Sunday, August 2, 2009

Camping in Arkansas

A long, long time ago back in April, on Easter weekend in fact, we decided to take Charlie camping. Henry, still an uncertain sleeper, stayed in Memphis with his grandmother. Neal, Charlie, the dogs, and I headed west to Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas. We did a little research before our trip because we had certain criteria - a short drive, an easy pull-up car campsite, bathrooms, short hikes, and some sort of natural entertainment (if it had just been Neal and I going, all we would have needed was a campsite and hiking). Petit Jean more than met our needs with several hiking options with fantastic rewards at the end of the hikes like waterfalls and caves. My favorite hike was the Rock House Cave Trail, which took us first along a rock bed with hills of rocks that looked like enormous turtle shells. The short hike ended at the Rock House Cave. Walking toward the "cave," I got a sneaking suspicion that I had been there before.

Looking at the "cave" paintings and watching Charlie climb on rocks and kick the dust around, I recalled a time when my parents took my sister and I (around ages 13 and 10 at the time) on a two week camping trip with family friends. We drove from state park to state park across Arkansas and camped out every night. My sister was miserable the whole time. What no television? No air conditioning? My father probably wondered how my mother ever talked him into such a trip. And our travel companions probably wished they had not invited this unseasoned family along. I remember the make-shift shower that my father made, so my prissy sister would not have to shower in a public bathroom. Instead, she opted to stand outside with garbage bags draped around trees to hide her naked body with a giant plastic container of COLD water pouring over her head. Because it was cleaner.

Another incident occured one evening after dinner. While my sister, the daughter of our travel companions and I compared sit-up techniques, we heard our mothers fretting over something. My sister and Mary went outside the tent to see what was happening. I waited for them to come back and moments later I heard screams come from outside the tent. I bolted out curious and afraid. Instead of witnessing some terrible accident, I found my mother, my sister, Mrs. J. and Mary standing on top of the picnic table clutching each other tightly, shivering with fear. They had spotted a skunk. A skunk. A skunk made them leap in unison to the tabletop. Fortunately, their screams scared the skunk just enough to make him retreat into the woods rather than spray us with a foul odor in defense.

I also remember spending time with my father among some splendid natural surroundings. Although I know he did not have a wonderful time on that trip spent with a bunch of girls who were way out of their element, he does know how to appreciate the simple things and the beauty that we explored. I also remember jumping along rocks, hiking through the woods, and seeing some serious water falls.

That was the first and last camping trip my family ever went on. Somehow though, that trip stuck with me and I have loved to go camping ever since. I love the simplicity of sleeping in a tent and cooking food over a fire that I built. I love sitting by the campfire at night with no music or television, but just time to talk, share stories, and reflect on the way we live our lives at home. Some of the best conversations Neal and I have had have occurred while keeping warm by the campfire. I love the minimal amount of stuff needed to get through the day. I love the fun of getting dirty without worry.

Our most recent camping experience was a few weeks ago at Village Creek State Park in Arkansas. We took Henry along for this one night camp out hoping to gently introduce Henry to camping. The park was very nice but completely empty. We later found out that no one was there because of a recent accident involving a man from Memphis who went missing while kayaking on Lake Austell. Neal and I were sad to hear such news but we soldiered on.

The weather was nice but the bugs were awful. I doused myself in Deep Woods Off and almost made myself sick from the fumes. Wanting to protect the young ones from the fumes, we dressed them in long sleeves and pants and gave them a light mist of a spray with a lower deet content. The boys did fabulously well. I think Henry was the only one who actually slept well that night, nuzzeled between Neal and I. We went on a couple of nice short hikes, which proved to be a smart decision since one of us had to carry Henry in a sling (he's a big boy!). It was a decent trip at best, but nothing close to the camping Neal and I long for like we used to do in the Adirondacks. One day, maybe...

I hope that I will be able to share more camping experiences with my boys in the years to come. Charlie has now been on three camping trips, Henry one. We will eventually (and hopefully) brave a camping trip in which we hike to our campsite sometime when the boys will be willing to schlep some of the gear and, oh yeah, actually walk without whining for us to carry them. I may be waiting on that trip for a while, but it's fun to dream.