camping

The Woodys survive a camping trip. Larry Woody

An outdoors catalogue arrived the other day, featuring a special camping section.

It was illustrated by an idyllic scene: a tent pitched on the shore of a sun-bathed lake from which Camping Dad is netting a fish. Camping Mom cheerfully grills burgers while a couple of Camping Kids frolic with their Camping Dog.

Camping? That’s not camping.

Camping is huddling out of the rain in a sagging old tent that keeps out everything but skeeters and water, and smells like grandpa’s mildewed socks.

Dad can’t fish. He forgot his tackle when the sleepy family rushed off before dawn to get a jump on the trip.

The kids are bored and grumpy, and the dog has been pooch-non-grata since catching a skunk the first night in camp.

Mom was cooking burgers when the cloudburst stuck. When she ducked in out of the rain, the dog ate the burgers before going off to catch another skunk. Supper is cold beanie-weenies and soggy Fig Newtons.

I speak from experience.

Years ago our family went on a camping trip in the Manitoba wilderness. It was just as I described.

It rained every day except one. That day it snowed.

Our little band of shivering refugees huddled in the tent, wrapped in damp sleeping bags.

Just when we thought the living conditions couldn’t get any worse, Brian, age 4, released a box of night crawlers.

Susan, 11, moved her sleeping bag into the van.

Their mom bravely tried to cook over a smoldering campfire, dodging smoke from the wet wood. By the end of the second day, she smelled like a Jimmy Dean sausage.

We told her she smelled delicious. She failed to appreciate the compliment.

One night we heard rustling outside the tent. Since we were in bear country, I suggested someone should go check it out. Susan was sleeping in the van, and mom was busy trying to keep Brian from eating nightcrawlers. That left me.

I shined my light on the food cooler where the noise was coming from. It wasn’t a bear, it was worse: a giant skunk.

It whirled around, raised its tail, and threatened chemical warfare. I retreated into the tent but before I could zip up the flap, Buddy the dog darted out, lunged at the skunk, and got sprayed.

The next day it snowed. Camping Mom suggested it might be time to break camp.

By the time we reached International Falls we had almost thawed out. A surly Canadian border guard asked what we were bringing across. We said nothing but pine needles and a stinky dog, and he was welcome to the dog. He waved us through.

Hours later, as we sped through Chicago, the strap holding our gear on top of the van broke. Tent, tent poles, cooler, cooking grill and other camping effluvia went flying in our wake.

I didn’t slow down. From the backseat I thought I heard a cheer.

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