When I was a kid, my parents used to go camping with us a lot. Sometimes we stayed in a tent, other times a cabin, sometimes we drove across the country in a borrowed big blue van to see Yellowstone, where my mom would yell at us to put down the barbie-dolls and look out the window. That was back in the day when a six-year-old didn't have to be strapped down in a seatbelt, so my sister and I would play on the floor of the van, building sets for the dramas going on in barbie-dollville. Who could be bothered to look at national forests when our little people were getting kidnapped, married and having babies?
These frequent camping trips are something my parents did right in raising us. There is nothing like waking up in a cabin or a tent and having breakfast outside among trees, preferably beside some water too. When we weren't driving cross country, we would camp in local national parks, like Tishomingo or Tombigbee. Tishomingo was my favorite because there were huge rocks with tiny crevices that we could hide in. And let me tell you: maybe it wasn't safe, but my parents let us wander. We'd often go with another family with kids, and all us kids would live out all sorts of dramas in those rocks and woods. We just knew that we had to be back to the campsite when it started to get dark. That was about the only rule.
On one of these trips, one night I went outside with a couple of the kids and one of the parents. I can't remember which parent; in a way, they were all peripheral characters on these trips. The three of us sat outside on the back porch of the cabin, two of us on a swing, one of us on a chair. We told "chain story" for what felt like hours. The only light we had was what would leak out through the window of the cabin window, so it was pretty dark. And it was scary too. That was the best part. If I could remember which parent this was, I'd be sure to tell him/her thanks for playing "chain story" with us so late into the night.
For a few years, I was a girlscout, and I went on several weekend trips to girlscout camp with my dad and my best friend's dad. Both of them were the "superdads" of our troop. We'd camp there in the yurt-style tents, the ones with a wooden floor and heavy canvas tops that zipped down both ends. There were four cots in each tent, so my dad and I would be on one side, my friend and her dad on the other. My best friend was an amazingly gifted farter, so she'd hold them in right until she thought we were going to sleep. Then she'd let one fly, and we'd all crack up, even our dads. She was this small dainty blond girl, but oh could she ever fart.
Our dads were kinda hard-core campers, so they always picked the campsite that was farthest from the dining hall. It probably wasn't even a quarter mile away, but as a kid, it felt much farther. I think they probably felt like our girlscout camp tents were too cushy, so they wanted us to tough it out by having the farthest hike from the dining hall. One night after dinner, we'd forgotten to bring our flashlights, so we had to make our way back to our camp in the pitch black. Maybe our dads weren't scared at all, but they sure didn't let on to us that fact. They sufficiently convinced us that there were all kinds of wild creatures lurking around the trees, slobbering and panting, waiting for young girlscout meat. And wasn't there a story told as well about a suicide in these woods? A hanging? On this exact same path we were on? Can't you hear the creaking of the rope in the trees and the crows circling? Is that the squeak of rats trying to nibble on the flesh of the deceased?
I loved that stuff. Loved it. So now as an adult, one of my happiest smells is that of a campfire. If I'm driving and catch a whiff, I'll roll the windows down and breath it in. Ted and I don't camp nearly as much as we should. We both realized that we're too old for tent-camping, on the cold hard ground. No fun in that. We do like cabins though, especially soft and warm hotels, like the one we're staying in right now.
Ted's working on a small film right now that is shooting near the town of ZigZag, one of my favorite place-names of all time. The hotel where the crew is staying is pretty dreamy, so Abe and I drove up yesterday to join them. I slept so hard in this pitch-black room on a bed with a down comforter in a room with a flat-screen tv and fancy bathroom that we decided to stay an extra night. We watched Kathy Griffin before bed, slept until 10, breakfast at 11, beautiful hikes along a creek and marsh, and now naptime for Abey Babey while Daddy works and Momma blogs.
This is exactly my kind of "camping." This afternoon, Abe declared to me that he is Little Bear, I'm Momma Bear, and Daddy is Father Bear. These are our names. I'm hoping he's inspired by these woods we're in and not just the tv show. No matter though: I realized while surrounded by these mossy woods with fern carpets, these beautiful Oregon forests, that I hope Abe and any future Rooney children fall in love with nature the way I did as a kid.
Don't worry: we'll be sure to leave the nice hotels sometimes too, though I can't garantee a tent. We'll go the yurt or cabin route, with as much freedom to roam as my inner mother-hen can tolerate. And I'll be content to be a peripheral adult too, letting the woods, rocks, streams, and campfires take center stage. I'm looking forward to hot chocolate and "chain stories" on a swing, hopefully one that creaks eerily so I can tell that ghost story I heard once at girlscout camp...