Roughing it in the backyard
The 12-year-old and I stood in front of the tent and tried to figure out how to attach the fly. We weren’t getting very far, but it wasn’t exactly a life-or-death situation: We were in the backyard.After several failed attempts, we ascertained that the “fly” we were trying to attach was not the fly at all, but, rather, some kind of room divider for the interior of the tent. The fly was missing in action, which seemed a temporary inconvenience until we realized that, were it to rain, water would simply pour right in the screen.It’s blasphemous to admit it around here, but I’m not much for camping, and neither is my wife. This whole episode with the tent further cemented my belief that I simply wasn’t cut out for this business, much preferring a nice hotel room that’s, you know, pre-constructed, water-tight and ready to go. If we want to rough it, we can pick a hotel without a pool or a free continental breakfast.But the boys were eager to spend the night in the $69 Wal-Mart tent I picked up last summer. Well, two of them, anyway. The 4-year-old was primed for his first tent experience, an event he was dubbing “the best sleepover EVER!” The 12-year-old was game, but for the 14-year-old, backyard camping is pretty low on the “cool” scale, and he was tepid on the whole idea.All this got me thinking and wondering about the appeal of camping. My dad took us up to Lake George in upstate New York every summer, where we camped on an island in big, canvas tents that weighed a ton and reverberated like giant snare drums when it rained. We had a picnic table, an outhouse, a fire grate and other civilized conveniences, but it was still camping, and I remember enjoying it, for the most part. Somehow, that didn’t translate into my adult life. Riding bicycles around the lake the other day, I saw first-hand how other non-campers address this situation: They buy colossal motor homes or even modest pop-up campers, and they car-camp. Given what it must cost to buy these things and operate them with $3 gas, I can’t help but think they could be staying at a top hotel for less, but there they were with their awnings, trail bikes, auxiliary vehicle towing in the back, etc.I don’t get it. Mostly, camping for me is a heady mix of guilt, frustration and feelings of inadequacy. The guilt comes from feeling that I should be showing my boys how to survive in the wilderness or something. But given that I probably wouldn’t last 12 hours myself, it seems I can give myself a pass on this one. Frustration comes from simply not knowing how to camp. There are a lot of details to work out, a lot of crap to buy, and I’m just not up for it. It’s a good lesson, really. We can’t be all things to all people, and if I’m more adept at showing my kids how to write an essay or short story than teaching them to make a shelter out of pine cones, well, that’s the way of it. If they’re burning to camp, they’ll have plenty of opportunity to do so once they’re on their own.As for our cheapie Wal-Mart tent, I’m sure we’ll haul it out again when the urge strikes us. It may be that another year must pass before I forget the sting of pain that accompanies interaction with it. Who knows, by that time maybe the stupid fly will have turned up.Alex Miller can be reached at 748-2931, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado
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