I just wrote this story for the monthly Purple Mountain Sage articles for The Back Country Messenger, The Alpine Sun, and East County Magazine. The memories are still clear decades after this trip. A friend pointed out that nearly every Christmas and Birthday gift has been forgotten but the times spent camping with my family are etched upon my heart forever.
Taking your kids or grandkids camping can connect you together in unexpected and delightful ways.
“A little dust won’t kill you”, said my parents as we packed up for the family camping trip. Being the oldest of four and an obedient child, I did resolve to have a miserable time. My pout lasted all of eight minutes after we arrived. Gosh! The rocks I collected were every one more beautiful than the last. We four kids ran off into the desert with admonitions, “Watch out for the snakes” fading fast. Middle brother muttering, “Why would I want to see snakes?” Oldest brother and I grinning, “Let’s find some!”. Youngest brother whining, “I’m gonna tell if you touch one!” Typical family. But we all found rocks. We filled our pockets, then made pouches of the front of our tee shirts and lugged back a ton of these treasures. Gorgeous rocks. Some had shiny specs we knew were pieces of gold, yes, gold and we were gonna be rich. Some had straight cuts as if by a machine, we later learned was quartz. Others had multicolored striations. We could not wait to show our parents.
There was much to do, each helping under my parents gentle guidance or should I say firm orders. The division of work fell naturally, Mom put up the tent (of course while reading directions). A couple of sibs helped her. Dad unloaded the cook-box and made a fire. The remaining kids helped. The tent was raised and staked. The sleeping bags all laid out, a small duffle for each of us. Dinner preparations were under way. On the campfire was a pot of gently steaming coffee and a pan heating the spaghetti sauce that mom had made at home. On the camp stove a big pot of water was boiling noodles, and at the table a couple of us were putting together our favorite desert in a dutch oven. [The dutch oven is a large pan, usually with short 3 inch legs that is covered with a heavy lid and you cook by putting in in a bed of hot coals, and piling coals on top.] Even in camp there were very special rocks to discover.
While dinner was cooking, we got out the frisbee (and looked for more rocks) and Dad played with us until the call, “come and get it”. The sun was just setting, the air, cooling off quickly, we took our plates around the campfire, said grace, then dug in with gusto. It may be hard to believe, but in all the years of eating at home and restaurants, I have found there is absolutely nothing that beats eating food you have cooked on the campfire after some hours playing in the wide open spaces. We each ate every bite, nothing was left over, and we were exactly satisfied. How did that happen? We then, had to dress for the cooler evening. Personally, I just layered my long clothes over the short ones, that way I was ready to take them off when it got hot the next day.
When camping in the open desert, due to water constraints, showers were not an option. We learned to take a washbasin bath. That is, heat up the water, put in the washbasin [about 3 inches deep and 12 inches diameter] soap a washcloth, wash the smelly parts, then rinse, then put on clean clothes and toss out the water. The boys wanted to skip that part, but not me of course! We learned about cleaning off with sand and often did so. Our parents taught us to ‘wash’ the dishes and cooking gear with sand. Initially we thought it crazy, but it worked. First, we scrubbed the dishes and dumped the dirt. Second we wiped everything off with a dishtowel. Last, we put them away in the cook box, ready for the next meal.
Soon after chores, the amazing night sky unveiled itself. A person has never seen the real sky from any place other than the middle of the desert, far from cities and towns. The term “countless stars” must have come from such as night. Shooting stars often enough to keep us glued to the view. The scent of our special dessert wafted up and despite the huge meal just eaten, our mouths began to water. We brushed the coals and ashes off the top of the dutch over and then brought it to a flat rock. Each of us was standing there with our bowls and spoons, waiting impatiently. The lid was taken off, the steam from the Cherry Dump Cobbler warmed us along with hefty scoops of the sweet delight. Sitting by the fire, our toes or backs toward the fire, we slowly savored each mouthful of the tart but sweet cobbler. We never said a word, but these were the best of times. Just our family. Close together and contented.
Then it was time to roll in. The kids went first while Mom and Dad sat close together and spoke softly by the fire. We all rushed to hop in our sleeping bags to bring the fire-warmth with us. As we whispered and told stories and wound down into sleep, we felt completely happy with our lives. I am sure we dreamed of the wonderful rock discoveries of the next day. Sometime later when the fire died down, Dad put it completely out then he and Mom came in to bed. They must have tiptoed because we never heard a thing.