There are precious few beds that are as comfortable as the floor of a tent camp on a cool summer’s night.
My parents were campers. I expect it was quite a chore for them to accomplish a tent camping expedition with the addition of five active kids.
I guess they really enjoyed it, because I know the kids sure did. Our family did a lot of tent camping, but as my mother got older, she finally decided to purchase a small tow behind camping trailer.
She was in her mid-50s at the time, and I guess she wanted something more comfortable than sleeping on the hard, cold ground.
Or maybe she just got tired of Dad’s feeble attempts to set up a tent.
Although he spent a lot of time in camp, both as an educator and a counselor, my father did not have good relations with tents. In fact, if my father even looked at a tent with lines drawn taunt, it would droop instantly, and hopelessly.
While poking around through some of our old family albums last weekend, I discovered old photos of Mom and Dad while they were camping in Yosemite National Park, in the early 1950s.
There was even a shot of my father, feeding deer out the window of his car, and others of bears climbing on the fenders of tourist’s cars.
The 50s and 60s were popular years for campers, as the mobility afforded by the automobile provided many travelers with instant vacations. The two decades brought Yogi Bear and Jellystone Park to tens of thousands of traveling campers in real life.
The 70s ushered in the era of lightweight materials, and the backpacking craze introduced another whole generation to the lay of the land. Kelty framepacks and lightweight tents, were matched with down sleeping bags and single burner, Svea stoves to cut the weight of a full pack in half. Of course, the advent of lightweight equipment meant there was much more food that could be carried, and we packed it all in.
I’ve often wondered what is the real attraction of camping. Why do people really go to someplace wildly different from home, to sleep on the hard ground while insects buzz about the windows while daring them to step outside. Is there a good reason for giving up a soft bed and a real toilet, in order to sleep with a root under your back and a tent full of snoring bikers parked within hearing range? Most campers have their reasons, and they’re usually glad to share them with anyone who will listen. “Yeah,” they’ll tell you, “we just wanted to get away from it all, and get a little peace and quiet by spending some time alone away from home.”
Human beings are an incredibly curious species. We are all born with an innate sense of discovery, which typically results in an inexplicable need to explore our environment.
Why do they do it? What is it that causes more than 150 million Americans every year to walk out the front door and go hiking, rock climbing, bird-watching, mountain biking, paddling or fishing?
Perhaps it’s because camping and outdoor travel reduces our needs to a minimum. Routine chores such as getting the water, collecting the wood or starting the fire become more interesting, just because it has to be done.
There are also the simple survival contingencies that foster bonds of interdependency among all the participants. Teamwork comes easily, and the ability to enjoy the inter-reliance of the group is a key function of the camping experience. Oddly, teamwork often happens without any system of order, campers just seem to know how to take care of each other. It is instinctual, after all.
Our species spent tens of thousands of years living in the wild, and modern man has only been around for a small fraction of that time. We’ve spent less than 2 percent of our time on earth functioning as members of a ‘civilized society.’ We go outdoors to see the stars and stare at the fire and to hear the night sounds. We don’t actually go there to ‘get away from it all’ we go because we have an inner need to be outdoors, and to foster a reconnection with the earth. We may all be part of a civilized society, but individually we are a part of the pack. We aren’t seeking to get away permanently, we just want to get back to a time and place where we were once very comfortable.
We have an undeniable urge to feel the cool breeze, and to experience the hard ground. We need tall trees surrounding us and to see the dark skies above. We need to wake with the birds, and feel the morning chill at the dawn of a new day. We go out there to recapture our past and to rediscover a piece of ourselves. We all need a little reassurance that we are still wild at heart. It is to be found when we make contact with the hard ground, or as we listen to the loons on the lake, the wind in the trees of the waves splashing on the rocks. Our ancestors spent the majority of their time living in such conditions, and we continue to seek just a small taste of what it must have been like. We all have a need to be wild again, if only for a while. It is in our blood.
If you haven’t been back to camp yet this year, there is still plenty of time. However, the big yellow school buses will be back on the road in less than a month’s time. Have you spent any time in camp yet this year? Have your kids or grandkids watched the stars, or seen their reflection in the still waters of a black lake? I know there will always be time; but truly there’s no better time than the present.
“When man ventures into the wilderness, climbs the ridges, and sleeps in the forest, he comes in close communion with his Creator. When man pits himself against the mountain, he taps inner springs of his strength. He comes to know himself.”
Supreme Court Justice, William O. Douglas
Trout or bass, fish it on the fly
Looking for a new outdoor skill? You may be able to find it in Newcomb this weekend as the Northern Forest Institute brings Adirondack guide, Rick Kovacs back to the Adirondack Interpretive Center to explore the art of fly-fishing on Saturday, Aug. 10.
The event will be hosted at the Adirondack Interpretive Center, located at 5922 State Route 28N, Newcomb, NY 12852.
Participants will also have the chance to practice their technique.
For further information or to register, call 518-582-2000 x 11 or email email@example.com For further info visit www.esf.edu/aic.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.