Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Return To Camping!

So one of the reasons I wanted to move here was to go camping again. I figured it'd be easier from a place like Northampton than from Brooklyn. Indeed, it is! We just got back from a night camping at at the DAR state park in Goshen, about a half hour northwest. Goshen's a Hilltown and I really felt the difference in the environment as we drove up route 9 through Williamsburg. The temperature dropped, the trees closed in, and you could tell we were in the Country now, for real.

I haven't camped since before Lily was born and I was a bit nervous about that, and also about the fact that Tropical Storm Hannah was expected to hit late that evening. Getting a warning flyer from the rangers at the entrance didn't help. They said they'd been hearing predictions of 3 to 6 inches of rain, which could easily wash out the main campground down by the lake. For various reasons we were up at the group site, a couple of miles away, which has room for 25 at least and I think more like 75 usually stay there. (It's pouring pouring pouring right now, and I am so glad to be home, unpacked, showered, and dry. Wow, it is really coming down.)

This reminds me: I feel as though we had no nature in Brooklyn. I mean, sure we had rain and snow and sun, but it always felt removed from my life. If it rained hard it meant my pants would get wet on my way to the subway; if it snowed it meant I had to be really careful crossing streets: first climbing over the snow bank at the corner, and then avoiding the huge--and always deceptively deep--puddle on the street. Dave once helped an older woman get across a street in Manhattan. She'd been stranded for some time.

At any rate, we had to sort through all our camping gear on Friday afternoon, most of which I haven't seen in about eight years. I had to pitch the wooden stir spoons that were turning green from the damp garage where they've been stored. No big loss. And then put together our food and all that, and go get Lily at school. We got the car packed up, full to the brim, and got the kid, and then I realized we didn't have a tarp to put under the tent, so we went back to the Evil Wal-Mart and bought one and got to the site about 4:30.

It was cloudy and damp but the evening was still lovely. The site was gorgeous, wooded with large hemlocks mostly, and on a small pond. No water there but a composting toilet. There are a couple dozen picnic tables scattered around, with small firepits at each, and also a much bigger firepit with four huge logs around it to sit on, and several picnic tables nearby. Our friends Peggy and Todd and their son, Lily's friend Ren, weren't there yet but we figured they come any time.

We set up the tent near the big pit in the most level, least rocky site we could find. I was careful to spread my new tarp under the tent. We have a three-person domed tent, and I am here to tell you it's fine for three when your third is 3 or 4 but not when she's almost 10. No problem, we were just there for the weekend.

My dormant interest in camping has also been revived by a story I edited by the really wonderful Catherine Newman for the July/August issue of Wondertime, which includes a very complete list of gear. Very useful on this trip to remind me what to bring, although I added a few things and we are without a few things. When I was getting the tarp I also picked up a solar shower, at her suggestion, to use for dishwashing. Even though there was no sun so the water was cold, it was useful.

The tent's small space was immediately apparent, as Lily and I set up the sleeping pads and the sleeping bags. Yuck. And I made the mistake of thinking we needed clean clothes for the weekend -- not! We had a bag with two pairs of underwear and two T-shirts etc each. A change of clothes for the rain, yes, or as Dave says, changing into clean clothes after you swim or shower, maybe. But neither of those were options this time.

We set up the "kitchen" and I started putting kindling on the ashes in this massive firepit, when Lily noticed it was still smoldering. Tsk, tsk. The previous group should have doused it. Dave took Lily to get water at the main campsite, although I yelled at them as they started to drive away when I realized I'd be all alone in the middle of the woods with no one around for at least a couple of miles, the campground promised bears and moose and raccoons at the least, and no car to jump into. But as soon as I said that I realized I could light a fire, and as they drove away I was happy to see the kindling smoking; I didn't even have to use a match. It burst into flames and I felt that age-old sense of relief that my New England ancestors must have felt when they light their fires in the woods. I felt like a city-slicker to the max, but a conscious one: I try to be conscious of the fact that I have lived in one city or another, or a suburb, for my entire life, and not been in the outdoors as much as other city-dwellers.

Wow, it is still pouring out.

I fed the fire and Dave and Lily came back and still no Peggy, Todd, and Ren, and they had the grill. So I lit my trusty one-burner Coleman backpacking stove that I've had since I was about 22, and put some water on for Lily to have pasta. And just as Dave and I had decided we'd have a good time even if it was just us, they showed up. Yea! Another family who had said they were coming didn't, which was disappointing. But the six of us had a great time cooking and eating and piling wood on this fire and poking it and roasting marshmallows for s'mores.

Sleeping in this small tent was not so much fun -- the bag of clothes went to my feet and if I wanted to stretch straight out I put my feet on top of it -- and I woke up from time to time. I was asleep when I heard the rain start, and Peggy jumped out of her tent at the same time and turned on her headlights so we'd have light to see as we covered our stuff or put it in the car. The rain came down harder and harder, and I panicked, was the 3 to 6 inches starting now and where we going to washed out, and I envisioned us throwing all our gear in the car and driving off as Dave tried not to kill us.

But in the morning it had stopped and Dave made French toast and I made bacon and it's true, everything really does taste better when you're camping. I rebuilt the fire and we hung out near it most of the rest of the day. Everyone went over the pond for awhile, which gave me a chance to read Out Stealing Horses, which I finished, and really love, and now I feel like all the sentences I'm writing here are long and full of detail about my family and the environment and profound insights, but of course they aren't. We ate a lot, and they caught a bunch of minnows and a biggish perch and they made a neat boat out of vines and sticks. It had a little sail.

For awhile the sky was bright, if not sunny, but Peggy had heard that it was going to start raining around 5pm and as the wind picked up and the clouds got heavier we started to take down the tent and pack up the car. We took our time and just as we sat down by the fire it started to drizzle. So we doused the fire with about five buckets of water, stirring the steaming ashes and watching the water boil. And went home.

And oh, to be home! I loved being there, relaxing, doing nothing but smelling the fire and listening to a few birds, chatting, eating, reading -- but to be home, soaking in the Japanese tub! Having a garage is so handy if you want to do stuff like camping -- Dave backed up to the door and we unloaded everything into the garage and sorted it all out from there, left the tent draped over the car to dry a bit, spread the sleeping bags around the family room to do the same. (The floor and the sides of our little tent got soaked, as did much of our sleeping pads and the feet of our sleeping bags. Should I have not put down the tarp? There were several puddles in the morning.)

If this were Brooklyn we'd have stayed longer because we would have driven so far to get there we wouldn't want to leave so soon. If we'd left at 4, as we did today, we might get home by 7 or 8 instead of 4:30. Once there we would have double-parked in front of the apartment and unloaded everything. Then one of us would have tried to find a spot on a rainy night and the other would have carried everything inside and downstairs to sort out and clean and put away.

And yes, I'd have had theater and music and the city as the alternative to easy camping. But weekends like this one remind me that I made the right choice, that I didn't get to much theater or many museums and my work wasn't satisfying.

It's been interesting watching the friends shake-out now that we've moved -- I think I have many fewer true friends than I had imagined, which is probably just as well -- and really, friends were all that was keeping me in Brooklyn, in the end. We don't have a lot of friends here, just a couple each, and my closest new friend here just moved to an island off the coast of Georgia. But while that scares me -- what does it mean not to have a lot of friends? -- I am also glad to be starting with a bit of clean slate here. How often do you get to recreate yourself?

By the way, it's still pouring like the deluge. It stops momentarily and then starts up again.


  1. Hey, I'm glad to know the weekend has turned out pretty nicely--sounds like you had just enough "rain in the woods" experience, not a drop too much or too little!

  2. thanks for reading, David! I know this was a longer one than usual -- I just started typing -- and I am always impressed that anyone reads this at all, never mind to the end.


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