After living in Dallas for a few years, Alan and I were desperate to get out of the noisy, crowded urban life. Though camping had been sparse in our youth, a camping and traveling honeymoon sounded exactly right. Our wedding wishlist had included our most beloved gifts: ice chest, tent, stove, sleeping bags, and all the cool little things that make camping more fun. We converted a Dodge van and went in search of the mountains and water we’d been missing in our part of the vast, dusty flatlands of Texas. We set out for California heading east.
We circumnavigated the country for three months, mostly skirting bigger cities, searching out the remote campgrounds. Every night we set up the tent and stove, sometimes built a fire, and occasionally slept in the van. With few firm plans besides Grateful Dead tickets in Minneapolis in early August, we rambled through the southeast, up the coast to Maine, across the northern states to Seattle, and finally down through California, never tiring of the outdoor life.
It’s been forty years, but I still recall the night on the Blue Ridge Parkway when we hunkered down on the front seat, relentless rain pounding on the roof, and watched a family of skunks stroll by. I remember our surprise and joy of coming into DC on July 4th where dozens of bands played under canopies on the lawns. I had an unforgettable evening cooking fresh salmon over an open fire on a verdant bluff on the coast of Maine. Ah, the open road, the endless cornfields, the surprise and wonder. It was the beginning of a confirmed love affair with living and sleeping outside, “small kingdoms breathing around me.”
We settled down, but then camped with our two children (skipping the early years when life exhausted and overwhelmed us). By the time they were four and six, we found like-minded friends and camped year-round all over California. We made a dedicated “camping closet” with all our gear, and honed our routine until we could set out almost without thought. Camping with groups of friends and family made it all easier.
I was always proud of how my kids took on their own campouts in their later years. Ethan organized his Coachella buddies by securing a campsite, organizing food, and making sure everyone had plenty of water. Marina camped with friends too, and then chose to challenge herself with a three week wilderness backpacking trip in college, in spite of her dislike of bugs.
Recently a friend wrote about her love of solo camping and I found myself feeling wistful for a nature retreat – quiet, energizing, simple. My own habits and needs can be dealt with without much ado. On the other hand, sharing the work, the joy, and the experience is also part of the charm, and there’s nothing better than playing music with others in the trees, a part of our camping tradition.
We haven’t seemed to gin up the energy to do what it takes to get the grandkids out camping. I’m daunted by what it would take, and it feels like a big push, looming larger than when we camped with our own kids. I have to admit, I’m slowing down. Our own campouts have grown fewer and further between (though once I’m out there, it’s pure exhausting joy). But the kids are getting older, they need this experience, and Oregon is a camping paradise with so many possibilities near rivers and lakes, in forests and mountains, and by the ocean.
I’ve been curious about the Clackamas River for a long time, but have only driven by it, never put my feet in or walked alongside, though it’s not far from Portland. It starts out in the Cascades, winds its way into farm and then urban lands, and empties into the Willamette River. When I heard about Milo McIver State Park, and how it stretches out alongside the river, it looked like a potential camping spot with the grandkids, and it was time to go on a reconnaissance mission.
The campground loops looked promising, a lovely setting amidst tall trees that separated each campsite from the other. Campers had various sorts of fishing gear and boats for the nearby Lake Estacada, where there are also kayak rentals. Just looking at the colorful tablecloths on picnic tables, the pop-ups and tents, had me full of longing.
We hiked a couple loops, five miles in all, passing swaths of white and pink foxgloves, dotted with raindrops. The trails followed the river for short stints, and it was pretty in a State Park kind of way, though not wilderness beauty. The restrooms were great. But how spoiled I am by Oregon’s riches that I can even say that the trails are nothing special! There’s a fish hatchery, equestrian trails, a disc golf course, a dam, road crossings, and occasional piles of branches and trail-building trash.
It looked like a good place to bring the kids. There were plenty of birds, few people, and the river was peaceful, just us and the trees and the sound of water. And that’s all I really need.
Sleeping In The ForestMary Oliver
I thought the earth remembered me, she
took me back so tenderly, arranging
her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds. I slept
as never before, a stone
on the riverbed, nothing
between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated
light as moths among the branches
of the perfect trees. All night
I heard the small kingdoms breathing
around me, the insects, and the birds
who do their work in the darkness. All night
I rose and fell, as if in water, grappling
with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.