In college, I was the president of a service club, Circle K International. I was the charter president, and for my first three years of school, I had put my heart and soul into building the club. Well, March of my junior year rolled around. Our convention was coming up, and I would be running unopposed for the office of Lieutenant Governor in which I’d be representing three clubs on the board of the California Nevada Hawaii district.
And so it was that I wandered into the last meeting of the winter quarter, exhausted and a bit punchy as I approached the end of a 40 hour all-nighter. It would be my last meeting as president of this club that I’d worked so hard to build. The time came to gavel the meeting to order. I picked up the gavel and, as was customary, several members covered their ears as I swung it toward the brass bell.
That was unexpected, a far cry from the clarion tone that normally issued from the object. I picked up the bell to inspect it. Turning it over, I reached inside to find the thing packed with napkins, as the room erupted in laughter.
It’s funny, for all the solemnity and meaning that I had envisioned for that final call to order, I probably remember it more for my friends’ successful effort to not let me take myself too seriously. It was a reminder of who we really were, a bunch of kids finding our way through college and banding together to try do some good in the process. I find that being a parent, or for that matter, a husband or even simply a person, tends to be about the tension between vision and reality. We all have a vision of who we would like to be in each of those roles, or how each important moment will play out, but as soon as we become invested in that vision, reality catches up and turns it into something else, robbing it of the sentiment or even reverence that we seek, but replacing it with something else, something deeper because it is rooted in reality.
That’s how this camping trip played out. We’d already replaced the succession of major I-5 land marks giving way to the coast of Southwest Washington with the more familiar, but less impressive landmarks along US 2 going to Alissa’s parents’ home. We’d also punted on much of the outdoor cooking, opting to utilize the gas grill and the kitchen. We ultimately did roast hot dogs and marshmallows on the enclosed outdoor fire pit on the patio.
I still had a vision of ruggedness, roughing it as much as possible. I still had my hatchet and Leatherman. I could still chop wood and build a fire and grunt. Actually, shortly after our arrival, I think I may have had the single least manly conversational exchange ever.
Harry: Daddy, where’s your Leatherman? (As if I was going to let him use it.)
Me: It’s in Mommy’s purse.
I think that qualifies as a testosterone fail, but I’m not certain.
In any case, we got the tent set up and had a tasty dinner in the yard courtesy of Alissa’s parents. By the time we were all set up, it was approaching the kids’ bedtime, and another vision had to be put aside.
You see, this was the day after the summer solstice which has the sun setting around ten in Washington. Bedtime for the kids (and they were tired) was around nine. It kind of puts a crimp in stargazing plans when bedtime is during the daylight hours.
We retired into the tent just as the rains (which we had come to Cashmere to avoid) started. I’m happy to say, however that our tent performed beautifully in the rain, which at times was quite heavy. The sleeping arrangements were quite comfortable. Alissa’s still dealing with back issues, so she opted for a lounge chair, leaving me with the queen sized air mattress to myself. Annie and Harry each had their own mattress, and once the novelty of the tent and the fascination with the flashlights loosed their holds on them, they fell asleep and slept like logs.
I have to say, that I’ve always liked sleeping outdoors. As I’ve gotten older, the quality of the sleeping surface has become more relevant, but I’ve always enjoyed the night air. In fact, I have many memories of sleeping out without the benefit of a tent. Whether on the deck of a cabin at Camp O’Ongo or on a YMCA overnight, or even in a hole in the sand at La Purisima State Beach, it was always enjoyable. Even inside the tent, there is still a markedly different quality to the night from the indoor experience, particularly in terms of sound. It’s not just thermal insulation that walls provide, after all.
So, I fell asleep to the chirping of frogs and crickets, the rumble of the train through town, punctuated by it’s whistle, the machinery at the apple packing plant…wait, what? Now, I understand that we were in a yard in the middle of a small town, emphasis on small, but I’m writing this as a guy who grew up in Los Angeles. Not Southern California. Not the valley or the suburbs. I grew up in the City of Los Angeles. So I find it amusing to write this. Cashmere, Washington can be loud. And I’m talking about loud as experienced returning from a 3AM pit stop. Still, it did not detract one bit from the simple joy of sleeping outside.
Of course, with camping…or parenting for that matter…, there is no such thing as sleeping in, no matter how much the kids (and parents) need it. The dawn brings light and the tent has no blackout curtains. As much as I was looking forward to making coffee in our camp percolator, I can’t deny that our hosts’ bottomless coffee maker and big cups were quite welcome. This was actually to be a joint camping trip, with another family, close friends, joining us, but their school and work schedule had them arriving later than us. The initial plan was for a Friday evening arrival.
With the change of venue, we decided to forego much of the camp style cooking, as well as the need to bring a kitchen. As such, we opted to shop for food over there. That was to be our main objective for Friday.
Ah…such a simple plan!
Eventually, we found ourselves in the parking lot at the McDonald’s in Wenatchee. We bought our breakfast and ate in the car while we handled a couple of visits to the restroom. The time came for us to head out. Naturally this was the point at which I realized that I shouldn’t have left the car in accessory mode after lowering the windows, especially after having the car open a lot the previous day for loading and unloading. So, our camping hosts, Alissa’s parents, became a roadside assistance crew. Her dad and I jumped the car while everyone else played inside the restaurant.
Of course, it would not do to make the quick jaunt to Costco and shut the car down again, so we went for a drive. Before long, everybody was asleep and I drove through the early summer fields listening to a CD that I bought in 1997 that makes miss L.A. and all my friends there mightily.We continued out through East Wenatchee, passing fields labeled to show they were growing mint or alfalfa or whatnot. The scattered clouds overhead and the dark skies to the west were visually spectacular evidence of the unstable spring weather. We passed Rock Island Dam and I was able to appreciate the power of the glaciers that carved out the land, and the power of the mighty Columbia that continues to do so today. Alissa woke up when we reached Ephrata and we turned around, heading back for our shopping trip. Our friends opted for a Saturday morning arrival, which was probably a good call. Our dinner was a hybrid of burritos made with indoor prepared ingredients grilled on the the outdoor fireplace and topped off with s’mores.The rains came as we settled into the tent for the night.