Thursday, July 22, 2010

A recipe for roughing it

For many years, since the invention of fire, people have been flocking to the great out-of-doors and returning to our native roots. Granted, those first fire-makers were probably making campfires outside because they weren’t smart enough to invent ventilation systems, but I bet even if they had, they’d still occasionally pack up everything they own, throw it on their Flintstone wheel-mobile, drive an hour, and argue for hours over the flattest spot of ground.
Because despite it all, people love camping.
I did not grow up a campground-type camper, and by the time I could make the decision myself, I chose to go full bore, outpost wilderness camping. The kind without the amenities, if you will, unless you call sanitizing puddle water to drink and cooking your dinner of dehydrated foods over a fire built from cow dung “the cushy life.” (True stories, both of them. Don’t tell my mother.)
But there remains a natural draw to the outdoors, whether you choose to be alone in the wild with nothing but a tent and a topographic map to protect you, or if you prefer the type of site that has a shower house within walking distance and a neighbor with an awesome pop-up with little dangly lantern lights who moved their televisions outside on the picnic table so they could watch the rerun of some sporting event. We humans just love to “rough it.”
We recently had our chance to sleep with the raccoons at a state park over a weekend family reunion. It was great fun seeing relatives, playing games, and eating mysterious salads (does anyone know who made this?) It was the camping part of it, however, that stood out. Because it was there, and only there, while I attempted to cook bacon over my teeny backwoods stove, squatting on the ground in my own filth, that I noticed the other people in the campground.
THEY had elaborate cooking tools and meals. THEY had real giant flashlights still sitting on their tables covered with festive table clothes. THEY had chairs. THEY were relaxing. I had 3 measly strips of bacon, one spoon to do all duties, a dim headlamp, and cramped up legs from hovering next to that little stove for 4 hours while the bacon cooked.
And at that very moment, a thousand children zoomed by on their bikes on their way to the latrine that was located directly across from our campsite. They went by at such speed, that they sent a wave of fragrant air that was coming out of the trash bin that was conveniently on our campsite. Sure, we didn’t have to walk far to dispose of anything, but when the smell of dirty diapers and rancid meat hits you, you almost wish the raccoons would have hauled off the entire dumpster last night while you were trying to enjoy the peace and quiet of nature.
Looking around, my eyes still hazy from the smoky bacon, a little lantern mantle finally caught flame in my head. We “camp” because we like to be outside…with all the conveniences of being inside. Check out the campsites that morph in to party central—they have televisions, campers with electricity, some even have outdoor carpeting that stretches all the way from their front door to their clothesline with coordinating towels and bathing suits.
I’m not knocking this sort of camping, because I for one prefer an air mattress over a cow field. I’m just wondering if wearing flip-flops to a shower house can ever compare to a cool mountain stream.
But if you block it all out—the latrine, the dangly decorative lighting, the raccoons and the bicycles-- the sweet summer sound of the cicada is still there. He’s up in the tops of the trees, singing his song, rolling his buggy eyes and craning his neck to get a better view of the TV.

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