Recently, our family took a much-needed and well-anticipated camping trip into the mountains, to a place above North Fork called Mammoth Pools.
This is a camping spot my family has been going to since I was about 13 years old and it holds many special memories filled with good times spent on the rocky beach by the reservoir, roasting marshmallows by the fire, and of course, sleeping in a tent.
This was our daughter’s first camping trip and she loved it. I captured a multitude of pictures of her, filthy from head to toe, running around like a little Indian princess, hair flying, dirt smudges on her cheeks, and a big grin on her face.
Our boys got to bring a friend along for the adventure (thanks Sam for letting us borrow your boy for the weekend!) and he had so much fun he’s already signed on for the trip next year.
The last time I went camping — any kind of camping — was eight years ago. Our boys were 6 and 8 respectively and our daughter wasn’t even a figment in our imagination. Of course, our boys loved camping. Little boys with an open invitation to get as dirty as they’d like is similar to winning the lottery for adults. In other words, sheer bliss. The boys would get covered in dirt and then they’d wash off in the beautiful creek that ran alongside our campsite. Instantly clean. Well, clean enough to climb into the tent, that is. My youngest son — who at the time was such a wonderful little heathen — loved to pee outside. So when we told him that he could relieve himself discreetly near a tree, that was just fabulous in his mind. Except perhaps we should’ve been a little more specific. A 6-year-old is all about needs and wants. He needs to pee. He wants to play with his trucks. Oh! Idea! Our oldest son had just completed this elaborate road system in the dirt for his trucks and was having a grand time. Suddenly, I heard a lot of yelling and then crying. Apparently, our youngest son had decided the trucks could use some mud. So he made some. And he didn’t use water. I gotta tell you, I laughed my butt off. That’s still a favorite memory.
Eight years later, we returned to our spot. The smell of sticky pine, alpine air, and sunshine instantly turned back the clock and I was a kid again. The anticipation of rounding that corner off Grizzly Road to see the bridge marking our campsite filled my heart with joy and my smile was surely rivaling the shine of the sun. This was like returning to a second home after a long absence.
Everything looked the same. The outhouses smelled as awful; the creek water was as crisp and refreshing; and the food, somehow, always tastes better when you’re eating it outside.
But you know, some things have changed, such as my need for a real mattress. We spent gobs of money on this trip — totally worth it, mind you — and one of those camping purchases was a new air mattress. It was a perfectly good air mattress except for one thing: it’s an air mattress. Geesh. When did my bones get so old and particular? By morning after the first night I felt as if a giant had used my spine for a Slinky. I hobbled out of the tent most mornings, wondering if I’d ever be able to stand upright again. When I was a kid I could’ve slept on a rock (and probably did) and I would’ve been up and ready to water ski as soon as I could put my suit on. Not so much anymore.
Also, sharing a tent with all your children, including three teenaged boys is not a great idea. Boys need their own tent. They stink. And they revel in all the smells they can produce. Bonus points are given for making someone gag.
We fought off marauding meat bees intent on stealing our food, choked down a s’more or two until we realized no one really likes s’mores and gave up trying, went to bed late, ate junk and swam away the calories, stared into the fire pit with sheer exhaustion, and added another “bear in the camp” memory to the ones we had before this trip.
Before we knew it, the trip was over too soon. That was something that felt familiar, as well. I remember as a kid wishing we had one more day but alas, the end had to come sometime. We all took one last dip in the creek, reluctant to leave its cool waters, and then with a sigh, said goodbye until next time.
As we pulled away from the campsite — dirty, tired, and dreading the long drive — I was filled with love and appreciation for the family time we shared. I was reminded that these simple pleasures are the moments that color the landscape of our memories with joy and happiness.
Nothing’s perfect, but every moment you spend with your family is precious.
And that — above all else — is priceless.
Kim Van Meter is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News, and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.