Monday, November 11, 2013

An Ode to Camping

Frying eggs at Mason Park (Dave, Steve, Peter L., ca. 1950)  [VAL photo]

Dear George,
I don’t devote all my spare time to camping, but it is one of my more enjoyable activities these days.  It’s difficult to cajole Katja (who’s a Philadelphia urbanite) into sleeping in a tent, so I bring along the sheepdogs instead.  My affinity for camping results, of course, from growing up in the Upper Peninsula.  We lived on the river out in the country, so the forest was an important part of our everyday lives.  Mason Park was a mile or two up the road on Riverside Boulevard, and, by age 13, it was my favorite spot for overnight outings.  By today’s standards it was meagerly developed as a park.  There was one outhouse and rings of rocks where you could build campfires, but I don’t think it even had tables for its half dozen campsites.  On other occasions my brother Steven and I would get in the rowboat and head off to Pig Island across the river or to Indian Island a mile upstream.  We’d pick a spot along the shore, clear some ground to pitch our tent, build a fire pit, make kitchen equipment out of tree branches, dig a latrine off in the distance, and boil river water to drink.  Camping meant freedom – getting away from home and parents – self-sufficiency, and adventure.  I was taken at the time with Henry Thoreau’s Walden and the story of Robinson Crusoe.  It still amazes me that one can go into the forest with a minimum amount of equipment and create a complete homestead that meets all one’s life needs.  These days I go car camping at area parks, and it’s a more civilized venture.  Nonetheless, camping out still has the benefits of a break with one’s everyday environment and a vacation out in nature.  Our sheepdogs, Mike and Duffy, aren’t that thrilled about it though.  They’re drawn to familiar surroundings, and I suspect they prefer the luxuries of life in our household.  But they’re good comrades nonetheless.  On a recent trip I started writing short poems to celebrate various “icons” of camping.  Here’s what I wound up with.

The Forest

The forest is ripe with mystery
It teems with invisible life
A chunk of my childhood history
A refuge from tedium and strife

The Campground

A campground is like a small city
Its residents come and they go
The surroundings are wildly pretty
On Tuesdays I imagine I’m Thoreau

The Lake

I try to camp right next to the lake
It's a kaleidoscopic view
I glance out the window when I awake
The water with its mist, the cattails with dew

The Sheepdogs

As campers the sheepdogs are eighty percent good
They’re loving and patient and true
I wouldn’t say that they relish the wood
But they’re clearly a part of the crew

The Tent

My favorite tent is blue and white
I can set it up in a breeze
It keeps us safe from goblins at night
Not to mention mosquitoes and bees

The Deer

The deer watch us anxiously from afar
They’re uncertain whether to run
The sheepdogs view them as quite bizarre
Would chasing them be lots of fun?

The Camp Stove

My Coleman stove’s an amazing thing
One match and it heats in a flash
I find no matter what food I bring
It always tastes like burnt hash

The Hatchet

The hatchet, you know, is a dangerous tool
You can slice off your fingers or toes
Safety first is the golden rule
That's something that every Scout knows

The Sunset

Sunset’s the grandest time of day
The sky blazes yellow and red
The second the daylight goes away
The dogs think it’s time for bed

The Campfire

I light the fire as night descends
I’m hypnotized by the flames
Nostalgic memories of family and friends
I puzzle over life's murky aims

The Night

Camping's eeriest time is at night
We listen to sounds in the dark
I do my best to suppress my fright
Are those wolves that I hear in the park?

The Air Mattress

My air mattress seems as firm as can be
It helps me go right to sleep
But at two in the morning or maybe three
I’m flat on the ground in a heap

The Lantern

My lantern lights up the campsite
It turns the black night into day
The mantel is such a blazing white
It keeps squishy creatures at bay

The Flashlight

I keep my flashlight right next to my bed
It’s there when I wake in the night
If unknown sounds overwhelm me with dread
I flick on my light and all’s right

The Knife

My Swiss Army knife’s such a clever device
With its scissors and a sharp leather punch
It cost a lot but it’s worth the price
Without it we’d be a sad bunch

The Trail

You never know where the trail will lead
You might see an eagle or deer
I tend to walk at a moderate speed
And the dogs like to bring up the rear


Camping takes me back in space and time
To a world that’s unlike any other
Some days I imagine I’m in my prime
Still I wish I were back with my brother


  1. Great stuff David! We are adding you to our poetry blog section on our website which is for home care aides to share with their clients who don't realize there are blogs like yours that they can read and enjoy. Thanks for your work! It is appreciated.

    1. Thanks, Carley. I'm glad to hear that.