Every summer as the kids were growing up, we packed the mini-van to the rooftop, and then we packed the rooftop, with coolers and cardboard boxes bulging with food and our faithful camping kitchen, bicycles, the dog, clothes for warm days and cold nights, swim suits and inflatable rafts, and our canvas home-away-from-home. As soon as we arrived, the kids took off on their bikes to see the lake, to explore the camp store, to discover old friends from last year and new friends for this year. Their vacation began as soon as the car stopped. My husband and I were left with the business of setting up house for the week.
First we would take everything out of and off of the car, and try to organize it on the ground and picnic table as we went. Knowing that eventually we would have to face the construction of the tent, we totally ignored the topic as we pretended to be really into creating our living space for the next few days. It was too early in the morning for a drink so we would just use banter about the weather, the ride up, where to set up the camping stove on the picnic table, anything benign that would avoid the looming task. Finally, when the van was empty, the site was perfect and there was nothing left to talk about, it was time.
The first discussion was always about where to place the tent. One would think this would be the easiest part of the job. One would be sadly mistaken. Following are the issues on which this decision needed to based: Which was the most level spot where the tent would actually fit? Which was the most level spot with the fewest enormous rocks and tree roots? How close were the neighbors on the most level spot with the fewest enormous rocks and tree roots? Should we be under a tree or out in the open? If it rained, how quickly could we make a run to the car from the chosen spot? If it rained a LOT, how quickly could we rip the tent up off of the ground in the middle of the night, pulling the stakes out as we went to plunk it down on the nearest level dry spot, regardless of rocks and roots? Which way should the opening of the tent face-toward the fire and picnic table or the road or the woods behind us? You get my meaning; this was not a simple decision. Once the place was chosen, and the tension from the one who didn’t get her way was well-established, it was time to actually put up the tent.
Whoever invented the modern family tent with its one page of instructions including drawings, arrows and numbered steps, had to be a heavy drinker. Or a serious joker. Or a horse’s ass. Maybe all of the above. It didn’t matter how many times we had done this, it didn’t matter that every year we would say we’ll just figure it out and not get mad at each other. Camping is (supposed to be) a relaxing, enjoyable, calm, woodsy experience. I actually really love it. I actually really love staying in a tent. I just wish someone else would put it together for me. The silver poles clanked against each other as we wrestled them into places around the chosen spot. Stakes of varying shapes, materials and sizes rolled under the car as we shook them out of the canvas bag; we had accumulated extras from past tents and always had more than enough for future tents as well (sorry, I had to do that). We then unrolled the tent itself, marveling that we had been able to fit that giant thing into that little bag; and secretly dreading that, when we were done, we would have to do it again. We looked at the instruction page. We moved silver poles around. We looked again. Moved them again. Compared the length of them, looked at the ends to see which belonged on the ground and which were meant to be connected on one or both sides. Moved them again. By this time the kids were back and hungry. By this time, I had forgotten we had kids. “Food after tent,” I would tell them. “Come help out, this is part of camping and you are old enough to help.” Great idea, now five of us were moving the poles around, and arguing over the drawings on the stupid piece of paper. By the time the tent was up, it was thankfully time for lunch and a cold drink. Now we could relax.
Until late in the afternoon, when the mosquitos discovered new blood in the campground. And the skunks or bears invited themselves to look for left overs. And, as soon as we were all tucked in for the night, someone had to go to the bathroom. And one of the neighboring campers let us know he had a badly deviated septum all night. And the birds woke us up at the crack of sunrise.
We spent our days fishing, swimming, playing cards, cooking, reading books, rafting around the lake, singing around the campfire, roasting marshmallows, and generally having a good old time. And after a lovely week of togetherness in the woods it was time to for my husband and I to repack the tent, try to fit everything back into and onto the van, let the kids say one last goodbye to their new friends; and then home we went. Another successful camping trip over!
No wonder he wants an RV.