One good way to end a drought, I have learned over the years, is to go camping. It seems a sure fire way to bring on a deluge. There are of course a few exceptions to this rule: Times the sun shone onto campgrounds, and light breezes wafted just enough coolness to gentle the summer heat, but those occasions stand out like diamonds set in a ring of black iron. They are the honeymoon, and more ordinary camping is the rougher stuff of marriage.
I always have a desire, after camping, to think about what happened, and to analyze the various components of the experience, and to make sense of it all. I’m not sure this is wise, for I think what I actually will do is prove I am part of a group of people who are certifiably insane, and it is usually best to be quiet about such things.
My mother didn’t come camping with us, fifty years ago, preferring to listen to a rare thing in our home: Quiet. She liked to read Agatha Christie and chain smoke. Meanwhile my Dad would head off to some sort of fiasco that was always fondly remembered. As we arrived back home I was carefully instructed not to tell the truth, but, being basically honest, I would burst in through the front door and exclaim “Oh Mom, it was so cool! I fell off a bridge and the boat tipped over and your favorite pot sank in the river! There was thunder and hail and Dad burned the eggs! Hurley got lost in the woods! Halsey sank to his armpits in a bog where there were wicked cool pitcher plants and sundew, eating bugs, and I almost caught a trout! And…why are you clutching your heart?”
My mother was made very uncomfortable by the component of camping I liked best, and in fact she was so disturbed she sought out a psychiatrist to regain her peace of mind. He reassured her that indeed her feelings were not to blame, for camping was indeed insane. In fact, he suggested, my father’s love of the outdoors was indicative of suicidal and homicidal tenancies, on his part.
For some reason this didn’t make my mother more comfortable.
After the divorce broke my home I entered a long period of homelessness, which is a sort of camping. I did inhabit houses, but they weren’t my home. I often slept in my car, which is, when you think of it, a primitive form of RV. One year I moved out into a campground during the last snow of spring and lived there until the first snow of the next winter, because you can’t beat $25.00/week for rent.
I initially had an idealized view of marriage and family and owning a house with a white picket fence. My plan was to marry at eighteen and be a grandfather at thirty-eight. However life did not follow the script I had written, and when my thirty-seventh birthday passed, and I was still basically camping, and still a bachelor, I decided it was high time to give up on my foolish dreams. I especially decided to give up on the business of chasing women and attempting to persuade them I’d be a good husband and father. They’d made it very clear, over the years, that a broke poet is not a good prospect. Anyway, there is something creepy about a fellow who isn’t young anymore attempting to sweet-talk the young ladies. One morning I looked in the mirror, and thought I saw the beginnings of a dirty old man.
I decided it was time to have a talk with God. I did all the talking. I told God I’d done everything I could to be an old-fashioned guy in a monogamous marriage in a house with a white picket fence, but my will didn’t seem to be God’s Will, and therefore I would bow to His will, and become completely celibate.
To me it seemed the response was immediate. Almost immediately I met a woman who made me feel celibacy might not be the solution. She happened to have three children, and the first place we looked at to rent was a 250-year-old house straight from a Norman Rockwell painting. And yes, it did have a white picket fence.
It quite literally happened in a matter of weeks, and people who knew me well shook their heads, and may have uttered some cynical forecasts behind my back. After all, how can a happy-go-lucky poet go from camping in an RV called a 1974Toyota Corolla, to being a step-father of three children, in a house with a white picket fence, without cracking up?
I was as mystified, and at times as cynical, as my friends were, but I had to admit I sort of liked the change in my circumstances. I even felt my days of camping were over. However they weren’t. The economy of New England was going from Boom to Bust at that time, and it turned out that my skills as a homeless drifter were just what was needed in such an economic fiasco.
You see, when the stock market crashes, it is not the poor who commit suicide, leaping out skyscraper windows. It is the rich. This proves the rich are weaklings. The poor are strong.
I had no idea I was strong until I saw the rich floundering and acting all weird, as the so-called “Massachusetts Miracle” went belly-up. I blithely paid my bills and raised three step-children (and two afterthoughts of my own), living in the ordinary, boring, hand-to-mouth manner of a homeless drifter. Even though I had a white, picket fence, in a strange way I was still camping.
My own family had been made dysfunctional by the helpful advice of the marriage counselors my parents paid big bucks to be duped by, and though we were close pre-divorce, post-divorce we only talked in a most guarded manner, the few times our paths crossed. However my wife’s family was utterly different. In fact the third date I had with with my wife involved going to a gathering where I felt strangely on-display before some twenty-five complete strangers. It was summer, outdoors by a pool, with all sorts of good food, and a fellow came up to me and inquired, in the broadest Boston accent you can imagine, “Are yah Cahthlick?” (I’m not.) (Maybe it was a test. If that didn’t send me running for the hills, nothing would.)
The entire business of gatherings so large that you need a chart to understand who is related to who, and in what way, was a bit alien to me. After all, to be dysfunctional means you are centered on divorce. These people were focused on a different thing, called marriage.
It introduced a whole new component to camping. My own view was minimalist, going out with little more than what you could carry in a knapsack. However these folk were into bringing the microwave, if you could. Although we all began with tents, as the years passed the standard-of-living, or perhaps standard-of-camping, steadily improved, until I noted that rather than eating in an open area under trees, we were eating in an alley between RV’s. Not that such eating doesn’t involve some roughing-it, because the rain can still pour down.
There was some component to this camping that seemed very important to me. It was the component that places such a value on the gathering that it hardly matters if you “get back to nature.” In fact, if RV’s get any more lavish, people will be able to sell their houses.
Houses are not homes, in sterile suburban neighborhoods where everyone leaves at dawn, (the parents leaving to work, and the children leaving to daycare), and the neighborhood becoming basically a ghost town, until people come back at sunset. Little wonder people have “lived” in such sterile places for years, and never talked with the person next door.
Compared to such emptiness, there is more community in the people tailgating before a football game, than in a gated community. There is more community in a bunch of RV’s in a campground, than in an expensive suburb.
What is the difference? The difference is some component of the word “community”. I would like to suggest the difference is the difference between moving, and stagnation.
Let me put it this way: In the fable of the race between the rabbit and the tortoise, who epitomized stagnation? Was is not the speedy rabbit? The rabbit thought he “had it made”. The rabbit was “ahead”, and wanted to just sit back and reap the pleasure of being ahead. But the turtle was a plugger. He was not attracted to the status quo that left him behind. So he just kept moving. “Slow but steady wins the race” means you keep on moving.
Looking back fifty years, through the brittle and yellowed papers of an unnecessary divorce, I’d have to say my mother was the rabbit, because she didn’t want to camp. She wanted to eat bonbons, chain smoke, and read Agatha Christie. Then, in the end, rather than the peace she craved, she experienced the humiliation of being trampled by a turtle.
Let me put it another way, by writing a new fable: “The race between the snail and the slug”. The snail symbolized the wealthy, with a gated community on their back. The slug carries nothing. Hmm. When I get around to finishing this fable, who will the winner be?
In conclusion, to camp is to renounce comfort, for something better. Sometimes it is the beauty of the wilderness. Other times it is the beauty of a family gathering.
It can be as simple as waiting for the rain to end, and then watching a new and upcoming generation swing.
Or perhaps watch an even newer generation learn to turtle-walk.
Or perhaps watch the young emulate the youngest, and make hilarity of it all, by walking the turtle-walk with the youngest:
Of course, as a dysfunctional, I know how other dysfunctionals feel. They see no hope in the next generation. They think the young are all badly taught by bad teachers, and never do anything but watch video games and text. They are ill-prepared for what gated communities build gates to wall away.
Modern youth are like foolish ducklings paddling behind parents on a lake full of snapping turtles. They will be snapped down by reptilian cruelty, and each time a parent looks back there will one fewer left alive. It is the law of nature.
However, once the sun came out, I was able to wander away from the RV’s and study the bits of wilderness left, and saw something interesting nature had to say in this very subject.
According to the book, a mother duck lays a huge clutch of eggs because the likelihood of survival is slim. A fox or raccoon may find the nest and eat all twelve eggs. Even if they hatch, snapping turtles and big fish will gobble the innocents even as they swim obediently close to their mother. In fact, for a species to survive, a mother and father duck must survive three years, lay 36 eggs, and have only two survive to adulthood, to replace the mother and father when they die. Or so says theory. However, even as I thought about theory, and what it means about the survival of those I hold near and dear, a most audacious mother duck appeared. As soon as she saw me she swiveled and herded her nearly full-grown ducklings the other way, but I clicked a swift picture to prove the impossible: A mother duck laid twelve eggs, they all hatched, and, due to the wisdom of her mothering, they all survived and now all were nearly fully grown.
This is an example of how nature insults socialists. Socialists demand an odd and unnatural equality that insists there is no difference between good parenting and bad. You do not reap what you sow, but rather, if all your ducklings die, it is due to a failure on the part of the government to oppress snapping turtles and foxes. Nature is different. Nature supports snapping turtles and foxes, but states a smart mother duck will reap twelve ducklings.
Camping gets us back to nature, does it not? And one part of nature is that smart parenting is rewarded. Going through the bother of “family values” will be rewarded.
(I fully expect some socialists to attempt to make camping illegal, because they hate evidence that proves their mentality is not liberal, but destructively conservative.)
In the end, it all boils down to the fact that, without a tax-dollar being spent; without a speech being written, without me typing these words, nature is beautiful. We are but dogs on it’s banks.
It stuns us with its ability to surpass our greatest artists and finest thinkers.
And yet natures is merely the creation, not the Creator. It is but a reflection of something higher and finer.
As I reflect upon the Creation, considering the unimaginable beauty of whoever or whatever created, it seems absurd to conclude anything. I am in the presence of power far, far above my head.
But I will timidly venture this:
Go camping. If possible, go camping with in-laws and the in-laws of in-laws. Most especially, go camping with the young.