Camping is in my blood.
Now when I say that, I don’t mean that I’m obsessed with camping and just want to go all the time. No, what I mean is that from my earliest memories, my parents dragged me along on camping trips until it became embedded in who I was.
My earliest memories of camping are when I was somewhere around 4 years old. We lived in the North of Haiti and I remember my parents loading my brother and I along with a ton of luggage, into our old, unreliable Peugot station wagon. We traveled about 12 hours down to the South of Haiti, up into the mountains. I remember heat, dust, throwing up from car-sickness, my mom singing songs from the Sound of Music to entertain us, chewing on minty gum that we bought from a street vendor. I also remember that we got to our destination late at night, that it rained, the tent leaked, all our belongings got wet, it was a lot colder in the mountains than my parents were anticipating so we were freezing, and my brother and I ended up sleeping in the car because it was the only dry, warmish place. That was just the first night of camping. I think it improved after that. Not sure. Maybe. I also remember picking blackberries, exploring a large fog-filled meadow, and fighting with my brother over who got to be in the hammock that my dad had strung up. Every year that we lived in Haiti my parents would insist on going camping in the Southern Mountains. It was their vacation and they were/are adventurous people. They also loved that part of Haiti and dreamed of working there.
The five years that we lived in Kentucky my mother was in school and life was busy. I don’t think we did any camping during that time, but we spent lots of time at the lake or visiting the nearby Carter Caves or the Natural Bridge. We also squeezed in a trip to Niagara Falls and a trip out West and saw the Grand Canyon. Not camping, but definitely forays into nature.
When we moved to Alaska, when I was 15, camping became a regular way of life during the summer. We would load up into our boat, head up the Kuskokwim River and go for hours until we found a likely spot on the river bank and then we’d stop, spend more hours setting up camp, and then sit around the fire, roasting sausages and marshmallows, drinking tea. My dad would go fishing and we would eat whatever he caught. It was a time of rest and relaxation. And mosquitoes. (Pictures of Alaska are beautiful, but that’s just because they photo-shopped out all the giant mosquitoes making black dots on the picture.)
Later, when my husband and I were living in Chile with our first two babies, my parents came and visited, and what did we do? We went camping in the Andes. My dad and my husband went off to hike Mt Picazo (Same name as my maiden name, my dad felt a connection, wanted to hike it). My mom and I and my two babies stayed in a campground. (We didn’t feel the same connection and were quite content to stay behind with the babies). The two main memories that stand out to me was first, our tent site was on a side of hill which meant that by morning, we had all rolled to the bottom of the tent and were effectively squishing each other, and second, the very friendly owner of the campground explained to me the secret to cooking good pasta: get a really big pot with lots of water so that the pasta has room to cook and doesn’t stick to each other. (I have always remembered this, but I never seem to have a big enough pot handy, so I still deal with clumpy pasta.)
Nowadays, I would tell you that my idea of getting out in nature is to rent a cabin in the mountains and sit on the deck and enjoy the view. Alas, I married a boy scout. My husband’s idea of getting out in nature is to get a pack and go off and do a section of the Appalachian Trail. He knows all about wilderness survival and gets out camping/hiking/canoeing any chance he can get. We went camping on our honeymoon. Any time we travel long distances we camp. If we are going to do something fun as a family, it’s probably going to be camping. Still not my favorite thing to do. But it’s in my blood. I feel duty bound to pass this on to my children, it’s part of their heritage. And so I go camping. And if my kids complain, I take on the role of cheerful optimist who thinks that hanging out in a tent with 7 children because it’s raining outside is FUN! Going to the bathroom in the bushes is CHARACTER-BUILDING! Fighting your way through swarms of mosquitoes….well, even I can’t think of a positive statement for that.
Here’s the funny thing though. We went camping this past weekend. Primitive, out in the middle of nowhere camping. We got there by canoe. Took 7 children with us. You know what? I actually had a lot of fun. I loved being outside. I loved seeing the beautiful lake and mountains and streams and forests. I loved cooking over the campfire. Ok, I still just endured using the bathroom in the bushes, but does anyone love that? It was a wonderful experience. I especially loved watching my kids have fun, watching my husband teach them how to cook a simple campfire meal, watching him teach them about “Leave no Trace”. I loved seeing my 7 yr old daughter get her tent and pitch it all by herself. I loved watching my oldest daughter as she paddled our canoe diligently with me across the lake. I loved watching my sons get excited about all the different animal tracks they found. I loved watching my two youngest just run around the camp, so excited to be outdoors for such a long period of time. This camping thing is a bit of a crazy heritage, doesn’t exactly fit my personality, but I’m learning to appreciate it. And I’m learning the joy of passing it on to the next generation.