When I was little our family would prepare for "family camp" every spring. All of my aunts and uncles and cousins would pack up their trucks and campers and my grandparents would hop in their RV and we'd all meet somewhere around the border of Arizona and California for a full weekend of endless play.
The sun was hot, the water was cool, the inner-tube was called Big Bertha and our sunburns were our constant companions. The war wounds of a childhood summer.
We'd hike and discover and get oh so dirty, we'd stay far away from the grassy bit of marsh that was rumored to house snapping turtles. We'd definitely stay away from strangers (but maybe we'd giggle at the cute ones), and we would build elaborate sandcastles in between begging for our turn on the jet ski.
Our little group campsite was packed with tents. The boys would absolutely try to sneak up on the girl tents and try to scare us. They needn't bother, though, because generally we were quite talented at scaring ourselves.
I remember carefully packing my belongings, which included a bathing suit, various comfy clothes and my walkman, the only technology I possessed at the time. It held Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On because obviously that was the ballad of my life. Listen, repeat. Listen, repeat.
Wait there's a repeat button? My walkman is so fancy!
On Labor Day, my husband and I planned out our very first camping trip together. It brought back a lot of memories. I hadn't been camping since those sweet summer days of childhood.
To our great shock and appall, we couldn't get anyone to come camping with us. Nobody likes camping! Where are all the free spirits? Where is the nostalgia? Is camping something people outgrow?
Luckily we roped in my little brother and a couple from our church who would join us halfway through the weekend, but we still felt pretty discouraged. Camping is an American pastime. It's brilliant and wild and free and unplugged. It's also so easy, right? At least, that's how I remember it.
Needless to say, it was quite different as an adult. Wait, camping costs money? Why in the sam hill does this tent refuse to function? What is all this stuff? What does "percolator" mean?
Despite the little challenges and our multiple whoops-es and moments of dear lord we need to write our parents a thank you letter, I am a firm believer in camping and chasing out that wild heart in us.
This is why we camp, ya'll.
Even as an introvert I absolutely love group gatherings. I prefer smaller ones, of course, but there's something incredibly refreshing about joining together with people you love over a meal.
Camping is just a string of days connected by meals. How about we wake up and have breakfast? How about we laze around until lunch? How about we eat an entire bag of chips while we dream about dinner? Don't forget to snack on this granola while you collect more firewood.
It's just a dreamy commune. You cook the baked beans, I'll do the dishes. Togetherness, camping style. Let me spray your back with bug spray! Oh, it's my pleasure!
The entire experience is dappled with groups of other families, too. You can sit around your fire and hear the distant giggling of children (which sounds a bit creepy, but really, it's delightful), and catch wisps of your neighbor's Latin music across the trees. Everyone doing their thang, separate but together in the joys of weekend bliss.
Holy happy body cradle, hammocks are amazing. My husband is an angel and found this striped hippy hammock for $20 at Walmart.
I feel as if my years of life have slowly erased the unadulterated joy of hammocks from my memory until this year. We were reunited and it all came rushing back. I want a hammock in every room of my house. Sure, they're hazardous. Sure, the ropes can slip off the tree and you can fall flat on your back (just ask my brother), but I promise you they are doing their darndest to make your life a friggin' fairyland. Lie back in your cocoon, little one, let the sunshine lull you right to sleep.
Don't try and tell me you don't enjoy fresh air. Nobody walks out their front door on a beautiful day and says, GROSS! AIR! GAH!
I hate when people say "I don't really enjoy the outdoors". Okay, ya hermit, the world doesn't like you either. Go back inside lest you die from blue skies and sunshine.
Camping doesn't have to be hiking and paddle-boating and running around in circles just for the heck of sweating like a barbarian. I like camping best if it involves no exercise. It's totally an option. It's an option I demand, actually. Because hammocks.
4. HEAR ME ROAR
Perhaps the best part of camping is that it's rather rewarding. There are so many opportunities for creativity and innovation. Like my husband's hand-washing station (a family ingenuity), which was constructed using a gallon jug of water, a golf tee, some hosiery, and a bar of soap. You poke a hole in the front of the jug using the golf tee as a plug, then plop the bar of soap in the hose and hang it from the jug handle. Then you tie the entire jug at face-height around a tree. Unplug, rinse, lather, rinse, plug.
Cleanliness is the most exquisite of camping accomplishments.
When you finally do get that tent up, it is the best darn tent in the universe. Camping is just like creating an awesome blanket fort in your living room, but it's outside and actually habitable for days. Your amateur 5-year-old self is so jealous. All those homey touches and hard-earned adjustments have swelled you with pride. That tarp ceiling perfectly shades the card table. That clan of spiders plotting your demise under the stone benches didn't stand a chance against that flaming stick.
When you sit down to eat that fire-cooked meal, you are king. When you close your eyes and can smell nothing but earthy smoke and roasting marshmallows, life has never been sweeter.
In the cool evenings your sweatshirt is your best friend, your makeshift bed is a cozy hideaway of s'more-filled dreams, and your campsite is a place of ragged victory.
5. WILD AND FREE AND FIRE
Lookout because I'm gonna drop some knowledge. Unplugging is one of the most incredible gifts we can give to ourselves, our friends and our family. I'll refrain from saying "in this day and age" but you know what I'm sayin' up in here. Put the phones away, make it up as you go along, tear yourself away from Google for a sec and try to answer a few questions by yourself.
Bring out your inner caveman and throw the corn straight on the fire. Eat 517 s'mores because it's good for your heart (not true) and soul (definitely true). Don't let s'mores become obsolete, youngins.
Go on a journey to find the stars and think of stories you haven't told in a really, really long time. Reconnect and recharge and be wild and free and fire.
It's why we camp.