverse camping conditions over the years; even this summer. Over Memorial Day we endured strong wind and 27 degree overnight temperatures at Mammoth Lakes. In June we slept overnight in our SUV after arriving at our campsite at 1:31 AM within the deep ravines of Kings Canyon. This trip was no different. We had the Gestapo campground host; calling me out after yelling our group was too loud. Shocked into silence a fellow mom apologized on my behalf. Our campfire became a lampfire, a citronella tabletop candle becoming our focal kindle point as we stared at its leaping flame. S’mores were made over our campfire propane grill as we celebrated a fellow dad’s milestone birthday. We were awakened at 3 AM by both a raccoon foraging in our trash bin and a group of 20 somethings crashing on one of our campsites to enjoy cannibus. And we were serenaded by the bass sounds from a bar further up the road until the wee hours of the morning. Even amongst all this; our group enjoyed themselves; having these camping memories to share through the years. Much to my surprise the group is already planning our annual camping trip for next year.
Sorting through the pictures I smiled. I am accustomed to organizing and deleting; discerning the ones that trigger a memory. There were so many things to capture and, this time, the pictures can’t convey the thoughts running through my mind. Some of these kids I have known even in the womb; the ties that bind us strong. They are now 7 and 8 year olds; my mind not comprehending the depth of our relationships, the years and events that have passed between us. Between our youngest children’s births we’ve gone through: moves, a divorce, a near asphyxiation and various transitions. We watch our children maneuver through this awkward stage of puberty, their personalities emerging. Quiet kids becoming leaders; vocal ones becoming listeners, observers. In the outdoors the only drama unfolding were the events involving the adults above.
My children’s favorite memories are of being with the group; playing bluff aka b.s. They could be found, always in groups, playing cards, Apples-to-Apples, coloring books, ring toss; cameras constantly clicking; the kids begrudgingly posing. The sounds of shrieking coming from the tent as the hubs shook it after quiet hours. The loud shhhhhhhhhhh coming from kids and parents alike; the fear of being put to bed for being too loud. The shadows on the tent entranced, us, parents; amazed that our children could sit still and quietly be with one another. The adults sat around the lampfire quietly chatting; guessing artists and tunes of the 80s. It is these memories that I want to file away and remember.
And the next day we finally DID find water; the happy squeals of kids splashing amongst its depths. My favorite memory is with Snuggles; an entourage of kids swimming around him as our dog made his way to the rocky shore. The Red Rock watering hole was occupied, solely, by our group and they happily explored the rocks and crevices searching for the perfect skipping rock and tadpoles of fish.
We eventually made our way home via the beach near our former home. My older boys were born in this area along the coast; memories of double jogging strollers and bike riding along its paths. It was the first time we had taken our dear dog to the ocean and the kids enjoyed him amongst the waves; warming him up as they buried him in the sand.
Alas, all good things come to an end. The take away? These kids can unplug. They enjoyed the outdoors. They can get along; even at their various ages and diverse backgrounds. And the parents can too. Inserting them into the wilderness reveals the great depths of character that, hopefully, the next generation will embrace and embody. Priceless.