Dad blew out the flame on his marshmallow and popped the charred chunk of molten sugar into his mouth. When he quit howling, he looked around the campfire at my brothers and me. “You know,” he said, “we should do this again.” Flames crackled and danced in the cool night air. A bowl of stars twinkled overhead. Somewhere a whip-poor-will called. Despite all the craziness, it had been a fun day. It just had a few rough spots …
We woke that morning to find Dad buzzing around the house, gathering this and that. A spoon from the kitchen. A saw from the garage. The blanket from our dog’s bed. He stuffed it all—along with a pair of boxers and his toothbrush—in a trash bag.
“Let’s go camping,” he said. My brothers and I have camped dozens of times with our scout troop. We know plenty of tricks to make camping fun and comfortable. Dad, on the other hand, hadn’t slept outdoors a day of his life. It looked like we had some work ahead of us teaching our tricks to Dad.
One good trick is to practice setting up your tent at home. That way, you won’t hike five miles into the woods—like Dad did—only to discover you’re missing a tent pole. Pitching your tent at home gives you a chance to patch holes that might leak or let in bugs. It helps you learn to set your tent up quickly, in case you arrive at camp in the rain or after dark. If Dad had practiced beforehand, maybe we wouldn’t have wasted an hour trying to untangle him from the tent poles. That’s time a kid just can’t get back.
Dad swept his hand grandly around the woods. “Here I will camp,” he announced. I shook my head and pointed up. The branch above him was buzzing with bees. Who knew Dad could squeal like that? When he’d calmed down, we told him: Look for dead limbs, bee hives and other hazards. Avoid low areas where water collects when it rains. Pick a flat spot free of pokey things that might make your bed lumpy. On his second try, Dad got it mostly right.
“Let’s build a fire,” Dad said. “A big one!” His eyes twinkled as he imagined the five-alarm blaze. Then, before we could stop him, Dad grabbed a handsaw and disappeared into the woods. When we caught up, he was preparing to cut down a majestic oak. After we took away his saw, we offered this advice: Never pull or cut branches from live trees. Instead, collect wood that’s already on the ground. Keep your fire small and use an existing fire ring. If there isn’t one, build your fire on bare dirt, sand or gravel so it won’t catch anything else ablaze.
That night, my brothers and I slept like logs. We know all the tricks for good shut-eye. First, sleep on a foam pad. It’s cushiony and will keep you warm and dry. Second, don’t worry about night noises. You’re camping in nature’s living room, after all, and critters make noise. Last, keep food and smelly stuff such as soap out of your tent. Even if the nearest bear lives miles away, “smellables” are an invitation to many furry creatures. Dad must have learned this the hard way, because about midnight I heard him yell, “Come out where I can see you, varmint!” I thought about going to see what had him riled up, but I snuggled back in my sleeping bag and fell asleep instead.
Dad sure is an early riser. When I woke at sunrise, he was already up. His eyes were bloodshot and he mumbled a lot. He felt better after breakfast, so we broke camp. When we leave a campsite, we don’t want other campers to find anything but footprints. We scour the area for trash, and anything that won’t burn, we pack out. We douse the fire with water, then feel for hot coals. When we’re sure there are none, we scatter the ashes. On the hike out, Dad said, “You boys taught me a bunch. Think we could camp next weekend?” We told him we’d think about it. For more Dad-proof camping tips, visit xplormo.org/node/3468
Nichole LeClair Terrill