I recently went camping for the first time in forever with my family. My kids have only ever done cabin camping in a group setting, and it has been over 15 years since my partner and I camped in the wilderness. I’ve been craving doing it for a few years now, and by the end of 2020, I was determined that we were going to give this a go.
We headed up to Letchworth State park in NY. It’s a beautiful place, though we tend to visit in Autumn because the colors are so gorgeous that time of year. Despite the lack of oranges, yellows and reds, there was an abundance of green. It’s seriously beautiful there, a huge gorge with rivers and forest.
Of course, camping with kids, even tent camping, can be difficult. The amount of free time I had hoped for was very minimal. As mom, I found I was constantly moving, cleaning up, cooking, helping the kids adjust to a non-computer/no youtube existence. After a year of that, it was a struggle for them. The first full day was a bit rough from breakdowns- my son has a fear of bees (and buzzing things) and was overtired from the first night of sleeping in a sleeping bag in the tent. Luckily, the second night brought better sleep and the next day went a lot smoother.
For me, however, despite the struggles of parenting, dealing with an unhappy kid, it was still worth the struggle. I might not have thought it at the time. More than once, I thought to myself that we should’ve just packed up and gone home. Maybe camping was something my partner and I could do, just us, and leave the kids with Grandpa. I really didn’t want that though, because I wanted my kids to see life away from the internet and computers. I mean, those things are great, mind you. But nature is important, and family time is as well. This was a spiritual need, a balance for all of us, even if they didn’t know it.
By the end of the third day, I feel like the kids were adjusted and ready to stay another 2-3 days, though if I suggested it, my son might have mutinied. See, he ended up leaving his devices behind for some reason (grumble, grumble something about moms or sisters packing for him and that didn’t happen, so lesson learned, hopefully) So he was really bored at times. However, the kids all started playing board games (bored games? HA!) and who knew that connect 4 could be so damn loud! My partner and the kids all had a gaming tournament with connect 4, jenga and the nefarious Uno. I got to build the fire, and sit back and reflect on the beauty of the moment, and of nature. It was amazing to see everything connected- the family and nature, all without the electronic connection.
Connecting with nature was so relaxing. We were very lucky because the tent we got was open on the top and we didn’t have a drop of rain. The first and third night we slept with the rainfly off and we were sleeping under the stars. We had tried the rainfly the second night, just to see if that trapped in heat better, because it was a bit chilly at night (around 48º F, and I don’t think it really helped at all. Thankfully we had plenty of blankets.) I’m not the best sleeper, so it was comforting when I’d wake up and look up and still see the stars above. It stirred something deep within.
Even better, the first night I had some strong, prophetic dreams, and when I woke up, as if to confirm that these dreams weren’t mere happenstance, a crow sat in the tree above the tent, crying out loudly. Despite being tired, and dealing with cranky kids, I felt amazing. There was this feeling of purpose and a strength I was reminded of. The kids would adjust and relax, and it was all worth it, being out in nature, connected.
There is a primal feeling when camping, even if you lean more towards glamping. I admit to not being a survivalist- I’m certainly not bushcraft and “surviving the wild” while I’m out here. Almost everything I need is nearby. I like to think about how hard it was for our ancestors- they didn’t go into the wild for fun- it was their life and their survival, and one of the ways they survived was to tame the wild. It’s ironic, if you think about it. Now, I feel we as humans have to find a way to balance the two- “modern civilization” and “nature.”
Those from the West tend to have grown up thinking all or nothing when it comes to nature. You control it, shape it, create it for human habitation, or you succumb to it. There is another way- a coexistence of nature and humanity, where you learn to respect nature, and live in peace. I think, in some ways, that’s what camping is about for me. And I can't wait to go again.