Friday, September 28, 2007

Once More to the Woods

Today I end what I estimate has been nearly a decade-long drought of no camping. It's true—it's been so long since I went camping that I can't even remember when I last did it; I can only conjecture that it was around the time I graduated high school.

It has been a shameful ten years for this boy, who grew up camping almost on a monthly basis. I love all types of camping, from the state park, drive-in-with-a-cooler-and-a-piñata, picnic-table-and-tent-slab-provided affair my family enjoyed twice a year or so (spring and fall in Texas, when it isn't too blazing hot or too dang cold), to the pack-your-stuff-in, leave-no-trace, pack-your-stuff-out-again extravaganzas of my Boy Scout career. And don't forget the annual Father and Sons Camp Out—a spectacle of soda and lighter fluid and burning marshmallows1—nor the summer camp adventures at El Rancho Cima: a week lazing around the river, crossing the dam barefoot, swinging the suspension bridge back and forth with coordinated effort, playing horseshoes, and hiking up Appetite Hill each night to the dining hall. Oh, I'll never forget that first year when we all got sicker 'n dogs and my dad and Joel's dad drove up with pizza to pull us out of our funk. And I'll never forget that last year when me and Will worked it so we didn't have to take any merit badge classes and we lazed around all day building fires and goofing off.

Oh Mother Nature, where have I been? What has kept me from thy sweet embrace?

It isn't that I haven't tried to go camping in the past years; it's just that it hasn't worked out. My only real chances have been during my already quite short trips home, and things never seemed to come together the way they should to make it a viable trip. You need the right people, and the right attitude—basically that boils down to a bunch of good friends or family members with much more ambition than is deemed reasonable. And here's the reason for that: because going camping sounds good when you say it, but when you get down to committing, to booking a spot and gathering up enough gear and planning menus and fronting the cash, your ambition wanes. You have to have a surplus, enough to get you out the door after everyone is finally ready an hour or so after go-time, after set-backs and back-outs and time-offs. But it's like running—getting out the door is the hardest part. Once you're there you can't imagine being anywhere else.

And it isn't like I haven't been outdoors. I've done my share of day hikes and stargazing, of barbequing, shiskebabing, and slow roasting. But there's something special about getting to a place near dusk, setting up camp, sitting up late around a fire, and then getting up the next morning to really see where you are for the first time—to finally get your bearings among the scattering of trees, to put images to the divots and rills merely felt under your feet the night before.

The tension has been building. I've been talking more and more about outdoorsy things in past years, from hiking up the local mountain to hitting the Appalachian Trail to biking across Europe. I've become a voracious reader of travel writing of all kinds in a subconscious (until this moment) attempt to fill the hole in my life, like itching a phantom limb. I sleep with my windows open. I've filled my Christmas list with sleeping bags and tents and boots and backpacks. But it's all talk at the end of the day, right? It's all "kissing through a handkerchief," as the venerable Dr. Seely averred in class one day.2

Well no more! In little more than an hour I set off with my local scout troop to spend a day and a night and a day in the wilderness. The dirth ends tonight in a fury of campfire cooking, stake pounding, and pole lashing. Wish me luck, my great friends!

1Well, the years we actually made it there were filled with junk food and fire. Most years it seems one of us boys got sick and we ended up turning back halfway there to spend the night camped out in the garage. Oh, those days in the Mother Ship, reciting the Grover Boy Creed: "We're Grover Boys, and we love our momma, and we love ketchup!" Life was simple then.
2He was referring to reading Homer in any language but the original Greek, but the idea is the same.

1 comment:

Janssen said...

I love Dr. Seely. I am a smidge jealous that you are now, albeit in a round about way, related to him. Fortuantely, I have the Tates to make sure that I see them on a frequent basis.