During my childhood, my family often went camping. We went on about five to eight camping trips, mostly within California, each year. Since we did not have a ton of extra money, when vacationing, we often camped. I remember touring northern California, the Pacific Northwest, and the Southwest in this nomadic way; pitching our tent in a new location each night. After a day of driving and seeing different national parks and monuments, we rolled into our site and still had work to do.
There was one camping trip that I remember where I began to question the “value vs. effort” in camping. Thanksgiving vacation, when I was in the 5th grade, we were headed up to Morro Bay State Park, near San Luis Obispo. The campground was located in a wonderful location; across the street was a small marina with an estuary; next to it was a golf course. And between the golf course and the campground, a tall wall of eucalyptus trees. The campsites themselves were fairly close together. Each site was at an angle: Think a parking lot with slanted spots. Between each spot was a line of bushes and occasional eucalyptus trees to give campers a sense of privacy. Inside each spot was a picnic table and a fire ring. Normally, during the weekends in summer, there was not a spot left. But – this was Thanksgiving; we had lots of elbow room.
One night we came back to our site and it was pouring rain. Our tent was soaking wet, and water was even starting to drip inside from the tent walls and seams. Because we only had a camping gas stove on the trip, my Mom cooked our Thanksgiving dinner at home, ahead of time. Packed in foil containers was our Thanksgiving meal – turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry relish. Though one is not supposed to do this, we had to heat those foil packets inside our tent, risking toxic camping fuel fumes. We had to use our gas lamp inside the tent as well. Fortunately, none of us had monoxide poisoning. I did start to question though-
“Why were we here, in the rain, on Thanksgiving?”
“Why were we here, and not at home, where we would have access to a stove?”
It was so wet. We were so wet.
Later that day, we went for a walk around the campground, and I looked up in the trees. What did I see, but masses of pale orange. Monarch butterflies! The eucalyptus no longer looked its usual silver/green, but there were orange five feet long clusters of this wonderful insect. The Monarchs had migrated to winter in Morro Bay. They were stuck in the rain too. We all shared a wet Thanksgiving in Morro Bay.
The Monarchs were sublime, but the rain made me question camping. Even now, I have sweet feelings still towards Monarchs, but sometimes get overwhelmed…by camping!