They Go Camping, Don't They

canoe kidsOnce a month the wife goes to a book group meeting, and the significant male others have invited me to join them on that evening. There’s an open invitation to drop by as long as you bring beer. The participants include an M.D., two contractors, and a professor. The only rule is that we are not allowed to talk about books or women.

All of them, “The Men,” are outdoor types who enjoy hiking, camping, back packing, rock climbing, cycling, recycling and the like. The retired among them are usually either just back from or about to go to someplace rustic, and they are eager to swap tales of their adventures. My idea of camping is to open the bedroom window.

When I was thirteen, I spent two weeks on a canoe trip with a group of merit badge candidates. We drove from Tennessee to International Falls, Minnesota and then paddled for two hundred miles in the rain to satisfy a Boy Scout idea of what constitutes wholesome youth. We carried wooden canoes and gear up hills I don’t like to remember. We caught, cleaned, and ate lots of fish or survived on peanut butter sandwiches. I drank my first cup of coffee the morning I was in charge of building the campfire, and I found out about homesick.

We were dangerously close to more wildlife than I ever care to see again. I still remember Semaphore signals for S.O.S. and the words to one of the songs we sang: “Our paddles keen and bright, flashing like silver, swift as the wild goose flight, dip, dip, and swing.”

I didn’t go camping again until years later when campfire coffeeI was teaching in Middle School, and the dreaded fall trips would take us scuba diving off Catalina Island or climbing sand dunes in Colorado. I remember waking up in late May with snow on the ground and a long walk from the tent to the latrine. Maybe I’m not a good person to ask, but isn’t there something wrong with the picture when you need to hang food in a tree at night because yes, there are bears in the woods, along with sharks in the water and mosquitoes in the tents?

My wife says that even after three years she feels like an outsider in the book group. She reads more than the other women and is plenty outspoken in her views of what is, is not, or could be literature. She is not a camper either.   


Harpeth Rivers is a New Mexico transplant from all over who has in the last year written songs about isosceles triangles, played bass guitar with the Cheap and Easy Band, and declared himself "Retro-eclectic." His novel-in-progress is entitled Last Year.

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