I Want to be a Camping Snob

Many of my friends show interest when I mention Dan and I love the outdoors.  We kayak, fly fish, hike and explore the hidden landscapes along less-traveled back roads. But in some circles, when I mention camping, the conversation slows - even stops. Then I hear that worn-out, heard-it-a-million-times response, "My type of camping is the Holiday Inn."

Really?

I'd much rather sleep in my little r-pod camper (tiny, but complete with kitchen, bathroom and comfy beds). We can set it up in a remote location and have nothing but a nylon screen between us and the night-time cry of a loon on Moosehead Lake or the Atlantic waves crashing on Assateague Island. There is something magical about experiencing the wilderness at night, when all the tourists have gone ... back to their Holiday Inns.

We have good friends who love camping, and not everyone snubs it or views it as the sport of the lower classes who don't mind getting up-close-and-personal with dirt and bugs. But those hotel snobs that dis sleeping outdoors don't realize that camping isn't pitching a leaky tent on the hard, lumpy ground, drinking nasty water from a metal canteen and eating hot dogs, and canned beans. Camping trailers aren't cheap - and gear.... well, there are endless possibilities for camping apparel... and camping destinations.

But bring camping up at an art show, a wine tasting, or just about anywhere in Easton (my favorite Eastern Shore town) and the conversation tends to stall - even stop - until one of these beautiful people drives the discussion back around to more pleasant subjects- like the new spa, sailing, the latest foodie haunts, or alternative health practices.

Is camping so gauche, so low class?

Camping is all about the night.  Why be cooped up indoors when the world is teeming with sounds, smells, and sights rarely seen in hours between dawn and dusk.

Night, the beloved.  Night, when words fade and things come alive.  When the destructive analysis of day is done, and all that is truly important becomes whole and sound again.  When man reassembles his fragmentary self and grows with the calm of a tree.  ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I'd like to turn the tables on the camping bashers... maybe round up a few camping-loving buddies decked out in the finest L.L. Bean ware, and hatch a plan to converse about camping in mixed circles with a slight air of superiority. We could move through the gallery crowd talking smugly about new camping equipment (like the O-Grill ), upscale camping recipes like Madyson's Gourmet Marshmallow Fluff or trendy outdoor ware like the Pathfinder LED Cap with a pin-head size lamp tucked into the brim for seeing where you're walking in the dark.

I could mention how I recently camped with a nationally known chef who aided Julia Child for years. We camped side-by-side in the North Maine Woods. By the light of a lantern she created a fabulous shrimp dish over an open fire complimented with roasted veggies and fine wine. We dined outside by citronella candlelight with a moonlit view of Moosehead Lake.

I'm not sure I would make a good camping snob, but I'd love to convince those that poo-poo camping that our life is richer for having spent the night outdoors. I've awakened in the middle of the night in northern Montana to the sound of elk calling across the Madison River  - a sound similar to air being pushed through an old pipe organ.  I woke my husband who is 70% deaf and encouraged him to leave the camper and  listen for it.  He heard it, and a memory was unexpectedly created in that instant.  That meant something to him... and to me.


Then there's all the things you miss because a Holiday Inn (or other lodging) isn't near - like the the nighttime yelp of seals, the fogs horns calling out across the Bay of Fundy, the muffled intermittent flash of light piercing the fog at East Quoddy Head. ... or discovering how a young buck sheds the velvet on his antlers - and having the opportunity to pluck a piece off  because these particular young deer have a level of comfort with the campers in certain primitive sites. 

While I may be able to see the sun peep above the horizon on Salem Harbor at dawn from a B&B or hotel in Marblehead, I wouldn't be able to add to that vision the silhouette of my husband fly fishing on a rocky outcropping beside the Winter Island light house unless I was camped nearby.  How much is that worth? 

I'm not against staying in a hotel. I have great travel memories that include staying in hotels, inns, and B&Bs. But camping is also a worthy mode of travel, one that allows the traveler to visit the softer side of earth - the one that reveals itself between dusk and dawn.

Rachel Carson put it best when addressing the wonder of the night sky ...
... but it can be seen many scores of nights in any year, and so the lights burned in the cottages and the inhabitants probably gave not a thought to the beauty overhead; and because they could see it almost any night, perhaps they never will. 

Camping, ushers us into this magical world of twilight, midnight, dawn and all the hours in between.  The convenience of lodging is a barrier to that world. How does one duplicate the feeling of starting a morning fire as dawn breaks, and watching the outdoors wake up against the smell of fresh brewed coffee and sizzling eggs? And though the mornings outdoors can sometimes be damp and leave a chill, Dan and I rejoice in being able to eat breakfast together while we watch the fog lift off a river or lake. And though we love our home and the comforts it provides, we so look forward to these mornings ... and evenings by the campfire... when no words are necessary.


Photos, Copyright 2008, 2010 by Mindie Burgoyne:  
Top - Dan Burgoyne fishing at campsite on Lake Pend 'Orielle - northern Idaho
Middle -   Dan touching a young buck after plucking some of the velvet off this little guy's new antlers.
Bottom -  Winter Island Light at dawn-  on Salem Harbor - between Salem and Marblehead

12 comments:

  1. I think the leaky tent people consider themselves the snobs already - I camped on Assateague once next to a guy who built a teepee, like, 25 feet high - you might have to settle for "outdoors connoisseur."

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  2. Hi Mindy, I'm a person who prefers hotels to camping, but not for the reasons you mention. I'm actually embarrassed that I don't like to camp. My husband and kids love it as do many of our friends. Being a birder, I'm *supposed* to like being outdoors at all times.

    I've had good camping experiences (mostly in my teens and early twenties) -- where the weather was perfect and the ground was not to lumpy and the toilet was close enough so I could use it in the middle of the night, but not too close so we were not constantly awakened by other campers.

    However, I've had some horrible camping experiences and generally I hate the way the tent is usually full of cold dew in the mornings and the way my body aches from sleeping on the ground (even with padding). We've been in campgrounds with loud campers who partied all night long and once, we packed up the camping gear around midnight and left the campground because neighbors were seeing who could create the largest campfire. (in California, during a dry spell)

    I doubt my husband would consider getting a cute little camper like yours, even if we were avid campers. He'd wonder where we'd store it.

    I think it is wonderful that you enjoy camping and I wish I could enjoy it too. I really envy you.

    Maybe in my next life...

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  3. (I misspelled too in the second paragraph [I wrote "to lumpy" but should have written "too lumpy". Feel free to fix it if you can edit comments)

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  4. Bob Greenlee8:50 AM

    I was feeling pretty good about my own camping experiences - in fact feeling a little snobby - until I read this post. Then I realized I was just another schmuck outside, in the snow typically, miles away from cars and roads and other signs of progress and civilization, not a convenience in sight. Oh well ...

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  5. Bob ... my most favorite camping experiences have been far from the car, roads and signs of progress. Camping is what you make it - just like any mode of travel. Sounds like you're making it a remarkable experience.

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  6. Anonymous9:22 AM

    Tony, I agree, there's snobs in everything...whether you're a dirt bag mountaineer or an art connoisseur--it's usually hype and bluff.

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  7. Anonymous9:44 AM

    Mindie, it's me, Kim Mc from Facebook, not so anonymous, just lazy(ish)!

    It's funny how "wilderness" can be defined by different folks, you know?

    For a lot of people, going away to a hotel could be defined (for them) as wilderness. Same with how a person experiences Europe, whether it be Italy or Dublin. At the end of the day, the feelings that well-up within you, when you're, 'in the moment', really are joyous personal moments that you just want to share, so that other people could feel that great too.

    But it's my feeling (and experience)...those people wouldn't get it 'in the moment' anyway...not until they're ready to come to the mountain themselves..........so, as we say in Montana.....the harsh winters (snow, fog, temps, etc., etc...) keep the Insincere away...enjoy that there's still space to be able to listen and see...the snobs will still be as ever when you return back to civilization. :)

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  8. Anonymous9:49 AM

    one last note...

    Mindie, thanks for the post. You sort of gave me a wee epiphany into something, so, go raibh míle maith agat for that!

    Also, two great people to quote from--they have both touched my life in separate ways, but you united them. Ta!

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  9. i think camping is one of those simple pleasures that many miss because they are in a hurry, busy accumulating more, trying to constantly improve themselves or others. i do have those simple moments at home on my one acre plot, sitting out having coffee on the deck and watching butterflies flit by, or looking at the tomatoes i grew with my own two hands and a little help from mother nature. i just think i have some many more of these moments when i am camping because there are so many fewer distractions, no tv, no traffic noises and you start to notice little things, the ladybugs, the ripple pattern in the lake and so on. humans need these moments, well i do. my soul craves this and sighs in bliss when it gets it

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  10. Mindie, did you camp as a child? I think those who did view it quite differently as adults. I love to kayak, hike and generally be outdoors reading, gardening, etc, but when the day is done I want to retreat indoors.

    I love to travel and when I do I want others to do what I do for myself normally, i.e. cook, clean, etc. Except for the occasional NASCAR rental house I don't even like renting a vacation home because I don't want to clean someone else's house while I am on vacation.

    Your description of camping sounds beautiful and romantic. Although I am not a camping snob it has never been something that appealed to me, but it might have if someone like you introduced me to it as a kid.

    If you want to talk snobs let's talk about people who put NASCAR down. But I digress …

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  11. Carol - so funny (about NASCAR snobs). No, I never camped as a kid, my mother wouldn't have heard of it. In fact, I can only remember ever taking one vacation - to Cape Cod. I spent my summers at my grandparents' house on the Patuxent River in St. Mary's County, and it was there that my love for the outdoors developed, but it would have been unthinkable for us to sleep outside. In those days, camping was for the scouts and families who couldn't afford to stay in hotels. We couldn't even afford to camp.

    My love for camping began when I married Dan. Being from rural Maine, he knew how to survive outdoors and like most Mainers - how to appreciate it.

    Camping runs the gamut from a rustic, sleeping under the stars on a roll-out mat to a luxurious slumber in a greyhound-bus sized camper with more amenities than most houses. Neither of these extremes suit me, but ... each to his / her own.

    A nice little camper with a potty, running water and a mattress is perfect for us. Just enough to make it comfortable, but not too much to shield us from magical rawness of the night air.

    You might try it, Carol. Maybe you'd find even as an adult, that you enjoy the camping experience.

    mb

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  12. Thanks all for the comments, folks. I didn't realize I might offend some campers with the text in this post ... but my inbox, twitter feed and, yes - even this comment stream tells me I may have misrepresented my true feelings about tent campers.

    Oh well... sorry if my post made you feel like lowlife or low class for sleeping in a leaky tent on lumpy ground. But really, people ... read the title of this blog.

    Who really cares what I think? =)

    mb

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