Camping and the Stories that Make Us

One weekend, four people, one tent: Family camping. Do I need to say more?

My family and I are reclaiming camping as a family activity. It’s a love-hate thing: Sticky-matted hair, camping breath, smoky-smelling armpits and feet that smell like outdoor bathrooms. I think you understand why we have taken a vacation from camping for a while.

Dad, Please remember the big chairs next time...
Dad, Please remember the big chairs next time…

Every trip has a story, because camping is fertile ground for stories. This was the trip where I forgot a lot of things. Important things, like our tent and our stove. Fortunately I remembered these things one block from home. Too bad I forgot the camping chairs (aside from one itty bitty camping chair – don’t ask me why), rope for hanging wet things and the marshmallow cooking sticks.

Part of what makes camping fun is forgetting stuff and figuring out what we will do about it. I once went camping for a week and forgot to bring underwear. (It’s called wash and wear dry). That’s right one pair, seven days. Stories make the suffering feel less difficult. The stories were a little like campfire smoke, filling the air every time we gathered around the pit.

Dumbass stories were very popular this weekend. My family taunted me at every opportunity for forgetting the chairs. And then I got them back because my kids seemed to catch an ADHD cold, forgetting to brush their teeth, eating chips for breakfast and acting like they have no idea how to cook just because we are outside.

Camping1Mastery stories weaved their way into the mix. Living in a one room tent for three nights and enduring 3 degree Celsius temperatures is an accomplishment. The seeds of shared suffering drew out stories of  of how prior generations faced their own suffering and how we are endeavoring to create a better life for our families.

Romance stories made their way into the conversation, courtesy of my teenage son. He shared his view of what relationships should be like (For more on this, see the 14 Rules for Understanding Teenagers and Cats). created a lot of laughter and a genuine respect for how he is thinking about the next phase of his life. Each of the couples shared our own stories of romance, hard times and the work that it takes to make it.

Honest stories were told about our mistakes, our regrets and our anxieties. After a few days, the campfire begins to feel like church. I think we all need to go to church now and then because it is good for the soul. Confessions were made and logs were offered as penance.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Trouble stories happen on every trip. One of our friends’ vehicles broke down on the way to the campsite. They talked about their 10 year relationship with their Pathfinder, their finances and the hopes they have for the next phase of their life.

Their response showed character, and was far different than the Slick Speedboat guy who blamed the “*&R%ing dealership for forgetting to put the plug into the boat.” (Everyone needs someone to blame…) I am not a boater but when I learned that boats have plugs it seems to me that the plug should be a Step #1 thing. Even if you have a fast boat, you can’t outrun a sinking feeling. I asked the guy if he had an extra plug and he looked puzzled and said that he hopes his wife has one.

I am sure his wife will have a few well chosen words of wisdom for Mr. Slick.

Camping5Now that we are back home we are grateful for our beds, our warm showers and for electricity. Camping is a lot of work and every trip seems full of hassles, but that is part of the experience. Once you are there, the wilderness seems to get into your bones and you relax. My son said it best, “After a few days you don’t care how your hair looks.” He’s right and he is wise, just like his mother.

Camping makes us a little more grateful and it also plants new stories about the next part of our lives.

As I was driving home, I wondered what we would do this weekend if we didn’t go camping. We wouldn’t have stories of 3 degree nights, boiling pots of water to wash dishes, sitting on logs or campfire farts. We probably would have filled our time with Television, screen time or cleaning up the house. And we would be story-starved. Stories are what make us human, they connect us and they remind us that we are more capable.

Humans live in a storm of stories. We live in stories all day long, and dream in stories all night long. We communicate through stories and learn from them. We collapse gratefully into stories after a long day at work. Without personal life stories to organize our experience, our own lives would lack coherence and meaning. Homo sapiens (wise man) is a pretty good definition for our species. But Homo fictus (fiction man) would be about as accurate. Man is the storytelling animal.

JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL

Keep it real

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