I didn’t grow up camping. It’s just not something we did as a family, though my parents certainly knew how to camp and did their own fair share of camping as young newlyweds touring Europe. So – I don’t really know how to camp. Tents are a mystery. Starting a campfire seems like a bit of black magic. The only camp food I can produce is a s’more.
Lucky for me, my brother and sister-in-law are expert campers, and are more than willing to take the lead. We camped this year at Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. It’s a pretty large campground, with bathrooms that have running water. Despite the fact that there are over 300 campsites in this campground, it didn’t feel crowded at all. There were other people camping right beside us on either side, but there are so many trees that we kind of forgot they were there.
This is what our campsite looked like:
Center right was our big tent, which slept Nate, Lydia, Aaron and I. The little tent behind the trees all the way on the right was Jake’s tent. I was pleased and surprised that Jake wanted his own tent – I guess he’s really not scared of the dark anymore. Or bears. He was very happy to have his own quiet space to retreat to. The little tent on the left was the play tent, where the little kids could go to escape the mosquitos and color, draw, or play games. My brother’s family tent was off to the left a little bit more. Directly ahead is the campfire, picnic table, and bear box.
Yes, there are bear boxes. Despite the fact that we didn’t see a single bear (which I was happy about at the time, but now that we didn’t see one, I kinda wish we had seen one!), we were very conscientious about using the bear box. We took NO FOOD AT ALL into any tent, and no toiletries either. Including chapstick. I was taking no chances – I did not want to wake up to a bear rooting around in my tent for my chapstick!
My brother brought his hammock, and the kids had lots of fun swinging each other around. Here is Aaron swinging cousin Henry in the hammock:
Camp cooking is something that is very intimidating to me – how to feed all those people on a little cook stove? With only the ingredients you’ve brought with you? Well, Sam and Deia make it look easy. Deia is the brains of the operation – she plans the menu and coordinates the packing. Sam is more like the wrangler – he pulls it all together and makes it happen. Of course, it helps if you have a beer in hand:
Camping is really a lot of work, but the payoff is huge. It’s really nice just to sit in nature and… be. That’s it. There are no distractions. There are no screens. There is no news. My phone had no service. When it got dark, we huddled around the campfire and talked. When we got up in the morning, we huddled around the campfire and nursed our coffees and hot cocoas. The kids ran around and built rock towers and battled each other around the fallen logs and boulders. The grown-ups cooked and cleaned up and laughed and just existed together.
When you strip everything else away – all the trappings of daily life – it’s the people who are left. And when you’re camping, you can just be together, in the same space, very simply, and remember it wistfully later when you have ten emails to answer and the phone won’t stop ringing, and one kid is whining to watch a TV show and another is complaining that he doesn’t want that much milk in his cereal, and you’re late for work. Can you tell I’m back in the real world now?