This summer my kids and I went camping twice in the mountains of Virginia. My wife strategically extricated herself from these adventures and I was a man alone in the woods with three young children. Sounds like a nightmare, right? But I found a way to get through it and even find myself wanting to go again. Am I crazy? Probably.
Don’t get me wrong, we did not hike out into the wilderness to pitch a tent. I’m not that crazy. We are strictly car campers in that we pitch a tent next to our car in a campground. As long as I am the only one big enough to carry anything more than a sleeping bag, this family will not be venturing farther than our car can take us.
One thing I realize about camping trips is that there will never be a dull moment for me. Setting up camp, maintaining camp, and cooking take up all the time of the day. It’s better for me to realize this going in so that I will not expect any quiet time for musing on my relationship to Nature.
On the other hand, my kids are deathly afraid of encountering boredom amidst the trees and beyond the reaches of electricity. (This despite my constant reminder that, ‘Boredom is the beginning of Nirvana.’) To combat boredom they each brought a backpack overstuffed with things to amuse them such as toys, books and drawing pads. They lugged these playpacks in and out of the car like overworked mountain porters. Of course, once we got there they never played with any of it. It was still important to have it there when I needed to point out that they had ‘plenty of things to keep them busy’ if need be.
Turns out my kids didn’t have that tough of a time figuring out what to do. The campground offers a unique space where they have free rein to walk around outside the watchful eyes of daddy and this is apparently entertainment enough. I suspend my rather irrational fear of a woodsy pedophile snatching all three of them up into a tent and they have a grand old time just walking around the campground loop. Another thing that keeps them busy is looking for firewood or that perfect stick for roasting marshmallows. I don’t need to ask twice for help in firewood collection. They all have a deeply vested interest in the fire later that night because it offers the opportunity for s’mores.
I probably should not have told them about the presence of black bears in the campground. My oldest son, 10 years old, seemed to be the only one to believe me when I explained that back bears weren’t actually that big. No doubt my younger children noted that black bears may not be that big, but they are still bigger than them. I assured them black bears were afraid of people and that they would try to avoid humanity at all costs. I read them the sign that said a black bear had never attacked a human in Virginia. It seemed impossible that we would even see a bear, much less tussle with it, and I wondered whether I should even go over what the signs said to do in the event of an aggressive bear and present that as a possibiity to the kids, but I couldn’t resist. Besides, what if a bear did attack? Hadn’t I read about that somewhere? I told them the park service signs said we should never run away from a bear. We should make a lot of noise with pots and pans or even clapping as loud as we can to scare it off. Lastly, the park service recommended, “If attacked, fight back!” Spurred by this advice I assured my children that I would kick a bear in the face with my giant hiking boots if it dared to attack any of us. Miraculously, they seemed to find some kind of solace in that.
Aside from eating and firebuilding the other activity that kept us busy on this trip was hiking. I prefer to call it ‘taking a walk’ as my daughter seems to have an irrational fear of the word ‘hike’, but no matter what I call it there is no shortage of complaints whenever we set out on our way. To combat this negativity I have always employed one primary method that is centered around the concept of food. I bring lots of it. I hold out the idea of a tasty snack in front of them whenever they may have trouble putting one foot in front of the other. I have never seen this inducement fail to work. The only trick is to bring enough snacks to last the entire trip. This year I noticed a new way to help my kids get through a hike. As soon as we started out all three of my kids wanted to be in front. Apparently forgetting about the perils of wild animals big and small, all of them wanted to run out in front of everyone else on the trail and be the leader. They argued and ran ahead trying to get in front of each other. This would have been the moment for me to step in and remind them about taking turns, but before I got a chance to catch up with them I thought to myself that this is the first time I am walking in back of everyone instead of in the front. My kids were practically running the trail and we were making good time. Competition had provided a great motivating force for getting up the trail and I was not going to do anything that might slow them down. As they ran ahead and the sound of their bickering retreated further into the forest I found myself alone with the grand silence of Nature. I had found peaceful quietude after all.
This camping stuff wasn’t so bad, we may just have to come back next year – just don’t tell the kids yet!