My spouse likes to camp. I don’t. He grew up camping. I didn’t. We have very different dispositions when it comes to packing. Without getting into the particulars, this captures some of the feel: I will force our children to start packing a bag the night before. He will decide that morning to put the large heavy canoe, that may or may not be used, on top of the car. He will get a large store brand can of pineapple juice that requires an old fashioned churchkey or can opener. I will go to Trader Joe’s and get a number of junk/convenience foods. Neither canned pineapple juice, chocolate-covered blueberries or flat bread are things we normally have, but we pack them. As far as I can tell, our children don’t like either canned pineapple juice or flat bread.
We have friends who, as a couple, are more frequent and enthusiastic campers than we are and with whom my husband used to go camping before he and I were married. They have an elderly dog and two daughters close in age to our kids. We decided to go camping with them in the Oregon Coast range just before Labor Day. It worked out perfectly: I camped for roughly 16 hours. The dads, the dog and older children went out first and the moms came out a day or so later with the youngest child. My husband got to share the outdoors with our kids, I got to be A Good Sport and no one had to camp with our frenetic, irrationally dog-fearing 3.75 year old for very long. **Strictly speaking, the other married couple is not hapa, except in the aggregate. One is Taiwanese, the other is of Hungarian American descent, but it averages out.
When the moms arrived one of the older kids told us in colorful detail about the daddys sitting up around the fire drinking and saying the F word really loud. The younger kids told us about fish fry, catching fish fry in cups and splatting around in the creek. The husbands said that mice had made merry on the table among the food. Apparently it is important to say RAT TURD as many times as possible in front of ones children.
There are some parts of camping that I like quite a bit. I really like playing with fire. Glowing logs in a fire pit, smoke in the eyes and clonking around with heavy cast iron pans and pots of water over an open fire all make me happy. (maybe not the smoke in the eyes, but I don’t mind it). The exact parts of camping that I don’t like, in descending order of aversion are:
- waking in the night, having to put on my shoes, clamber out of a tent and deal with bugs, brush and darkness in order to pee;
- pit toilets of unpredictable quality;
- toothbrushing in a campsite;
- getting my children to keep their shoes out of the tent and keep their shoes on when not in the tent
- hard ground;
- washing dishes; and
- not knowing where anything is.
Carrying water down the hill from the pump to the campsite is kind of cool. Keeping a vat of water warm on the fire for whatever needs arise makes me feel all high functioning and domestic. Gathering kindling and chopping wood are things that I actually do for fun in my own yard. Waking up in a campsite and feeling the cold air, and starting the fire is great. I’ve read a thousand times in books about “throwing one more log on the fire” and “banking the coals” and “stirring up the coals” to start a fire. They’re generic, cliched historic descriptions, but this trip I actually woke up first, found there were still coals in ashes, added kindling and blew on it until a flame started. (Look Ma, no lighter!)
So here’s the deal for me. I’m the first generation on either side of my family to grow up with running water and electricity. My mother was born at the end of the Depression and grew up on an Appalachian farm. My father was born in China during the Sino-Japanese war and survived several famines, plus spending years in an under-equipped army. My mother told me once that one of the reasons we didn’t camp as a family was because my dad said he’d had enough of it in the army. As a kid I had a vague picture in my mind of a bunch of Chinese dudes in tents with BBQ grills and backpacks. As an adult I don’t even try to imagine the squalor and misery.
Every single time I camp, I’m stunned at the sheer luxury of doing something like that for recreation. Each thing that I dislike about camping is a daily fact of life for millions of people and was the natural condition of our ancestors. It’s not joke, it’s horrible.
- Millions of people in India don’t have a safe, sanitary place to relieve themselves and in fact, that’s one major risk to women: they go out at night to relieve themselves and get assaulted
- Safe, clean water isn’t nearly so accessible to most people as it is at a campground in the Tillamook State Forest. I could haul it down from the hill and not have to beat myself up for spilling it, because there was more where that came from. That’s not even true today in the state of California.
- I actually have the ability to take care of my teeth at all.
- My kids have shoes. And dry clothes when it rains.
- I can take my gear home and clean it, spreading it all over the yard if necessary. The square footage of the campsite shared with nine people isn’t the permanent state of me, my family and our stuff.
- We can spread our coolers, beer, water jugs, camping stoves, ingredients, meat, milk, soap, coffee, towels and such all over everything. I saw a picture the other day of a family, refugees from Syria, who had once lived a middle class lifestyle, sitting in what looked like a shed, on mattress, with their clothes draped on a board.
I should camp more often, not for the parts of it that I enjoy, but for the parts that I don’t. I’m grateful everyday for hot water, a toilet that flushes, a door that locks behind me. I’m immensely grateful that my children can go out into the world and play in a beautiful mountain stream among the boulders and chase tiny trout in little pools. They can see trees that look like giant muppets made of moss. But right now my daughter is lying asleep with her feet against me. She took a shower after dinner, put on clean underwear, lay in bed reading and then decided she couldn’t sleep and came to find me. We are both very fortunate.