Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Surviving the wilds of backyard camping



     March seems an unlikely time to be thinking about tent camping, but my theory is that after winter comes spring-and then summer. That little cheerful thought gets me past many a tough day of shoveling through the last grips of snow.
     A couple summers ago in preparation for having little relatives visit their country cousins, we bought a dome tent that slept two-all very basic mind you, to use in our backyard. It was just right to introduce suburban kids to the wild, rural environs of Western New York.
     One of the little kids was so excited when we told him that we frequently had bears come calling-right to the front porch to be exact, that he made a sling shot from instructions in a manual for boys to bring along for protection. He informed us that he was lining his suitcase with all the plastic toy soldiers that he could muster up in preparedness.
     Now don’t get me wrong those of you who abhor violent play activities. Bear in mind that this young one was planning survival scenarios for an unknown situation, and his ideas were well talked out with his psychologist mom.
     We located the tent near the beginning of our trails, but within close enough range of the house that if things didn’t quite work out, then there would be an easy escape route to the safety of home. Besides, it never fails in camping that the urge to go to the bathroom awakens, and having indoor plumping nearby is sweet.
      The tent had been sitting idle for about a week, when I got the brilliant idea that my husband and I should try it out one night ourselves before company arrived. It would be a shakedown test.
     Why, it had been years since I had tent camped across the country in primitive conditions. One of the highlights that I will never forget was waking up one morning over the bluffs of the Mississippi River. As I recall, I had taken a couple simple changes of clothes and food with no other worries in the world. Could those feelings of total one with nature come back for a single night?
     Our neighbor and his grown sons are very knowledgeable in survival skills and appreciate nature’s challenges, and they reminisce about their extreme winter wilderness camping in the Adirondacks. I love to listen to their tales, although I am not sure that I am up for that, and apparently neither are their wives.
     Finally, a night came along that had all the right conditions for an outside adventure. My husband and I bundled in sweatpants and hoodies, took a couple of large flashlights and went camping as the sun was setting.
     We snuggled into our thermal sleeping bags with very thick air mattresses underneath. Hmm. I don’t remember any big deal with sleeping on the ground when I was younger, but we were trying to make ourselves comfortable hoping that our backs would not be stiff in the morning.
     Lying side to side with nary an inch to move, we closed our eyes, but neither of us could fall asleep. We listened to the crickets and talked quietly about our next trip accommodations-a full service hotel with amenities.
      Soon it started to quiet right down- surprisingly including me, and we listened for the natural sounds resonating from the woods. It sure was peaceful under the stars.
    We felt like little kids again. I had camped on the beach of Long Island Sound falling asleep to the waves hitting the shore my whole childhood. My husband, on the other hand, grew up in the country and sleeping outdoors was no big deal. He trekked into the woods on their property quite often with his brother and dad.
    “You realize that the night critters will be coming over to look into the tent soon on their walkabout,” my husband said in his infinite wisdom.
     “You have got to be kidding me,” I replied with a start. “I’ve had it. I am going in. Give me the flashlight.”
     “No. I was only joking. The critters won’t bother you.”
     “Are you sure?”
     Suddenly I knew that I would wake up twenty million times during the night imagining pairs of eyes staring at me-like deer, rabbits, and a roving bear. That was a freaky thought, and I told myself that I couldn’t go there in my mind or I would be in for big trouble.
    We settled in one last time, and just before I thought that I had my mind under control, my husband commented, “Are you having fun yet?”
     “No. I am petrified. Thanks a lot. I am determined that I am going to give this camping adventure my best shot.”
     Night came and went. I slept fitfully, and at the first sight of morning, I carefully crawled out of the sleeping bag, opened the tent flap-whew, no critters in plain sight, and I hightailed it to the house for a cup of coffee.
     Supposedly, my husband was sleeping like a baby, and I didn’t see him until much later when he sauntered into the house.
     “So Miss adventure girl, when are we taking the next camping trip?” he asked with a glisten in his eyes.
    I let that comment slide by. It made more sense to ignore it and move on to the activities of the day.