My Backyard Wilderness

It’s 9:30 p.m. I am writing on a laptop in the middle of my backyard, sitting beside a flickering campfire. I asked my wife to go camping with me tonight, but she told me that she would rather eat a live chicken than go camping.

Those were her exact words.

I can’t explain what made me go camping in my own yard. Maybe it’s that we’ve been stuck at home for 100-some days.

Maybe it’s because a friend of mine died last week, still in his mid-forties, from heart trouble. Maybe I’m starting to realize that my own funeral isn’t exactly getting further away.

Camping is in my blood. I own a lot of camping gear that I’ve gathered over the years, but I haven’t gone camping in ages because I haven’t had time. I’ve been busy working. But now that the world has come to a halt with the novel coronavirus, I dusted off my gear.

When I was growing up we went camping because it was cheap. And because my father was under the perpetual idea that we were still living through the Great Depression.

He grew up with parents who survived the Depression. And I think they missed the memo about it ending. After all, there were no government officials knocking on doors to say, “Good afternoon, folks, Depression’s over!”

So my father kept right on pinching pennies and using Depression-era phrases his parents used. Phrases I was too young to understand, like, “Eat your supper, there are people in China who would give anything to eat your supper.”

The first time he ever said this I just looked at my plate and marveled. I had no idea meatloaf was so popular in China.

We camped multiple times per year, sometimes multiple times per week. Beer was involved.

My father used to arrange my Little League camping trips on Mister Tolbertson’s nearby farm. We would hike for miles through the woods just to pitch camp in the middle of a field where Tolbertson raised fresh cattle fertilizer. The smell would get so bad that some of the team dads would be forced to crack open multiple cans of Pabst.

I personally know a lot of women who don’t like camping. Take my mother. She never technically admitted her hatred, but she could go entire weekends in the woods without speaking to my father, other than to offer helpful navigational tips like: “We’ve hiked past this same godforsaken tree three times!”

So it was no surprise that after my father died, my mother never went tent camping again. Thus, I was responsible for continuing the tradition.

As a teenager, I bought a nice tent and a fancy camp stove that could boil water in under a minute. I camped a lot throughout those aimless years, sometimes spending entire weekends watching water boil.

I camped throughout my twenties and thirties. I even went on some solo camping trips in Arizona, Utah, and Colorado with only my dog to keep me warm. But somewhere along the line, the exotic thrill of camping sort of faded.

Or maybe I just got older.

I hate to admit it, but I like a soft bed, air conditioning, and a refrigerator that is well-stocked with anything but Canada Dry.

A few years ago, I decided to get back into camping. My wife and I had a wedding to attend in Raleigh, North Carolina. So I came up with this romantic idea that instead of booking a hotel, we would camp underneath the stars, drink cocoa, and eat food grilled on a stove that boiled water in under a minute. It was going to be great.

I booked our campsite online, sight unseen.

When we rolled into the campground, we discovered our site was located beside an interstate overpass. This was not a wooded recreational area like the website suggested. The park was a huge, all-concrete, Soviet-style RV facility, filled with eighteen-wheeler mansions that were the size of GM plants.

“I think that’s our campsite,” said my wife pointing to a sliver of hard earth.

Our campsite was located between two 50-foot tall RVs with the same electricity requirements of British Columbia. I pitched our tent between the huge vehicles, we were only feet from the RVs’ sewage lines.

At night, we could hear each RV’s sewage activities, and we could smell them, too.

Also, the temperature that night dropped to below freezing, which I assured my wife was a freak occurrence in North Carolina during mid-January.

When I awoke that morning, there was a layer of frost on our nylon walls. Outside the tent I met three cheerful old men, dressed in scarves, who said, “Thought were gonna have to take a hairdryer to you.”

My wife and I only had a few hours to get ready for the wedding. We trotted to the bathhouses, but the bathrooms were closed for renovations. In a last-ditch effort to shower, we used a damp washcloth and some soap in 32-degree weather while my wife explained in great detail where she was going to hide my body when this was all over.

So you can imagine how my wife reacted when I told her that, since I am not getting any younger, I wanted to go camping in our own backyard tonight. If for no other reason than because I’m glad to still be on this earth.

She went out and bought a live chicken.

25 comments

  1. christina - June 23, 2020 6:23 am

    Thanks for a good laugh, Sean. I’m with Jamie though… don’t envy you at all!

    Reply
  2. Sandi. - June 23, 2020 6:51 am

    Sean, you can probably hear me all the way in your backyard, because I’m laughing soooo hard and loud! This was really, truly amusing! At least you’re camping in warm weather this time! Oh, too funny.

    Reply
  3. Steve Winfield [Lifer] - June 23, 2020 7:44 am

    We camped a lot. Dad had a friend with a lake house on Logan Martin. We slept in a camper shell in his yard. Fished all day, cooked on a Coleman stove, dad polished off a bunch of Schlitz. Time of our lives.
    I haven’t slept in a tent in 30 years.
    I used to laugh at old folks in RV’s. Now that I’m an old folk I’d like to be able to afford one. Wake up near the water with one of your books. Watching Oscar bark at fish. That’s living man.

    Reply
  4. Susan Adams - June 23, 2020 9:41 am

    I’m the camper in our family. My husband likes a bed and a shower every night so doesn’t join me on backpacking trips. I’ve been thinking of pitching my tent and spending the night in our backyard. I may just do it.

    Reply
  5. Carolyn from Georgia - June 23, 2020 11:12 am

    WATCH Jim Gaffiigan’s funny camping clip on youtube!!! LOL!!! Great story Sean as always!!!

    Reply
  6. Ann - June 23, 2020 11:39 am

    Ahhhhh…welcome humor…thank you…and thank YOU Jamie!

    Reply
  7. marisastewart - June 23, 2020 11:45 am

    Nothing like starting the day with a smile. Thank you — did your wife let you share her chicken or did she fry it and eat it all?

    Reply
  8. Marilyn - June 23, 2020 11:54 am

    I have a camping story too. Four kids and two adults piled into a small pickup after a storm came up and drenched the tent! The locals said they really needed the rain, but why was it that every time we went camping it was sure to rain? Thanks for bringing up the memories. Your story made me laugh while drinking my coffee, and now I’m ready for the day. Y’all have a great day.

    Reply
  9. Catherine Deloney - June 23, 2020 12:02 pm

    Haha…don’t quit camping. Even if just in your own back yard. Nothing beats the smell of a campfire and just sitting there staring at it. My husband and I have camper for years..
    .though we gave up tents long ago. We used to tent camp w our horses and dog. Loved those days, but one stormy night during a ride where we camped at friends house.
    .rain thunder and lighting, they suggested we stay in their camper. We fought them on it, but our tent finally washed away and we found ourselves tucked in and cozy and dry and the last words before we drifted off to the sound of rain on the roof was “this isn’t so bad” . So…enters our first horse trailer w living quarters right before a trip on a national trail ride at blackwater, freezing cold and we had heat, nice bed, and bath, fridge and warm coffee . Looking out we felt real pain for the tent campers. Then…upgrade to the castle of a horse trailer … Family actually fought to stay in it when they came to visit. It was beautiful. Then a motor home then a bigger motorhome, 4 TV’s, king bed, L shape sectional, fireplace, residential refrigerator, surround sound and now we’re back to a smallish 30′ camper. Maybe were on our way back to a tent and real camping. Who knows. But, we love camping.

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  10. Brenda - June 23, 2020 12:38 pm

    That was great!

    Reply
  11. Beth Baswell - June 23, 2020 1:00 pm

    GREAT stuff!!! You make me laugh every single day!! Like your mother, I do not like camping in a tent. Tyou so much for that!!

    Reply
  12. Mike - June 23, 2020 2:56 pm

    You reminded me of the time my brother, who died recently, and I went camping behind our house. We were about eight years old and camped about two hundred yards from the house. During the night, we heard some noise like something walking around outside. He took of and left me there with the fire and everything to take care of. We knew there was some monster or killer on the loose. The next morning we found out that Bill Bedsole’s bull got out during the night. That took care of our story and our fear. That was about sixty years ago. Miss my brother and the good times we had. Happy camping!

    Reply
  13. Naomi - June 23, 2020 3:32 pm

    I can’t even explain how much I hate camping. When I was a Girl Scout, we camped out frequently and I didn’t like it then. When I had children, we would go camping once in a while. All I did was cook and clean while my children were having fun. The last time I went camping was probably 25-30 years ago. I had a lady friend who wanted to go camping in Mobile, AL. We had given away all of our camping gear when our children left home, so I had to borrow a tent from my step son. When we got to the campground and finally got the tent up and put all of our clothes inside, there was a tsunami. It hadn’t rained in Mobile in three months, not until we erected our tent. I had to go to the laundrymat to dry out our clothes and then roll up the soaking wet tent and find a hotel for us to stay in. The tent was still wet when we got home so my husband had to unroll it and erect it so that it could dry out. I don’t even want anyone talking to me about going camping.

    Reply
  14. Joy Debusk - June 23, 2020 4:36 pm

    I think camping makes you feel young again. It’s easier to appreciate all the nature around you with every sight and sound more evident in the quiet solitude of the wilderness. We now camp with comfort in a small TT but spend most of our time outside on hikes through the woods appreciating all that surrounds us.

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  15. Linda Moon - June 23, 2020 5:41 pm

    Funerals of all of us are always potentially closer-by than further away. There’s always the juxtaposition of our days: one day lived and one day less to live. I’m very sorry about the loss of your too-young friend. Go camping again like you did when you were young with your father. We have a saying in our family: “too old, too sick, or too dead”. We do a lot of adventurous and fun stuff and will keep it up until we’ve reached one of those categories. I am glad you haven’t reached one of them yet, Sean, and that you are still on the planet!

    Reply
  16. Chasity Davis Ritter (Alicia’s Cousin) - June 23, 2020 5:43 pm

    Dear Sean, my favorite cousin that I’ve talked about in my last few comments was going to go camping this weekend too. She had plans to take her Dads ashes with her as the last time they spoke he told her when this is over and he could be taken out of the nursing home he wanted to go camping and fishing with her. She was gonna take him for father’s day. But maybe like your freak cold weather we ended up having rain this weekend. Yeah I know rare for Oklahoma this time of year. She was once again disappointed ( I mean seriously how much can she take this year??) but she came home from work Friday after being depressed all day long and her amazing wonderful husband told her to come into the garage he needed to show her something. There he had the tent all set up. Air mattress filled and ready to go. Party lights strung and her favorite drink already in the blender. I told her best of all worlds.. air conditioning and indoor plumbing!! Maybe it wasn’t the lake and there wasn’t fishing involved but she still took her dad camping for father’s day and no love chickens were harmed. Love you Sean tell Jamie hello from Oklahoma

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  17. Linda Foshee - June 23, 2020 5:53 pm

    Great story, Sean. I’m with your wife on this one. Did she eat raw chicken or did she fry it?

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  18. Becky Souders - June 23, 2020 6:56 pm

    I am a 77-year-old woman who grew up camping with family and my husband and I and our young family camped for the very reasons you listed. Interestingly enough, yesterday I donated all our camping gear to our local charity warehouse. Since my husband died, I said I would camp anywhere there was room service. However, I do understand your wanting to be outside and perhaps sleep under the stars. I also understand your wife’s comments.

    Reply
  19. Nancy M - June 23, 2020 7:22 pm

    My parents didn’t camp but I loved camping with the Girl Scouts. My husband didn’t want to camp until our sons were in Boy Scouts. We camped many times, first in tents, then a pop-up trailer (which didn’t “pop up!”) LOL!
    After our boys grew up, we bought a 13 foot “tiny trailer,” then a 26 foot and camped, or RV’ed by ourselves. As time marched on, my knees and his back forced us to stop camping. I miss it.

    Reply
  20. MAM - June 23, 2020 8:09 pm

    Thank goodness my parents didn’t camp. I think Daddy had had enough of “camping” in two World Wars and mother was a city girl. My mother, however, was a Girl Scout leader, and Girl Scouts are required to camp, or at least they used to be. We camped maybe once or twice a year, and it was ALWAYS on a Friday night, and as a good Catholic, I couldn’t eat those delicious-smelling hot dogs or hamburgers. I would sit by myself and eat tuna right out of the can. When I got married, we bought a VW camper van. At least we were off the ground! That sort of camping was OK, but… And I’m still mad at him for not cooking the only fish that got caught once, and I’m the one who caught it. The next time we opened the door of the VW, we discovered the fish had been left inside the “sink.” YUCK! Now, thank goodness, I’m too OLD to go camping. If i got down on the ground, we would need a winch to get me up! P.S. What did you do with the live chicken?

    Reply
  21. Helen De Prima - June 23, 2020 8:22 pm

    I’ve never been able to get my husband to go camping since a long-ago experience of pitching his pup tent in a patch of poison ivy. Also, he doesn’t like snakes. Maybe I’ll follow your example and unroll a sleeping bag in our back yard — take my chances with the neighborhood bears and coyote and fisher . . . Or maybe not.

    Reply
  22. Anne - June 24, 2020 2:56 pm

    You do have a gift. Last weekend, we camped in our backyard for two nights. Four grandchildren – 12, 8, 6 and 5. We had a blast. S’mores. Hide and seek in the dark with flashlights. Of course, we had a queen size blow up bed and three fans. We’re making memories. Keep writing.

    Reply
  23. Robert Chiles - June 26, 2020 12:13 am

    I remember backpacking with our daughter when she was three (now 32). She always had instant oatmeal for breakfast from the microwave. So she couldn’t figure out how there was going to be breakfast in a thicket of balsam trees halfway to Shining Rock. And my wife and I loved camping (at Shining Rock) with the little red spiders (as tiny as pepper) in your scrambled eggs. Good times!

    Reply
  24. Tommy - June 26, 2020 3:24 am

    My esposa told me that our youngest would request going camping & i would say, after 22 years of the Reserve components i’ve had my share of 🏕. I don’t remember that but that’s about my outlook.

    Reply
  25. Nancy - August 3, 2020 5:04 pm

    I grew up in the woods of North Alabama. I never wanted to go camping but did a few times with my Air Force Reserve unit. That’s when we were told that the state bird of Michigan was the mosquito. It was true for us although it might not always be.
    Fast forward many years. My husband was into camping so I thought I would try to participate. Tents were a major pain, so we bought a rooftop tent for the Jeep. You pull down the ladder and a tent pops up like one of those fancy greeting cards. I’m not as young as I used to be, so I have to climb to the top and fall in face first, being careful to take off my glasses first. Then I have to go down butt first. Nighttime calls of nature are tricky. So far, he seems to choose places that are so cold my teeth chatter even wearing all the clothes I brought (including Uggs) and using all the covers. So now we’re looking for a small camping vehicle.

    Reply

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