Tuesday, August 11, 2009
I just got back from a camping vacation in a national park. This has been an annual tradition for ten years and hoo boy, do I love it. It's very "other," and that makes me nearly cling to it. But I have to admit that it also sort of surreal. I mean, what if all your neighbors decided to live on their front lawns for a week? That's what camping feels like to me. The lives of everyone around you are turned inside out. It's worth the price of admission just to sit and watch THAT business...
Granted, no one is totally on their game... everyone arrives tired, a little frayed from the drive, and possibly a wee bit carsick from the winding roads on the way in... but at least it's a level playing field. We ALL feel that way!
I just sit back and baldly stare in fascination. My research cannot be considered conclusive, but observations from these past few days suggest that during camping, moms tend to be very tense, dads just enter their own little zones, and kids become feral pyromaniacs.
As to the dads, my theory is that they tap into their hunter-gatherer roots. They will often sit at tables for hours and try to fix infrequently used pieces of camping equipment. They can endlessly fiddle with strings and stakes to adjust tents (a task that is never truly finished). They will figure out innovative ways to chop wood (let's be honest, it's not a big need in the suburbs). Meanwhile, the kids go berserk. Apparently there is some unwritten rule in campgrounds that parents do not have to supervise their own children. Despite a wealth of ways to get fantastically injured, children are simply running madly everywhere: riding bikes the wrong direction on the roads, making games out of gathering sticks and pine needles, burning anything and everything in the fire, and tromping obliviously through everyone's sites (namely, MINE).
And then there's mom. Poor mom. What can you say? She is just trying to keep everything relatively clean and in the right place. I'm not sure that moms truly have "fun" when they go camping. Their goal is simply to survive, and try to keep everyone fed.
Despite all these commonalities during the daytime, nighttime is when the differences between these front-yard neighbors become glariously obvious. For me, it is a given that camping at night means sitting peacefully around the fire roasting marshmallows, reading by headlamp or playing solitaire next to the lantern. However, my fellow citizens may believe just as firmly that nighttime at the campground equals loud storytelling, repetition of the same jokes over and over, and a healthy enjoyment of alcohol. How do I argue with them -- this is America, Land of the Free, Home of "If It Feels Good, Do It."
For example, we had some neighbors for three nights this week whom my friend dubbed "Children of the Corn." They seemed to be in their first or second year of college, and had mouths like crusty sailors. I believe in those 3 days I was able to fill my lifetime quota for hearing the F-word. Their conversation was unendingly inane; they were continuously unkind to one another -- their "humor" bordered on abusive. They narrated their every move for anyone within 100 yards to hear. I knew when they were making quesadillas, I knew when they were making a fire, I knew what fantasy fiction books they were reading and what each character was like. I did not like these neighbors.
My frustration for them, however, was only exceeded by the large family on our other side, who had their group split into 2 campsites -- grown ups in one and unsupervised teenagers in the other. The young people were allowed to yell and play whiffle ball with complete abandon into the late hours. When my friend said to one of them as they walked by our site, "Could you ask your friends to stop yelling?" near 10pm, we heard them relay the message to the crew. One responded with, "Did she say it nicely?" I mean, honestly. Kids these days.
However, before I sound like the Grumpy Old Men on the Muppets, I will emphatically argue that the good outweighed the bad. The smell of bacon in the morning, as the coffee is brewing, cannot be beat. I never tire of s'mores each night. Peaceful afternoons reading after a long hike were deeply relaxing. Despite one near disastrous night with a deflated air mattress, I slept well, awaking each morning to the creek outside. I smile to myself in the bathroom each morning as I see the parade of sleepyheads walk in to brush their teeth, all with major bedhead. No one cares what they look like when they go camping. All for $20 a night. God Bless America.
I come home with only a few mosquito bites and legs slightly stiff from a tough hike yesterday. It was wonderful to go off the grid and live with no sense of what time it was. My biggest concern was over what to make for dinner. I read for hours each day and stared into the fire with no need to accomplish anything. It was a perfect camping trip.
What time is it, anyway?