Monday, September 29, 2014

Let's Talk About Camping*

I first learned about this amazing tent-trailer when a friend posted it on Facebook last weekend. If I ever planned to explore the outback of Australia, this is how I'd like to do it. The technology, the convenience, the creativity is just breathtaking. I think I could even get into camping if I had a rig like this!

I actually used to be really into camping, but it was when I was a kid and had only two obligations: to do what I was asked when I was asked, and to have fun! I loved camping -- those family outings that took us away for a weekend or a week at a time and parked us somewhere near a river or lake or ocean, the station wagon and trailer jammed full of food, clothing, bedding, gear and games to keep five kids busy and happy. Food tasted better when it was cooked on the camp stove or over the fire -- pancakes and bacon, grilled cheese sandwiches and a big pot of bean with bacon soup, an aluminum foil packet of chicken and vegetables cooked in the coals. After lunch we'd go exploring, looking for seashells or pinecones, fishing in the river, or driving up winding mountain roads. What could have brought us more joy than s'mores and singing, telling jokes and playing games around the campfire after the sun had gone down? Nothing I can think of.

There was, of course, not a lot of joy in trying to get comfortable on an air mattress inside a tent that had been placed, inadvertently, on a slope or a rock no one had detected when camp was set up after dark. And then there were those mornings when you unzipped the flap of the tent and took your first step out, only to discover that it had rained in the night and just outside your door was a stream that hadn't been there when you'd gone to bed.

The long walk to the public restroom was never quite as scary as the experience of using said restroom when you finally got there. But that was what you had to give up for all the fun stuff you got to do.

Looking back on it, I wonder why my parents went through the massive effort to get us ready for a week-long camping trip. I have friends who do the same kinds of things for their families now, but in the 50s and 60s there were fewer conveniences to take the hard work out of getting ready for the fun. And there were certainly no UEV-440s back then!

Ah, but we did have a tent trailer when we were kids. We five kids ranged in age from three to nine when the trailer became part of our lives. We usually arrived at the campsite in the evening, after Dad had worked a full day, and our parents would start the process of unfolding the two beds from the center of the trailer and extending them over the edges of the trailer. They'd put the poles in place and drape the canvas taut over them, fastening them to the sides of the trailer. They'd level the trailer out and secure it in place, drop the step down so that we could get in, then we'd all start hauling our supplies out and setting them up. By the time we'd finish it was late, but our home on wheels would be tidy and the workout had us ready for a good night's sleep.

The trailer resembled a sardine can once we were all tucked in for the night. With a parent and a little boy on each of the narrow beds and an air mattress for the other three of us kids on the floor between the beds, there was little room for anything else in the trailer.

As far as I know we don't have any pictures of the trailer. But this one looks most like the one we had of any photos I found on the internet.

I looked at lots of pictures before I chose this one. It was the zipper that pulled me back to my childhood andreminded me of the claustrophobia that I experienced when we were all crammed into the trailer but also the sense of safety, knowing that we were all seven together when that zipper was down. Maybe it's the many times we couldn't really get the tent dried out after a rain that gave it its own peculiar odor, not a bad smell, but a kind of heavy smell. It filled my nostrils when I saw this photo and my breathing changed slightly.

I felt the trailer sway slightly in my mind as I imagined being inside. When you'd put your foot on the step it made a bit of a clanging noise and it moved slightly, reminding you that everything about this camping experience was temporary.

Well, not everything. I still have my memories, and they are nothing but sweet.

* * * * * * * *

*Sometimes, on dreary winter days when we were young and we couldn't play outside and we were out of ideas of what to do inside, someone would pose a question: "What do you want to talk about?" We all gave the same answer: "Let's talk about camping!"