I was a Girl Scout leader for many years, at one point leading a troop that ranged in age from nine to fourteen. They loved to go camping. Together they planned the trip, including food, equipment, and the shared labor of set-up, cooking, clean-up, and breaking camp. Wonderful, insightful conversations between and among the girls and adults took place around an evening campfire, or in the hazy light of early morning as we tried to get the water going, or as we settled in to sleep with the sound of rain on the tents.
Something touches us deeply about going camping with a group or with one’s family. Perhaps it is the self-reliance we find as we do without conveniences and confront the inevitable challenges. Perhaps it is the heightened sense of taste and smell from food cooked over an outdoor fire. Perhaps it is the awareness that we share this world with creatures of the night. Perhaps it is the trust we experience that whatever storms may come, they also will pass and in the meanwhile, we have the capacity to meet the challenge.
“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately…” writes Thoreau in Walden. As Thoreau did, we can find a deep spirituality in the many deliberate acts we do on a camping trip. We learn to share chores, to cooperate, to develop skills, to help others become more competent. We experience being famished, and then satisfied, enjoying food in an elemental way. We sharpen our senses, observe closely (watch out for poison ivy!), and feel connected to the natural world of which we are a part. We have time for conversations, for laughter, for shared stories, for song, and for beloved camping rituals (s’mores, anyone?).
As a religious educator in a parish, I once asked children and adults to share stories with one another about camping or about visiting a favorite outdoor spot. They told tales of backyard tents, flashlights, and outdoor noises. They told of walking in the woods with beloved relatives, finding acorns, stones, pine cones and all manner of treasure. They told of rain, and cold, and perfect summer nights. Adults shared their memories with children, and children shared theirs in return. The conversation was a delightful reminder that some of the deepest feelings cross generations: wonder, awe, and a sense of connection remembered, savored, and offered as a gift from one person to another.
What camping trips or visits to outdoor places have you experienced, as a child, a youth, an adult? What stories do you have to share? Find a time to take your spirit and some friends or family members camping this summer. Build a campfire, share an outdoor meal, or take a nature walk and, if you are so inclined, break out the s’mores!