Campfire Tales

I was supposed to go camping this weekend.

I'm a little bummed about it, as I haven't been camping in a couple of years, and I sort of miss that "getting away from it all" feeling. And ignoring your e-mail and voice mail just doesn't get you to the same point. Trust me, I've been trying it for weeks now. I'm not sure that the camping here is much to my liking, honestly, but it seemed worth a try. Near where I live, it's mostly reclaimed marsh, and the weather has done its best to keep the mosquitoes happy. East of here, it's mostly hills and farmland. I'm not sure how that'll go since I got used to the scenery of the West and Northwest for camping.

Actually, I had two camping offers; one that I'd committed to and one that was much more appealing. The one I was committed to came attached to a concert - the last of the pre-summer-catastrophe commitments - but the camping part fell through. So now the weekend is just a concert (just a concert, he says, as though that's somehow a punishment).

I never much liked camping growing up, which may be because my family never went. Or maybe it was the other way around: correlation and causality again. I can recall going camping maybe three times, with the families of some friends. This was in middle school. The first time, we drove straight to the beach and fished and camped and played cards. On the first night, the father of one friend waded hip deep into the cool waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and promptly realized he'd left his keys in the pocket of his swim trunks. No one's got stickier fingers than Poseidon, I suppose, because somewhere out there are the keys to a family station wagon. The fathers and all but one adult piled into the lone remaining unlockable vehicle and enjoyed a three and a half hour drive back to San Antonio to get the replacement set of keys. Later in the trip, we caught the same friend's mother eating raw bait shrimp out of the bucket, looking like she'd discovered the key to Fort Knox.

After that, there were a couple of trips to the property owned by one friend's family or other, but take me word for it, when you're in middle school and you've no interest in hunting, hanging out in the central Texas scrub for a weekend in August is pretty far down the list of favorite times.

It wasn't until graduate school that I ever really enjoyed the notion of camping. Maybe it was because in graduate school, all my other favorite things began to - however briefly - feel like a chore. Want to a read a book? Grad school will let you. Want to begin to question why you liked reading so much? Grad school can do that, too. So sometime in my first year of graduate school when one of my new grad school friends proposed packing it up and heading out into Bigfoot country for the weekend with a cooler full of beer and nothing work related, how could I pass it up?

Wait - maybe the beer is why I began to like camping.

The first trip, though, was only fun until it was time to head to bed. It was maybe late April, and though the weather had turned towards summer, it was taking the scenic route to get there. And since I didn't particularly enjoy camping, I didn't actually own a tent or a sleeping bag. And so after a night of playing cards and imbibing just a bit too much, I tucked myself in to a couple of blankets and dozed off to sleep.

I remember waking up bright and early, itself already a bad sign. My camping cohort, warm in the back of his truck camper, was still asleep. I, however, was shivering violently as I checked my watch. This feeling confirmed for me, yet again, that 5:30 a.m. is only to approached one way. You don't want to wake up at 5:30; you want to see it coming. My lips may have been blue. I know I couldn't hold breakfast on the way back (though, eventually that little restaurant on the 199 became one of my favorite spots ever to stop and grab a snack). I spent two days in bed recovering once we got back. And yet, it had still been one of the most fun weekends I could remember.

At various times in grad school, we got different people out camping. And everyone had their own style. One friend could only go places where there was mountain biking. Another had to be near water (but wouldn't go in it). Some people pack enough fixings for S'mores to feed an army.

If you find one of those people, hang on to them. You want those people camping with you.

Other people turn up with generators and RV's and live just like they would at home, except loudly and usually right next to someone who just wanted two days of peace and quiet. Odds are good they'll play "Freebird" before they go to bed. Don't ask why; it may well be genetic.

The best camping trip I ever took was a solo road trip through several of the national parks out west. I spent a couple of weeks tooling around the West in summertime. Yellowstone is amazing, and I often think I'd like to go back with someone. It's not got the romance of Paris, but still, it's one of those spots for me. Yosemite was nice, but overrun with tourists. Arches was only overrun with photographers, but how can you blame them? I was supposed to stop and see a friend in Colorado on that trip, but it didn't work out. Instead, I wound up camping in the mountains outside Gunnison. When I woke up the first morning, my tent had a thin sheet of ice on it, and it glistened in the sun. One shouldn't find their own tent gorgeous to behold, but it was.

I'd been hoping to have some little moment like that this summer - where the beauty and the silence of things around me surprise me. The summer's young, after all.


2 Responses to “Campfire Tales”
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ash said...
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

Been traveling a bit; some posts from the road are up now.

But generally, digging into the book for the next month, plus a book chapter, and a few department obligations.

July 1, 2008 at 1:02 AM