Why we can’t not go camping

Three days after returning from our cross-country trip, while we were still rummy from jet-lag, we packed up and took the kids camping.  This sounds crazy – and, in fact, it is crazy, if I really stop to think about it – but we couldn’t not do it.  We’ve done these summer camping trips for a long time, with a core group of good friends, and though the makeup of the group has changed somewhat over the years, the trips are always more fun than they are work (and camping is a lot of work indeed).

We went to China Camp, on San Pablo Bay, and it was beautiful.

The weather was perfect – enough sun to make you happy, enough wind to keep the mosquitos mostly at bay.  Because everyone assumes that all California State Parks are closed for budget cuts, there were hardly any other campers there, meaning we had the bathrooms almost to ourselves.  (Yes, bathrooms.  I am not as rugged as you may have thought.)  The boys had a blast,  and managed to get through the weekend with only a few bruises and no visible poison oak.  (I, on the other hand, pulled a muscle in my shoulder while reaching for something in the tent and also developed a huge, ego-destroying zit on my upper lip.  I feel partly like a very young geriatric and partly like a very old adolescent.)

But there were all the great smells of camping: the woodsmoke, the mixture of oak and bay leaves and sun-baked dirt that you get in Northern California state parks, the coffee brewed French-press style in the morning, the faintly salty breezes as we hiked along a trail by the marsh.  There were the sights, too: the lacework of leaves above our campsite, the sky-blue ribbon of water in the bay, the tawny hills that house tiny little wildflowers, in yellow and Pepto-Bismol pink and variegated shades of purple.  And there were people we care about who have shared so much with us over the years.  One of those people was missing, and it was hard; there were many moments when I was very sad thinking about how she wasn’t there to kick back in her camping chair and pull out the tons of snacks and food she would always buy for everyone and smile her great smile and visibly relish the entire experience, as she always did.  I did not realize, a year ago, that it was the last time I’d ever go camping with her.

I guess you rarely know that the last time is the last time.  Life does not usually offer you that much clarity.  And maybe it’s better that way; I don’t know.

But I think, when it comes right down to it, that this is why camping is worth the effort for me.  It’s not about the smell of oak trees or the sparkling bay waters off in the distance, as nice as those things are.  It’s about the other people.  It’s about having a long stretch of time in which to be with those people, without the distractions of work and traffic and cell phones.  It’s about having the chance to cement those relationships, filling in the cracks that inevitably appear simply because of the passage of time and because of all your individual busy-ness.  And when you pack up the tent and leave to go home, those friendships are stronger than they were when you entered.   That’s what it’s all about, and why it’s worth the effort.

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