Saturday, July 19, 2014

Friendship Through the Trees

Room with a View
Waterton National Park, Canada

Backcountry Backpacking,
Waterton National Park
When I was a kid, camping involved canvas tents. You know, the ones that always smell musty, had aluminum fit-together poles that had at least one that never fit correctly and were pitch black inside even in the daytime? Yeah, those ones. My dad would take us to some local campground. There would be a pool we'd play in all day and at night we would roast marshmallows and hotdogs over the campfire nestled safely in a truck rim. Sound familiar? We had a great time, but camping was really an opportunity to swim in a pool and eat marshmallows.

When I got to high school, I went camping with a youth group. The campground they took us to seemed pretty normal to me, but one of the guys was beyond agitated. I had met him a few times and as we walked along the paved drive through the campground, this mild-mannered, polite guy muttered how can they call this a forest. I figured I should know what he was referring to, but I just saw pine trees. We walked a bit more, still behind the rest of the group. I was pretty sure he would have preferred a game trail to the paved road, too. Finally he blurted why in the world are we camping in this sick forest?

Again I looked around, but this time I finally saw the forest. Even to my untrained, naive eye, I could finally see that the trees were sick. I also noticed that they were all the same size. It was a man-made forest and it was not doing well. And I hadn't even noticed.

It was one of those ah-ha moments in life. I am not a tree expert, but that moment opened my awareness and I have never looked at a forest the same way, since. My new friend's distress was real and his respect for the natural world palpable. I wanted to know more. It was an auspicious start to a friendship that has continued over two decades. And I'm still learning.

My expectations of camping experiences shifted. I still look back at those canvas-tent family trips from when I was a little kid fondly, they were my first fledgling forays into camping. But now I need more. And I get more out of each experience, too. Pools are awesome, but swimming in a mountain lake, although typically crazy-cold, is absolutely invigorating. Seeing big horn sheep grazing high above in the bowl that surrounds the trail you are on is infinitely more intriguing to me than watching TV in those campground rec rooms. Now, don't get me wrong, I like TV. But I can't imagine missing out on the sight of those Big Horns. Or a sunset. Or a fish jumping. Or a canoe paddle. Or the Milky Way. Or a real forest . . .There's so much to see!

What is your favorite thing about camping?

PS, I still love roasted marshmallows.

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