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.