1. S'Mores. Did you ever try to make S'Mores in your microwave? Because IT JUST WASN"T THE SAME, right? You needed to marshmallows to be perfectly seared on the outside from a camp fire. Tasting a little bit of pine on the skin of your marshmallow was actually the best part. To tell you the truth, I was one of those "just fucking burn it" marshmallow people. I liked them black. Preferably all the way to the middle.
2. My dog. Dogs think camping is THE BEST. They constantly run up to you with the face of a kid on Christmas: "WHY can't we do this EVERY DAY?" they say. And you say, "Because we have jobs and lives that aren't in the woods." Then the dog says, "What is a 'job?'" And then you throw the dog a stick and the dog LOVES IT.
3. Mom and Dad are way more likely to play games than they would be if they were not camping. And they'll even play games that are not even respectable games, such as "Run Through The Woods and Throw Pennies At Anything That Moves."
4. My sister and I were better imagineers than anyone else in the history of time. I'm convinced that this is true, and the moment we outgrew it I started to hate myself a little bit. We had an arsenal of make-believe games which we could only play when we were on vacation. The woods was a particularly good place to do this because there were way more things which could be other things. For example, fir trees could be secret government hide-outs; pine cones could be tiny bombs; pine NEEDLES could be secret recording devices planted by the Head of the Forest; bugs could be fairy messengers; etc. etc. etc.
Now I think what I love the most about camping is listening to the sounds outside when you're inside a tent. Two weeks ago, when we went camping in the thunderstorm, I had never heard anything so incredible as the thunder crashing like so many steel pots on the kitchen floor, and the rain pounding fists on the outside of my tent. Also, there is bird-watching, which I only get more emphatic about as I get older. Blame my mother.
Memorable camping trips through time:
1. The time we saw the diamond-back rattlesnake. I remember this with absolute clarity, unlike most of the memories from when I was seven. We had our bikes on this camping trip, and I had just evolved past training wheels. My parents made cocktails in the woods, which then seemed utterly normal, and now seems badass as fuck. We decided to all go on a hike as a family, which was actually not very common back then, because Alexis and I weren't yet old enough to appreciate hikes. I think to pass the time Allie and I probably sang very annoying songs very loudly and repetitively. Anyway, right around where this picture was taken, we started hearing this rattle -- and I was actually at the front of the hiking train, so I was the one who first saw the HUMONGOUS SNAKE slip across the trail. It appeared, at the time, big enough to entirely consume my family and still have room for dessert. Dad said, "Stay very still," and we all stood there in terror, acting like we weren't there. When I was seven, this was the closest I thought I would ever come to death. We retold the story over and over again, embellishing here and there so that it was clear that the rattlesnake was hungry, and had eaten human beings before. Now, in New Orleans, rattlesnakes, constrictors, and adders are commonplace in the swamp, and you just kind accept them as facts of life. Ah, how things have changed.
2. The time we had to camp on the beach and it was cold. This probably wasn't as bad as I remember it being. I remember being promised a beach camping trip, and picturing running in my bathing suit along the shore line. I remember picturing building a sand castle in my tent (bad idea, I now understand). But of course, that fantasy was doomed from the beginning, because my family is from OREGON, and we camp at the OREGON COAST, and even when you visit the beach in the middle of the hottest months of August you can't wear a bathing suit because it will STILL be too cold. Also, when you go camping on the beach, you do not actually go camping ON THE BEACH. You camp NEAR the beach, in the woods. So there's nothing really all that special about it, except that you can walk to the beach from your campsite. Well, la-di-da. Nothing about that seemed all that extraordinary to me. Shortly after we camped "on the beach," my grandmother died and my mom and her three sisters pooled the money Grandma Dorothy left and bought a beach house at Gleneden. Which is still, I think, one of the most perfect places in the universe. So now when we go to the beach and it is cold, we can go INSIDE a house afterwards, and watch Disney Channel.
3. The time Jessica, Ben, Katie, and I went on a road trip. This was after sophomore year of college, and I think we just decided it was about time we went on a road trip, because that is something that college students do. We camped every night, except one night when we got lost and almost hit a skunk and were traumatized, and thus ended up needing to sleep at a skeezy motel; and the night we spent with Ariana Rampy at her house in Nevada City. This trip had a lot going for it. For example, it included more than one camp site at which we were able to swim in a river or lake. There is really nothing I like more than swimming in natural bodies of water. Because I feel like I have already blogged about this, I will reference now the 2006 LiveJournal entry I made about this whole experience. It's a winning post, let me tell you. A selected quote is what you would like? Ok, I guess I can do that:
the ground of the lake felt really soft and unsettling, and there were tiny dead moths all over the surface. the swallows would swoop in and eat them off! jessica and ben and i fought with water. we dueled. jessica won the duel, ultimately. then jessica and i climbed over all this brush and hiked for a few miles along a highway that overlooked the lake. every few seconds we were required to stop and be spellbound. we held hands and talked about boys and boys and sometimes family. for dinner we had bread and cheese and tofurky and lettuce.Young Sophie really did know how to describe her camping experiences. Never missed a beat, that one.
4. The time Mac and I went camping. Regardless of all the times I have told my boyfriends "Hey! We should go camping!" Mac was the only boy with whom that actually ever happened (and more than once, at that!). This one was kind of a doomed camping trip, though, because there was a massive thunder storm in a very flat wheat field, and we forgot while we were driving if you are supposed to stay inside a car if the car is the tallest thing in the vicinity and lightning is jutting into the ground in front of you. You are. But we forgot that, and we got out of the car and lay on the ground because we were pretty sure we had pretty strong chances of dying. In the end we found a lackluster campsite and played Scrabble inside a tent. My main memory of this adventure is being very in love with life, and finding a little snail on the ground with which I was completely enamored. I guess I was just in one of those annoying transcendentalist moods. Mac was always very accepting of those.
5. The time Alexis and I almost died because our car flipped over. But before that, there was camping. And the camping was fun. Presumably, had our car NOT flipped over, we would have continued to have a fun time camping in this R.E.I. tent Alexis bought and thought was the shit. It was small and kind of cozy to sleep in with another person, but it was also the shit. We had really good camping food too, like cereal, and dried fruit, and sandwich stuff, and all that stuff got totally ruined during that car accident. Too bad insurance doesn't cover your great camping food.
So that was camping in the past. This year we have already taken the kids camping several times, and it is going to happen again in less than a week. I am getting pretty OK at pitching a tent. It seemed like a Mensa puzzle when I was a kid, and it has only recently gotten to be something I've felt remotely competent at. Before I started going on the school camping trips I would always go camping with someone who knew how to pitch a tent; someone who in fact took great pride in their tent-pitching capabilities; and someone who required no help, except for when they would sometimes say something like, "Can you shake this rain fly out for me?" And I never had any qualms with that.
I guess I mention all this because right now I am in the world's most comfortable bed at my grandmother's house, a day after Easter and the week after three incredible Passover Seders, and my Spring Break is unfolding thusly: I will leave Southern California tomorrow in the earliest hours of morning, and get in a car with James Hamilton, and we will drive to the Ozarks and CAMP. Then I will get in a car with James Hamilton on Friday and drive to New Orleans, Louisiana, where I will get in a car with four bright-eyed high school students and drive to somewhere in Mississippi where we will pitch MORE tents and see MORE outdoor scenery. Can't I get some kind of badge for all this camping? Or, rather, shouldn't I write a letter to Whitman College telling them that I FINALLY meet the requirements of being a student there (a year too late)?
Camping is fun. Southern California is relaxing (hence the bed). But there's a quiet storm in the form of lesson plans and PAS work that I am always avoiding, and which is looking me square in the eyes saying, "Sophie, you're going to probably try to cut off your appendages if you don't begin to address me soon." So I can't fill up on fun. Not until the summer, when everything dies down, and I return to the Blogosphere to complain of boredom.