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For the Love of Camping
I love to camp.
I love everything about it from the smell of the woods to the tired relaxed feeling I get sitting around the fire at night. This love started years ago when I was just a girl. We camped as a family when I was little and that has led to a sincere love of the outdoors. There is something about taking a camping vacation that just gets me excited. It doesn’t matter if it is just a weekend get away or the trip of a lifetime, if it’s camping, I’m ready.
You name it; I have camped in it, a tent, pop-up trailer, travel trailer and even a motor home. When asked which I liked the best, I truly cannot answer that. I will camp in any one of them. Each has attributes that I find appealing and each has a downside to it as well. For me, it isn’t so much what I camp in as long as I get to go camping.
Some of my fondest memories as a child were of camping. Oh, the fun we had. Dad traveled around the state quite a bit for his job. Sometimes he would be gone all week and only come home on the weekends. (Those weekends are a whole other subject and perhaps better suited for a ‘psychology today’ forum.) During the school year our days were full with school and sports but when summer hit, us kids would be full of piss and vinegar from sun up till bedtime. Poor mom, stuck with all of us hanging around the house all day. I think we got in her way in a little bit and upset her routine. She would point that finger at us and say, “Find something to do or I’ll find something for you to do.” That usually got us motivated to go find something; she hated it when we sat in front on the TV all day. We weren’t that large of a family, only 5 kids but we made our presence felt, to be sure. (The neighbors across the street had 10 kids.) What can I say, no birth control pill back in the 50s.
Anyway, during the summer months my folks would load up the trailer and we would accompany dad across the state, staying in campgrounds while he went about his job. Most often dad chose state parks, mainly because we already had a state park sticker and the cost was much less than private campgrounds. Most states have great state parks and Michigan is no exception. Michigan has some of the best scenic parks in the country. The state parks in Michigan are scattered across the whole state and they fit the bill for our family perfectly. Didn’t matter where dad had to go; there was a state campground not too far away.
Camping is a kids dream.
There was always something to do. We let our imaginations run wild. Once, we stayed in the same park for almost a month. The fun we had there. My sister and I built forts in the woods where we would take our baby dolls and play house. Other days, we would pretend that we were Robin Hood and his merry band of thieves. We knew all the kids in the campground and most of the park rangers. I don’t know if they still do this or not, but back then, the park rangers would hold classes about the local wildlife, indigenous foliage, reptiles to look out for, rock collecting and one of our favorites, bugs. To this day, traipsing through the woods still feels magical to me. Instantly transporting me back to my youth, the woods call to me, just like grandmother Willow in the Disney movie Pocahontas.
You know how it is with kids though, sometimes they are never satisfied. We would often complain about not being able to stay in private campgrounds. They had built-in swimming pools. Back in the 60s for a kid who lived in the city, that was a big deal. But we loved the lakes. Most of the time, we found parks that boasted a lake. Our whole family loves to swim and participate in water sports.
As we got a little older, too old for baby dolls and forts in the woods, we started taking two cars, one to pull the trailer and the other to pull the boat. (The added leg room was nice too.) Not a real fancy boat, mind you, but one just big enough to carry the whole family with enough horse power for my dad to teach us all to water-ski. The patience it must have taken for that astounds me, even to this day.
Those were the days, my friend…as the song goes.
No doubt about it.
So when it came time to take my own kids on a summer vacation, my first and only thought, was camping. Camping certainly turned out to be more of a chore as a parent. It’s a lot of work, but oh, the joy is still there. Taking my kids, when they were little, into the woods and seeing the awe in their eyes that mirrors the awe in mine, brings that motherly smile to my face. You know the smile I am talking about; it starts in your heart and softens the eye before lifting the corners of your mouth. Swimming with babies is truly a delightful experience. Those playful images of our happy children are implanted in our brain where they will remain forever. Now my kids are young adults and camping is still what they want to do on a warm summer weekend. And oddly enough, they want us to tag along.
Eventually, we may try another small motor home, but for now? We camp in a tent. Not just any tent, though. We have a tent that is as almost as big as my living room. Funny thing though, the larger the tent, the less room we have available for any of the kids. We figure they should provide their own accommodations now. My two greatest pet peeves about camping in a tent are solved with this tent. I want to stand up inside the tent. This, I can do now, even in all four corners. The other is; I do not want to sleep on the ground. Well, a double-decker queen size air mattress took care of that quite nicely. I even have closets. We consider this RVing in a tent.
Camping with the family has grown from that one single camp site when we were kids to about 10 lots now. It does make it a little harder to plan family camping, needing that many lots next to each other, but what a riot when we all get together. My siblings, their grown children with their spouses and kids all set aside one extended weekend every summer to camp together. My mother so enjoyed camping and she loved the idea of family camping; this one weekend when the whole family camped together. She has passed on now but we still feel her there and dad still comes out to join us all during the day.
This is our family reunion.
This is how we celebrate our family. We swim together; we take hikes together. We drink a little, eat too much, and laugh a lot. We enjoy talking around the campfire while the kids play cards under makeshift lights for half the night. We play together. The bonds that this playfulness produces within our family will last a lifetime and beyond to the next generation. What started out as my parent’s simple need, to keep five active kids occupied throughout the summer, has turned into a wonderful legacy bestowed upon every member of the family.