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Volume 15, Issue 24 ~ June 14 - June 20, 2007

Everything about Camping
Has Changed …

Except wet weather and mosquitoes

He was the father of such as dwell in tents.


Ah, Father’s Day comes around again for this father of five daughters and one son of such as dwell in tents in the warmer months. For many years on the big day in mid June, I was the recipient of gifts for the camping/backpacking trail. As age has stiffened the bones, there has been a shift in the shopping.

And, boy, am I glad. You might say I’m a happy camper.

You see, in my younger days more than a few of the gifts that came on the big day were less appropriate for camper Bill Burton than they were for the presenters. As when daughter Heather presented me with a campground mirror.

Ye gods, a mirror to be hung from a tree so one could check one’s hair, cosmetics or perhaps for campfire soot smudges on the face. The visible crud that accumulated on me signaled to others that I was I was a bonafide camper. After a shower in the morning, there would be no more washing or preening until the next morning.

Which is just as well, seeing that Heather’s face was always in the mirror, and if not hers that of her mother, wife Lois, or even son Joel, who like his sister knew there were many of the same age and opposite gender at the camp store, the campfire programs, the playground or the hiking trails.

As for Lois, she wouldn’t be caught dead toasting marshmallows with a smudge on her nose. It was Lois who was always complaining about an exposed tree root or rock that was under her sleeping bag. Why did she always get the wrong side of the tent?

Sleeping Light

One Father’s Day I got from Lois a twin air mattress. I tried sleeping on it twice, really once: my first and last time. Sleeping on something bouncy isn’t my style; give me hard ground even with a rock under the mid-section. At least it was that way until I aged and my old bones creaked.

In bedding with a bounce, the bounce is always in the wrong place. Once you get comfortable, the fickle air within shifts, and where you want firm is soft and vice versa.

I did sleep on a waterbed, again twice, my first and last time, on a Father’s Day about 30 years ago. It was at an outdoor writers meeting in a motel at Pocomoke city. I planned to go on a long-awaited striper fishing junket in early morning. When I arose after a sleepless bouncy night, I noticed a rip in my trousers. No problem; I do the sewing in this household.

So I started with needle and thread, sitting quietly on the edge of the bed so as not to awaken Lois. When it came time to turn the trousers over and start stitching from the outside, I instinctively pushed the needle into the mattress — which, of course, had enough water encased to float the Queen Mary.

This was in the infancy of waterbeds, and they were supposed to be self-sealing. Water spurted out under much pressure, and for a few minutes I thought Lois and I were to play like seals. The motel office was closed so instead of going fishing, I played like the legendary Dutch boy with his finger in the dike. Lois resumed sleep in the other bed.

Packing Heavy

In more recent years on Father’s Day, the family has switched from camping/backpacking gear to other gifts, mostly books. Proudly (and happily) I can say not once have I gotten a necktie or socks. One tie could (and has) lasted me a lifetime, and my preference in socks is pretty much limited to the thick woolen variety you don’t see much in stores by mid June.

If one was born when Calvin Coolidge was president (1926) there isn’t much use for backpacking gear. It’s enough to cart one’s self around, never mind a pack loaded with more than 50 pounds of gear. Forget about that for Father’s Day. As for camping stuff, I now go for a bare-bones cabin with a firm mattress within.

Camping has changed so much in recent years that I wouldn’t know what to do with half the stuff in vogue these days. When Lois, Heather, her husband Jon Boughy, their child (my granddaughter Grumpy aka MacKenzie Noelle Boughy), Alan Doelp and wife Carol headed to Smallwood State Park at Pisgah in Southern Maryland the past Memorial Day, we found our destination by navigational systems in our vehicles.

A big lighted map on the dashboard pointed the way, while a voice within told us when to prepare for a turn or if we missed a turn. In the old days, getting lost was half the fun. We’d encounter many interesting things while trying to bet back on track, and that’s what a camping trip is all about: Adventure.

Today’s campers take along all kinds of things never heard of when I was seriously on the trail. Things like a wireless computer, which we had in our baggage loaded into a van, a big pickup truck and trailer — all for a three day outing.

It Still Rains in the Electronic Age

Late afternoon of the second day, the skies turned ominous as Jon and Alan started broiling steaks. In my day, it would have meant driving a few more stakes into the tent and setting up the big screened-in canopy over the eating area. But everyone other than Grumpy and I turned to the screen of the wireless computer to a computerized weather map. No problem, they reported with pompous confidence pointing to the colored map. There’s bad weather, but it will pass north of us. See that storm line …

The broiling of the steaks continued. I could hear thunder, but those huddled in front of computer screens insisted the wild weather would miss us. Campers no longed need rely on the old outdated eye for the weather. Those predicted 60-mile-an-hour gusts were headed elsewhere.

Grumpy and I took to the porch of the cabin much to the ridicule of the others. From there, we looked out on wide and wandering Mattawoman Creek, where we saw amidst lightning flashes a line of water falling and winds making whitecaps on the creek.

All hell broke loose, though the steaks were saved. One end of the dining canopy lifted off the ground, and for a moment the whole shebang appeared headed for the creek. With a sharp bolt of lightning, the campground’s electrical system went out and stayed out for seven hours, which meant Alan’s portable ice-maker could no longer make ice to keep the beer cold. In the old days, we brought along ice cubes.

Everything outdoors was soaked.

Dinner was eaten by the light of an old fashioned Coleman lantern, with diners as chilly and wet as the food. The movie planned for the evening with a sheet serving as a screen on the outside of the cabin and the computer as a projector was canceled. So was a campfire. In the old days, we’d have covered the firewood at the first clap of thunder, and we’d have known where the bug repellent was because we knew wetness brought mosquitoes galore.

So one thing I don’t want this Father’s Day is a wireless computer. Enough said.

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