Into the Woods
This time of year, as the days turn warmer and everything begins to become green again, I get an overwhelming urge to spend some time in the woods with friends. Spring is for camping. It’s a time to drag tents and sleeping bags and camp stoves from the basement, load up the car and ignore email for a couple of days. Now that I am older and no longer feel the need to prove myself by carrying everything on my back, I have discovered that my truck will allow me to bring all sorts of luxuries along. An enormous cot with an equally large mattress have made sleeping on the ground a thing of the past. We actually took a television during the NCAA tournament one year. On the trip this weekend I am bringing an electric smoker so we can have pork BBQ for dinner on Saturday night. My days of roughing it are over.
When I first started camping in the Boy Scouts I did so under the cruel tutelage of a scoutmaster who believed we would learn through our mistakes. I have woken up to a small river flowing through my tent because we pitched it in a low area, my troop leaders giving no word of warning beforehand. I would never recommend this style of leadership but I definitely learned some lessons. I wish I could say those lessons were all completed before I entered the ‘serious adventure’ period of my 20s. I still made mistakes, usually involving being cold or wet (or both). I once spent a five day backpacking trip in Tennessee, with my teeth chattering every night, because I had brought along a crummy sleeping bag and forgotten about the emergency space blanket in my first aid kit. That was a repeat of an earlier lesson when I spent an entire January night freezing next to a small campfire in Scouts because no one had told me we would be sleeping outside.
Now it’s about comfort. Knowing I will be tucked into proper sleeping bag this weekend when temperatures drop into the 40s means no worries. Knowing that the location of my tent doesn’t matter much in a campground with level campsites is also pretty great. This lack-of-concern frees me to enjoy the company of friends. Afterall, that’s what camping trips are for these days. Men with busy lives and responsibilities at home heading into the ‘wilderness’ to reconnect with nature and one another. For the guys I camp with this is maybe even more important for them than for me. For a few of them the most nature they get exposed to is their backyard or a soccer field. When we arrive at the campground you can see them absorbing their surroundings like a starving man with a steak.
Shortly after we arrive, men become men again. There is farting and scratching and dirty jokes. Beers are passed around and some of us are happy to go the whole weekend without brushing our teeth or applying deodorant. We laugh with each other and talk about whatever is on our mind. There are pranks, which are thankfully less painful than when I was younger (When I was 16, on the final day of summer camp, a friend and I spent hours sneaking up and punching one another in the balls. Why we thought that was funny I have no idea but the existence of my daughter seems to be proof the game did no long term damage.)
Every year on these trips I go through the ritual of sharpening my axe and taking some swings at the pile of logs we have gathered. Splitting wood is something I am actually pretty good at and something I don’t get to do anymore now that we have a gas fireplace. Watching those logs burn after the sun goes down gives a real sense of satisfaction. One of our fellow campers mentions s’mores every year after dinner, which we tell him is completely unacceptable on a guy’s camping trip. If you wanted dessert AND you want it heated, stick a donut on a stick and hold it over the fire. We’ll still tease you, but at least it’s not a s’more.
Heading home on Sunday is predictably bittersweet. I am always happy to see the wife and kids and my dogs make me feel missed, but I also miss the woods and my friends. My clothes are always heavy with the smell of a wood smoke, which I love. I ask my wife not to wash them for a few days and they usually sitting in a dirty pile on the floor of our closet. After work on Monday I will come home and when she isn’t looking I will sneak into our room, pull the clothes to my face …and inhale deeply.