When I was little, I would pack up a backpack, grab a flashlight, pillow and blanket and go camping—in my front yard. I had a tiny tent. Each panel was one of the primary colors: yellow, red and blue. I would sleep in my purple sleeping bag, which was pink and fuzzy on the inside. I always brought a book and read it by flashlight way past my bedtime. These are the things I remember.
I also remember feeling independent, like a grown up. Going out on my own. Sometimes I would pretend my parents abandoned me and I had to survive on my own, like the orphaned children did in the book series “The Boxcar Children,” which I read obsessively. I remember a scene from the book when they had to scrounge for food and they ate bread soaked in milk. I would pretend to eat that with my little set of camping utensils that my parents got me—a small fork, spoon and knife, a canteen and a metal cup.
I’m sure these are things many country kids are familiar with. I’ve asked some people if they remember their experiences with camping in the yard. My mom said she and her two sisters didn’t have a tent so their dad let them sleep in the car, and if they needed anything “just blow the horn.” Then my mom saved up money and bought herself a small army tent. Jessica Harris, a dance teacher at The Dance Center in Port Jervis, NY, said, “When I was little, I put a tent in the front yard and brought my pet rabbit in it. The rabbit peed on my sleeping bag. That was the end of the camping experience.” Mariana Garces, my friend from college who grew up in New Hampshire, said, “One time my best friend and I made a two-person tent out of tarps and sticks and nautical rope just to see if we could do it. It was the worst tent I’ve ever slept in and it rained that night. We were 14.”
And then there were the times I would “camp out” in my own room. I would tie a string from my bed to my desk and then drape a blanket over the string, pulling the sides of the blanket out and holding them down with something. I would put my sleeping bag inside and spend hours in there, mostly reading. Or if my friends came over, we would hang out in it. I have a vivid memory of my neighbors Raye and Emma coming over, and we sat in the tent and split a cinnamon, brown sugar Pop Tart.
Even if you weren’t raised in the country, camping is something that most kids find magical. It’s like having your own house. It means being in nature, and looking at the stars at night. It’s cooking your own food using limited resources. It’s sleeping in fresh air. It’s hearing the many sounds of nature—peepers, crickets, birds, the rustling of trees, an animal moving the leaves. It brings us back to our ancestors, and where we come from. It’s a departure from regular life.
Today, I can’t figure out why anyone would want to sleep on the hard ground.