Camping as a Kid

Camping seems to be a topic coming up lately. It enters my mind frequently these days in the place I’ve moved to because I pass campgrounds on my drive to work every day. I smell campfires and see campers. Since I hit a payload of slides with camping scenes, unpacking after our move, I’ll share some here.

I’m the one glowing with sunshine. My brother Dave is first, then my mom, and last, my sister Debbie.

One of my strongest memories of childhood camping is waking up in a warm sleeping bag, smelling the fire and breakfast. Being the youngest, I listened to others preparing those things. I only rolled out of bed once rays of sun crossed my bag, or if I had to pee. If at all possible, we slept under the stars. It almost physically hurts me now to go camping and sleep in a tent. My soul cries out, “Why camp if you’re not staring up at billions of stars, filling your lungs with brilliant, clean, woodsy mountain air?!”

We had big canvas-covered, flannel-lined bags and foam sleeping pads that my mom made covers for. I remember my pillow getting damp everywhere but where my head was.

Tents were fun, too. We carefully tucked our clothes for the morning under the ends in case the sides of the tent got wet in the night. In a downpour, my sister and I would play dolls inside. It was fun to be aware of everyone, the sounds of the whole family, together.

Food on camping trips was fun. We did things like veggies with oil and lots of onion and garlic and seasonings in a can tucked into the coals. Breakfasts were extra fatty, with eggs cooks in bacon fat, a dish Mom rarely made at home. Banana boats were something we always made in the evenings over the fire. A grill was wedged carefully on rocks, and we placed half-bananas on it, cut longwise, with marshmallow bits and chocolate and butterscotch chips pushed in. They cooked ’til the chips and mallows melted, and the banana began to get clear and bubbly. Yum! I’ve done that with my kids as well.

In the photos here, we’re at picnic tables. In this photo, we’re with my grandmother which would explain less roughing it. Often we camped in the wilderness and sat on logs and folding stools. We created our fire circle out of boulders and did some cooking on a kerosene stove on a lightweight aluminum folding table. But some things, like toast, we made with sticks we shaved to points with our folding knives. We all had those with multiple functions and learned to carve shapes like small animals.

Having grown up in the Pacific northwest, my dad was in his element camping, coming up with innovations for basic everyday living and just being outdoors a week or ten days out of the year.

Hiking was, of course, a big part of our camping trips, as well as swimming. There was no mollycoddling just because you were the youngest. I sometimes got a ride on my dad’s shoulders, but I remember hikes with just us kids when I would be last and trying to cross a cliff-face, hanging by my fingertips. Pretty scary.

Swimming and hanging out by rivers and streams, jumping from rock to rock, were my favorite parts of traveling in the big outdoors. My sister and I played endlessly with dolls and twigs, making tiny towns, or wading up a stream, making up stories.

Here I think I’m being a bit of a trooper, getting a bath in a big bowl. I look cold!

I wonder if these long trips each year helped prime my mind for rich imagination later. We had no social media. We brought books along, and drawing materials, but a lot of the time, we innovated games out of the environment.

We sang around the fire, my brother playing guitar. We all looked up at myriad stars at night.

As a teacher, I sometimes think it’s painful for some of my students to be, for hours, off electronic devices that imagine for them.

As a writer, I do like to imagine for others, but I only get the reader started. We fill in details when we read!


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