Dad and I didn’t set up camp in our usual spot. For as long as I can remember, we’ve chosen primitive, state forest lands rather than campgrounds. It’s quieter, and there’s more of a sense that you’re truly getting away from everything for a while. But this year the water levels in Central Pennsylvania are at record lows, and our favorite mountaintop campsite, sitting among the spruce, the ferns and the maples, overlooks a dry valley. The flows on many of our local rivers are pathetic. We’ve received no significant rain since mid-July, and the rain we have gotten isn’t very wet.
“There’s no way you can understand how bad it is until you see it, Dad.” I told him over the phone. “You just have to take my word for it. We need to camp somewhere else.”
So we did.
We parked on a level asphalt pad rather than a forest floor of roots, dirt and leaves. The fire ring was iron instead of stone. And at night, the eerie call of the whippoorwill was replaced by the distant hum of interstate traffic.
Monday, I awoke before dawn and stumbled outside to relieve myself. As I approached the weeds, I sensed movement behind me. I turned at the greeting: “Morning!” said an old man as he walked by and waved. This was nothing like the mountaintop.
I really thought it would bother me more. Instead, I guess I just accepted it all. Sure, I missed the tranquility of the deep woods, but the campground was OK too. I’ve been through enough to finally understand that most situations become what you make of them.
I’ve always looked at these camping trips as a way to find peace in a fast life. A reset button. A long, deep breath. I thought all of that might not be attainable at a modern campground, but I was wrong. It was quiet enough. And I was there; Dad was there, and my sons were there.
I brought the boys out to camp for a couple days. We explored the paths over the wooded hills, they rode bikes on the asphalt, and we found some cold water to fish. They loved everything.
The nights were restful.
There’s a simple quote that sits framed on my nightstand. My wife gave it to me a few months after our second son was born:
Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of all of those things and still be calm in your heart. — Author Unknown
This year, fall camp wasn’t about the space. It was about the time. It was about a satisfaction that everything is alright — that happiness is there if you want it.
Enjoy the day.
T R O U T B I T T E N