Filling the Family Bucket
“Camping,” my husband announces. “Us and the kids. At the lake. Let’s do it.”
Even though I know he’s talking to me, I turn to check if someone else is possibly behind me. He gives my sarcastic gesture a roll of the eyes, while camping hikes around the interior of my skull searching for a place to settle, a site smooth and level where a rock won’t work into its back in the wee hours of unconsciousness. My mouth moves, fish-like, open-close-open-close, but nothing comes out.
His face falls. He’s hurt by my speechless protest and my inability to inject it with customary passion. Frankly, his proposal has sucked my breath.
“We used to camp all the time. Remember?” he prods.
Yes, I remember. That was before I dramatically threw my backpack down on the Appalachian Trail and told him to go on without me. Before I spent a sleepless night in a bear shelter with the wind growling at the flimsy door. Before I woke up floating in two inches (and still rising) of water in my tent. Before fire ants tried to dismember me and carry me to their queen. Before I saw that movie about a dingo eating that lady’s baby.
It is universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a backpack and a bedroll must be in want of a woman to climb mountains with him. I did. Ah, but then marriage was like smelling salts waved under my nose. When it became evident that he plans to stick around forever, regardless, I gave up going to extremes. It seemed a pointless sacrifice.
Seeing I’ve disappointingly come to my senses over the past 20 or so years, he assures me there are no dingos down the road in Columbia County’s Wildwood Park on Strom Thurmond Lake, even in the primitive camping area. But primitive means toting a weekend’s worth of worldly possessions on my back and it denotes a hint of no indoor plumbing. My head, of its own accord, shakes no, dingos or not. So he, clueless to the source of my objection, naively suggests we try the pack-in-pack-out primitive campsites at Mistletoe State Park, also free of baby-snatching wild Australian dogs and specific amenities that I believe I earned during the “extreme” years.
A consummate salesman, the man is using the ask-a-lot-get-a-little technique on me, only I fail to notice. I innocently inquire, “Is pulling into a tent site and rolling everything out of the back of the car not roughing it enough for you?”
He smiles, sure that he’s snared me. If that’s what I want to do, he excitedly hitches up the wagon, then we have lots of choices. We can still go to Mistletoe or Wildwood (they have tent sites for people like me), or we could try out either Petersburg or Winfield Campground. Wherever we choose to spend a weekend—he pushes for a week—most of the campsites come with lake views and all of the campgrounds have lake access, including beaches, boat ramps, fishing piers and docks. And they have bathrooms, with showers, he adds to close the deal. All we need are our bathing suits, fishing poles and kayaks, and we have a ready-made adventure vacation almost at our own backdoor.
In a weak moment, I selflessly set aside obsessions with dingos, restrooms and my highly prized mattress and think of my family. I’ve heard that from Mistletoe Park’s peninsula, the sunrises and sunsets on the expanse of open water are spectacular. How can I deny my offspring the chance to take a break from the hubbub of the every day so they can witness the world in motion, the slow kind?
Nutty for fishing, our children can have access to Columbia County’s miles upon miles of shoreline on Clark Hill’s 71,000 acres, more than any other county with lake frontage. Those green-gray waters teem with fish not found in regular old pasture ponds where we fish over bream beds with cane poles. Black crappie, bluegill, hybrid striped bass, yellow perch, shellcrackers, white bass, largemouth bass, chain pickerel, catfish and striped bass swim beneath the surface. Mistletoe State Park, incidentally, is known as one of the best bass fishing locations in the nation. The tantalizing challenge of hooking the big one will keep my kids occupied all afternoon, leaving me plenty of time to relax. Heaven knows there’s enough fish for them and for all the anglers who enter any one of the several fishing tournaments hosted each year at Wildwood Park.
And when it gets too hot to fish, they can go swimming at one of the beaches. And when they get too waterlogged to swim, they can fish some more. Mistletoe even rents canoes to overnight guests, so we could paddle the meandering meter of the shoreline, perhaps even cast a line and lose ourselves in the rhythm of the gently rocking boat while watching for our bobber to submerge. We might even see a bald eagle or a wild turkey, Canada geese, ducks, turtles or a whitetail deer (no dingos, says my husband).
Later, for dinner, we can cook the kids’ success over the campfire or on our campsite’s grill while they and their father fabricate fish tales that eventually evolve into ghost stories as the last golden rays of sun ripple away on the water. And then we’ll retire to our tents, where we drift asleep to the bullfrogs’ night-song, bo-rrrrump, bo-rrrrump, gool, gool, gool-get, bo, bo-rrrrump.
All is well until...sometime during the inky black night, a root grows under my spine and sits me up, awake. And once awake, I need to use the restroom, located some distance away. And upon consideration of the distance between me and the public plumbing, the ghost stories that didn’t scare me earlier now do.
As I emerge from the reverie, without me willing it, my head shakes no.
With renewed resolve, my beloved continues touting the miles and miles of hiking trails we can explore. Mistletoe State Park alone has eight trails totaling more than 10 miles, including the 6.25 mile Rock Dam Trail open to pedestrians and cyclists. If we camp at Petersburg, we’ll have access to Columbia County’s 27-mile portion of the Bartram Trail. Wildwood Park boasts another 12 miles of trails for use by hikers and equestrians. A top-rated disc golf course, pro-shop and hall of fame also enrich the recreational offerings at Wildwood.
“Let’s talk about these tent accommodations,” I lure him back to the harsh reality of sleeping on the hard, unpredictable ground at our age. The man, however, has a counterpoint for every argument. Mistletoe has rustic cabins along the lake with wooden bunks to sleep four. He sets the scene of us serenely sitting on the shady front porch of our little cabin. In his description the birds are singing and we have our feet propped up after an exhilarating morning of kayaking. The kids are off riding bikes or skipping rocks into the lake and he and I share the rare privilege of an uninterrupted conversation. Bliss.
Okay. He’s convincing. A root would be hard pressed to grow all the way into a cabin and into my bunk and under my back by daybreak, but I still worry about the bathrooms and getting up the guts to go there in the dark. “Is it cheating if we borrow my parents’ RV, the Kuntry Star?” I ask. I’ve accepted that he isn’t going to offer the option of Mistletoe’s two-bedroom cottages, fully equipped and civilized with kitchens, fireplaces and pertinent facilities. After all, he said camping, not luxury resort retreating. The RV is probably even a bit much for me to ask, but I venture the suggestion anyway. All four campgrounds have RV sites and hookups. “For that matter, we could borrow the jet skis, also, since the campgrounds have boat ramps,” I add. “Wouldn’t it be great if we had a ski boat too? And if we stay at Wildwood, we can get Foxboro to trailer the horses over one afternoon.”
“Not stay. Camp,” he corrects. “I want us to go camping.” The linguistic nuances matter. He opposes my contrived “camping” trip that resembles a Progressive Insurance commercial, with a long parade of recreation vehicles and equipment: Truck, kayaks, generator, paddles, life jackets, motor boat, bicycles, fishing poles, tackle boxes, rafts, inner tubes, RV, jet skis, folding chairs, horse trailer, horses....
His turn to do the snarky check-over-the-shoulder, as if I’m talking to someone behind him even though we’re alone. By the dejected downturn of his mouth, I figure I injected too much passion and plumbing into my camping fantasy.
He wants a simple weekend—a weekend of living off of fresh air and warm, melted marshmallows. He wants to sit around a campfire with his family and stare hypnotically into the flames. He wants to see the stars again, to hear the zing of a reel, the splash of a belly flop, the sound of our voices sans competition from the television. He craves to whittle sticks to sharp points, then to nothing but a mound of shavings on the ground.
He reminds me of how we hiked far into the wilderness of Joshua Tree National Park and talked all night beneath penlight twinkles fashioned in Earth’s black dome. He reminds me of the night hundreds of years in the making when we slept awash in the thick, earthy aromas at the foot of the towering redwood trees of Muir Woods. He reminds me of the morning we woke to a sunrise hand-painted by God over the Moab Dessert with oranges, yellows, reds and golds borrowed from the mesas. He reminds me of the wonder and awe of Lake Powell’s solid stone shores and the sound of the water lapping joyfully against them.
Yes. I remember. The “extreme” years had their high points. “There were no dingos,” I laugh. He laughs, too.
I remember. The simplicity. The ease. The connectedness. He wants these experiences for our children. Our children need these experiences so that their buckets are full when they kick them. Our buckets can be filled right here at home, with reservations and a 15 minute drive.
Without me realizing it, I nod, yes. It’s time to compromise and begin filling our buckets with new memories.
“So which campground do you think we ought to visit?” I concede and ask.
He stares at me, hard.
“You mean you plan for us to go camping at all of them?” I respond. How did I not know this was coming? I shake my head. He nods his. Beneath my blanket of hesitation, I accept his practicality. With four Columbia County campgrounds and parks almost in our own backyard, we can take the ultimate adventure stay-cation 15 minutes from home.