Friday, September 28, 2007


This column originally appeared in the Norton Mirror in August of 2001.

Every August my wife and children engage in the annual masochistic exercise they refer to as “camping”. And because they love and adore me, they always ask me to share in it and be a part of their wilderness bonding experience.

Thus it was that last week I trudged up to the barrenness of North Monmouth, Maine – God’s country, where instead of “Do Not Litter” the street signs say “Watch For Moose in Road”. As part of a group of 40 or so friends who annually take this trek, we rented the usual campsite on the shore of some impossible-to-spell lake and settled in for a week of natural bliss.

Unlike my wife and kids I find nothing natural about this “camping” thing. In fact, I find it to be quite unnatural. It is difficult to understand why people with perfectly comfortable beds at home would want to travel hundreds of miles to sleep on the ground inside a canvas structure with walls so thin you can now hear seven people snoring instead of just one.

I am not a wilderness scout. My idea of roughing it on a trip is when the hotel has no room service after midnight. Sure, I can appreciate the natural beauty of a still lake surrounded by mountains with the sun glistening off it and slowly sinking beyond the horizon. I just would much rather appreciate its beauty from the deck of my well-appointed chalet than from the rickety folding chair that rusts all winter long in my cellar.

And the whole bathroom thing is a real drag. I must be missing the Daniel Boone gene, because I get no particular primitive pleasure from urinating in the woods. When nature calls in the middle of the night (and at my age it seems to be dropping in more often) I don’t enjoy getting up, getting dressed, grabbing a flashlight and walking five minutes to get to what some sick, sadistic campground owner has dubbed “The Comfort Station.”

Comfort my foot. Three toilets, three sinks, a couple of urinals and a questionable shower with a slot where you must put in a quarter is hardly my idea of comfort. Stepping out of the shower and taking the sink between the 300-pound bearded and tattooed motorcycle gentleman and the smiling elderly man with the “I’m Retired – And Loving It” t-shirt is not my idea of a great start to the morning.

And while camping may be a beautiful experience when the sun is shining, it is something a bit less than that when the weather decides not to cooperate. One year my wife told me to dig a trench around our tent so that if it rained, the water would have someplace to run. So I dutifully dug the trench, under her watchful and expert eye.

And sure enough, the rains came. And it rained so hard, and for so long, that I expected to see Noah at the site next door. And my well-constructed trench? Forget it – I could have dug a full-fledged moat and it would not have made a damn bit of difference. Our tent collapsed, our sleeping bags were soaked, our clothes threatened to float away.

My wife asked me to hold up the center aluminum pole of the tent while she emptied our soaked belongings into the car. As I stood in a huge puddle of water, holding up the aluminum pole and watching the lightning illuminate the sky, it occurred to me there might possibly be a better way to spend my vacation.

Of course, the people do make it fun. And there is the evenings spent around the campfire, drinking and telling stories. It doesn’t exactly make me forget the constant longing I feel for my big screen TV and ESPN, but it is fun.

One night the big entertainment for the camping group was to lay out on the beach at night and watch shooting stars. I tried it – I really did. But after three or four times of hearing “Oh look – there’s a good one” followed by a chorus of ooohhs and aaahhs, I had to get up and leave.

They found me hours later, sitting in the seat of my car. I had the radio tuned to the Red Sox game, the Patriots preseason game barely showing up on a battery-operated TV, and reading by the light of a lantern hanging on the door.

Now they only ask me up for a day or two. It’s better that way.

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