One of my favorite times of year is fast approaching, and I am feeling the customary combination of giddy anticipation and frazzled nerves. No, I’m not talking about spring break – that ship sailed long ago (and my do I miss those days). Sometime between February and April every year, my entire family goes camping at the same location we’ve been going to since long before I was born. My grandparents took my dad and aunt and uncles when they were still toe-headed kids with scraped knees, and my initiation took place some time around my first birthday. Ever since, we have gravitated back to this quiet place at the edge of the world year after year with very few exceptions.
I have mentioned before that I am of a tribe that enjoys camping, but this place feels more like home than an expedition into the wild. My grandfather, a gregarious man who seems to make friends wherever he goes, befriended the owners of the campsite, the rangers, the “regulars” who camp out for weeks, sometimes months, on end, and the rest of the family sort of inherited these acquaintances. These familiar faces have appeared with regularity as repeat characters in my life. Seeing them equals comfort. Stability. A slower way of life.
Over the years we have steeped this camping trip in traditions which may fluctuate from year to year, but they always reappear with varying degrees of regularity. Some years we are up there during my sister’s birthday, and those years feature cheese pie with candles stuck in the delectable frothiness. Many years we have been up there for Easter, celebrating in surely one of the most heavenly places on earth. These years include egg-dying (which for some reason we never outgrew), Bunny Cake (translation: strawberry shortcake transformed into an edible pastoral scene with dyed green coconut flakes, peeps and tiny chocolate eggs stuck on the whipped top – yum) and a re-reading of the resurrection story. Some years it rains, and we coop up like restless hens in my parent’s trailer, whiling away hours at Rummikub and Clue.
Every year predominantly features relaxation, though, no matter the weather. Board games, crossword puzzles, magazines, guitar playing, sketching – this seems to be the one place in the world where it is okay to not be busy, to cast obligation aside and just be. We talk over coffee until mid-morning. There is no agenda, unless the plan is a long walk on the beach, which must be scheduled according to low tide. My father goes fishing, and when we were younger we would go too. I will never forget my first foray with the surf pole, which ended with me pulling in ten fish, one right after the other. That divine occurrence has never repeated itself.
The best part of this trip for me though is the decadence of hours devoted to reading. Reading! I unleash the hollow of my soul that I keep under lock and key the rest of the year, the part that loves to read for hours and hours, interrupted only by food and bathroom breaks. If there is a heaven specifically tailored for me, this is how it would look.
While that may be my favorite thing to do on a more selfish level, one of the most meaningful traditions we established are the nights spent around the campfire. These are the evenings where I absorbed the majority of my family history – the story of my grandparents and the kids trapped in the trailer by an unusually social grizzly bear; the times my grandparents traveled the Mississippi River on the Delta Queen; the epic fights between my father and his siblings, which always seeming to end with my father getting spanked on some highway in front of God and the rest of the world. Obnoxious camp songs have been passed down to us around these fires, and we hold these songs about hungry goats and animal infestations in trust for our children as well (don’t ask – I didn’t make up the songs). We gaze at the stars that are invisible to us the rest of the year, finding the ancient images in the constellations.
Despite the sacredness of this space we visit every year, something unforeseeable has been gradually happening. Over the past fifteen years or so, during the advent and flourishing of the E-Boom, the camp and its culture has been changing. They expanded their campsite area. They advertise. Exposure in Sunset Magazine, surf folklore and overpopulation has changed this sleepy little community into an entirely new beast, crowded and redolent with human noises where once the ocean lulled us to sleep. People fight over oceanfront campsites like harried stockbrokers on the exchange. I don’t know how many years we have left here before it becomes like Yosemite: overrun and too full.
For now, though, we keep returning, enjoying it while it lasts.
So my books are in my bag. I’m leaving my cell phone and computer at home. I’m going off the grid for the next few days. I can’t wait.