When I was little, we went car camping sometimes. I’m not sure what prompted my parents to take us–because lord knows they had enough to do–but we were taken, and I’m grateful. We got to eat sugar cereal from those wax paper-lined boxes that your were supposed to be able to saw open, pour milk into, and eat out of. There’s a story of the time my sister almost walked off a cliff in King’s Canyon. One time my dad taught me how to burn ants with a magnifying glass in the sun. Another time, my mom took us to a place in the north Georgia mountains that had just been bush hogged, and we woke up in the night to find the ground covered in green, luminescent foxfire. We rolled and played in it, and then woke up filthy dirty.
I’m not sure what it is about car camping, but I love it. I wish I was camping pretty much all the time–though, to be honest, I hate some parts of it: the packing and the yelling at people to get a move-on, and the waiting in the car, and the realizing we forgot something: a lighter, milk, an extra pair of shoes for Odessa, all the sleeping pads. I hate driving hours out of town, up nauseating stretches of mountain road. I hate getting lost on endless gravel tracks in the dark.
But once we’re there, I’m great. I’m better than great. This weekend, Bryan, Odessa, Goose and I met some friends who greeted us in the dark with quesadillas–we were all giddy that we found each other without the help of cell phones. We put the kids to bed in the tent next to a gurgling creek, and the grown ups sat in a semicircle in collapsable chairs around a sawn-off steel barrel with a fire inside it, doing hilarious impressions of other people’s kids–not in a mean way.
All that’s good. And then there’s waking up and sitting around with a cup of coffee, roundly ignoring the children who are yelling at each other about how there can’t be more than one queen of the forest, while the tent they’re tussling around in sways back and forth like a huge elephant puppet. Eventually there is a hike, and taking kids to the vault toilets that are littered with disintegrating urinal cakes, and a then the dog barfs because he got car sick on the way to the trailhead, and on the way back to camp, two married people get in a sort of mesmerizing circular discussion about whether there are enough beers in the cooler for everyone to have two tonight, and back at camp, we teach kids for the fifth and sixth time what poison ivy looks like (“leaves three and shiny? Not for your hiney.”)
My favorite part, though, is sleeping. I love sleeping in a tent, smelling like woodsmoke and whatever it is that makes tents smell the way they do. I love waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of a creek, or little frogs whining, and my family’s quiet snoring. I like to get out of the tent then and feel the soft ground under my bare feet and look up into the crowns of the trees while I pee. Last night I saw a shooting star. You figure stuff out on those nights.
I can’t wait to go camping again.