Back home from yet another camping trip, this time to the primitive campground at Pillsbury State Park in Washington, NH. While Christophe had to stay home and go to work like a normal grown-up, the boys and I joined my friend Angie and her daughter at a canoe-in site on Butterfield Pond. Site 39 is only a very short paddle across the way from the park office, and though not really all that remote in fact, it is in feeling. There is no running water or showers. The bathroom, however, was incredibly spacious and had an absolutely fabulous view:
There is some road noise from across the river, though that fades at night. No other campsites are visible from site 39, and no trails lead to it from down the peninsula, so the privacy is exquisite. Or it might be if you did not have to share a tent with a 4 year old, a 6 year old, and a 10 year old. And Chubby the Bear, who, as it turns out, is a sociopath with a fondness for knives.
Last week, my husband asked my mother where I came from, what with all this outdoorsy stuff. No one in my family ever went camping, and certainly never even contemplated backpacking–an activity I spontaneously took up when I was seventeen, with no guidance whatsoever. I kayak, hike, camp and backpack routinely now, in defiance of the conventional wisdom that a child must be led into the wilderness by an adult to come to love it and understand it. I must just have been deeply wired to fly to the woods not to have needed a guide there. I’m not taking any chances with my kids.
The second night at Pillsbury, the rain thrummed on the tent roof and a struggling fire billowed smoke from the firepit. The smell brought me powerfully back to one of my first weeks of college, at UMass. I was gazing at a map of the White Mountains tacked on my wall beside our open door. A quiet, blonde guy on our floor walked by trailing a strong smell of campfire, clearly distinct from the usual pot smoke and incense cloud that hovers over most of the valley around Amherst. His actual person interested me not at all, but the smell of him was captivating. He’d been outside. He’d been in the woods somewhere with the other outing club people. I was young and malleable, and I decided right then to be an outside person too. I was already well on my way anyway, but it was vividly cemented then.
I can’t control what my kids end up loving, but I can bring them along with me and teach them about being outside people too. Yesterday, the three kids spent two hours sitting in the canoe by the shore just whittling sticks. It sometimes seems miraculous, given their default to computer games, TV and the iPad while at home. But after a short adjustment period, they settle in, cultivate their own boredom, invent games, fish for bass and catch nothing but perch and weeds. Though they never seem to master being quiet. Solitude is nothing that interests them either.
Camping with kids is not relaxing in the conventional sense. But it sure has its rewards.