I can’t recall a vacation doing anything other than camping. My earliest memories include camping. Two weeks. Every summer. We’d load the car, hitch up the pop-up camper, and drive from the Dallas heat and humidity to a national forest campsite in Red River, NM or Southfork, CO with one amenity: hand-pumped water. There was no electricity, no showers, and no flushing toilets.
My dad worked full-time. My mom cleaned houses. Camping was their answer to relieve life’s stress and unplug. It’s funny to think that my parents felt the need to unplug back in the late 70’s and 80’s. I mean, really, what were we unplugging from? Three channels on the television? The record player? Lights? Mostly, I remember the trauma of not being able to plug-in and blow dry or curl my hair. In the 80’s, those devices were high-tech.
Upon arriving at the campground, we set about the tasks necessary to set up camp: my dad would level the camper, mom and I would roll the sleeping bags over the beds, we’d set up the camp stove on one end of the wooden picnic table, haul drinking water from the communal spout, and settle into our lawn chairs. My family didn’t hike. We didn’t fish. We didn’t ride bikes. My dad would read or photograph hummingbirds. My mom would walk to each campsite and introduce herself. My younger brother and I hung 2 liter plastic bottles just inches off the ground, cut an opening on one side, filled the bottom with bird seed and peanuts, and lured chipmunks into the spinning contraption for hours of priceless fun. We would also skip rocks across the river or throw driftwood into the flowing water and follow it downstream. Oh, we unplugged.
It’s no secret within our family that camping doesn’t hold the dearest of memories for me. I was cold crawling out of bed each morning. I’d get dressed and walk to the community outhouse then return to the campsite and help make breakfast. Next, boil water on the morning campfire so we could wash dishes. Then, boil more water so we could semi-bathe in the camper. Next, help make lunch and clean up. Help make dinner and clean up. Make several more trips to the community outhouse. Then crawl into a cold sleeping bag at night and do it all over again for the next 14 days. It was a lot of work.
Evenings without electricity were a drag. Once the sun set behind the mountains, the stars appeared in the night sky and a dark campsite leaves a lot to be desired for a boy-crazy teen girl. Unless…you have a roaring campfire. For me, the campfire was the highlight of the whole day. I looked forward to building the evening campfire and assumed fire tending responsibilities as a young teen. Frankly, it was something to do. I liked the challenge of producing flames not smoke. I liked using our Frisbee to fan oxygen into a dying flame. I liked keeping everyone warm. I liked staving off the idea of crawling into that cold sleeping bag inside the camper.
Now with kids of my own, I’ve often felt guilty for having not exposed them to camping. I’ve considered taking them from time to time. There is nothing like spending your days surrounded by God’s creation, breathing in fresh air, and unplugging from life’s stress. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve decided I want to enjoy the camping activities with running water, showers, flushing toilets, electricity, and a warm bed to sleep in at night. It’s easier.
Our ranch offers me the best of everything. We can cook and eat outdoors and then put the dishes into the dishwasher. We can wash our hands or our bodies under warm, running water. We can flip a switch and have lights. I can blow dry and straighten my hair. But, most of all, I can build a big, roaring campfire each evening knowing my warm bed is waiting for me inside.
We closed on our mountain ranch in January 2012 and I’ve been patiently waiting for the thaw. Boy, the month of April delivered. The blanket of white snow rolled back to reveal a fire ring surrounded by rocks and beckoning dry wood. We spent a week at the ranch during Easter and I was determined to build a long-awaited campfire. No, we weren’t camping in the truest sense but sitting on 99 acres surrounded by mountains and a crackling wood fire is certainly more camping than sitting around a gas fire pit in the city.
I gathered the wood and leaned the pieces at 45 degree angles forming a tee pee shape in the center of the fire ring. I struck a match and lit the kindling perfectly centered beneath the cone of wood pieces. At first, smoke appeared. Shortly afterward, my efforts were rewarded with flames. I leaned back into my red Adirondack chair, stuck my hands in the pockets of my down jacket, and smiled. Words cannot express the feeling that runs across my body when I gaze into that yellow-orange flame. It’s soothing, calming, peaceful. The day’s cares rise into the air. Tomorrow’s worries are veiled.
My vacation memories haven’t changed. I’m still not a fan of camping but oh do I love me a campfire. I like the challenge of producing flames not smoke. I like fanning oxygen into a dying flame. I like keeping everyone warm. It’s still the highlight of my whole day.