I grew up camping. As a little girl, I explored western and central Oregon. I tented with my dad and his friends, hiked through dry river beds, explored cold mountain streams, and lay under the giant Douglas-firs watching the stars. The sweet smell of pine transports me home.
My grandfather and our extended family also spent a lot of time outdoors in eastern Oregon. They hunted grouse, deer, and elk. Sometimes, if I was lucky, I got to go along. I was a girl, so I didn’t hunt but I went with the families and kids. Aunt Vonnie Gay presided over the “cook tent,” and her husband uncle Till cut down a tree for firewood. This wasn’t a campground, but a wide place off the road where campers and tents could gather around an open space. At night, we gathered around the fire.
I loved these trips. Growing up in a city, I did not have ready access to the wilderness that lay just beyond the horizon. Camping, as a child was exciting and a bit frightening. I stayed close to the campground, and we took a shotgun with us when we went out hunting mushrooms for a savory dinner. Through camping our family was grounded in a shared history about the people and the land we inhabited. The stories my elders told and retold often connected us to people and this particular place as part of a grand adventure of settling the West. I longed to go along and participate in these trips, spending time with distant family and listening to the stories and histories I read about in my school books.
It was a bit of a transition when my new husband took me to the seacoast of New Hampshire to the campground where he grew up. This quaint campground boasted a wooden Indian and a totem pole, but little else that seemed familiar to my experience of camping as a child. With 20 amp electric hookups and water, we roasted our marshmallows in the faint blue glow of our neighbor’s tv screen. Campers parked every 20 feet with paved roads and a bath house did not really seem like camping to me.
As our children grew, I soon found that even this was a lot to manage. We tented exactly one time with little children. Our first family-of-five trip ended abruptly when the baby’s screaming, oppressive 100-degree heat and humidity, and a summer thunderstorm all converged over my campsite. With all of the pride I could muster, I proclaimed… I don’t care how long your mom did this when you were kids. I want to go home. An hour later we were cool and dry in front of the air conditioner. We later returned to the site to roast marshmallows, sleep in the tent, and pack up to go home.
Keith’s parents had a seasonal site at the campground where he grew up and we spent many summers there enjoying all of the comforts of home. But, I found that camping as a mom did not hold the same allure that I remembered from my childhood. A week at the campground resulted in shopping, cooking, cleaning, trips to the beach, and arcade. I found myself doing all the same things I do at home, with none of the convenience. A day at the laundry mat did not seem like a vacation. I made the most of it, but it wore on me. I hoped to eventually never have to camp again. The summer the kids declined our vacation, I thought we were over it.
As the kids left home, we bought a pop-up camper that Keith hoped I would enjoy. The truth is, I didn’t. He wanted to go and I would tag along grudgingly. I really wanted to stay at a nice B&B or a lovely Inn. I hated slogging through the drizzle at another campground. I went less and less, but when I did go, I found that he took care of everything. It was hard to resist his loving attempts to make this work for me. Once when I arrived to meet him, the front desk lady informed me that my husband was the best camping husband she’d ever seen. He had truly taken away every reason I had to hate camping.
So, last week we bought a new camper. I am committed to trying to love it again. He is committed to helping me. As I consider the next season of my camping life, I know our children, and soon our grandchildren, will join us to make new memories. We will explore familiar places and discover new spots. I will talk about my family stories and he will share stories from his childhood, and we will tell tales of our shared camping misadventures. We will continue to spend our summers outside under the stars, licking smores from our fingertips, and laughing around the fire. I promise to once again be a happy camper.