In the time-honored traditions of middle-class America, we are on vacation this week. This is Spring Break for Houston-area schools, so we decided to take advantage of the time and get back to nature to unwind. There is nothing like communing with God’s creation to put one in touch with the basic joys of life. Yes, relaxing in the great outdoors can change one perspective, alright. Camping, hiking and fishing are such simple joys. Simple. Joys. It just takes a bit of planning.
We started planning this trip several weeks ago, having altered our original plans of a trip to New Orleans. In fact, my wife and I love to travel. In the three years we’ve been together, we have been all over the country and to Europe. We love nothing more than a spontaneous road-trip to some out of the way, small, historic town. We have even been camping a time or two.
Now, I come from a long line of campers. My grandfather and granny were both outdoors types. They raised my mother to be an outdoors type; and she, in turn, raised me and my siblings to be outdoors types. Some of my earliest memories are of camping. When my father, an Army officer, was transferred to a new command, we camped en-route. When we visited Disneyworld, we stayed in Frontier Land instead of the fancy new Contemporary Hotel with the Monorail going through it. That would have been such a cool place to stay—but no, we stayed in the Hotel Starcraft, the pop-up tent camper my parents bought. Not that I’m bitter or anything, I thoroughly enjoyed Frontier Land. Movies and cartoons in the amphitheater every night, listening to my mom real us to bed from the classics of literature like Moby Dick and other camp related activities are some of my most fond childhood memories. But to a 10-year-old—who loved science fiction—a hotel with a monorail is hard to beat. I was also in the boy scouts and went on every camping trip they had planned.
When I was in my twenties, I decided that minimalist camping was the truest nature of camping. Planning was simple: I took a tarp, a sleeping bag and a cooler and cooked over a fire. This served me well in the military, where they bivouacked in similar fashion. Now that I’m well into my 40’s, camping takes on a whole new dimension. I need an air mattress, a nice sleeping bag, a cabin tent, Coleman stove, cook table, lanterns, axe, flashlights, etc etc. Basically, I’m talking about a portable version of home. This involves logistics. This involves planning. This involves…stress.
My brother and I have planned several camping trips for our traditional male bonding expeditions. In fact, we are currently planning another one for this summer. I have also taken camping trips with my wife and others with my sons. Sadly, I haven’t been able to go camping without at least one trip to Wal-Mart at some point during the venture to pick up some forgotten supply. You know what they say: if you can’t get it at Wal-Mart, you don’t need it. One time, my brother took us an hour drive to another county to buy beer.
At any rate, we are camping at this very moment. Lake Millwood is in the southwest corner of Arkansas and I have a history here. My grandfather and Uncles built a cabin on this lake a long time ago, and we used to have family reunions there. The cabin is long gone now, replaced by a subdivision or some other development, and the lake is a now state park. It is very beautiful here though. The sun setting through the trees reflects off the still waters of the lake. The crickets chrip, the geese honk, the frogs croak and you can hear an owl hooting in the distance.
We just finished dinner—one-man meals (also known as hobo meals) with hamburger steak, potatoes and carrots rolled up in foil and set on the fire—having eaten while watching that beautiful sunset. I am enjoying a bowl of my new favorite tobacco while I write this and Michelle is just enjoying the evening. Such peace. Not the experience we had last night.
We arrived yesterday evening around 6 pm just as the sun was dropping to the horizon. I planned to set up our camp kitchen so Michelle could prepare a wonderful dinner of campfire stew while I set up the tents. Everything worked like clockwork and the site was up before it got too dark to see. But with nightfall came the north wind. It was cold. I was in shorts, having left Houston with 72 degree weather and it was dropping into the low 50s here. I have camped in cold weather and I have a good sleeping bag and I have learned a trick or two from all those Boy Scout camps and military bivouacs about staying warm. The secret is to wrap in a cotton sheet inside the sleeping bag. Helps retain the body’s own heat. This works as long as you’re in the bag. The problem arises when something compels you to leave to bag. Something that makes you walk over to the wonderful facility the most experienced camper always sets up as close to as possible for just such an emergency.
But when it is 40 degrees, that walk is the last thing one wants to make. Going from toasty warm in a bag (OK, my nose was freezing, but I can deal with that) to a teeth chattering, shiver of a walk is a miserable experience. So last night was far from comfortable. Now, tonight, after a trip to Wal-Mart for more supplies, hopefully, we can make it through the night without chattering the teeth out of our heads.
We are looking forward to tomorrow with a hike in the morning (to warm ourselves after what promises to be a cold night again—just check the forcast: 42 degrees—with exercise to get the blood flowing) and canoeing and fishing in the afternoon. The weather says no rain all week, so at least we have that going for us.
Yes, getting back to nature is a wonderful time that everyone should enjoy. Plan carefully, make a list and pack warm and make sure a Wal-Mart is not too far away.