A fine and pleasant misery

“Modern technology has taken most of the misery out of the outdoors. Camping now is aluminum-covered, propane-heated, foam-padded, air-conditioned, bug-proofed, flip-topped, disposable and transistorized. Hardship on a modern camping trip is blowing a fuse on your electric underwear, or having the battery peter out on your Porta-Shaver. A major catastrophe is spending your last coin on a recorded Nature Talk and then discovering that Camp Comfort and Sanitation Center (featuring forest green tile floors and hot showers) has pay toilets.

“There are many people around nowadays who seem to appreciate the fact that a family can go on an outing without being out. But I am not one of them. Personally, I miss the old-fashioned misery of old-fashioned camping.”

Patrick McManus – A Fine and Pleasant Misery

Below the deluge

Gazing over the scene on Saturday morning, I gazed around contentedly. “Patrick,” I thought, “Patrick would be proud of me now.” Mr. McManus was quite an influence on my young mind. He and I had briefly lived in the same part of the country: his high school football team had played against the town my brother had been born in. But I had been an itinerant through Idaho’s panhandle, and he. Well, he belonged there. But it was from Patrick that I learned that it was the nature of a rope to be 6 inches too short. Patrick taught me that any time my husband asks for some expensive hobby gear, the right answer is always, “At least he doesn’t like bass fishing”. I have learned from this old sage from the time I was about Grey’s age and found a stack of his books in my grandfather’s cabin in the woods of Washington State.

But the last few years, I felt like I’d been letting old Pat down. I mean, White Lake State Park is a nice campground. Far too nice. I mean, the Sanitation center has flush toilets and coin operated showers! Running water! A nice little store. You can get pizza delivered, for heaven’s sake. And we sleep on an air mattress. I can feel his disappointment from here.

This camping trip, though, I was making up for it. I stood under a patchwork of tarps, held together by a labrynthine network of ropes that were all 6 feet too long (my husband likes to do things with his own flair). The rain made an incessant, staccato beat – drowning out the call of the loons. The wind was picking up, driving the sheets of water further under the tarp. And it was about fifty degrees, but the forecast called for it to get cold soon. All in all, it was a fine and pleasant misery, and I was content. I puttered around, humming, “It is Well With My Soul”, deeply satisfied.


When I made reservations last year, I accidentally made the Memorial Day reservation an extra day. Gazing at dreariness of November, I figured that was just the thing. I imagined lolling by the lake, regaling each other in front of the fire and perhaps even practicing my guitar and being discovered as an astonishing new talent. I kept the five days, and took Tuesday as a vacation day. As Memorial day crept closer and closer, I started getting nervous. It looked a little soggy and cool. But, I reasoned, it had rained every camping trip of the first year we went camping, when Thane was nine months old. I bought better-rated sleeping bags and cast my faith on the Lord.

This wasn’t accurate. It got colder than that, and rained more.

And lo, it wasn’t as bad as it had looked a few days prior. No, it was much worse. Saturday was horrific by camping standards. It was about 50 degrees and bucketing. One began to worry about flooding. We didn’t have a tarp over the fire, so breakfast that morning was courtesy of Dunkin’ Donuts. “Hey boys!” I called. “Let’s go swimming!!!” “Moooooooom! Stop lying!” “Nope. Go get your swim suits.”

Well, what Patrick McManus doesn’t know won’t hurt him.

It cost a bundle, but it was worth it to be warm.

We went to Kahuna Laguna up in North Conway. It was actually very fun. I discovered that thanks to his swimming lessons during afterschool, Grey was now a good enough swimmer to be released on his own recognizance in a controlled environment with lifeguards, so we did just that. This left one grownup able to pursue their own agenda. The fourteen year old boys running the fastest water slide started giving me a funny look after my fourth run… but what good is it being a grownup if you can’t run the big, fast waterslide?

After three or so hours of swimming, Thane started crying because his foot hurt. Now, if you know Thane you know that broken bones would most likely be shrugged off in the right circumstance, so this was suspicious. He was presented with chicken fingers, which he verbally disdained. Then he bolted three of them, slurped down 10 ounces of lemonade, and collapsed on me solidly asleep. I held his incredibly tall, strong, long, active boyness for over an hour, losing sensation in various body parts. And I thought as I held my golden-haired son, quiet on my lap, that this was very likely the last time one of my sons would ever sleep in my arms. Long-lashes against ruddy cheek, I did not begrudge the failing circulation in my legs for the gift of that last time – known and recognized.

That night, Adam and I played BattleLine on the picnic table – cold and far from the fire that spit against the falling rain. The peace of our evening was only periodically disturbed by having to yell at the kids to GO TO SLEEP ALREADY twenty or so times.

Having fun together – regardless of location – since 2007.

Finally, the weather turned the next day. Yes, it started getting windy and dropped to about 45 degrees. Leveraging un-Patrick-approved powers of technology (indeed, one of my friends started making fun of my Facebook updates of misery), I arranged to meet our next door neighbors from home at the Meredith Children’s Museum. Now, this museum might not seem like a great museum to someone without children. But here’s the thing… there were NO SIGNS telling you what not to do. Instead, everything was fair game for kids to play with. And oh they did! The Rube Goldberg Room, the Castle Room, the Bubbles and Puzzles room. It was GREAT. It was full of things that actually appealed to kids, instead of things that appeal to grownups misunderstandings of kids. I’m definitely adding it to our list of things to do when it rains.

Even the bigger kids really got into parts of it.

We went out to lunch afterwards. Grey and his best friend wandered off by themselves. We found them playing cards together, and just left them to it. Who knew they played cards? Thank you, afterschool, for teaching them useful things!

I’m not even sure what the game was!

That night, returning to our campsite, we luxuriated in the tarp over the fire, which helped to more efficiently direct smoke into our car. The rain had also discovered a new trip and was coming in sideways. One thing I love about camping is how you get to bed so early! 9 pm!


To be continued…

If you want to see pictures, I’ve uploaded some here: A portion of the pictures

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4 thoughts on “A fine and pleasant misery

  1. Real camping takes me back about 40 years to our yearly family vacation. We had a set pattern, and saw no reason to change it. Morro Bay, Yosemite, and Sequoia parks, all rough, no RV hookups except at Morro Bay, and we never had such a thing.. Out tent was Army Surplus, as was our utensils and cots. Dad found it amusing, since he was forced to sleep on a similar cot during his time in the Pacific during the war. And, Mom had a Coleman stove- her one concession to civilization was avoiding a fire pit for cooking. She used cast-iron skillets, and it all tasted good! I think this is why I use cast iron myself.

    But it was a real ritual, and only ended when Dad got too sick to go, in my later High School years. Gathering the gear, loading the station wagon the night before. I never got much sleep, too excited! I have never Read McManus, but I can imagine Dad would have liked him. He was always bemused when family joined us with campers and RV’s and other expensive but needless stuff. If it wasn’t for Mom needing a cot, we would have slept on the ground and really roughed it! I am not sure what Mom’s real thoughts on all this was, but she was content to sit at the campsite while Dad and I went traipsing around.

    It is still so vivid! I remember just about every thing that we had to pack, including a huge ice chest that stayed in the family long after the camping was over. When I moved my young family to Arkansas, we rented the family U-Haul- it had a little space behind the drivers seats with jump seats. We put the huge chest there, covered it with pillows and blankets, and made a big cushion for the kids. It was a strange moment for me, as Dad had passed on and Mom had went back to Kentucky to spend the remainder of her time with family she left in the early 40’s. So I left a lot of my childhood behind, as well as the homestead. For some reason having that ice chest was comforting, and I tried to make it a memorable trip. We didn’t drive straight through, but saw some America on the way. My 4 kids were little- 10, 8, 6 and 4. They still talk about this trip today, stopping of at Tombstone and a few other attractions. This kind of thing keeps families strong, I think.

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    1. Camping was a strong family tradition for both my parents. They took us camping a bit less, although I still have many fond memories. Backpacking was one of my great loves in high school, and I’m often trying to figure out a way to finagle a backpacking trip in. I’m also trying to make sure my boys can go as soon as it’s feasible!!

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  2. So, firstly, I love that I learn more about my favorite stomping grounds from you… :-). Will add a possible Meredith stop now, depending on how desperate we are on or long drive up! #2, need to get in touch re: How To Go Camping. Our goal for the summer… much love to you and yours!

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