The International Writers Magazine: Pleasures of Camping
Camping, Dinosaurs and Earplugs
James L Carey
I’ve been camping many, many times. Probably the going rate for a child of middle-class suburban Midwestern parents to whom the smell of burning wood is quite the novelty.
Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, high school weekend getaways with smuggled swill hidden underneath towels in gym bags, they all offered ample opportunities to prove to my primitive instincts that all the DNA-encoded survival talents hadn’t been completely driven from my marrow.
I enjoy the simplistic undertones of camping; this is all we need to live… for a couple of days anyway. Going to the sporting goods store and walking out while staring in wonder at spoon/knife/fork/can opener/firestarter keychain that would undoubtedly save myself and my unendingly grateful friends, family and co-workers from the untold dangers of The Wild is a part of the pre-camping ritual for me. I simply HAVE to find something I’ll need. It’s impossible for me to NOT purchase a waterproof matchbox/compass/reading light once I’ve laid my eyes upon it for the first time.
So I thought to myself, as this Fourth of July weekend approached and friends extended invitations to backyard barbecues and sidewalk fireworks jubilees, “I think I’d rather be in the woods, camping. I’m a free spirit goddammit and I’ve got the telescoping hot dog skewer to prove it!“
So I did as self-sufficient pioneermen of today (such as myself, hellooo) do and I made an online reservation at a state park about an hour and a half away. The scant reviews seemed promising; “secluded,” they said, “rustic,” they assured me. Music to my concrete jungle dwelling mountain man ears.
“Secluded,” in actuality, means that the campsites have on average a WHOLE thirty feet or so between them, most have less. "Rustic" refers to the fact that the sites usually have only half of their spaces laden with asphalt to serve as the backwards runways for the apartment -on-wheels campers and pop-ups and the Bon Jovi tour bus luxury-liners.
The contradictory nature of “roughing it” in a vehicle that is a cushier living space that 90% of the world enjoys 365 days a year is must one among many quirky traits of the Modern American; Homo entitledensis.
The most delicious part of this irony lies in the names emblazoned upon the sides of these movable hotels. Meant to convey mobility and that pick-up-and-go American bravado, they more often then not are hysterical in their absurdity. “Road Runner” “4 Winds Express” “Rambler” are all within eye shot of my campsite. As if there was anything EXPRESS in the 25 minutes it took the driver to maneuver the camper back onto the campsite’s drive as I looked on, eating a hot dog and snorting amusement while the husband and wife screamed an ever-increasing volume of directions and counter-directions at each other. The “Rambler” in question refers to the cargo plane-sized monstrosity in the adjacent site. I think months of planning must go into a narrowly scripted course of action for getting the behemoth from Point A to Point B rather than any actual “Rambling” as the manufactures are trying to convince us.
Still, I suppose it’s catchier than the 4 Winds Cement Truck, the Star Craft Blue Whale or the Winnebago Brontosaurus.
||There’s a younger couple camping next to me and even in their comparatively spartan accommodations of a dome tent and travel barbecue seem too much to me. For starters, their dome tent is tall enough for aLaker pointguard to stand up in and has extra sections as if they’re expecting to entertain a dinner party, host a bar mitzvah as well as a board meeting and all at the same time.
As for the travel barbecue…what exactly are the fire pits for? Did they make a fire merely for the pure ectasy that is waking up in the middle of the night with stove pipe throat and crying for water like Clint in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly? I’ve begun to wonder if the actual act of camping is only secondary to the appearance of camping. Like so many things American, we’re very concerned about how we look and not what the hell we’re looking at.
I make a fire to cook on (and stare dimwittedly at for hours), I bring a tent to sleep in and I go camping to remind myself I don’t need a fork/spoon/knife/flare gun, all I need is a fire and a stick and a packet of ball parks and I’ll be okay…for a couple of days anyway.
Okay, maybe a four piece non-stick aluminum mess kit with microfiber shammy, but that is IT.
And the telescoping hot dog skewer.
Camping in America, as I think of it, has existed since 50′s, 40′s, hell! in the latter part of the 19th century, people who were rich enough to think of living in the woods as quaint for a few days would have 1000 pound dining room sets trucked into the woods because they musn’t be too uncivilized, now could they?
Now about the camping on my own thing, I wasn’t surprised but was a bit smug with myself on seeing that not only was I the only solo camper in the park, but I’m doing so with a comparatively Third World set-up. I’m thinking of myself as a modern day Lewis & Clark, well just Lewis (which one was more adventurous while the other probably dragged his feet?) or Clark, but either way I don’t need the mobile mansions or nylon motels that surround me. I’m fine with just what I have, thanks very much.
Earplugs might be nice though. A microwave’s beeping can apparently echo through a forest like a sonar buoy.
© James L Carey July 2010
careyja1 at msu.edu
See also That Day by James L Carey
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