Copyright ©1999 Spring Creek Communications
Kid Camping Revisited: The View from the Ground 30 Years Later
Patrick McManus owns the patent on stories of kid camping. Giving just a little leeway for artistic hyperbole, his memory of youth in the great outdoors matches our own for all practical purposes. The wonder of it all, reinforced by an awfulness matched in adult life only by military bivouacs, does stick in the mind.
By Ed Mitchell
Not wishing to deprive our own kids of those mental treasures, it was back to the ground in sleeping bags under the panoply of stars for me and the kids recently.
Back in the Boy Scout era of our lives, a tradition of no-frills hill trips developed for a couple of reasons. One was that we did not have money for more than the bare minimum of equipment. The second was that most of the equipment on the market of 30 years ago was not worth buying anyway.
Packframes, for instance, had not changed since the Battle of Waterloo. (Paris design, by the way; I think the guy’s name was de Sade.)
Tents were no better, unless you were lucky enough to know someone with an outfitter-type wall tent and then it was not the kind of thing anyone wanted to set up for an overnighter. Our troop had two types. One was the surplus Army pup tent requiring two sweating teenagers, half of the day and urging from an ex-sergeant to erect. The other was a then-modern innovation – a black plastic affair that took no time to set up. One of its drawbacks became evident as soon as my tentmate and I had staked it proud and taut and ran off to find a higher-ranking Scout to inspect our masterpiece. The thing had stretched and collapsed inward so pitifully it looked like a used Glad Bag.
The older assistant leaders made certain our humiliation was complete. Renewed efforts failed to make the tent appear habitable but I did not discover the real disadvantage of plastic tents until it was too late and too dark to do anything about it. Slick plastic does not breathe. After my assigned tent buddy gave one of the gustatory performances for which he was to achieve local fame – after consumption of a quart can of pork and beans – I couldn’t either.
It was shortly thereafter when I adopted a minimalist method of camping, never entering a small tent again until Uncle Sam issued me half of one. But that’s a war story that finds no place here.
Anyone who fails to appreciate the great leap forward in camping gear made in the last 30 years is either too young to remember the bad old stuff or sensible enough to have traded it all for a Mercedes and Sheraton Inns long ago.
The latter types are missing a good thing, though. The glow of the sky made by stars and not mercury vapor lamps, the smell of a summer mountain breeze carrying the scent of wildflowers, a silence we forget is possible until we’re 40 miles from the nearest running motor; it’s all still out there but the family menagerie adds some new features.
Silence is a sometimes thing as first the schnauzer wakes to discover another hairy beast in camp and makes the appropriate ferocious noises. The other fearsome animal is, of course, his buddy, the drahthaar pup. Realizing his mistake, this causes momentary embarrassment. Five minutes later, the process is repeated but it’s the drahthaar starting it. Two dogs accustomed to sleeping in the master’s bedroom and just a bit more alert than usual out in the hills can keep this going intermittently all night.
Along toward morning, a rhythmic chewing from down toward the bottom of the sleeping bags causes human wakefulness. Moreover, a scent unlike wildflowers impinges on our senses. As darkness gives way to gray dawn, it becomes apparent that the draht, great trail dog that she is, has hunted up a jackrabbit, deceased no more than a month but surely no less than a week. Bits of fur and other materials no one wishes to identify cover the bags. As campers give voice to their concern about this state of affairs, the pup tries to make amends in the only way available to her – big noisome kisses are administered all around. Caught in their cocoons, all the schnauzer-owning campers can do is verbally reject these kind apologies and comment that their much classier animal would never eat a rabbit in bed.
True, the schnauzer is not interested in what is left of the hare. He has to leave the exclosure (a fenced area meant to keep cattle off a recovering riparian area and a fine place to camp) to find his before-breakfast pleasure but he is back in five minutes, coated in a shade of green that can only mean one thing in cow country. The decision to fish before, rather than after breakfast is not a hard one to make.
Kids have the benefit of camping with dogs. Their breaches of the peace go almost unnoticed. At least their explorations add nothing to the atmosphere in a homeward bound truck. They reject fried potatoes and eggs in favor of chips and cookies, but, with no moms looking out for nutritional niceties, no fuss spoils the conviviality of the camp.
A quick poll before arriving back in civilization reveals that all campers are happy and cannot wait to go again.
Kid camping, even the version in which we have to bring our own kids, is no less wonderful and awful now than it was when we were kids.
Outdoor Kids’ Source
Keep the Bugs Off!
Links are provided to books mentioned below.
They are for sale through Idaho fish ‘n’ hunt in association with Amazon.com Books
The Basic Essentials of Camping by Cliff Jacobson
The Basic Essentials of Cooking Outdoors by Cliff Jacobson
Camping’s Top Secrets by Cliff Jacobson
The Basic Essentials of Knots for the Outdoors by Cliff Jacobson
The Basic Essentials of Map and Compass by Cliff Jacobson