|Mark in full vacation mode|
The Heartland of America
That would be me, sitting around the metal fire-ring, suffused in waves of heat emanating forth from the burning oak rounds, listening to the sounds of camp life, and watching the view. There is much to absorb, from the mesmerizing beauty of the sea itself, to the coastal mountains looming over us to the east, and on to the unceasing changes in climate.
I can already hear the chorus snidely observing in the background, that camping is merely ‘Merica’s way of saying that being homeless ain’t all that bad. We are willing to spend big $$’s to emulate a lifestyle that we otherwise, are more than happy to ignore.
I say “we” somewhat facetiously because aside from the entry fee, now twenty-five dollars per night, less two bucks for being old, and some grub, there isn’t any money involved. That would be in our ‘hood, not the next one over featuring motor homes, one of which approaches the size of Rhode Island.
To each his own. I can’t conceive of navigating California’s highways and byways in one of those behemoths, any more than the occupants of said monsters could envision themselves in Annie’s and my dome tent.
I mean, other than the world of hurt that inevitably accompanies a camping excursion. If there is a way of rising from an air mattress, without the onslaught of a leg/foot cramp, especially when an urgent need already exists within you, I have not yet discovered it.
Annie and I are negotiating, even as I write. She would like me to check out the cool cots she found on-line; I have been designing a lightweight, redwood bed that goes together in a snap and comes apart equally efficiently.
We all know who will win this one… This would be a handy time to refer back to the above comment about big bucks, not that a cot can be compared to a Winnepiggo.
Gone are the days that I could leave for a week’s sojourn down to Baja with nothing more than the clothes on my back, having unfortunately forgotten my meticulously packed suitcase.
Did I say suitcase? Sorry, brown shopping bag, doubled. And what was inside were mostly books, decks of cards, candy and maybe a token shirt or two. Now, of course, I bring along a full array of clothing and still end up wearing the same carefully choreographed “outfit” the entire time I am camping. And that happens to be whatever it was I threw on the morning of our departure.
What’s the attraction to camping? Speaking for Annie and me, the lure is the idea of nothing-mess, as in nothing to mess with our non-plans. No watering, no chickens, no market, no fuss and no stress. We bring a book or two, some magazines, a camera, some newspapers, some firewood and some camp food.
We barbecue organic chicken the first night, accompanied by the organic potato salad that Annie made in advance, and some foil pouches of piping hot fresh [organic] zucchini squash, the first picked this season. We do a Mexican fiesta the second night and eat sandwiches in the middle, all organic.
And then we pig-out on chips and candy and Coca-Cola at all points in between. That’s the life.
We cater to the Doze because we enjoy pampering him, especially as he is getting back to full strength now from his encounter with a truck and trailer. Leave it to Bowzer to not be satisfied with just taking on a pickup truck; no, he wanted the trailer too, it being one equipped with a dual axle.
I would not have expected anything less.
All is perfect with the world for the first hour we are there. The tent is up, the single air mattress is inflated and the sleeping bags are carefully arranged. Unfortunately, the second air mattress is missing the sealing cap so I have put it back into the truck.
Small Sigh. I hear Annie muttering under her breath, her language making a sailor’s seem like that of Shirley Temple as a child, in comparison. Something about having to chain down anything that you do not want to lend out to those-who-are-unclear-on-the-concept. We will cope by turning the one air mattress 90 degrees and letting my legs dangle off the side. Oh, Boy.
At five feet even, Annie does not have to worry about that. It will, however, lend itself to the ambience later on that night as I try to deal with the joys of trying to sleep in challenging conditions. The way I figure it is that I do not sleep at home; why should I expect it to be any different at the coast?
And then there is the Voice. Impossible to escape, it ranges far and above the general hubbub that is camp-life, and penetrates every nerve ending in both ears. It permeates the environment with its shrillness and makes fingernails on a chalkboard seem like Vivaldi’s Four Seasons by comparison.
The Voice is that of Authority. You can tell it is because no one ever questions it. No one has ever asked the Voice, “Have you ever listened to yourself?” Because if someone had done so, the answer would inevitably have been no.
They seemed like nice kids as they played an ongoing game of frisbee. At one point as I napped inside our tent, an errant frisbee smote the side of the tent, awaking me and forcing out a yelp. I think the kids thought they bonked me but it just startled me. Kids will be kids.
But Mom could not seem to address any of the tribe, including the dad, in any other voice but that of a drill sergeant.
“WHO ATE THE CLUB CRACKERS?” Silence.
“I ASKED WHO ATE THE CLUB CRACKERS? THEY WERE FOR THE ABALONE!” Apparently she saw something in the little guy’s face.
“DID YOU EAT THE CLUB CRACKERS?” she bellowed at him?
A nod. “Yes, I did.”
“DIDN’T YOU KNOW THEY WERE FOR THE ABALONE?”
“NOW WHAT AM I GONNA DO ABOUT NO CLUB CRACKERS FOR THE ABALONE?”
A moot point, as it turned out, since Dad had been hitting the beer since ten that morning. The ‘rents returned late that afternoon, empty-handed.
“The ocean really beat me up,” Dad hollered out, as he staggered out of the passenger seat of the truck. You could tell the ocean really had beaten him up by the way he struggled to make it to his lounge chair by the fire-ring. No doubt about it. Quite a beating.
“WHOSE ON DISH DUTY?” A chorus of lesser voices broke out and the beat went on. “WHO WANTS DR. PEPPER? WHO TOOK THE PAPER PLATES? And the ever-popular, “KNOCK IT OFF BEFORE I CLOBBER YOU!”
Even Dozer was in awe, he-who-fears-nothing. He found refuge under the table.
I could handle the voice better than I could handle the country music. No offense intended. I realize I am in the minority here but I just can’t do it. It’s my Achilles heel. I apologize in advance. Normally I would reach for my headphones but there being no way to recharge electronic devices at the beach, my phone was turned off.
Instead, giving the other campsite the stink-eye the whole time, I sidled over to the edge of the cliff and…plunked myself down. For emphasis, instead of carrying my canvas camp chair, I dragged it behind me the whole way.
“See what you are forcing me to do?” my body language screamed out to them.
“Even though it was you who hit MY tent with the frisbee? I have to move away from the warm fire to avoid your music?”
Someone must have been on the receiving end of my message, because ten minutes later when I decided that bad music was better than cold wind, and slunk back to the campfire, the music had left the building.
I guess if that is the worst that it gets, then we are good to go. Besides, I had brought enough of the food of the gods to forget about any music anyway, had I had the presence of mind to remember it.
Chocolate. Dark chocolate. Dark chocolate with almonds. Iced cold. Enough chocolate. All is well with the cosmos.
And then the sun set. I know that sounds anticlimactic, but it was extraordinary. I remembered the first time that I had really seen a sunset, in 1970 off the cliffs of Big Sur, and I relived it again.
This time I had a camera.
That was the apex of my 48 hours at the coast, sitting with Annie and enjoying the beauty that is so timeless.
And that is just one of the many components to camping that makes it timeless. From my earliest memories of Papa slinging canvass over a rope stretched out between two poles stuck in the sand, to form our tent, and eating home-made turkey pot-pie, seasoned with sand…up to the present.
Timeless is as timeless does, and camping follows suit. With heart.