We’re back from a week’s camping trip at the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary on Cape Cod. The weather was a 70-30 blend of sweltering, nauseating heat and torrential rains. Fortunately, the Cape is a big giant sand bucket, so the rain drains away relatively quickly. And if it has to be 92 degrees and humid, I don’t think there are many better places to be than in the pine needle carpeted barrens up on a rise above the Bay. It was from my hammock under an oak tree that I most enjoyed listening to our neighbors at the next campsite. The Louds, as we dubbed them, were a family of four who arrived in a minivan groaning under the weight of their copious gear. Mrs. Loud, Mr. Loud, Pre-Teen Loud and Little Loud emerged, Mr. Loud looking enthusiastic and sprightly, the remaining Louds looking bewildered.
What followed was several days of bickering, radio playing, and inexplicable inflations and deflations of an air mattress. By contrast, on all other sides, our fellow campers were quiet, deliberate, middle-aged couples, fastidiously avoiding speaking to anyone else. In New England fashion, we typically only nodded to each other in passing.
The first night, I heard someone yelling at Mr. Loud from the tent, “I want an Arnold Palmer! I’m thirsty!” Mr. Loud offered a glass of water instead. “Fine! If you won’t bring me an Arnold Palmer!”
Arguments about hydration continued, as days later, Mr. Loud reminded Pre-Teen Loud to drink water, given the heat. “That doesn’t even make sense! If I drink water, I’ll just pee it out!” she screeched. Like most adolescents, she speaks primarily in italics. That same day, P-T Loud stood on the path to the bathhouse and yelled, “I hate camping! It’s boring, it’s lame, and it’s stupid!” I can only imagine that she saw a look of hurt on her father’s face, because next she yelled, moderating her tone, if not her volume, “I might like it more if it was cooler! Like in the fall!”
The Louds made it through the night of heavy rain, but after that, they largely abandoned the campsite. The last night we were there, they never came back in the evening. Yesterday, as I was packing up, Mr. Loud pulled up alone in the minivan to do the same with his tent, screen house, travel camp kitchen, and so on. I was alone at our site too, having sent the boys and Christophe off on a walk so I could administer my elaborate packing system alone. As I packed, and Mr. Loud packed next door, I thought, “Some families have a camper. He’s a camper, and I’m a camper. The rest of them, what are they? The campees. The people who get camped.” In my case, my campees, my boys, (husband included) are at least content to camp, and generally even enthusiastic. Mr. Loud, it appears, is not so lucky.
When some people drove up scoping out sites for the coming week, they stopped to talk to Mr. Loud, asking if the site gets a lot of ponding in the rain. “It does, but we kept our tent up on the highest spot. The kids loved it! The rain coming down on the tent at night…It was great.” Mr. Loud is putting a brave face on it. I know how that goes, having taken my family on overly ambitious hikes and backpacking trips from time to time. The narrative must be revised to stave off despair.
Mr. Loud knew better than to try that with me, I suppose, because as he readied to go, he called over to me, “Safe trip home! We’re cheating a little–we’re staying three more days in a motel down the road. Heated indoor pool. The girls love it.” I wished him the best, trying very genuinely not to appear smug, because I genuinely wasn’t feeling smug. We can never align the desires of four different people entirely. A family will always be threatening to fly apart from the centrifugal forces* governing each member. Mr. Loud was giving it a good try, and if they all end up by the pool eating take-out sandwiches and drinking Arnold Palmers after all, I raise my own glass to the spirit of the effort.
*sticklers for scientific accuracy, I am aware this does not exist in actual physics, and that we merely perceive it because we falsely perceive ourselves to be in a non-accelerating state when rotating. But in a literary sense, it works.