Let’s Go Glamping!

I was sitting outside at work the other day, drinking my iced tea and eating grapes on my break, when the random thought, “It’d be nice to go camping!” occured to me. I am able to ignore a lot of random thoughts, but this one startled me. I do not camp. I have in the past, but I’d rather not do it again. Like the David Foster Wallace essay about going on a cruise, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, camping seems like it should be fun, in theory, but in reality, not so much. And I have no desire to ever go on a cruise, either, thank you very much.

Camping. First of all, why should I sleep on the ground when there is this great invention called the BED? Second, I hate dirt. And peeing behind trees. Indoor plumbing, hello?!

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Any activity that involves this, please let me stay home!

my idea of camping

Have you ever watched the show Monk? Mr. Monk is one of my idols. Mr. Monk had to go camping once. He didn’t like it.

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I’m fine not taking a shower for a day or 2, and being outdoors is great. Within reason. But outdoor living should refer to the Sunset magazine, California lifestyle variety, not living in a tent for fun!

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1953 Sunset cover; my kind of outdoor living.

I love a good picnic; eating out of doors is nice. Especially if you bring really good food. And make it really pretty and romantic.

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I like the idea of outdoor living. If it’s civilized.

There are wonderful ways to spend time outdoors with friends and family while remaining clean and comfortable and having access to an actual bathroom. Outdoor kitchens and living rooms are quite “the thing” these days where the weather permits.

There are more modest ways to follow this idea:

I adore the idea of the unfortunately named “she shed”, the feminine alternative to the man cave.

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These can be basic too.

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This one veers a little close to camping, but I’ll allow it since it’s adorble.

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But please don’t ask me to go camping.

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My camping experiences started when my mother married her second husband, Van. He loved camping. But his idea of camping was parking his GMC truck, equipped with a camper shell, by the side of any old river and proceeding to fish (boring) and drink a lot. I always took a lot of books. Anytime I was forced into outings with Mom and Van I made sure to have a book. I spent a lot of time in bars and by the sides of rivers reading while they drank. But since he was a cabinet maker, the camper was nicely kitted out, and Mom always tried to cook something nice. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it.

Then when I got married, we thought we liked camping. Like Van before us, what we liked was a different setting for drinking.

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We made a point of going to walk-in only sites so it would be more private and we wouldn’t be surrounded by RVs.

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Campground at Yellowstone. No thanks.

I would cook a lot of gourmet food ahead of time, we would make sure to have lots of wine, and off we’d go. I never slept well, partly from the wine, and partly because sleeping on the ground in a tent sucks! I don’t even do well with cabin camping. I didn’t sleep for an entire week last summer when I went to Maine, but I did gain a new appreciation for frogs.

Given half a chance, my ex-husband would probably have had us going out camping in an old VW hippie van.

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If we had to go camping, I’d have preferred a somewhat less conspicuous van back then (although I do love the hippie van now as a look).

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But we were poor, so it had to be a tent and sleeping bags. As long as we had the money for the wine. I can see us in something like this as well.

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I’m older, wiser, and sober now. And I think life is too short to do things we don’t like if we don’t have to.  I don’t have to go camping, and despite my random thoughts I don’t really want to.

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What about camping even appears to be fun?

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This does not look fun.

Camping is dangerous, besides. There are crazy people out there looking for dummies zipped into sleeping bags and tents, ready-made targets for horror movie mayhem. There are bugs and spiders and creepy crawly things.

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The food chain is fine and all, but I’d rather not be a part of it, thanks.

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And coffee. Let’s talk coffee. I’m sorry, cowboy romanticism aside, boiled coffee made over a campfire does not taste good.

I haven’t mastered the art of campfire espresso, although I suppose it’s possible. But I am not really interested in learning the art. My beautiful Rancilio Silvia machine at home is just fine.

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Admit it, this looks like a serious coffee maker. My best friend.

I’d consider easing myself into the idea with the she-shed (buit it does need a better name), and work my way up to “glamping”(glamour camping).

I could be a glamper. See this Project Runway clip for a good description of glamping. If Tim Gunn is on board, okay!

I’d even go with an Airstream or tear-drop trailer if they were glamped up.

There’s a book for people like me: I Hate Camping, but I Love Glamping! by Lynn Sable. There is also Glamping with MaryJane, by MaryJane Butters. I’m sure there are many more.

One thing I will grant on the plus side for camping: s’mores. I had never had a s’more until I went to Maine last summer. Zoe Weil at the Institute for Humane Education taught me how to make and eat a vegan s’more at the campfire, and I even willingly sang camp songs after ingesting a couple of those. All that was missing was a great cup of coffee.

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Age 54, my first s’mores experience.
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Use a vegan dark chocolate and Dandies vegan marshmallows for cruelty-free s’mores.

But are s’mores enough reason for camping? No, you can make s’mores at home. There is not enough chocolate in the world to make camping fun.

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Only 10?

If all tents could be like the magical ones in Harry Potter, that would be okay too. Wave a wand and have all the comforts of home at your fingertips. Or, alternatively, stay home! Or go to a nice hotel.

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The Weasley tent in one of the numerous Harry Potter films.

As we enter the summer season, I’ll be enjoying outdoor time and sunshine. Just my way, not the cowboy way. And I’ll be a happy camper, ignoring my random thoughts.

Please turn off all electronic devices

I am in my 50s (how did that happen?). I did not grow up in the world of personal computers, cell phones, tablets, iPods, etc. It was with great excitement that my family bought a color television. The old black and white set was relegated to my mother’s bedroom, where it sat on her dresser with its wire coat hanger antenna. When one of us was sick (or pretending to be), we would camp in Mom’s room and watch from her bed. We didn’t have remote controls. As the youngest of 4 children, I was the human remote control (“Hey Gen, change the channel to Mannix.”)

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I think we got 4 channels.
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Mannix, starring Mike Connors, ran from 1967 to 1975.

A fun Friday night at the Cottraux house was eating TV dinners in front of Mannix. My teenaged sisters were usually out on dates, so it would be me, my brother, and Mom, each with a TV tray and the dinner of choice. I enjoyed these, surprisingly. They were considered a treat. My food tastes have changed, thank goodness!

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Yes, I actually enjoyed these.

None of us in the immediate family like to talk on the telephone. In fact, some of us (me) hate to talk on the telephone and have telephonophobia. This is a real thing, the fear of telephones, and is considered a form of social anxiety. But my teenaged sisters HAD to have their own phone in their bedroom. It was a beautiful Princess phone. I thought my sisters were so COOL and I wanted to be just like them. Still do in fact.

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I’m not sure if my sisters’ phone was pink, but I thought it was beautiful.

 

I had no interest in mobile phones when they came out. None. Plus they were huge and hideous.

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I finally got a mobile phone in 2000 when I was working for California State Parks on a 7 a.m. – 3 p.m. shift and was often the first one at the park on cold, dark mornings. I justified it as a safety thing. I never talked on it. I had it for years. It didn’t even have games that I know of.

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So how did I become the person at the summer residency program at the Institute for Humane Education in Surry, Maine who always had her iPhone in her pocket and had trouble setting it aside during activities?

 

I’ve written a little bit about the week in Maine:

I’m finally headed to summer camp…

Falling in love with frogs

This was a time to enjoy being in a beautiful natural setting with amazing people and at least 5 species of awesome frogs. It was not a time to be worrying about where to charge a phone. Some of my favorite activities:

The Bioblitz Dance (Bioblitz Dance)

The Bioblitz Dance is an ongoing “dance” challenge as part of the National Park Service’s Centennial.  The dance was created by John Griffith of the California Conservstion Corps. You too can do the Bioblitz, and post the video to YouTube under the title “The Bioblitz Dance”. It’s fun! And remember, it MUST be done outdoors.

 

Seton Watching (Go Out and Seton Watch!)

At first I heard the name of this activity as Seated Watching. Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1946) was a naturalist and wildlife artist, born in England to Scottish parents. His family emigrated to Toronto, Canada when he was a child. He reportedly retreated to the woods to escape his abusive father.

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Ernest Thompson Seton

The idea is pretty simple. Find a comfortable spot outdoors, sit quietly, and observe. Each of us chose a spot, and every day for the week we had varying lengths of time set aside to go sit and observe. You might think my spot was the frog pond, but it wasn’t. I did my own version of Seton watching in the early morning hours at the pond. My “official” Seton watch spot was in a hammock under the trees at the edge of the meadow leading to the pond. My first choice was actually an old school desk in the woods, but I couldn’t remember which trail went there, and the hammock was empty and close by.

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The instruction was to observe a spot about the size of a magazine spread, but since I was looking up into the tree canopy, it was a little different. But still amazing. The play of light through the leaves varied each day depending on time and weather. The sounds of the wind through the trees (I think they were birches) was always intriguing. I could hear birds all around me but I couldn’t see them. I stayed awake. And I didn’t look at my phone.

Wonder Walk (Wonder Walk instructions)

Wonder Walking is done in pairs, with each person taking a turn as the Leader and as the Follower. We did this on the first day when we really didn’t know each other, so there was an element of trust that had to be assumed in turning yourself over to a stranger to be led eyes closed. The odd thing is that I was much more relaxed as the Follower than I was as the Leader. Maybe not that odd, when I think about it!

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Rafael leads me on a Wonder Walk. Photo by Abba Charice Carmichael for IHE, 2016.
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Photo by Abba Charice Carmichael for IHE, 2016.

If you are at all curious about Wonder Walking, I am game to go on one with you. Just let me know!

Group Outdoor Art Project

When this activity was announced, my first reaction was “Can’t I do an art project by myself?” Once a loner, always a loner.( I am trying to prove that wrong in my old age.) As an art museum registrar, I found it particularly interesting that all of the groups chose to do ephemeral, performance pieces. Some involved sound, including music created with natural objects in the environment. Flowers played a big role in other offerings. My group did a participatory, silent piece that resulted in a bird bath filled with flowers. It was quite beautiful. And I enjoyed the group process more than I admit.

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Also highly recommended: eating your meals with friends out of doors. And campfires with campsongs (learn the lyrics to Señor Don Gato; you’ll thank me) and (vegan) S’mores. 

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Veggie dog on the dock at Castine, Maine.
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Who doesn’t love a campfire?
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Age 54, my first S’mores experience.
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Illustration by John Manders

Get outside, and please, turn off your electronic devices!

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