Camping is a lost art. You know, the kind where the only thing between you and mother earth is a tarp and a canvas tent.
When I was growing up, we were very hearty campers. Our one luxury was a little green Coleman two-burner stove. And that was one of our more current possessions; before that, our stove was a combination of rocks piled in a circle with a grill “borrowed” from our kitchen oven.
When we first started camping, I was maybe eight years old, the oldest of four children. Our “camping gear” consisted of all the blankets in the house folded into the well between the front and back seat, creating a long bed for the four of us kids to languish on as our dad piloted the car to sights unseen by human or car. We were the first to go “where no man has gone before.” This involved traveling on roads less traveled and taking the low road rather than the high. If we took the high road, it would routinely turn into a one-lane wagon trail along a treacherous cliff, and routinely again, dad would invariably get half way up the high road, only to have to back all the way down, around curves and corners, because the road really wasn’t a road at all but merely a pathway only mountain sheep could traverse. I spent the majority of these particular trips with my eyes closed and I am fairly certain that my unreasonable fear of heights has a direct connection to our trail rides.
Our “tent” was two tarps – one on the ground, where we laid out all the household blankets, and one tarp strung among four trees. We would sleep like sardines in a can, lined up oldest to youngest – therefore, I was smack in the middle between my Mom and my icky brother. (He has since outgrown the icky stage.)
Then one night a bear ran across our sleeping bodies and Dad hustled us all into the family station wagon, where we peered out through the windows to wait the bear’s return; only the bear was more afraid of us than we were of it. The bear spent most of the night up a tree near our tent, while we spent most of the night trying to sleep in the back of the station wagon.
Our next “tent” was an open-faced canvas shed. Again, the household blankets went on the floor and we all crawled in to our pre-assigned nook and there we slept. Oh! Going to bed meant, when the sun goes down, you go to bed. 9:30 most nights. When Dad was there (we often went for the whole summer to Indian Creek Campground at Priest Lake, Idaho, while our Dad commuted on weekends); anyway, when Dad was there, the bedtime rule was lifted and we sat up by the fire telling campfire stories that we made up. My Dad would start with a sentence, and then the next person around the fire would make up another sentence, and on around the circle. Dad would start off with a fairly good scary story and eventually it would morph to my little brother, who would give it a happy ending so he could sleep without nightmares. This was after it passed to me, who kept it pretty much in line with Dad, to my brother who loved to add blood, slimy worms, hissing snakes, roaring monsters, and screaming hapless victims (all in one run-on sentence); to my sister who generally went for the sliced throat, to my baby brother. The entire adventure would be accompanied by roasting marshmallows on individual sticks each person found on their own, to their own preference.
Eventually we acquired a huge army tent and six sleeping bags, where we could actually walk around each sleeping bag. We would set up our sleeping bag and then find something to decorate our area with sticks, stones, and pinecones. A little home away from home.
When he was at our campsite, our Dad did all the cooking. Breakfast was my favorite and he would go to great effort to disguise the bugs on our eggs with lots of pepper. We weren’t any wiser about this – just thought it was a lot spicier. Until my baby brother kept commenting about wings and legs. Eeeeuuuuuu.
We camped at Indian Creek every summer until I graduated from high school. Through the years we made friends with a Canadian family that came every summer. All of us kids were around the same age. They had a boat! So, we spent a lot of time skiing, traveling around the lake, and spending meals together. We even set up camp together so we had two huge tents facing each other with a tarp between, like a carport. If it rained, we would set up the picnic table and play cards – 12 of us or put together jigsaw puzzles. Great fun!
So, when you go camping today, do you use a tent? Or do you take a motor home, complete with running water and a working oven? Rent a cabin? Indian Creek still exists and has showers and restrooms and a little country store. Not quite as rustic as I experienced.
The family army tent is still in the family and resides with my baby brother, now in his mid-50’s. It has seen many summers and many sleeping bags over the last 40 years. (And it was used when we bought it.)