A hitchhiking spider hustles to hide in the folds of a blanket. It takes a few strong shakes to turn him loose onto the grass, free to explore his new world. Both bikes are crusted in dirt, and muddy streams roll down the driveway as they are hosed off. All of the clothes and blankets have a fetid odor which lingers in the car even when they’re removed. Each tent is spread out in the hot sun to dry before being stored away for another season.
Our long weekend begins with a steady rain that forces us all into an early bedtime as we take refuge in the tents. An afternoon shower the next day chases us off of the beach. The kids have perpetually muddy legs and backs from riding through puddles. Bottles of Off are used to drench our skin in futile attempts to ward off the festival of relentless mosquitoes each night. A pair of wily raccoons steal our Canadian bacon from the cooler, both annoying and impressing us with their temerity.
Camping is an illogical endeavor. We exchange our clean, dry houses for canvas homes. We relinquish our cozy beds for cots, air mattresses and sleeping bags. We abandon refrigerators and cabinets full of food and pack coolers and bins of chosen provisions. Each day our energy is spent in preparing meals, cleaning dishes, protecting our skin and finding suitable restrooms. Living out of backpacks and the backs of cars, we hope we’ve brought the clothing and shoes needed to match the whims of nature. Each trip culminates in dirty cars, disheveled supplies and mounds of laundry.
Upon return home, we’re all grateful for warm showers, clean clothes, and beds. A hovering storm in the distance is much less ominous. Our mosquito bites can heal in the comfort of air conditioning, and there’s no need to protect our refrigerators from trash pandas. But come next summer, we’ll head out once again and brave the elements for a weekend in the woods with our friends.
Why? Because despite the discomforts there is so much joy in the moment. Chicken fights in the lake launch small bodies into the shiny nickel-gray water. Sandcastle fortresses are adorned with tiny shells from the shore. Bike rides to the creek lead to hours of crawfish hunting. Hearty meals are created in the cast-iron Dutch oven and robust coffee is brewed in the French press. In the evening the girls invent S’mores recipes and the boys entertain us with a shadow puppet show. Finally, twilight brings tangential campfire conversations. Topics inspire everything from somber reflection to absurd laughter. As darkness erases the world around us and the fire glows on our faces, inhibitions fade. This is what makes it all worthwhile. Our campfire conversations will stretch well into the early morning, and our fire is always the last to die out.