The Joy of Camping

The Link, Summer 2018
| by David Newland |

There comes a time in every parent’s life when he or she wonders “Is it time to take the kids camping?” This is normal. However, the fantasy of taking them to the wilderness to fend for themselves must be discouraged.

What “taking the kids camping” actually means is “going camping with the kids,” or even “being dragged along with an enthusiastic spouse and the kids.” This scenario is to be avoided. Nothing provokes rain, bugs, wind and wild animal attack like trying to convince a reluctant spouse that camping is fun.

…shivering at a picnic table in a head net.

If you do plan to take your kids camping, first ask yourself why. Wanting to get close to nature is understandable. But many people do not realize that “nature” actually contains sand, mud, smoke, allergens, cold, sunburn and danger in unpredictable amounts. A taste of the simple life is a noble aspiration. But transporting sufficient food, shelter, clothing, tools and entertainment into a suitable spot for the weekend is anything but simple.

The easiest way to start camping is to go car-camping in a group, ideally with a couple of ringers. You don’t have to be “Nature Mom” or “Canoe Dad” yourself, as long as they are represented in your group. These people will feed your children, keep them safe and entertained – and actually enjoy doing it! This allows you to connect with your own inner camper by posting pictures of yourself on Facebook, shivering at a picnic table in a head net.

The work of camping is shared when you camp in a group, which means you have a decent chance of winding up with a job that you like, or at least don’t hate. That gets you out of other tasks. No need to hike, fetch water, erect tents or clean fish if you just volunteer “to tend the fire.” This will earn you the thanks of the adventurous types and allow you to enjoy the beautiful, soothing sound of no children for an entire afternoon.

The biggest mistake most amateurs make when camping with kids is taking it too seriously. If you pack nothing but freeze-dried gruel, insist on sleeping on the cold ground in scratchy blankets and bark military-style instructions, your children will abandon you for the parents who think camping means marshmallows for breakfast. Stay friendly with these parents – they always bring along enough intoxicants for Mardi Gras. A party awaits after lights-out. But be careful with that flask! Dawn comes early at a campsite full of children.

Above all, learn from the kids. Children adjust to camping quickly. Like coyotes, they soon run from campsite to campsite, scavenging and peeing as they go. They can’t help it. They are feral now. Their enthusiasm is infectious. Many a parent has wound up going wild, too – wearing a flattened garter snake for a headband, howling at the moon or sleeping in a poison ivy patch. Thus we return to our primal nature. But be warned: once you’ve gone camping like that, you never lose the itch.

David Newland is a writer and musician based in Cobourg. In November of 2015, David was named a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, a distinction that reflects a lifelong engagement with landscape and story.