Camping is ideal for experiencing nature’s beauty and interconnectedness. We are not separate from nature, we are part of it.
“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” —John Muir
Camping is a green vacation choice with a relatively small carbon footprint. Sure, car travel, cooking fuel, and campfires do emit greenhouse gases. However, camping gear is reusable, water use in minimal, and all good campers leave a campsite in the same or better condition than they found it.
There’s something magical about paring down to essentials, packing a week or two’s worth of food, clothing, and equipment into a car at 4:00 a.m. and taking off for the wilderness.
Let’s Go Camping
My treehugger roots can be traced back to camping in the Hermit Valley area of California’s Stanislaus National Forest, located east of Sacramento and north of Yosemite. It was there I fell in love with trees, wildflowers, birds, streams, and hiking.
Our Hermit Valley camping trip began with my brother and me, aged 10 and 8, being awoken before the crack of dawn and bundled into the family station wagon where we proceeded to alternately sleep and bait each other to misbehave.
After eight hours or so, we arrived at a tiny campground with four campsites. All were unoccupied, perhaps because the only amenity was a picnic table. We pitched our tent on the prime campsite next to the stream.
Everything we needed from food to canteens, fishing poles, playing cards and clean clothes were miraculously obtained from the station wagon. As an adult, I realize and appreciate how much effort Dad and Mother put into planning the trip and stocking the magical station wagon. I’m sure my brother and I were required to do some work, but we mostly just explored and had fun.
Dad, an avid photographer, would sometimes have us retrace our steps so we could be photographed going up or down the trail. On more than one occasion, Dad followed a bear in an attempt to get a closer photo. Mother did not like this at all. Decades later, the snapshots and 8mm movies of the trip are treasured mementos.
Mother concocted tasty meals from supplies housed in a cooler and a few cardboard boxes, prepared on a picnic table, and cooked on a 2-burner camp stove.
A movie shows her cooking up a bacon and French toast breakfast seemingly unfazed by the lack of kitchen equipment, electricity, or running water.
My brother is far more adventurous than I, yet he never led me into activities that were more dangerous than I could handle (or at least that I remember) and he was a good fishing companion.
The One that Got Away
My Dad’s philosophy about fishing is “You catch it, you clean it”.
The stream next to our campsite provided a good training ground for fishing novices like me. I duly learned how to bait a fishing hook, cast, reel in, kill, and clean fish. Photographic evidence proves I became an accomplished fisher girl and contributed my share to family fish dinners. Fresh caught rainbow trout fried on a camp stove is delicious.
Our recollections of camping trips vary somewhat, but we all remember Big Mack.
During one of our fishing sessions, I hooked a large rainbow trout, at least compared to the other fish I’d caught. I put it in the bucket filled with water and other fish we’d already caught. Later, I couldn’t bear the thought of killing and eating the fish so I befriended it.
No one remembers why I named the fish Big Mack; the reason is lost in time. Big Mack lived in a pool I created by piling up rocks in the stream until I released him or her just before we left. Hopefully, Big Mack went on to live a happy and full life.
Fishing in Hermit Valley marked the first time I’d experienced the food chain in action and considered my place in it.
Camping with Mr. Fixit
Having a Mr. or Ms. Fixit along on a camping trip is not required but it does have its benefits.
We had the usual camping gear, tent, sleeping bags, camp stove, cooler, folding chairs, etc. Thanks to Dad, a.k.a. Mr. Fixit, we also had a few luxuries such as a toilet and shower.
At the beginning of the trip, Dad scouted out a suitable private location between some big fallen logs, away from the stream, and dug a hole. Over this, he placed a toilet seat mounted on an aluminum frame. At the end of the trip, he folded up the portable toilet and filled in the hole. An outdoor toilet may or may not be viewed as environmentally sound, but it sure beats squatting behind a rock.
Dad devised a wondrous outdoor shower contraption from wood components he made at home in his workshop, a ground cover cloth, and a 5-gallon water jug with a spigot.
A rectangular wood frame was suspended from a stout tree branch. The ground cover was attached to the frame to serve as a shower curtain and the water jug was suspended above the middle. The shower was completed by a folding wooden slat floor that allowed water to flow freely and soak into the ground.
The water jug was filled with water from the stream and mixed with water that had been heated on the stove.
To shower, one opened the spigot, got wet, turned off the spigot, soaped up, opened the spigot, and rinsed off. We had to be quick, but it was effective. The warm water felt wonderful.
Dad’s innovations raised our camping comfort level and perhaps contributed to Mother agreeing to go on further camping trips.
Camping is Good for People and Our Planet
Collaboration and camping go hand-in-hand. Clearing a space for a tent and then putting it up, fetching water and preparing meals with only rudimentary cooking gear, and keeping a campsite clean and bear-free all require teamwork, can be fun, and give one a sense of accomplishment.
Camping broadens our horizons and refreshes our spirits. How could anyone who has observed a herd of deer grazing in a field of wildflowers, or seen a thousand ladybugs clustered on a bush in the rain, or watched a sunset while perched on a boulder atop a mountain, not be touched, not feel Earth is something to be cherished and protected?
As weird as this may sound, I believe camping enables us to tap into our desire to work toward the common good and develops in us an appreciation for the natural world. These are essential ingredients for engaging people to meet the challenge we all face, protecting the planet we call home.
So let’s go camping…and then save the world.
- Green Legislation – Roosevelt Administrations
- John Muir: The Eight Wilderness Discovery Books – Book Review
- National Park History and Legislation
- National Park Week 2013 – Celebrate the Great Outdoors
- Repairing Things is Green – Mr. Fixit
- Sierra Club – Explore, Enjoy and Protect the Planet