The Camping Trip

This is the story of the time I went camping because my wife was pregnant. (Maybe I better explain that.)

It was our first child, and Bonnie was about seven months along. That's when a woman first thinks carrying a child is uncomfortable; before the ninth month when she finds out what uncomfortable really is. Anyway, Bonnie's mother and my mother decided the three of them needed a weekend to do Mommy things. Fathers were invited to get out from under foot.

We quickly decided to head for Big Bend National Park.

It didn't take long to get ready. Bonnie's brother and I grew up in the same Boy Scout troop, with our fathers the adult leaders. My father-in-law got his truck ready to make the trip. I packed the equipment. My dad went shopping for groceries.

The next afternoon found the four of us 300 miles west, turning left out of Marathon down into Big Bend National Park.

If you haven't been there, let me just say Big Bend lives up to its name. There are pieces of nothing too big to walk across in a week. Santa Elena canyon is so deep you can hardly see the sky from the Rio Grande. Chisos Basin is an ecological world all its own.

It was early evening when we pulled into our primitive camping area and found a site. We had a place to park, one of the concrete tables with a metal awning you see in highway rest stops, a place for a campfire, and room for our tents. Up the hill a little there was a rest room, where you could take a cold shower and draw water. It was September, and only a few of the twenty sites were occupied.

By sunset we had camp set up and supper finished. Night found us ready to relax.

I leaned back, an equal, around a campfire with men I loved and respected. We talked of life and solved world problems. The sweet scent of sage mingled with the aroma of burning mesquite. Night creatures sang of Autumn love. High and razor clear, constellations looked down on a full moon floating over the mountain at our back, lighting across the desert to the horizon, far enough away to be on the other side of the world. The Almighty even sent one of His critters to amuse us, a widebody skunk scouting through empty camps for something to eat. You can't get closer to Heaven.

We were ready to turn in when a car came up the hill into the campground. It pulled into the parking space next to ours.

We wondered about that. Particularly among tent campers, there's a tradition of spreading out where there's room to leave a site between. But we had plenty of space, so it didn't make any difference.

The car stopped and a family piled out. We found out later they had gotten up before morning, drove 900 miles, and pulled into the park.

The mother needed to use the rest room. The two kids launched out the back doors a foot off the ground; they had been cooped up way too long. The father stretched and remarked out loud how he ought to get things set up.

They immediately ran into a problem: one flashlight among the four of them. We were thinking, "This is not a good sign."

They solved it easy enough. The full moon gave more light than any street lamp, and you could see all the way to the rest room, so the father kept the flashlight.

Mother headed up the trail. Kids bounced off rocks and trees. Father popped the trunk.

He pulled out a family tent, new, still sealed in the store carton. We watched him tear the box open and start assembling the shelter. It quickly became obvious the parts weren't going together.

About that time Mother came back down the path. She was astounded there weren't any lights in the rest room.

"Of course not," we thought. "There isn't any electricity in the campground. For light in the rest room, take your own. Everyone knows that."

Mother demanded the flashlight. Father figured as he wouldn't use it putting up the tent. We figured he was right, since he wasn't making any attempt to read instructions.

Mother headed back up the trail. Kids bounced off rocks and trees. Father kept worrying the tent, unsuccessfully.

My dad had seen all his scoutmaster heart could stand. He ambled over neighborly-like and offered to lend a hand. (Dad was good at that ambling over neighborly-like stuff.) The Father orated that maybe the tent was a two-man job, and accepted the help. Dad pulled out his own flashlight and picked up the instructions.

Mother came breathless down the path. Right up there in the rest room there was the most vile, repulsive, pulsating mass of bugs she had ever seen. They were just going to eat the children alive.

We were dumbstruck. A colony of Daddy Longlegs isn't as dangerous as many desert plants. In fact, since the little spiders eat mosquitoes, they would actually protect her children from being bitten.

As wrought up as she was, though, we couldn't figure out how to explain that to her. Instead, my father-in-law eased over and distracted her by pointing out that the two kids had cornered the skunk, and were fixing to poke it with sticks.

Mother charged toward the impending disaster. My dad, having figured out the tent, told the Father that there was a part missing; the piece at the top of the dome that all the poles fit into. The tent wasn't going to go up until it was replaced.

What Dad didn't tell the Father is that the missing part was called a "spider."

Mother came back hauling the two kids, one with a scraped knee. She wanted to know if they had any Band-Aids. Father said that he had indeed purchased a large and expensive first aid kit, and thought that there must be Band-Aids in it. However, he wasn't sure where it was.

By the time I got a bandage out of my pocket emergency kit and patched the kid, the father made his best decision of the day. He crammed the tent back into the trunk, and his family back into the car, and headed out for the forty-mile drive to the nearest motel. As he left he told everyone within earshot that this camping stuff was a bunch of nonsense.

(Not his exact words, of course, but that was the essence of the message.)

The three of us heaved a sigh of relief. The next unopened box in his trunk was a gasoline cook stove.

As the car roared down the hill and out of sight Dad said, "You know, that man really isn't stupid. In fact, he's a high-ranking sales executive in a major corporation.

"If he would have been demonstrating that tent in a sales presentation he would have taken it out of the carton and practiced, until his hands could set it up while his brain concentrated on his sales pitch. And before taking it into a sales meeting he would have checked each piece to make sure it was present and functioning properly.

"But he wasn't going to a sales meeting, he was just taking his family camping. The tent wasn't part of a demonstration, it was just the shelter protecting his loved ones from a desert night where the temperature will fall below freezing. So he didn't take those precautions." Dad shrugged. "He just didn't believe the tent was all that important."

We fathers thought about that, while we went to bed.