Our family loves to go camping. In fact, we make sure to get out and pitch our tent — without fail — once a year.
Traditionally, this takes place during the busy Labor Day Weekend so that as many people as possible can witness a 46-year-old man being attacked by his own tent. In my defense, I have to say our tent is very large; especially when it is laying flat on the ground.
If I hadn’t lost the step-by-step instructions that came with it, I’m sure the assembly process would be a lot easier because, as a man, I could use them to, step-by-step, blame everything on having lousy instructions. What this means is that over the Labor Day Weekend my handiwork will again be mistaken for a hot air balloon that has crash-landed into our family’s camp site.
I bought this tent 20 years ago while living in Texas. As you know, everything is bigger there — including tents — which is why I tried to find the smallest model available. This turned out to be a tent called Quick Camp, which was a handy, two-compartment structure roughly the size of a jet hanger. Despite its size, the salesman assured me that the assembly process was very simple. He said that the entire thing could be erected in less than 20 minutes with a little planning.
And he was right.
As long as the plan includes staying out of the tent.
For some reason, it collapses on me every time I go inside. I’m not talking about an inconvenient buckling of the walls; this is more like an instantaneous implosion of water-resistant nylon that required the assistance of a search and rescue team:
“Listen up! Team ‘A’ will start at the west quadrant near the mosquito netting. Team ‘B’ will take the dogs and follow the perimeter until we can —”
“Quick — over HERE! I think someone’s moving under this giant door flap!”
In spite of these experiences, I still feel it’s important for our family to go camping together. That’s because, as a parent, I know our kids really hate it. I mean, sure — it’s pretty exciting while Dad is flopping around under 200 yards of nylon. But once that’s over, and I’ve decided that we’re all going to sleep out under the stars LIKE REAL PIONEERS! they begin to realize that everything they know about civilization has been left behind.
And by “everything,” I mean cell phones and television. In the primitive world of camping there are no Smart Phones. No X-Boxes.
There is only dirt.
And if they’re lucky, enough fire to cook a marshmallow.
Eventually, as the shock of not having their devices wears off, children enter what I feel is the most important phase of their camping experience: Realizing that we, the parents, are the key to their survival. This epiphany starts the moment I pull out the old camp stove, give it a few pumps, then light the picnic table on fire. In that instant, the only thing that matters is reaching out together as a family and finding the nearest fire extinguisher.
So, during Labor Day Weekend, if you happen to be in the neighborhood, feel free to stop by our tent.
The rescue team could probably use your help.
(You can write to Ned Hickson at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at the Siuslaw News at P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore., 97439.)