Janet Sheridan: Camping downturn
July 16, 2010
I'm happiest at home. Every so often, I test that conviction by camping in the dirt.
The knowledge that I prefer a sheeted bed in a room devoid of insects and snakes with a flush toilet readily available grew with my age.
I used to love roughing it.
As children, my siblings and I begged to "camp out" on the back lawn, where we could listen to water dripping from the irrigation tank and smell the earthy odor of cow manure drifting from the pasture.
Our proximity to Utah Lake, with its hordes of voracious mosquitoes, added excitement.
We slept among mosquito clouds so thick we sometimes inhaled their little whining bodies and had to gag and shriek. The next morning, when asked if the mosquitoes bothered us, we responded, "Mosquitoes? What mosquitoes?" and scratched our inflamed bites.
I remember my relief when we moved back inside, and I no longer had to prove my pluckiness.
In 1958, Dad went on strike with his union; his temper matched the heat of a sizzling July. My resourceful mother suggested that a camping trip to Provo Canyon might cool off both Dad and the thermometer.
She loaded a week's worth of basic food, camping gear, six children and three watermelons into our bedraggled Plymouth, then tied a mattress on top, embarrassing her image-conscious teenagers.
She said she didn't mind cooking in primitive conditions, but she would not sleep on the bare ground. Dad expressed amused astonishment that he had married such a princess.
We ran wild in the mountains by day, and roasted marshmallows to drink with hot chocolate each night.
We slept surrounded by the smell of wood-smoke and the sound of creek-gurgle.
We hiked to a lake so cold, most of us only waded. Back at camp, we told Mom it was the best bath we'd ever had. Dad grinned, but didn't betray us.
After six nights of asking for stories about the olden days and finding both dippers, we drove home on sun-softened asphalt to a call from Uncle Bud: the strike was settled. Dad sang and whistled around the house again.
A few years later, as a teenage 4-H camper, I had a peak outdoor experience.
I huddled with my friends late at night as our junior leader, Janey Ann, told an absolutely true story.
She described a boy and girl parked on West Mountain and the girl's uneasiness at being in an isolated place late at night after hearing the radio news: a murderer with a hook for a hand had escaped from the state penitentiary that afternoon.
We gathered closer to Janey Ann's flashlight-bright face as she recounted the boy's anger at the girl's insistence that they leave; how he abruptly popped the clutch of his Chevy, spun out of the parking area, and drove her straight home.
"And then," Janey Ann lowered her voice to a tense whisper, "when they arrived at her house… he went around to open the car door for her…and there…hanging from the door handle…A bloody hook!"
Mildred hyperventilated. Kathy cried. The head leader, Bessie, entered the tent and threatened to fire Janey Ann on the spot.
It was quite wonderful.
I was young when I loved camping. I didn't miss the comforts of home. My latest camping experiences, however, have taken a downturn.
I remember them vividly—because of their moments of misery and suffering.
But that's another story.