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For The First Time In 28 Years, Or, Saturday Morning at 10:35am

I went camping!

I exclaim because it felt completely new. I haven’t camped anywhere since my son’s kindergarten class organized a weekend for all the families. It was lovely. He turned 33 in April. So. My first time was the summer before my senior year of high school, as participating in Outward Bound was part of the requirements for graduation. Talk about starting at the advanced level. I cried a lot.

The second was with a boyfriend, one night by the side of a trail that had proved too difficult for me. The kindergarten trip was the third try.

Not a camper! At least until now. And I find myself besotted.

We spent just two nights, in the redwoods, at a county park an hour from home, where a creek still ran from our very wet winter. When the time came to leave I was sad, and in the first few days back I wished I were still there. Surprised the heck out of me.

Surely a part of my strong affection for the experience was simply explained by beauty.

Sun-dappled water.

Cold water. I love to dip my feet. I’m holding a towel though, because I’m not a dodo and I don’t like the admixture of shoes and wet feet. I’m wearing a bandana because I am a dodo and paid homage to the Mountain Hippie Girls of my teen years who were so strong as I was not. It’s never too late.

Tall tree circles.

Small trees, bent, conceding, glorious anyway in filtered light.

So many trees, covering hillsides, opening vistas almost to the ocean beyond.

I put on real boots to hike. Made the cool foot bath after even nicer. The hills were teeming with butterflies! Kinds I’d never seen before. Have you ever tried to take a picture of a butterfly in the wild, on a trail on a hillside? They do not sit for portraits.

But as much as the smell of redwood needles underfoot, and the glow of charcoal, and the sound of a creek running over rocks, I loved the tasks of camping themselves. Deciding where to put the tent, setting it up, laying out the sleeping pads and bags. Carrying the bins of cooking tools and pantry foods from the car, then storing them in the bear locker at night. (Note: there were no bears in this park. But raccoons can be persistent and loudly opinionated.)

Doing all of this, especially for the first time in decades, felt like paying attention to everything that supports us and honoring the good fortune of being alive. In a built house, the labor can remain unfelt. Camping felt like bowing, hands pressed together.

And I most loved the experience of collaborating. Imagine a conversation, four people talking, something like this:

Is the chili going to get warm on that grill?

Let’s try. Build the charcoal higher?

That’s not going to work.

Yeah. More paper?

Can you cut up those paper bags?


Let’s use that kindling stuff we have


I think the firepit’s too deep.

Put the pot in the coals?

Can we do that?

Cast iron

Let’s try

Hey it’s boiling!

Scatter out the coals a bit?

This is really good

I love when people compete my sentences and I theirs. I love the communal consideration of an issue when everyone wants it solved and nobody cares how the solution is achieved, exactly. Makes me feel wider than myself. I think I mean connected. I read that when people have these kinds of conversations their neurons start to fire in synch.

I believe it.

I also read scientists have discovered that the entire universe hums with magnetic waves, everywhere.

I believe it.

Also my sleeping pad was too thin. I loved the sense of being by the hard earth and also it made my hips hurt and I am a dodo but not that much of one. I bought a thicker one. And we might need one less thing of water next time, because there will be a next time, and one less of milk, and also bring a little olive oil which might be very bougie but we are bougie and the redwoods didn’t mind. We cleaned up after ourselves and in the end that may matter most of all.

We stopped by the ocean on the way home.

Have an amazing weekend and please say hello to your nearest tree for me. I would love to know if anyone else here is a camper.


51 Responses

  1. I loved reading this. I haven’t camped since my college days, but did quite a lot of it in my youth. I haven’t wanted to go camping as an adult. Your experience has piqued my interest.

    At age 16, I camped in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana and also in Glacier National Park. I’ve camped at summer camp as child growing up, in Bastrop, Texas, on the beach at Padre Island on the Gulf of Mexico. All are great memories that have always stayed with me.

    1. Susan these places all wound wonderful. Glacier National Park! I really do recommend camping, if you have a good place nearby. Another thing is that my brain is often too active, and chases its tail, so it is wonderful to have things to do and to solve with immediate, palpable benefit.

  2. Oh, I am so happy you have become a convert, “sturdy” activity that it is. Camping, hiking, backpacking – I am never so happy to feel so very small. I grew up camping, then backpacking and climbing, care of *my* summer camp (many of us have *ours* – those who do, know), Camp Jack Hazard in Dardanelle up near Sonora Pass. My experiences there informed so much of who I am now, and I still go back and support it. These days, for me, car camping with a french press handy seems about right.

    1. Total convert. I never went to summer camp, but I can now imagine how it would have informed a personhood, as you say. I wonder, do you camp now? Any place in Northern or Central California that you highly recommend?

  3. Looks lovely! I have the same experience with butterflies most of the time, so I mostly just enjoy them.

    You might want to try a cot since you’re car camping anyway.

    1. Maybe that the point of butterflies in human experience;). Not that butterflies NEED a point, they are happy as they are, I hope. I’ll think about a cot, thanks for the suggestion.

  4. I grew up in a military family stationed mostly in France, when there were American army bases in France. I loved DeGaulle and it broke my heart when he made us all leave. Every summer we loaded up our cloth top 1961 red and white VW bus and took off for our 30 day camping trip all over Europe. Sometimes we’d form a caravan of 2 or 3 cars bearing military license plates which I loved because that meant kids to play with and help setting up camp. I could keep my story going, those were such amazing and fun times. But to the point, the last time I went camping was at Palomar around 1990. Your pictures and reflections brought back great memories. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank *you* for sharing! How wonderful to grow up in France like that. And the flocks of children! Where we stayed, they could run around and I remembered how great feeling unsupervised with peers could be sometimes. Palomar sounds great. So nice that even down by San Diego families have access to a Sierra-like ecosystem.

  5. So happy to read this! Camping in the west has a few extra freedoms: it’s unlikely to rain in summer and lack of humidity means no mosquitos (that could be wrong if there is uncommon standing water this year). Often extra majesty in trees and scenery too.
    I had done some camping growing up in New England, but when I lived in the west for college and twenty years more I was an enthusiast. I can smell the trees and those golden western grasses now. Your thoughts on the shared tasks make me smile too. Yay!

    1. Aw, the grasses in the summer, yes! Thank you for sharing my happiness about the west. I was thinking as I posted that our dry summers have to be some part of why there are so many places to camp in California. And it has been a wet winter, so we had mosquitoes and extra majesty, both. We found some great natural oil coils to burn that smelled great.

  6. We used to tent camp when our kids were little, then we acquired a motor home with a queen sized bed, a bathroom, and a/c which totally spoiled me. We sold the motor home when the kids went off to college. Now they have children of their own and like to tent camp, so after all of these years, we will be joining them on a camping trip the end of a July. I am encouraged by your happy experience and I hope I will have the same.

    1. Have fun! I imaging it will be wonderful, to go with your children and their children, all the memories from back when and new ones in the making.

  7. I was born to camp! My parents started me going to overnight camp for 1 month ( when I was 7- then 2 months every summer ) until I was old enough to go to dance camp in Colorado, Farm School in Thessaloniki, Greece when I was 16 etc. My first camp was Plantation Camp in Cazadero Ca ( near Mendocino coast) – everyone had to pitch in doing chores, collecting eggs, milking cows and shoveling their poo, feed all the livestock , help clean up after every meal all while sharing a tent on a platform with one other. I was missing one morning at breakfast, they found me at bottom of forested gully-I rolled out of the tent and kept sleeping! Then it was 2 months every summer at Camp Trinity / Bar 717 ranch in Trinity County ( absolutely pristine and 2 hour drive to closest city Redding). A lot of campers and counselors became students at Athenian or dorm parents/teachers.
    That’s why 10 yrs ago I began high altitude mountain treks – Kilimanjaro and Aconcagua ( that’s days of tents being erected and torn down daily, filtering water and snow. And no bath of shower for weeks on end.
    It is absolute magical for me- so glad you reclaimed a long lost experience .
    There is plenty of camping in Humboldt county if you like forests and streams and no motor homes- and Trinity County is even better!
    Carry on- sorry I wrote such a long response but my enthusiasm got the best of me!

    1. It is really in your blood! And, for those who don’t know you, Victoria is MY AGE and just started the high mountain treks 10 years ago. Incredible. BTW, V, if you know anywhere specific in Humboldt that you like, because yes streams, yes forests, no RVs, let me know!

  8. I have some cocktail napkins (very bougie) that show a woman, settling a pillow behind her head, saying, “I love not camping.” I did like camping in my 20s, and I loved all the benefits you mention, just not so much in my 70s! But I applaud your courage!

    1. Ha! Love a good cocktail napkin. Instant Cape Cod vibe. I have it in my mind as a goal to do at 70 what I’m doing at 66, but it’s only aspirational. Now that you mention it, our group was 50s-to-60s and I was the oldest one there…

  9. I did Outward Bound in Maine and it is still the worst two weeks of my life, even if JFK, jr was in the other group.

    1. Hahahaha! I mean sorry for your suffering, and frankly, what good was JJ if he wasn’t in your sightline?

  10. I am glad to hear you enjoyed your camping experience. I am not a camper. Many years ago when I tried camping, there was a buzzing bug in the tent and I could not sleep so I left and went home to my comfy bed. I also spent a night in an Airstream camper on the Cape, oceanfront. This was just ok. As for woodlands, streams, trails and beautiful trees, I love it all. The remoteness and being surrounded by such beauty is always enjoyed.

    1. Sounds as though it just might not be for you:). I am coming to understand that camping is a little bit different in California, due to our lack of summer rain and related fewer insects…Luckily those beautiful woodlands are available lots of places with no need to sleep in them.

  11. I love your post – it’s so well written, your readers can feel it.

    I’m happy for you with your camping experience.

    Perhaps start writing a book with this post as the beginning — there’s a market for this – original, interesting and you’ve got the gift for writing. You’ve mastered this style!

    Go, Lisa!

    1. Thank you so much! A book about camping after Medicare? If there’s an editor or agent out there who wants to take me under their wing and guide me on what would sell, I’m in:)

  12. You are in a camper’s paradise! I’ve camped all my life…in Maine as a child in summer camp; on a Backroads bicycle trip along the Oregon coast; with my husband in the Grand Tetons… and with our children at the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon.
    Definitely a character building experience as a young camper along the Saco River with pouring rain and mosquitoes…later it was easier, with better tents, sleeping bags, bug spray and booze…but it was the MOST fun with our kids by FAR…
    Only camping fail: on Prince Edward’s island, where a huge thunderstorm— one for the record books— forced us out of our tent and into our car, where we dozed all night.

    1. How wonderful to have those memories with your kids! I just never had the energy and motivation to organize a camping trip with my kids. Wish I had, but, maybe it’s not too late. I remember in those days I thought camping was just an excuse to put everything you own into the car, take it somewhere, get it dirty, and bring it home and have to clean it off.

  13. I only camp in Italy and that was 30 years ago!
    Camping in Italy is very different from here!
    You have green grocers and butchers and ice cream shop!Every night entertainment is brought in whether it be a circus or singer!
    Children are safe at a very young age to ride their bikes around!You camp very close to the next camper!Like 3 feet away!You know your neighbors and have potlucks on the dirt road!
    Every afternoon is Quiet Time when people nap NO NOISE ALLOWED!From 2 to 4 then back to the beach you go!!!!
    We would camp for SIX WEEKS AT A TIME IN THE SUMMER ONLY‼️
    A Fabulous way to spend time with family and friends♥️

    1. Six weeks in the Italian countryside with circuses, singers and naps?!?!? Now THAT would make a book:). So fabulous.

  14. Thank you for sharing your camping adventure Lisa. I love to camp. It’s a thread that has run through the years: as a child, with friends, as a couple, with the kids, with other families and now back to us as a couple or with girlfriends. The longest was a 3 month family camping adventure. It pares life back to the necessities and the immersion in our wild places is life affirming.

    1. “It pares life back to the necessities and the immersion in our wild places is life affirming.” Absolutely this. How great to have this thread through your life. Three months! Three months…sounds glorious.

  15. This is a beautiful post.

    I camped throughout the Rockies – Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming – in my 20s with a man that I loved with all my heart. The man slipped away, which remains a pain in heart still. This summer I will be visiting Bryce and Zion National Parks. I let the hiking slip away with the man; this summer I pick it up again.

    1. Maryellen I love this. So beautiful. We must all have some pains in the heart that remain, I think, at this age. But if we have the time to let the threads fall from our hands, unravel, as you say, we can pick back up that which is beautiful and weave it back in. I hope you have a WONDERFUL time.

  16. That looks wonderful, Lisa. We are at the moment trying to decide if we give up camping. This past trip was difficult for us both. But I am loath to give up evening campfires, the sound of tree frogs and nothing else ,and the smell of the pine trees in the early morning when one gets up to go…well…you know. Ha. Your adventure looks wonderful.

    1. A threshold. Sue, I think your camping is much more strenuous than what we did. In the US there is a concept of “car camping.” We drive right up to a little parking space and walk 20 feet to a campsite with tables, a fire pit, a storage locker. There’s a bathroom right up the road, potable water, garbage bins and even recycling. So we have the evergreen smell, and running water, and a campfire, but people are kind of right nearby and there’s very little hardship. Does this exist in Canada or is it only America and our Nature Is Ours ethos (for better and worse)?

  17. Hello Lisa, Camping in California by a creek–I would be looking for gold! Since the summer heat (about 100F) here is like an oven, the cold water seems even more precious.

    1. No way in heck would I camp in an Asian summer. Unless I was right next to a clean cold lake and could immerse myself 80% of the time LOL. Maybe the gold in California is the climate and the terrain, after all.

  18. Haven’t camped for years as the campgrounds were turning into a circus! Too busy. Too noisy! People shouting – music blaring – doors (cars) slamming.
    Best time was in the fall – off season – camp/forest to ourselves. Nature around = heaven!

  19. Forgot to add:
    The last few years of camping we had army cots! So comfortable for the aging body. Got them at an army surplus store.

    1. If my new foam doesn’t work, I guess I’ll move on to cots:). I admit, we did have yelling neighbors down the hill. The park is very strict about music, and a quiet time that goes from 10pm-8am with rangers circulating to try and administer it. But people having fun in groups will yell, sigh. Key, we think now, is to camp as far from the large group sites as possible.

      1. Hi again
        That sounds good with rangers on patrol as it is also a safety factor. Also quiet time – that I had not experienced.
        Some places we camped at had no staff on site at night or patrol.
        We ended up leaving one camp ground earlier than planned due to the “party” noise = very little sleep for us. No over night attendant on duty.
        When we were leaving the day staff asked why and we mentioned our lack of sleep for 2 nights – they refunded our full booking.
        Fall camping is lovely during the week as there are fewer campers.

        1. No doubt our county parks have a decent budget and are well-managed. I’d definitely like to go during the week though.

  20. Just back from a 10 day rafting trip down the Salmon River in Idaho’s Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness with my 25 year old son. (Not Outward Bound, but NOLS). I share your joy with this too rare experience

  21. Looks like a great time, Lisa!!
    One silly question…I see you have “sturdy” sandals on, who makes them and
    did they work for you? Comfort, etc?

    1. Ah, thanks! I wasn’t wearing sandals, these were my trust old Ecco sneakers. Lightweight, etc., I used them as “camp shoes” and then hiked in my Lowas.

  22. I do indeed enjoy camping, especially lying in bed and hearing very little. But I like an inflatable mattress and, if I am honest, a duvet. Only really possible if you are not carrying everything yourself. I bought a new tent and inflatable mattress during the summer of 2021 and the tent is yet to be used but I live in hopes.

  23. About 40 years ago, I was introduced to camping at Yosemite. Grand experience. We pulled the car close to the campsite, pitched the tent, stowed the food in the locker, and settled in for a wondrous stay. Facilities (sinks & toilets) were not too far, really just steps away. Yosemite would probably be a few hours’ drive for you, and reservations are needed, but well worth it. Memories of the experience are still vivid and magnificent. Bonus points: Our campsite was adjacent to a cool stream, which served as our refrigerator for chilling the milk cartons.

    1. How wonderful to camp in Yosemite 40 years ago! It’s become so crowded that there are now long lines to enter the park. I admit I haven’t considered trying to camp there now, given the crowds. But it is a wondrous place, and I can imagine how magical your experience was.

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