C is for Camping

Camping… wind rustling tree-top branches, imitating with amazing precision the sound of a river tumbling and swirling through a rock-strewn channel… musty-comfortable scent of well-worn canvas tent walls… camp-fire smoke twirling and twisting, and burrowing its pleasant burnt-wood odor permanently into my old wool sweater… rain-drops pattering gently on tent roof and walls, singing their lullaby, reaching out and drawing me into sweet dreams… fresh, crisp, early morning air icily chilling my backside simultaneously as bright camp-fire flames cook my face… mouth-watering breakfast scents of bacon and pancakes sizzling on an old-fashioned iron fry pan propped on rocks at the edge of the fire… rays of sunlight gently filtering through the lacy canopy of an ancient, gnarly-barked, towering pine, green-brown and dark against a clear summer-blue sky, as I lay back in utter comfort on a soft bed of mossy grass and let my mind wander back through memories of so many summers spent camping out in God’s great, wide, amazing creation….

I suppose it is inevitable that I should love camping. My dad, who must surely have some gypsy blood somewhere in his ancestry, treated my mom to a romantic honey-moon of – yes – camping! Dad was a school-teacher, somewhat short on cash, but long on summer holidays, and hooked on traveling after having toured Europe with the Calgary Highlanders Canadian Infantry during World War II. Apparently having come to the conclusion from his war-time experiences that “roughing it” was the road to adventure, he purchased a big canvas tent, and off we set each summer on one camping trip after another.

I have few memories of my early years, but dad’s other passion, photography, proves that we did a lot of camping, right from the start. My first clear memory, though, took place the summer I turned seven. I had two younger brothers by then. We drove south from our home in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, across the border into United States. We drove through the mighty Grand Teton range of mountains, their jagged peaks covered in snow, and down to Salt Lake City, where we of course went to see the Mormon Tabernacle grounds. While there, arid Salt Lake City experienced a freak rainstorm, with 2 inches of rain falling in a few minutes. When we got back to our tent, which we had pitched by a lovely little stream, the stream had turned into a pond and our tent was floating! Needless to say, we spent a rather wet night! Then we went to Yellowstone Park. We arrived the day of my birthday. While Dad pitched the tent, Mom started a campfire, so we could celebrate my birthday with a marshmallow roast. Mom was roasting a marshmallow, when it started to burn. As she pulled it away from the fire, it flew off the stick and stuck to my leg, still on fire! I started jumping up and down, screaming. My dad, hearing my wails, came running out of the tent, banging pot lids together and shouting at the top of his voice, sure that the bears had attacked me!

A few years later, we were camping with our city-slicker cousins in Yoho National Park, in the Rocky Mountains. Against our advice, they left their cooler out on the picnic table between their campsite and ours. In the middle of the night there was a huge banging and crashing outside. We all stuck our heads out our tent-trailer doors (yes, we had graduated to slightly more civilized camping equipment) and there were two brown bears enjoying a feast, having pried open the cooler! Our family was having a great laugh over the situation; even my wee sister who was of course already a seasoned camper, thought it was awfully funny. But my poor city cousins were terror-stricken! Suddenly, they leapt out of their tent-trailer door and rushed to their car where they all jumped in and locked the doors, obviously sure they were about to be eaten alive.

The summer I turned 16 I planned to finally have a birthday at home with my friends, a big party at the beach. Alas, it was not to be so. Dad planned an “educational” six-week trip right across Canada, from Victoria BC to St John’s Newfoundland and back. What an education it was! All six of us spent up to 12 hours a day sitting in the car, watching our great country speed by. At night we cozily squeezed together in our 4 person tent-trailer. Lunches were often spent at dusty, sandy road-side picnic tables eating cold canned pork-and-beans on bread (no butter)! Of course we did stop and view interesting sights – like every historical military site in our wide nation! Okay, so it wasn’t all bad. We celebrated my 16th by visiting the Ontario Science Center and riding the subway in Toronto, which was fun. We had some, shall we say, challenging experiences: for example, we stayed at a campsite in Quebec that had one bathroom for everyone, male and female, and the shower curtains were not nearly as wide as the stall openings. And for some reason, I seemed to have a near-fatal attraction to water. For example, I fell into an oil-slick on the St. Lawrence River in Ontario; and I slid down a great slimy rock into a Maritime pond full of great, icky tadpoles, each the size of a baseball; it took my whole family, holding hands together, to pull me out! And somehow, sitting all those thousands of miles, I gained 2 unwanted inches on my backside! Oh the joys of camping adventures! Still, I did come to know my country much better.

After I grew up, married, and had children of my own, we lived on the Queen Charlotte Islands (now Haida Gwaii) just south of the Alaska Panhandle. We camped there many times. There I fell in love with the great coastal rainforests and the bountiful seaside. We spent many, many happy hours beach combing on the long, wild, sandy beaches, and exploring tidal pools full of richly colorful sea life. We hiked through the forests, and swam in clear mountain lakes. I thought it was wonderful. My husband, however, thought it was way too much like his every day childhood life, as he had grown up in a remote village without electricity or running water! And my daughters, especially as they grew older, thought it was much nicer to stay home where there were hot showers and soft warm beds, and where one could stay out of the frequent showers (okay, downpours) of those “Misty Isles.” Gradually we camped less and less.

But now my children are grown, and my husband has grown perhaps far enough away from his childhood memories to be willing to try camping again. This spring we bought a new tent, camp stove, and other basics. We’ve started by camping close to home, which in the cycle of life turns out to be back in the Okanagan. The wind still rustles in the tree-tops, the rain-drops patter on the tent roof, the bacon and pancakes sizzle in the pan, the smoke still twirls. Ah, camping!

Date written: August 14, 2006

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