By K. Taylor, Aurora ON. Ontario is blessed with many beautiful campsites, we are a province of sprawling forests and glassy lakes. It is, as one might recall, Ontario Yours to Discover. But when your children are wedged so tightly between tent poles and sleeping bags that their personal space is limited to enough room to wiggle three toes and one shoulder (combined) and when you have a beautiful campground virtually on your doorstep; why go further?
We’d often spent lazy days at Sibbald Point, splashing in the warm lapping waves; building monstrous castles of seaweed and sand. But on this occasion we were no day-trippers. We were serious outdoorsy types. We were here to camp.
“I have to pee,” a muffled voice wafted out from the packed backseat of the car as we pulled into the parking lot. And so it began. We had not camped for years, never as a family. And yet here we were, the car loaded with gear, our hearts and souls ready for whatever nature had in store. Nature with showers, a snack bar and flushing toilets though, because we’re not that kind of campers.
We set up amazingly quickly (after finding the bathrooms, a rather long walk. Oh well, the kids preferred trees anyway.) There was a luscious period of fifteen minutes or so when the tent was up and the entire family flopped on our mattresses and gazed through the mesh screened windows at the blowing trees. No one fought. No one argued. No one had to pee. Bliss.
I was still somewhat self-conscious about the sheer size of our tent. On our rather long walk to the bathroom earlier I had been able to spy on fellow campers, as one does. Among all the tarps and dining tents was a young couple with a young baby; one small stove and a tent only marginally larger than an ice cube. “Wow,” I muttered breathlessly. “They’re real campers.” I held onto the insecurity until our new neighbours moved in that night and began unpacking what can only be described as the nylon version of Buckingham Palace. They had a vestibule. They had poking-out closets. They had a full size gleaming barbecue that far outstrips the one we have at home. They had glaring car lights flooding the forest and the whirring motor of a pump filling an assembly line of air mattresses. So I stopped judging myself and judged them instead. Hey, it’s a jungle out there.
But in the bush there’s work to do and it wasn’t long before duty called. Jobs were assigned; my son opted to cook; my daughter volunteered to wash up and spent the next two days bustling about the campsite with her washcloth, scouring any plate that crossed her path. She was especially ruthless on the handles of mugs. We had very clean handles.
There were two things I had forgotten about camping. One was how smoky damp wood is. How very, very smoky. The second was how painfully slowly food cooked. The popcorn that claimed to cook in a jiffy had my husband and I huddled over the fire for half an hour, shaking the pan as the rattling of kernels shook the silent woods. “Do you think it’s working?” I puffed, kernel shaking being harder work than it sounds. Out came the flashlight and we carefully examined the foil top.
“It’s supposed to puff up and explode,” my son answered gleefully. “See,” he pointed to the cardboard overwrap. “It explodes!”
We studied the flat folds of foil. “I don’t think it’s going to explode,” my husband answered doubtfully.
I felt the pan taken from my hand, my husband’s eye gleamed with the challenge and he set that pan a shaking with a ferocity usually restrained for Richter 9 quakes. “Fun!” I reminded him as he scowled at the pan. “Fun,” he droned back though I thought I detected the whiff of sarcasm; wafting in the air with all that smoke; dripping like butter on fresh popcorn.
I had assumed the kids might be nervous come bedtime. “Remember,” I cautioned. “If you wake up and hear scuffling, it’s only the raccoons.” They nodded agreeably and started to snore, leaving me poised with comfort and wisdom and no one in need. The night was beautiful and my husband and I chose to sleep with the inside flaps open so we could fall asleep looking out the screens to the stars and swaying trees.
And awake to the gleam of an eye mere feet from my head. “It’s only a raccoon,” I reminded myself, nervous to move. In the dim moonlight of my mind I saw fangs and claws like daggers, heard the hiss of an imminent strike. I saw the next days headlines: Woman mauled to death by rogue raccoon and I felt the icy glare of that steely eye no more than two feet from my own vulnerable head. Instead of attacking however it whimpered and lumbered back into the forest. I zipped up my window anyway and spent the rest of the night dreaming about indoor plumbing and wishing I hadn’t had that last glass of water; while my family slept peacefully all around.
In the end the two days went far too quickly. The hot dog buns went mouldy, the popcorn never did pop and the sun came out just as we had to leave. The tea water never got warmer than tepid, the lake water never warmer than icy. There were cinders in the cereal and the one section of the paper I wanted to read was sacrificed to the fire gods.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.