Camping is something that has always pulled vigorously at the strings of my heart. As a youngster I used to love to be outside for an evening, even if it was just in the back garden, and spend time breathing in the cool night air. Doesn't every kid love the adventure that is camping? I remember making make-shift tents out of sticks and tatty old sheets, layering them on one another and lying there through the night, feeling a sense of both comfort and freedom. I cherished the occasions when it rained, and the sodden blankets and sheets miraculously held out the water. I felt especially gratified, curled up snug and warm in my self-made cocoon.
Here in the U.S of A, camping is a tad more user-friendly than in New Zealand. Rather than taking a hike into the bush with a tent strapped to your back, you can pull right up to a camping site in your vehicle, and there is a table and a fire pit good to go. It is a little more civilized but it still serves the purpose of providing a step away from the material confines of civilization itself.
Some time ago, we went camping in Ojai, which is a lovely little spot. The cute town is potted with bountiful thrift stores and more than its fair share of both the hip, the happening and the hippies. Hippies, the older I get, the less I hate them for some reason.
Just outside the cute town center is a lovely campsite called Denison Park. We drove up to our tent site which sat atop of the mountain; super. It was hot, crazy oppressive hot. I don't know how we survived really, out there in the middle of a giant wilderness in sweltering heat. Actually, I know exactly how we survived this ordeal, we jumped back in the car, turned on the air conditioning and headed back into town where we whiled away the hottest part of the day sipping on boutique beers from The Ojai Beverage Company.
Following our refreshing and flavorful beverages, we once again answered the call of the wild and headed back to nature. It was time to get started on maybe my favorite part of the whole camping experience, creating fire. Doesn't everyone have an inner pyromaniac? Speaking for myself, starting a fire is primal and thrilling.
My fire starting abilities have no finesse whatsoever. In fact my fires, much like my personality, like subtlety on any level. I cover the coals and any small flammable debris I can find with copious amounts of lighter fluid and then set a match to this accident waiting to happen. Maybe it is a tad reckless to use the amount of lighter fuel I do, perhaps one might venture to suggest that it is in fact extremely dangerous. That being said, I never regret my generous, liberal application of highly flammable liquid because when that fire explodes to life with a vicious fury and wild rage, my inner pyromaniac rejoices. I feel a little bit crazed standing there in front of the blaze I created. Despite my affinity for accelerant, my paranoia for starting forest fire supersedes all. I’m always in a clearing and away from the foliage when my little circle of fire ignites.
Once the campfire is up and burning, it must be kept alive. What usually follows is a rather wild, obsessive and desperate hustle to keep the fire burning as brightly and a big as possible for as long as possible. I'm not proud of what I do to keep a campfire burning. I've had to use whatever resources are on hand. Yes, I have even stooped so low as to use the dead vegetation around me. That's what fire does to me; it turns me into a criminal. When the fire is lit, within moments you will probably find me hanging ten feet off the ground trying to wrestle a half rotten tree to the ground or manically wondering off into the darkness grabbing for anything remotely flammable. I usually wake up the next morning covered in scratches and grazes from an evening hunting for fuel in a fired up frenzy. It's worth it though. There's little more satisfying than a raging campfire.
You gotta love toasting Marshmallows, or in my case, burning them to a lump of ashen crispy molten goodness. You gotta love drinking a little too much wine and looking at the stars invisible to city dwellers. You gotta love snuggling up in your sleeping bag with nothing to protect you save a flimsy layer of canvas with the one you love wrapped tightly in your grateful arms. You gotta love the feeling of the warmth of your favorite person in the world staving off the sharpness of the cool night air.
I find that lack of solid protection when camping a little scary and yet exciting. When we turned off our torches in Ojai it was dark. Pitch black in fact. Scuffles and sounds of the night start to trigger ones paranoid mind space. Was that noise in the bushes a Coyote? Some psychopath on a killing spree? I gave Michelle my pocket knife for protection and kept the larger knife on hand as I had deemed myself head protector and thus responsible for most of the knife work possibly required against imaginary adversaries that may include, but not limited to, Grizzly bears and ax murderers.
As usual, we woke up in the morning in one piece, zipped open the tent and were greeted by the never-failing beauty of a natural vista. I love camping, I love the connection with nature, that spiritual sense of our mortal fragility and also an appreciation of our powerful survival instinct. It also serves to remind us how we can be very happy and most content with very few material possessions. I'm sounding a bit like one of those Ojai hippies, aren't I?