I absolutely love camping. My first camping trip was way back in 1972. My family, mom and dad, my brother and 2 sisters, took a trip to Yosemite via a stop at some pseudo tourist hell-hole called, Elfin Forest. It was neither Elfin (whatever the heck that is) nor forest. It consisted of grass surrounded by (what I remember as) Eucalyptus trees with a man made pond, small island in the middle with some head hunter looking mannequins standing around grass huts. Thinking back 45 years, it reminds me of something a brain damaged Disneyland Imagineer might have thrown together. After one night in a place that looked like a backyard theme park that had sexual relations with a cheap miniature golf course, mom had had enough. We packed up the old Chevy and lit out for Yosemite. Along the way it got late, so we stopped at my grandparents property in a little “one stop sign” town called, Oakhurst. Grandpa’s directions to his property consisted of something like, “turn right at the big oak tree, then left at the rock with all the holes in it. About 400 feet and you are on our property. You can’t miss it.” No house. No real markers. Just wide open land. As my folks were unloading the car and setting up the heavy green canvas tent, I wandered off only to return a little while later to the scolding of my mother. She was afraid for my safety, of course. As for me, my love affair with the outdoors was in full swing. The song of the wind in those pines, the rustle of quail in the brush and the deer laying in the tall, brown grass had stolen my heart forever. Sorry, ladies but you will never have such a potent perfume that will swoon a man’s head like scent of the wild places.
Camping is what one used to do as a family regularly and roughing it was the only way to do it. None of this “glamping” hogwash. You slept in a tent and in that tent was a sleeping bag…on the ground. You cooked on good ole Coleman, white gas, pressure pump stove and the bacon never tasted better nor the pancakes fluffier. Man! That was the life!
Camping was a classroom and the teacher was any adult with any outdoorsmanship. Today? From what I have seen, the kids don’t learn anything because the adults don’t know anything about any bushcraft or woodsmanship. Everyone is concerned whether they have WiFi so they can post all of their non-camping, pseudo-activities to the cold, sterile world of social media. Pathetic.
I learned tons as a kid and young adult running around in the foothills of Yosemite. My grandparents eventually built their house in Oakhurst and I stayed many a summer up their learning from both of them. I can still remember grandma showing me wild blackberries, gooseberries, “miners lettuce” and “mountain misery”. I can remember her showing me the difference between a Ponderosa pine, white fir, red fir, red cedar, bull pine, sugar pine, live oak and black oak. The animals she taught me as well. How to tell a scrub jay from a Stellar’s Jay. Quail from a Mourning Dove and poisonous from non-poisonous snakes. I can still hear her…”That’s a King snake, there. See the colors and the shape of the head? Leave him be. He’s a friendly snake and eats not only rodents and other snakes, even Rattle snakes so you leave him alone.”
While grandma taught me about the woods and the wild (and gardening. She had THE best vegetable garden and I am still in love with garden craft), grandpa was teaching me wood working, handyman skills and how to keep my mouth shut and ears open. I remember one day I did something (I sincerely cannot remember what it was) that irritated him. I remember him getting up from the couch and going down stairs to his workshop. After a while, grandma asked me to tell grandpa that it was supper time (yes, supper is the appropriate term for the final meal of the day). I went downstairs and caught grandpa drawing up some plans for something (I later found out was a clock he was going to build, and did build, out of wood. Everything was wood except for the spring and weights, as I recall. He was a master craftsman, to be sure.) He didn’t say anything, just gestured for me to sit down. I sat in that chair for what seemed like an eternity to a 15 year old boy. Finally, when I was about to go out of my mind he says, “Do you want to know what the point of life is?” “Sure I do!”, I replied. Another infinite pause as he measured and jotted down on his paper. “The point of life….the point of life is to become less stupid before you die.” I sat there thinking that it was the stupidest thing I have ever heard. After a few moments, he spoke again, “Tell your grandma I’ll be up in a minute.” I was dismissed. It took me near 20 years to understand what he meant.
In 2017, things are quickly changing. We are faced with new and various challenges. This is a dark, dark world that is getting darker by the day. We have wars and rumors of wars and even the threat of the unthinkable… nuclear holocaust. We have divisions in this country that have been buried for decades and were better off left alone but have been exhumed, resuscitated into a zombie-like state to be used by hucksters and charlatans for their own gain. Our own government officials (not all but most) are simply modern day carpetbaggers raping their constituency for their own profit. Police brutality is on an epidemic course. The left and the right hate each other so much that they are openly advocating murder upon the other. The days are dark indeed and we are one incident, real or manufactured, from all hell literally breaking loose and those innocent ones, the children, will be caught in the middle. They always are, in every conflict.
Want to give your kids a fighting chance? Take them camping. Teach them how to live off the land. Rough it with them. Teach them to shoot, hunt and fish. Instruct them on how to clean, cook and eat their catch. Show them how to cook their own meals. Teach them first aid that is age appropriate. Enrich their lives with true skills that will hold them in good stead when the world goes sideways. Carpentry, gunsmithing, blacksmithing, gardening, survival, auto mechanics, engineering, medicine (herbal and traditional), these are the things that will matter when the world as we know it is no more. And in the mean time, while you are teaching these age old crafts to your kids, both boys and girls, that may not only save their lives and the lives of others one day, you will be making fond, warm memories that will last a lifetime. I guarantee it.