The Great Outdoors

I’m writing this from the cozy comfort of campsite #32 somewhere in the lesser hills surrounding Chattanooga, Tennessee. More precisely, I’m supposed to be at campsite #32, but it’s dark out there and it’s muggy-hot with invisible bugs swirling around my head and making threatening trash-talk type statements in my ear about how they’re gonna cut me. So now I’m writing this from the air conditioned shower house. No, I’m not sitting on the toilet, don’t be gross. I’m standing by the sink.

My family camped a lot when I was young, except for a few years in which my dad was not allowed to go camping due to one bad experience. Apparently, this one bad camping weekend was so atrocious that it got him banned from camping. By the United Nations. Or by my mom, I can’t remember. My therapist says we’re not ready to talk about that yet. He could just be trying to get me to stop avoiding the big issues like my death fear of light fixture stores for these silly side anecdotes about camping.

I don’t consider myself a purist about much of anything, so when I pitch my pop-up crawl-in Taj Mahal next to a camper with two and a half baths, I’m not too proud to mooch their wireless internet connection without them knowing. See? Already you’re thinking I might be a little bit of a hypocrite since I’m in my back-to-nature mode with my laptop humming. I fully embrace the portability of electronic devices if it makes camping a lot less like…well, sleeping outside without any of the comforts of home.

My girls and I camp fairly often and we rough it, slightly. You may have noticed that the previous sentence doesn’t contain any mention of my husband, since in his mind roughing it means the cable television got knocked out by a storm and he had to put on a DVD; as he often points out, “I have a job and pay a mortgage for the express purpose of not having to sleep outside.”

Yes, we sleep in a tent, but there’s an inflatable airbed between our butts and the cold, hard ground and we’re positioned close enough to the site’s power outlet so the kids can watch their portable DVD player. Yes, we cook over a campfire, but there’s also a mini propane stove standing by for those times when I’d like to eat sometime within the next hour instead of waiting for the fire to be ready. There’s coffee in the mornings, and that is roughing it because it’s Taster’s Choice instant granules instead of my usual Keurig Caribou Coffee pods. There’s wine, but it came in a cardboard box; may you never fully know the extent of my suffering.

Basically, my approach to camping is the same as my approach to probably everything else in the world: why make it be stupid if you don’t have to? At the neighboring campsite, I got to watch a husband and wife argue for the better part of thirty minutes about how to pitch their tent. There was profanity involved, and that’s not even counting the few times I swore under my breath while watching them struggle. They finally wrangled the thing into a tent shape, sat down angrily in their lawn chairs next to it, and aren’t speaking to each other. It’s going to be really funny when they realize that there’s not a single cooking implement at their entire site because they both thought the other was going to pack the car.

I really love going camping and watching the parents who scream at their children to put away the handheld video games because “we drove all this way to enjoy the outdoors!” I wonder if the parents had something in mind other than throwing rocks at trees for fun, because so far enjoying the outdoors looks a lot like sitting in a folding chair with your eyes closed while the kids take turns shoving each other violently into the creek. And Dad, is that a Blackberry I see strapped to the belt of your L.L. Bean Khaki Wader Shorts? While your kids wander the 30 square feet of your designated campsite in utter boredom, don’t let me catch you in the shower house fielding emails from the office. I can’t afford for your device to slow down my wi-fi connection.