One of my favorite songs is Life in a Northern Town. Not the original, but the one by Sugarland. There’s something about the melody that just hits me deep in the soul. Somehow I get dragged back. To life. Life in a desert town. Where potatoes ruled and you were either Catholic or Mormon.
If you’ve never been to Idaho, you’re actually missing out. Boise is beautiful, in its own way. A river runs through the valley, bringing a ribbon of trees to the normally brown landscape. To the east stands the desert. Another strangely beautiful place if you look close enough.
Once you leave the outskirts of Boise, you enter the foothills. The foothills were never green. Ok, if you call sagebrush green, then they were green. But I remember them to be dusty or on fire or both, especially in the summer. We would wander up through the foothills into the mountains that towered over the valley. It was here that I enjoyed most of our family camping trips.
Camping with my family…could be fun or it could be a nightmare. Depended on the weekend.
Camping meant that we packed our little car to the brim. Mom and Dad in the front. We fought over who would get to sit up front. The losers sat in the back on top of all the stuff, with the dog. It was a bad day if the dog was wet.
My father liked to tease us. And he’d tell us to watch out for bears. At this point I hadn’t actually SEEN a bear. I didn’t quite know whether to believe him or not. My mom had a nighttime trip outside. We had a small shovel to make a hole. As she was digging, she heard a noise. And again. She called out “What is that?” “It’s a bear.” “No. You just hit a rock.” At this point my father was laughing, like the way only he could laugh. My mom came rushing into the tent. She was not amused. I giggle at the thought that she thought the rock was a bear.
I don’t know if you’ve seen an army tent…the older ones…but it’s green. It’s big. And it’s heavy. Actually, it’s quite capable of keeping the elements out (aside from the bugs). I know. We spent a week in the thing. In the rain. With my mom, my brothers and a wet dog. My father, who was not allergic to rain, spent most of the time fishing the creek. I don’t think it was my mother’s favorite trip.
When my sister joined us, we still went camping. Only most of the time she ended up front. Somehow I spent most of the time in the back seat with the stuff, the boys and the dog. We’d come home from school and we’d pack up the car. My dad had it all organized. If we did it right, we’d be on the road and ready to set-up camp just before the sun set. I loved it.
Camping was NOT in a park with bathrooms and showers. That was for people who didn’t like to camp. My father would not be amused to know his daughter now thinks camping involves a luxury fifth wheel camped in a KOA. We learned early on how to find wood, start a fire and use the great outdoors for “our business”. I’m not sure whether I’m proud or not that I can pee in the woods with a skirt and not get wet at all. It’s definitely an art, that I’ve not passed on to my girls.
The thing I loved most about camping growing up was being with my family. Despite the fights, the yelling, the crazy things my father would think and do and say, I loved being with them. We did laugh together. We played games. And honestly, I loved the way my father would talk in his crazy Donald Duck voice. Weekends in the hills gave us the chance to be a normal family.
The last time I went camping with my family, I was an angry, upset teenager. The last place I wanted to be was with my family. But there we were, camping in the middle of a mining field. My father, desperate to connect with his kids, decided to take us fishing. Through a swamp. The only thing I managed to catch was a few twigs and my thumb. That’s an experience I never want to go through again. Nothing like having your father take a hook out of your flesh standing in ankle deep sludge. I think at some point I got tired of following him and went back to camp. I probably was not the nicest person to be with that weekend.
Looking back, I wish…I wish I would have known it was the last time we’d go camping together as a family.