Pat Online ~ July 2014
Kid Camping Introduction:
The reason that many men and women camp all their lives may be that they are trying to recapture the fun and joy and excitement of kid camping. It can’t be done. Kid camping has only one requirement: being a kid. You can be a girl kid or a boy kid but you must be a kid. Otherwise you cannot know true kid camping.
To a grownup, a backyard at night is only a backyard at night. To a kid, a backyard at night is a vast and mysterious frontier, and sleeping there, a journey into the unknown. No explorer ever returned from an expedition more haggard and more exhausted or with a greater sense of accomplishment than an eight-year-old returning from his or her first night of sleeping out alone in the Great Backyard.
Grownups have no grasp of the distances involved in kid camping. They might suppose that a kid is sleeping out only twenty-five feet from the back door of the house. But to kids, the Sahara Desert, Mount Everest, and the Amazon may lie between them and that back door. Grownup observers may calculate that a kid travels the distance home in exactly two seconds. They don’t realize the kid has five years crammed into each of those seconds.
Nor do grownups know anything about kid camp cooking. What is “burnt to a crisp” to an adult is “done” to a kid. An adult’s junk foods are a kid’s staples. What a mother may thing of as robbing her refrigerator is thought of by a kid as “living off the land.”
The sound a grownup identifies as the mournful cry of a night bird may be a kid’s non-stop ticket home. Maybe not, though. You can’t predict kid campers. There are spaces, you see, that grownups cannot cross, no matter how much they like to return to kid camping. But if the grownups were once kid campers, they can always remember how it was. This is what I have attempted to do in writing this book; to remember exactly how it was. I have tried to describe the various aspects of kid camping as I knew them in a distant time and place but which I believe are the same today as they were then. Sleeping out alone for the first time is always sleeping out alone for the first time; it is an experience that will remain for all eternity.
Gradually, kid camping becomes grownup camping, which, to my mind, means backpacking. In addition to kid camping basics, therefore, I have also attempted to give you information that will be of use to you in your progress toward backpacking. Backpacking will never be quite as good as kid camping but it’s the next best thing.
My own research for this book has included personal interviews with my own four daughters, two of whom are still kid campers and two of whom were recently kid campers. I have also interviewed the kid camping sons of a friend of mine, and they have been most helpful in recall certain details I might otherwise have overlooked. For example, when Jimmy asked me what the first topic in my book was to be, I told him “Air Mattress.”
“Air Mattress?” he said, astounded. “What about Aaaaiii!”
“Gosh,“ I said, “I’d forgotten all about Aaaaiii!”
“And what’s the last topic going to be?” Jimmy asked, now more that a little doubtful about my book on kid camping.
“Zip,” I said.
“Ah, good,” he said. “I’m glad you didn’t forget Zip.”
“Listen,” I told him, “nobody who has experienced Zip ever forgets it!”
This is a sound often heard on kid camping trips. You won’t have any trouble recognizing the Aaaaiii! sound because it will cause your hair to jump up and stand at attention. If you hear a strange noise and your hair just lies there on your head twitching a bit, then that isn’t your true Aaaaiii! Almost any noise at night can raise a crop of goose bumps on campers but it takes an Aaaaiii! To lift their hair.
Occasionally, your brother or sister or one of the other campers will make the Aaaaiii! Sound when the presence of a crawly thing is detected in a sleeping bag (see Crawly Things). “Aaaaiii!” they will say. “There’s a crawly thing in my sleeping bag!” Your hair will still jump up, but as soon as it finds out the sound is coming from only your brother or sister or one of the other campers, it will flop back down and relax.
If it turns out that you’re the one going Aaaaiii!, then that’s serious. One time when I was a kid somebody slipped a big, old, cold, clammy frog into my sleeping bag. Just as I was getting comfortably settled in the bag, the frog took it into his head to scramble up onto my leg. It was enough to unloose an Aaaaiii! From an alligator, let alone a kid. Still, I was embarrassed. I tried to explain to the other campers that I was trying to raise an echo off the mountain, but since the mountain was four miles away they didn’t believe me. All they could do was lie there in their sleeping bags cackling like a flock of hens. Then the echo of my Aaaaiii! arrived in camp and it was still strong enough to raise a few hairs. That put an end to the cackling. The point is, it’s a good idea to have a sensible explanation prepared for those occasions in which you are startled into releasing an Aaaaiii!. “I was just practicing my Tarzan yell” is a good one.
The real hair-straighteners are the Aaaaiii!s that come drifting out of the woods on a dark night. One time my friends Retch and Henry and I were camped out in a wilderness area sometimes referred to as Fergussens’ Wood Lot. The campfire had died down and we were lying in our sleeping bags exchanging a few ghost stories, when suddenly a long, loud, quavering Aaaaiii! came drifting out of the shadows. Why, there wasn’t a hair on us that couldn’t have been used for an ice pick.
After a bit, Henry said, “I think maybe it was only a bird.”
“Y-yeah,” Retch said. “A five-hundred-pound b-bird!”
But Henry was one of those people who always have to think up a common-sense reason for every weird thing that happens. “I got it!” he said. “It was probably your cousin Buck! He sneaked out here and is trying to scare us!”
I thought Henry might be right about my cousin, because it was the sort of mean thing Buck liked to do. The problem was that Retch and I had already shucked off our sleeping bags and wound up our legs. Of course, once your legs are wound up, there is only one thing you can do, and that is point yourself toward home and let them unwind, which is what we did. Henry said later he had planned on spending the rest of the night out in the wilderness by himself but when Retch and I let our legs unwind we created such a vacuum that he was sucked right along behind us. Retch and I didn’t believe him for one moment.
“How come, then, you passed us before we were even halfway home, Henry? Tell me that!” I said.
Henry couldn’t think up a single common-sense answer.
I’ve never heard of Aaaaiii!s causing any actual harm, and if nothing else, they contribute a great deal to the overall excitement of camping. On the other hand, they are something I could do without.