tent city

by bam

perhaps it was a fevered dream. certainly, some screw was loose. had to be. i signed up, yes i did, to go into the woods tonight. alone. with my boys.
praise the heavens and hallelujah, the one, the man-child, is taller, by a yard, i think, than his ever-shrinking mama. it will be his job to scare the bears.
oh, i forgot. there are no bears in northern illinois. at least not outside of zoos. and we will not be camping in a zoo. so i should strike bear fears from my list.
my list is long enough.
let’s see. there would be the rocks i am worrying about. the rocks i’m sure we will pitch the tent right over, and i will discover said rocks, wedged beneath my shoulder blades, the very instant i lie down. when all is dark except the stars and there won’t be a chance of re-pitching the tent without rustling like a blessed fool and waking half the campground.
oh, yes, i should mention, this is camping lite.
this is camping in a spot that’s basically been cleared for moi and whatever amenities i lug along. this is camping with a little map and reservation ticket that tells you just where to pull in your car, and all those city-slicker essential camping extras. (did someone mention a blow-up tub for taking woodsy baths?)
oh, no, this is not the way my mountain-lion little brother camps, where he hikes a few days into some primal forest and gently, without disturbing so much as a blade of grass (oh, wait, there is no grass in forest deep; see how deep my woodsy know-how isn’t), he settles in for days of living off the land.
nope, i would be the wimpy camper sister.
while i’ve never forgotten the thicket of shining stars, stars planted like wild daisies in a meadow, that you can only see from there along the banks of a rushing river where a nighttime campfire is burning down to its final red-glow embers. and while i’ve never forgotten pulling back the dewy tent flap in the dawn, breathing in that softest morning air. or tasting an egg cooked atop an upturned coffee can that you and your 9-year-old friends are pretending is a campstove there in the wilds of your backyard, i cannot say i’ve gone rushing to the woods so very much these last few quarter-centuries.
in fact, i have been racking my ever-shrinking brain and the last campfire i recall just might have been way, way back with a euell-gibbons-wanna-be college friend who had me plucking berries off of bushes and making foil wraps of roots that had been growing deep beneath the forest.
so just what was the cockamamie notion that had me nodding when, mere weeks ago, my friend with 6- and 3-year-old called to see if i would join her in the woods tonight?
egad. she’d said something about sitting ’round the campfire, how delightful it would be, and that i do believe was where i caved. i pictured stars above. golden marshmallows on long sticks.
i blocked out, apparently, the sounds of children crying because their gooey, charred-black puff had just fallen in the flames. i blocked out the fact that somewhere between pulling in the car slot and slipping sleepy self and children in that fully erected tent, there was the little matter of getting the tent and all its poles to go along with the program. (which is why you see above the practice session we had just yesterday, shortly after unearthing that bulbous tent from the cobwebs of our blessed neighbors’ uninhabitable garage.)
silly me, i inked it in. “camp w/ boys.” tonight’s the night. the man i live with is not coming. he has scrounged up some fine excuse. says the world of newspapers cannot live without him in the morning. funny, i’ll make it back in time to get to work tomorrow. but, for his busy schedule, there is no time–nor inclination–for a night in the woods with children 3 and 5 and 6 and 14.
i cannot imagine.
ah, well. his loss.
he’ll miss the marshmallows–and all the crying. he’ll be home alone, in a real bed, with real pillows. did i mention the bed, the pillow, both, would be soft?
i, though, will march my boys into those would-be woods. i will teach the little one, at least (the big one’s done more camping in last few years than i would do if i had ten lifetimes), i will teach him the pure joy of fetching proper long-necked sticks for s’mores.
i will teach him to feel the night wrapping in around him, as the stars come on, as the nightsounds from the woods grow rather loud and easy to imagine a whole menagerie of furry things with long sharp claws.
i will teach him the fine art of finally being so tired that you drift off to sleep–despite the bumpy things lodged beneath your back, and the one darn mosquito that wriggled its way into your no-bugs-allowed tent confines.
i will teach him the taste of triumph in the morning, when you’ve made it, without the walls, the roof, the comforts that you count on, all the other nights.
i will, i hope, even teach him the satisfaction of taking down that trusty tent, packing it away for next time.
unless of course it comes crashing down in the night. unless of course it’s some woodland critter who knocks it in, trying to make a midnight snack of leftover s’mores–or us.
then i will teach him to run like a wild hen for the back seat of the car, lock the doors, and drive like a fiend home to where there might not be stars in thickets but at least there is a mattress and you can call it yours.

for those scant few of you who are not off vacationing, or procuring fireworks, welcome to july. if all goes swimmingly, we’ll be back tomorrow to let you know all about our adventures in the woods. if not, you’ll see a big black blank. and you’ll know to send out the search dogs. tell them to look for the mama with the tent draped over her head and teardrops streaming out the flap. stay tuned for more camping in the woods…