Our first campers of the year arrived around Memorial Day. The weather was glorious, a far cry from any camping experiences I’d ever had. My childhood vacations were spent sleeping in a small orange pup tent, a thin layer of nylon that separated my body from the elements. At the time I was convinced that we went camping because my parents were either too poor or too stubborn to pay for a hotel room. Mostly I associated sleeping in a tent with playing card games because when it rained, as it inevitably did, that was our default activity.
My family wasn’t really the “vacation” type. At least not the vacations that other kids seemed to have. While my classmates were spending their summers at hotels with pools and amusement parks, we spent ours sleeping in a tent and visiting the homes of dead people. My mom had a thing for historical sites, the kind that preserve a semi-famous person’s house complete with dusty velvet ropes to keep you from sitting on the decrepit furniture. They always looked and smelled like a musty attic, and I wasn’t sure how anyone had ever been duped into going there. That was until you factored in the fact that we were in an actual building and not in a tent, and then they briefly went up in my book.
It wasn’t until I lived on the farm that I learned that people actually enjoy camping. Alan says it’s because I don’t drink beer. In his eyes, the two go hand in hand. Drinking helps, he assures me. He doesn’t much care for camping either, but then again he doesn’t much care for his day job, and a good beer always helps there too. You should try it, he says convincingly.
I don’t drink beer, and I don’t drink much of anything and what I’ve mostly learned is that drinking seems to be the cure for a lot of things. Too hot, grab a beer. Too cold, grab a glass of wine. Good day, IPA. Bad day, need a drink. Can’t have beer during Lent? Vodka is totally acceptable. I don’t know the rhyme or reason to the rules, or if by the third drink no one is much concerned with reason anyway. My parents don’t drink, which made the whole camping thing all the more perplexing.
Our campers arrived before Alan got home from work so I gave them a quick tour of the farm to show them around. I pointed out necessities and oddities alike – the firewood, fresh water, a hidden duck nest, the new baby chick that had hatched the day before. They were on the return leg of a month-long cross-country trip with their young son. The boy, a spitfire whose sole purpose in life was to cram as many questions into a single breath as possible, surveyed our landscape with skeptical curiosity. As we crossed into the different sections of the farm he’d ask Is this yours TOO? as if it was all too much to believe. I suppose when you’ve been confined to a hatchback and a tent, it all seems massively unreal.
When we walked past the chicken yard, Fandango puffed up his feathers and crowed out a warning. Is he gonna wake me up in the morning? the boy asked, not at all thrilled with the prospect. He might, I supposed, if you’re a really light sleeper. When you camp on a farm, it’s kind of a package deal. The sounds come with the peace and quiet. I wondered if he was as disapproving of the sounds in the city where he was from. I’ll take a rooster over a car alarm any day.
At one point the boy decided he wasn’t much interested in the tour and said he’d just stay by the pond because he loved water. He crouched down and lovingly admired the tiniest and muckiest of water holes on our property, the one the bullfrogs love but not really much else. Oh honey… I told him I’d show him a much better pond than that. We walked down the length of the orchard as he asked dubious questions. How far were we gonna have to walk? How small was this pond that he couldn’t see it from where we were? Where was it hiding? Was I really sure there was another pond, and why were there two when one would surely suffice? We rounded the corner of the barn foundation and he stopped in his tracks and gasped. It was the biggest pond in the whole entire world.
I left the campers to set up their things and went back to what I’d been doing. When Alan got home, I told him about the tour and he homed in on the one omission. Did you show them the beer fridge in the outbuilding? No, I’d forgotten. What?? They’ve been cooped up in a car with a kid for a month and I didn’t even point out the beer? I showed them the pond, I said meekly, realizing just how lackluster it sounded. Like going on vacation to see a dead person’s house. I guess we all turn into our mothers at some point.
Alan walked back to greet the campers and fill in the gaps. A few moments later he came back to get me. You gotta see this, he said insistently. The tent was on the car, like a pup tent hatchback hat. We peppered them with questions which they answered with all the patience of parents of a young child. (Clearly they’d had some practice.) How do you get up there? Is it uncomfortable? Do you have to have special reinforcements on the car? We learned that not only do you not have to sleep on the ground like the camping of yore, but there was a three inch foam layer that ran the full floor of the tent.
What?! I said in disbelief. This was SO not the camping of my childhood. Did it even count as camping? Alan and I debated that evening as he sipped a beer. My incredulousness was interrupted by a Fandango alarm. He made the sound that usually means there is a hawk nearby or some other form of danger. Alan took the dogs out to check.
It’s a drone, he said when he returned. The campers brought it and were flying it around to take aerial photos of the farm. It was such a bizarre clash of worlds that we weren’t really sure how to react. We hadn’t specified that people couldn’t bring drones, but we weren’t all that sure we liked it. The point of the farm was to get away from technology, not bring it to us. The animals didn’t much care for it either.
That is not camping, I insisted. Camping is soggy sleeping bags and card games, not memory foam and car tents. Vacations are musty old houses with velvet ropes, not drones. Kids these days. How are you supposed to build character while sleeping on memory foam? I turned into a crabby old man. Alan suggested I have a beer.
I wandered outside the next morning after Alan left for work and I asked the little boy if Fandango woke him up. Yes, at 7 a.m., he noted definitively. Well, any day you get to sleep in til seven is a good day in my book. He had helped Alan gather eggs from the chicken coop the night before, a baker’s half dozen, including one huge egg that dwarfed the others. He told me he ate that one for breakfast. It had TWO YOLKS, he said in astonishment, raising two fingers for emphasis. And it was de-li-cious.
They packed their things and departed, heading toward a new place and new adventures. I tidied up after they left and glanced at the guest book where the little boy had drawn us a picture. His mom wrote us a lovely note about all of the fun things he’d done – putting the chickens to bed, seeing the ducks, and his favorite of all, helping with the farm chores.
Wow. Not the drone, nor the foamy mattress – the chores. I guess his character was going to be just fine after all. Maybe camping doesn’t have to be card games and pup tents, and maybe vacations don’t have to be musty old houses. I guess if I can choose a big old farmhouse over a hatchback and a tent, then they can use a little memory foam to cushion their journey. Sometimes it’s best to let things change for the better – especially if you want to be a happy camper.