By Joe Rector

I’d listened well, so when our anniversary arrived last December, I bought a tent, sleeping bags, tarps, and air mattresses for a new activity. Amy has this burning desire to camp and hike, things quite different from my preferences for sleeping in my own bed and mowing the yard for exercise. I’ve never found much success in communing with Mother Nature at a campsite anyway.

For one birthday, my brother Jim and I received a tent. It came in handy since our gang of boys in Ball Camp enjoyed finding places to set up camp for an overnight event. Sometimes we stayed in our yard, which was about three acres and included a wooded area. On one occasion, a couple of boys learned harsh lessons when they stumbled into the electric fence that enclosed a couple of calves Daddy had bought.

At other times, we camped at another boy’s house. There we set up our tents no more than twenty feet from the railroad tracks that snaked through the community. Restless sleep was further interrupted by the shaking of the earth and the shattering of the stillness with each passing train. On one outing the summer skies opened and doused our campsite. At first things were fine; then a drip and then a drop appeared, and then the tent’s flooring was wet. Before long, the tent leaked everywhere and soaked our sleeping bags, clothes, and shoes. Jim and I walked home in the downpour, and the next day we took down the tent and chucked it in the basement, where it stayed until Mother threw it on the burn pile years later.

On another excursion we boys set up camp and then built a fire. Pat Wright produced a frozen squirrel from his bag, one he’d shot during a hunting trip in his back yard. We stuck the thing on a stick and held it over the fire. Eventually, hunger replaced logic, and the squirrel was declared ready for eating. The taste of that gamey, raw squirrel meat remains in my mind fifty years later.

I avoided camping for the next few years. In college, my brothers and their wives decided one weekend to go camping, and I was invited. We searched for a camping site at Fall Creek Falls, but none was available. Next we traveled through a storm to Cumberland Mountain State Park and secured a place. In a dither, we pitched tents and unrolled sleeping bags with rain still pelting us. At some point, the showers ended, and we sat around the campfire. When bed time arrived, I crawled into the sleeping bag and adjusted the pancake thick pillow. What I never did fix was the stick that lay under the floor of the tent. We’d failed to clear the area before pitching it, so that night I tossed and turned and tried find a way to sleep on an object the size of a roll of quarters.

Amy and I had a dry run with the camping equipment last weekend. We set up the tent in the wooded area beside the house. I unpacked and unrolled things and inflated air mattresses. Before dark, we lay there and enjoyed the sounds. Staying on the mattresses was difficult because the bag material was slick and because the mattresses were too close to the sides of the tent. Of course, a bad back never lends itself to enjoying a night on the ground. By 1:30 a.m. both Amy and I had abandoned the tent in favor of our own bed.

I’m determined to get the camping thing right before I leave this world. There’s too much waiting in the “great outdoors” for me not to do so. I just hope I work out the kinks so the rain won’t drown me and the sticks won’t punish my already sore back. “Greater love hath no man than this,” that he gives up his bed and the comforts of his home to appease his wife’s desire to camp.”