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Camping---Excerpt From Between Places

Camping---Excerpt From Between Places

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Published by Ken Gibert
This is an excerpt from Between Places. A story about a camping trip my boys and I took. More than that, though, it is a story about relationships between fathers and sons. And about the relationships between brothers.
This is an excerpt from Between Places. A story about a camping trip my boys and I took. More than that, though, it is a story about relationships between fathers and sons. And about the relationships between brothers.

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Published by: Ken Gibert on May 22, 2010
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05/22/2010

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Camping1
I’ve been hiking in places where you could go for weeks without seeing another person.Of course places and hikes like that pose their own logistics problems–packing two weeks of food is no small thing, plus a tent and sleeping gear, and it all adds up to fifty pounds or morevery quickly. Such a hike is not for everyone, and the people you do see are a sort of clan.Usually young, fit and often solitary.“Car camping” is a horse of an entirely different color. What we did was snag thecamping gear (or most of it), zip to the grocery store for hot dogs and other high-bulk,low-value foods, and hit the road. Total packed weight: about 400 pounds.Our chosen camping place is about seventy miles away from the city, and we drive it inslightly over an hour. Halfway there I remember what I forgot to bring. It’s always something,and always something important. This time it’s sleeping bags or any other sleeping gear other than the air mattress. This could seem like a problem considering that our tent is made entirelyof mosquito netting with a plastic floor. But I think it’s okay because it’s hot, and it doesn't look like it’s going to get cool tonight. Still, a disappointing oversight from the purist’s point of view. Sleeping bags are pretty obvious, wouldn't you say? The memory of One’s and my firstuse of the tent under slightly different circumstances also lingers–that time was in autumn, andwe did not know that the tent was lacking nylon siding. It frosted that night, and we woke withice on our noses. We won't have that problem tonight.And at least I’ve got everything I need to make coffee. Didn't forget that.
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Upon our arrival, we sign up for our camping space and drive over to it. I set up the tentand send the boys off for firewood. I am not a fan of campfires, marshmallows, or any of therest of it. It’s too frenetic for my tastes. I’d rather hike or swim, look around and listen to thesounds of wildlife, or even just drink a cup of coffee and read. But the boys consider “camping” and “toasted marshmallows” synonymous. So we must have a fire, and this, in theopinion of the boys, will require no more than five or six, five-foot long sticks of about thethickness of my thumb. I send them back for more, and twice again, reminding them each timeto avoid poison ivy. Since our campsite is surrounded by poison ivy, it’s easy enough to showthem what to avoid. Naturally, we all still get some poison ivy, and I get the most of all.I finish putting up the tent. We go off together this time, ostensibly for more wood, andwe do get some, but I bring my camera and take about fifty shots on the way. We find somevery interesting bugs and a couple of armsful of wood. If I were alone, this would be a goodtime for that cup of coffee. Instead, we’re off to swim. Two brings his soccer ball to play
 
volleyball in the pool, and it turns out he does get the ball into the water for a few minutes,much to my surprise. Most of the time One practices kicking it against the pool fence, though.But he allows himself to be persuaded to enter the water every so often. He’s really a nice boy,a lovely character. Despite himself sometimes.After swimming I finally get that cup of coffee and settle into cooking our supper. Iwrap the corn on the cob in aluminum foil and put it into the campfire, open the can of beanswith my pocket knife (the can opener being the second forgotten item). No sweat. I put the beans in the frying pan and onto the stove. After the beans are started I put the hotdogs (Two'sare vegetarian dogs) into the beans and let them cook together. I know nutritious food, and thisain’t it, but we’re eating like kings. I so inform the boys.“Does the emperor of China eat like this?” Two immediately wants to know. One quietlyrolls his eyes at the question, but it delights me; I see what is coming.“Actually, China doesn’t have an emperor any more, honey.”“Well, do they have a king then?”“No...”“Well, what do they have?” he asks, interrupting my answer.“I think they call him a ‘Premier’ these days, but he might as well be called a king or emperor,” I admit.“I’d feel more like a king if someone else was eating some of my food, too.” This is the point of his line of questioning, none of it accidental.“Ahh. You mean a poison tester?” I ask, knowingly.“Ummmm-hmmmm.”That’s life with Two. He questions and assimilates with astonishing speed. We haddiscussed food tasters or “poison testers” a month or two earlier.
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 After dinner we go back to the pool for a while. Two has made some friends and loves thewater. One seizes the opportunity to practice kicking a little more against the fence. It’s what helikes best in the world, and it’s good to see him enjoy himself. He’s intense, but this at least islight-hearted play.
 
I say I’m only going to let them stay at the pool half an hour, but really we stay over anhour. We frequently bend time in this way, in either direction. The important thing is thewarning. My kids require a warning, however arbitrary. Forget the warning and they’ll beoff-balanced and sad; apply the warning—however whimsically—and they will happily adjust.We leave the pool only with extreme reluctance this time. One might say “resistance.” But wefinally make our way back to the tent.It's bedtime.The night air is alive with sounds, and it has indeed gotten cold. So now my oversightregarding the bed clothes could be a problem.Luckily, we have the spare tent. I bring this second tent, which is perfect for when it israining, because our main tent cannot keep out the rain or cold. But the ripstock nylon of whichthe tent is made also makes a fairly comfortable light-weight blanket, and I put it over the boysas we set up the bed. Then I lay the woolen blanket that I always carry in the car on top of that.It’s not much for three of us, but it should probably do.At first the boys carefully demarcate each side of the bed, and both insist that each stayon his own half. But within a few minutes they have snuggled together under the makeshiftcovers, all rigors of division forgotten.This coming together fills me with unbounded joy. After the day’s struggles, after the playing with, wrestling and arguing is all over, they settle into a heap of family. How do yougive your children this bond? How do you instill it into them? Just because it is natural, as I believe it is, does that make it in any way inevitable?My sense is that it is not inevitable, but that it is actually rather fragile and too easilylost. At least in children who are not together constantly, as mine are not. I often feel a conflict between my desires and duties in this respect, but it is not the conflict you might expect. Mydesire is to coddle and comfort, expressing only my powerful feelings of love and affection. I'dlike to smooth over every conflict. My duty is to make them into effective and happy adults,though, and this requires a certain amount of discipline and stern words, an occasional flash of anger that I almost never actually feel because I'm so happy to be with them.One asks whether it’s okay to look out the tent at the stars as they go to sleep. Goingthem one better than mere permission, I open up the top flaps, which are the only part of thetent that are not mosquito netting (other than the floor). So now the stars are open to their sight,although mostly what they see are trees.
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I’d forgotten this was the fifth of July, and everybody with left over fireworks is usingthem now. It feels like we're in the middle of a gunfight with all the flashes and bangs. Betweenthe various explosions, which are even more numerous than they were last night, I can hear treefrogs, crickets, a distant train. And now a sound from my childhood, the deep booming

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