Sunday, August 24, 2014

Tent Camping & Why our Family Loves it

The view I had while cooking dinner in New Brunswick.
Dappled shadows danced upon the red filmy fabric above my head, as I groggily woke from sleep to the sound of birds and crashing waves. Poking my head from the tent, I felt the salty breeze caress my face, and my heart soared. True, the bathroom was a few minutes' walk away, requiring me to pass by other campers, some already stoking their fires and some still asleep. But I loved seeing the ocean as I walked, and the constant wind woke my mind and soul, easily drawing me to God.

My family and I have just returned from 19 days away, 8 nights of which were spent tent camping, but almost all 19 of which included vast quantities of time spent outside. Putting on sunscreen and bugspray were daily routines, as we figured we'd always have at least a few hours outside, if not the whole day and night. Thankfully our holiday was spent north and northeast (in Quebec, the Maritimes, and Maine), so the temperatures were mild and (except for a few days too cold or rainy) I loved every minute in the great outdoors.

As we neared the end of our vacation, and began staying in rooms instead of our tent, I actually felt a loss. I might be the only one crazy enough to say it, but I truly preferred a campsite to a hotel room! I know my children felt similarly. My daughter feels like she's been 'gypped' by not having had more tent camping experience in her early childhood. She is jealous of me, knowing that I camped every year as a child.

So what were my thoughts? Here are some reasons we loved our camping experience...

1) While camping, everyone needs to work together to accomplish the most basic tasks. This (ideally) builds teamwork. To be frank, we weren't the best at this, and it often caused angst and fighting. But I know we can do better and regardless, it was good for the kids to learn basic skills and to see that they're needed.
Ethan and Naomi help unload the rooftop carrier
 2) Fresh air is refreshing for the soul (and good for the body)! I admit that living in constant fresh air would have been a lot less pleasant had we been in warmer, more humid climes. But even during sunnier or warmer times, when I started to feel less comfortable, I learned to appreciate shade and water much more! We enjoyed all the various scents that come with fresh air ... pine trees, flowers, ocean salt ... and loved being one with the world around us. We noticed more clouds, stars, animals, plants than we ever would have inside. I know that some people need more constantly regulated air supplies and even for health reasons, need to be inside. But I'm the opposite. I love nature, love the feeling of moving air touching my face, and feel claustrophobic when inside, especially if it's too warm and still.
The kids are so happy to arrive at our campground after a long day of driving!

3) We learned that life can be very simple. My cooking supply box had only the essentials and it was refreshing to cook using minimal dishes and utensils. True, we had to wash those dishes after every meal since there were no extras. But despite the complaints of the children regarding this, I'm sure that we didn't spend any more time hand-washing and drying than we do at home, rinsing, loading and unloading the dishwasher. Rather, we learned to conserve water (since the kids had to fetch it from the spigot, never in our own campsite) and to work speedily and efficiently.

Not only was cooking more simple, so was our fun and our space. The kids got by with the few games and books they'd brought, and weren't distracted by mounds of superfluous toys. Our clothes were limited, our bedding didn't need to be "made up" each day, and there was no space for extra mess. This was especially refreshing when compared to the messy, cluttered home we usually live in.

Most critically, since our cell phones didn't work in Canada and we had to go out of our way to find internet for our laptop, we were almost completely unplugged, which is one of the best ways to be simple and enjoy life moment by moment.
The kids help Steve put up our brand-new tent.

4) We were together. This had its challenges, as I sometimes felt that we were too together. But not usually. At home, even in our small townhouse, we spread out to different rooms, choose different activities, sometimes not talking much and not generally sharing the same experiences. While camping, we shared everything, even going to the bathroom/showers! We went to bed at the same time, got up at similar times, shared in kitchen duties when it was meal time, enjoyed games, drives or hikes together when duties were finished. At night, we read Anne of Green Gables together in the tent. Of course there were many times when we got on each others' nerves, and since we had varying expectations of the 'ideal vacation,' we couldn't always please everyone with our activity choices. But even in that, we learned to give and take. We practiced compromise and (tried to have) positive attitudes. I think that overall, it was a blessing to live life together.
The kids on the Skyline Trail, in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
 Other reasons we enjoyed camping include:
   * singing folksongs with guitar around a campfire
   * meeting interesting and friendly people
   * not needing to sweep or vacuum
   * not needing to clean bathrooms
   * eating s'mores -- enough said!
   * freedom for children to run around and get dirty

A few things that were more difficult...
   * noise, especially when an untaut tarp is overhead and wind is blowing violently, or when a newcomer drives into the spot right next to your tent at 11 PM and you've already gone to bed
   * bathrooms being far away when you desperately have to go, and especially when you have to take your half-asleep child one more time around midnight
   * dirt and bugs (if you care -- I chose to just take it in stride)
   * most campgrounds now do not let you bring in your own firewood, so campfires were an extra expense and not one we could indulge in every night. 
All in all, I'm so grateful to have had those few weeks in Canada, and while appreciative of beds and couchsurfing hosts when we had them, am even more thankful for the nights we camped. God's world is an amazing place and to be part of it was a privilege and a joy.

Cape Jourimain, New Brunswick