Monday, June 23, 2014

Rhythms of the Campground

Morning happens in a pattern in a campground.  The tents are always up first, cooking breakfast over fires before anyone else has realized their circadian rhythms are turning over.  Popups are next, especially those with children.  From there, the more solid your walls and roof, the more likely you are to need an alarm to get going.  It's really hard to tune out the morning when your walls are made of millimeters, that much I remember from tent camping when I was a camp counselor in college.

It's 7:30 and one tenting group already has their tent broken down; another, two guys, a baby, and a dog, in a campsite with four chairs set up, already has their fire going.  The music they have playing is a little inconsiderate, given that it's early Sunday morning, but that's the normal too.  The tent across from me is already on a walk with their dog and two little kids.  

I'm eating my breakfast  at my picnic table, oatmeal and Malachi McCormick tea, a rare enough occurrence on this trip that I'm feeling extra cheerful and with the sunshine, I'm soaking in this moment, trying not too hard to regret that this wasn't more of my experience in the last couple of weeks.  Partly, I know that my experience was that I was camping very early in the Canadian season and now it's the end of June in the States, and more people are out and about.  This campground is very nearly full.  But partly it's that I ended up in RV parks in Nova Scotia and I'm still a bit miffed that I couldn't camp in the provincial parks, rain or no rain.

There really is something marvelous about a morning campfire. I haven't had many in my life, but they certainly have a different character to them than evening ones as light dies around you and your adjust to a new standard of light and dark.  There's a cozy warmth to an evening campfire, that as the temperature cools around you, the fire is sometimes necessary for warmth.  In the morning, it's a practical kind of fire.  

In the evenings, there's a different kind of rhythm, the way that rigs start to roll in about dinner time, the way each sets up the campsite, the different roles people seem to have.  I remember familial roles when we camped when I was a kid, how helping Dad level the camper was always my job, how Kristi and Kim's job was to set up the beds, our sleeping bags, and get our pillows and stuffed animals out of the car.  We had our jobs and it was a comforting kind of routine.  Sometimes, Mom and Dad would shoo us out after we'd gotten things mostly set up to let us run off some energy after being cooped up in the Blazer and the kids around here are making their own fun too.  We liked to camp in places with pools, like this KOA, partly because I think our parents wanted us to wear off that energy as much as cool us down in the heat of the summer.  I remember the three of us making up obstacle courses and racing around various playgrounds.  But part of the rhythm of the evening is that we check out the bathrooms, the showers.  

And then dinner starts to happen, but there's a rhythm to that too.  Some set up their picnic tables, some eat inside.  Some cook outside, some cook inside, some start their fires.  The best part about our 1972 Starcraft pop up was that it had a swing out kitchen:  the kitchen was on a hinge, so we could very easily cook our Hamburger Helper outside. My mother came up with the idea of Days to curb our arguing, which meant that one day it was my day, the next was Kristi's, the next was Kim's--and that was the answer to most questions, whether it was a good or bad question.  Whoever's day it was sat in the middle seat (bad), chose the Hamburger Helper (good), washed the breakfast dishes (meh), got to sleep on the dinette (good). Whoever's Day it was next, got second choice, got to pick the vegetable for dinner, washed the lunch dishes, etc.  My mother is brilliant, but this is not news.

After dinner, what I like to call the Evening Walkabout, where people walk around the campground, ostensibly for exercise, but also to check out who else is here, what they're camping in. To say hello, to comment on cute dogs, those kinds of essential small talk moments that aren't actually small talk in this context.  It's something I need to do some more thinking about, the small talk of a campground, why the "hello" and "how are you" isn't meaningless chatter, even a comment on the license plate and one's distance from home, because that never tells the whole story.  My license plate says North Dakota, but I've put 5000 miles on the Jeep in the last four weeks.

Next Stop:  Toledo, Ohio and the check engine light (spoiler alert: it's the catalytic converter).


  1. I spy another Scamp to the right in the photo above! : ) Fun to read how you spent your childhood camping & the rhythms of the campgrounds, so true how each campground has a similar rhythm. Enjoy the day! Kim & Jeff from MN.

  2. Karen- I forgot to ask if you have a way to contact you (email?) on this site?

  3. Hi Karen,
    Haven't seen any recent camping posts : -/ hope all is going well. Will check back later, always look forward to reading about your adventures!

  4. Yes! I've been a bit out of commission with the trip to CA to see family. I don't know if I'll get back on the road with it much more this summer, but I certainly have a lot of debriefing to do. :) How was your trip up the North Shore?

  5. Our trip to Duluth was a fail & we ended up coming home early because of the weather. It felt almost like we were "winter camping" (ok- maybe not that bad...) it was about 47 degrees, so foggy Lake Superior was non existent & drizzling the entire time we were there : ( the only good thing; our little scamp kept us warm & dry! But, we weren't planning on just sitting around in the camper, what made it worse was we kept hearing the weather reports for back in the twin cities as sunny & warm!