The Cast: Myself (with my thoughts).

As I lay in the water I wondered why we were there. Why did we camp here?

This previous week I was fortunate to be able to attend a campout, with my daughter, that my church does for the young women (we also do one for the young men and the youth combined). It rained. It rained a lot. A way lot. There were floodings in the nearby cities. The girls remained dry and warm, and we were able to have lots of fun during the sunshine hours—there was paintball, hikes, and other activities.

Knowing full well that there may be (would be) rain, upon arrival, we set up the tents and gear quickly and correctly. Then, prepared for the rain.

I had my own tent and had it set up in no time. I also had my extra preparations done as well. So, I went about assisting anyone who needed it. In doing so I was reminded of an event I hadn’t thought of in years. That got me to thinking of my childhood and some of the most memorable moments that I had in the great outdoors.

As I worked with another leader setting up her tent, she told me of how her father used to take the family backpacking, when she was young. How they would pack all their supplies and remain in the mountains for days at a time. How no matter what, she never had to dig rain trenches like what we were doing now. She said something like, “I guess we just always camped in the best spots.” What does that mean? She explained that they did get rain, but for whatever reason, it was never bad, and their campsite was never rained on. How?!?

So, there I was, showing her how to dig a trench around her tent so that if the downpour was severe enough, the water would be redirected. We shared some of our different childhood camping experiences and I was reminded of one—in particular—that was very relevant to the current situation. Sadly, I don’t remember much about it. But, I will provide you with the highlights.

My family used to be ranchers. Cattle and sheep. We had a large amount of land in Southern Utah and possibly down into Arizona and Nevada. I say ‘possibly’ because I don’t know. My father’s father died when my dad was only sixteen. The business was split up and much has been lost over time—information as well as property. As long as I’ve known my dad he was never a rancher. He was an accountant for different businesses and worked for Kmart for a time, but never a rancher.

I only mention the ranching thing because it provided my family with a tent. The very tent my father and his father would use when on the mountain with the sheep and cattle. It was a large, white, canvas tent. It had thick wooden poles with metal fasteners and scratchy ropes that used massive (well, I thought they were massive) wooden stakes to secure it. The four wall corners needed to be tied together, once the tent was erected. This was because any of the four sides could be rolled up for airflow. It had no floor, was made of canvas, also super hot (when in direct sunlight), was big enough for our family, and was used on every camping trip.

Once, when I was very young, my family headed into the mountains of Montana, late on a Friday afternoon for a weekend of camping. Along the way, it began to rain. Then, it began to pour. Then, the cats and dogs fell from the sky. It was bad. Each raindrop sounded like rocks dropped onto the car. Eventually, we pulled over—my memory of exactly where we parked is very vague which I am sure is due partially to my then grogginess and my age (both then and now)—at what seemed like just the side of the road in the mountains. We got out of the car, pulled out the tent, and began to set it up. The rain made everything miserable. The lightning made seeing easier, but the situation scarier. Finally, after what felt like forever, the tent was up, we were in our pajamas, in our sleeping bags, and trying to get some rest. It didn’t work.

Because the tent was not properly erected (it was dark and we were in a rush due to the storm), the small patch of dryer dirt that we had found to lay upon was developing tributaries. And, they were running under our sleeping bags. “Everyone, into the car! Now!” Mom was done. I don’t know if she was done because she was done, or if she was done because her children were miserable. Either way, the family was rapidly chucking stuff back into the car and the tent was wadded up and tossed in also. Then, the long, wet drive home commenced. It was our only aborted family camping trip ever.

That tent was later set up in our backyard to dry out. It became a favorite summer fixture. Sleeping in it. Sitting in it and drinking lemonade. Eating popsicles under its hot shade (it was canvas and like an oven in there—it was awesome). Eventually, after decades of use, my father’s family tent rotted, decayed, and was thrown away. I miss that tent.

My brother has talked about the romance of the mountains and camping. Not the kissy-kissy romance, but, the beauty and majesty kind of romance. I understand. Some of my best memories are of camping and being outdoors. As a small child, I remember a campout where my childhood best bud (Michael) and I got to have a tent all to ourselves. I brought a camping pan with teflon coating (that stuff was new back then) and it had a collapsing handle to make it easier to pack. It was AWESOME!!! (I still have the pan, the teflon is shot, but that collapsing handle…) I also brought a giant bucket of Cracker Jack for us to share. Yes, I said a bucket. We stayed up, snacked, told jokes, and just enjoyed being friends.

On that campout—which was a Cub Scout campout—our Pack hiked up to a nearby dam to do some fishing. My dad had bought me my own tackle box and some gear just for the trip. To this day, I don’t like fishing, but I understand why others do and, as a side note, that tackle box’s molded hinges finally gave into age and snapped just a few years ago. Anyway, while at the dam, all the Scouts had spread out to fish. One boy had moved out onto a small peninsula to be away from everyone, so as not to tangle lines—smart. On his first cast, his reel exploded.

He had just reloaded his reel with new line. He was sure everything was tight and connected. He knew how to do all this. The leaders had even been near enough to oversee, but let him do it on his own. The boy had brought his pole backward to cast, and in the forward whip the real just… exploded. It fell apart. It disassembled itself and the parts went flying. Into the lake. Fortunately, the fishing line was properly run through all the parts so, all he had to do was pull it in. Still, it took him hours to get it all put back proper and fish. While we all still felt bad for him, we all still laughed at the situation—even the boy laughed. One of the funniest things I have ever seen. Ever.

When I lived in Montana, my church used to have a family campout in the summer. Everyone was invited and the families would spend several days in the woods. Michael and I would share a pup tent and run through the woods like wild animals. Once, Michael and I returned to camp to find nobody around. Nobody, except a few dads. Oh, and a moose. The moose was just standing there. That’s all. Just standing there. In the middle of camp. The men were almost surrounding it, holding pans in their hands and shouting at it, trying to shoo it away. It wasn’t working. Michael and I wanted to pet it. How often do you get to pet a live moose? A live, wild moose? Think about it. Yeah…

Suddenly, the two of us were grabbed and held onto, for our own safety. Apparently, cartoons lie to you. Bullwinkle and his ilk are not typically friendly, not typically aggressive either. Oh, and their size can make them extremely dangerous. Go figure. Eventually, the moose got bored (I guess) and just sauntered away as it chewed on whatever was in its mouth. Sorta like, “Well, this is boring. You guys are noisy and no fun, whatsoever. I’m outta here. Later.”

On that same trip, Michael, his dad, myself, and my dad all went for a hike together. It was awesome. Our dads walked, Michael and I ran around them, the surrounding woods, them, and all over creation, while our dads just walked up the trail. About halfway to our destination, we came across a boulder. And, not just any boulder. The perfect boulder. This boulder could have been a movie prop, like in Indiana Jones (you know the boulder, you know you do). It was large and almost perfectly round. And, it sat right on the edge of the trail, on the downhill side. “Can we push it over the edge?” Came the eager inquiry of Michael and myself. To our surprise, our fathers said, “Yes.”

To this day, I don’t know if they agreed because they didn’t think we could do it, or what. But, they did. They mentioned that that side of the mountain was safe because nobody was down that side. Okay, good enough for me. And, Michael and I began to push. Surprisingly, it didn’t take that much effort. Soon, the boulder moved, then rolled. It quickly picked up speed and began to bounce and roll faster. So far, so good. It was keeping in the open area of the trees that thickly cover the mountain slope. A large, relatively clear area, that would allow for the four of us to watch it for some time before it would be out of site. However, it was headed straight for a small pine tree.

The memory of this is one that must remain even if senility ever sets in—which it probably will. The boulder went straight for the pine. Like a bowling ball headed for the #1 pin and a strike. The boulder struck it and kept rolling along as if nothing ever happened. Like nothing was ever there. The tree, however, reacted ever so violently differently. It launched straight into the air. Straight. Into. The. Air. Straight up. Like a rocket. There was, of course, a terrible crushing sound as the wood splintered and debris went all about in a small dusty cloud. The trunk was snapped about a foot above the ground and remained in place while the rest of the tree went straight up—like a rocket. I swear it. It launched about twelve feet into the air, then fell back to Earth, hit ground, and rolled off to its companions for consolation. One of the most amazing things I ever saw. Ever.

As I have mentioned a few times, in previous stories, my wife and I spent time working at a summer camp for the Boy Scouts of America. Looking back, I have often felt bad about not doing more family camping. Then, Cindy reminds me that our children camped every summer, for weeks at a time, for years. Well, fine.

One of my most favorite romantic moments on that mountain was an early morning staff meeting. It was about 6:45. The mist of the day was just lifting. The sun was cresting over the Eastern ridge. The thin columns of smoke from the previous night’s campfires lazily drifted upward. The temperature was just cool enough that the air pressure kept the early morning misty-fog wisps from rising too high. Leveling them off at about thirty feet in the air. All those campfires’ smoky-coolings only drifted up, into the mist, leveled off, then mixed with it. Adding to nature’s foggy valley-ceiling. There I stood, witness to it all. Fresh dew on the meadow, glistening on the grass blades and flower petals. All across our valley, campfire smoke was mingling with morning fog and drifting above my head, yet below the tops of the trees, creating a canopy of almost-clarity. The sun’s rays filtering through branches of green and refracted throughout that smoke-mist veil. I could have stood there all day—if it could have lasted all day. Truly one of the most magnificent things I have ever seen. Ever.

Erich and I spent an interesting time camping in the snow. He thought I was going to fall asleep into the fire (yes, you read that correctly—more on that in another post). I almost blinded him with a flare grenade (yes, you read that correctly—more on that in that other post).

Over the years I have spent all manner of time in the outdoors. I have slept curled up in a foxhole. I have slept in arctic conditions in the snow. Out in the open desert, on the sand. In the jungle. In the woods. In trees. On the ground. In caves. In water. In calm weather and in storms of all kinds. With my church. With my family (parents, brother, and sisters). My family (my wife and children). I have spent so much time ‘camping’ (for Uncle Sam or for my own personal fun) for many, many years. And, with all that, I have concluded that they are some of my most cherished memories (even the less than desirable experiences). My time outdoors is part of who I am. A bigger part than I had ever realized.

I have missed it. Recently, time and events have not always allowed it to happen. And, this last campout with the young women group, getting to spend time with my daughter, was a wonderful reminder of all that—even if it did rain (a lot). I was having the time of my life with Aurora. While my body doesn’t exactly share the same feelings as my mind or my heart (I’m older, I’m not pretending anything), I would do it again, without hesitation. All of it. I love the outdoors. I love the mountains. I don’t know what I would do, or who I would be, without them. There truly is something special, something majestic, something romantic, about being in the mountains.

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