With my eyes still closed, I could smell the remnants of last night’s fire coming in through the screen walls of the tent, and its dying crackle sung in fresh syncopation with the morning birds. Swirling orange and yellow permeated my closed lids, telling me the sun was waiting. I noticed a cool air touching my nose and cheeks, so I snuggled down deeper into the warm, heavy USMC sleeping bag, allowing the weight of my still resting body to sink down into the air mattress.
After a few moments of bliss, I opened my dreamy eyes and slowly entered the upright world, pulled on my Patriots hoodie, and put on my glasses. I slipped my double-socked feet into my boots and heard the long zip as I opened the tent’s door. A few shakes of the cast iron poker woke the fire which was a few steps away, so I added some dry oak logs to it then lit the pilot light on the Coleman propane coffee pot which I prepared the night before. The coffee’s steam mixed with the awoken fire’s smoke announced our presence to the new day. We planned to hike the trails in Carolina Beach State Park and find the river.
The night before, we had a few Pabst Blue Ribbons, and the dips in the chair seats were speckled with graham cracker crumbs from the s’mores, thankfully unbeknownst to the night’s creatures. We listened to Janis Joplin and Zac Brown Band on my little camp radio, and laughed at each other’s jokes while we simply sat and occasionally caught ourselves staring into the fire. We crept our chairs closer to each other as the dark enveloped our family, and the boys became friends, ready to fight off the bears. Yankee, my German shepherd was twisted into a tight ball like plated spaghetti on his own camp chair, eyes closed, ears open.
Lately, I’ve noticed the air is easier to breathe, and the V-shapes of geese are long gone, happily on their way to a place with no frost and warmer sun. Occasionally, I can smell a pine-fed fire outside, and my light pink sweater is closer to the back door than it was a week or so ago. It’s camping time.
I just posted on my Facebook a question: “I love primitive camping. It’s my favorite hobby in the whole world. Agree?” Some said yes some said no while the conversation reached its delicate fingers into my memories and showed me snapshots of all the different times I’ve camped. I went as a kid quite a bit, and as an adult with my own kids. If we don’t get to go for a long time, we will put up the tent in the back yard and sleep in it. It’s all about the air and the freedom and the reconnection with our human roots. I haven’t backpack camped yet, but it’s on the list.
I remember one time we pulled up to a rough-looking site. It was very remote and dark. I sat in the truck and hesitated to get out.
“Let’s just do it, Mom,” Sammy said. He was 14.
We’ve also been to more congested sites like certain Kampgrounds of America (KOA) and some private campgrounds closer to the Carolina coast where all you could hear was the mechanical whirring coming off the multiple camper generators. I’m not a fan of camping amongst strangers, but we still had fun. It’s just more relaxing to be out there where others can’t watch you sleep, and where you can be completely free.
The food we have while camping tastes better, like pancakes made on the cookstove and the cast iron, crispy bacon. It truly fuels a camper, and the coffee just seeps into your soul as you sip it by the fire wrapped in a warm, old blanket. Mostly, though, anyone who’s camped with their love knows there’s nothing in the world like alone time in a tent. Roger agreed. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, other cool things will happen while camping.
Baylee learned to walk during the summer of 2007 when we were staying at a semi-remote site at Carolina Beach State Park. In his white Onsie that contrasted his summer skin, his little bare toes grasped the nylon floor of the tent, fingers waving in the air like a young chimpanzee, squealing away. It happened right before we packed up to go home, our final act as a family camping with Roger. It is one of my most treasured moments with him.
I still have the camping tag we hung in the van during that little family trip, and the scent of smoke still lingers on our tent. There also exists a photo of Roger half-naked in a five-dollar hammock he was so proud to find trees for. (I will keep that to myself.) I just knew it would fall to the ground. I was wrong. But what’s best, is all I have to do is close my eyes and I can hear the boys giggle, smell that sweet morning fire, and feel that cool air on my face early in the morning.