Camping - part 2

Apparently there is a rule that when you're camping you must suffer for every biological function you perform. Walking is called "hiking," and, instead of being performed on carpeting and with the aid of escalators, is conducted over rocks and dirt and other unnatural materials. I won't tell you what you're supposed to use for toilet paper, except to note that I'll bet my neighbor Fred knew I was in a grove of poison ivy, but he never said a word.

Then there's eating: Dinner this evening is a special treat of hot dog pieces swimming in beans and served up in what appear to be dented bedpans. It's a meal designed to straighten out the curves in anyone's small intestine, but the forced march through the woods has made me so ravenous I can't help but wolf down a couple helpings of the stuff. Every bite includes a crunchy portion of sand, turning the mixture into cement immediately upon hitting the stomach.

Fred had told me earlier that he hadn't brought any beer. When this turns out to be the truth I shrug it off, sobbing uncontrollably for less than an hour.

"Isn't this great, Dad?" my son marvels. I gaze upon him expressionlessly. He has spent the evening playing in the creek, fishing for trout, and catching fireflies. Why couldn't he be content sitting with glazed eyes in front of Nintendo like other red-blooded American boys? I fear I've lost him forever.

"Evolution, son. We must deal with it." I gesture subtly with my fork at Fred, who blinks in the sudden spray of wiener juice. "If man had been meant to camp, we would have been born with four-wheel drive."

Night falls hard in the American wilderness. I call my son's attention to the croak of various small animals being eaten by lions, though Fred insists they are crickets. "Like a cricket would be way out here in the woods!" I hoot. Fred may be an experienced camper, but he is no biologist. "What are you, Fred, a banker or something, can't deal with the realities of nature?"

He frowns. "No, I'm a biologist."

The kids grow sleepy, and we agree it is time for bed. This leads to a quandary, because it turns out that there isn't a television in the tent. "So we're just supposed to crawl in there and sleep?" I demand indignantly. "What are you, some kind of communist?"

No one else seems troubled by this blatant treason, so for the sake of getting the whole wretched experience over with as soon as possible, I climb in among the bodies and try to relax. Immediately Fred's snoring offers us impressive evidence that it is possible to breathe with a kazoo up one's nose, sawing the air with such force it upsets my circadian rhythm. Then the beans hit the last bend in the kids' gastrointestinal systems, and they add a horn section to the symphony. Sleep, another biological function, is impossible.

I am cocooned in a sleeping bag. There are two settings in a sleeping bag: "too hot", and "too cold". Fully wrapped, the heat is enough to cause brain damage, which might explain why people camp more than once. Unzip the thing and fling it off your sweating body, and you are exposed to a chill factor that enables you instantly to understand the meaning of the expression "freeze-dried." Then there is the matter of my bladder. The gurgle of the small creek outside the tent walls speaks to my internal waters like a pack of wild dogs calling to a domesticated cousin. "Join us. Run with us. Be free." Within ten minutes of achieving hypothermia through sleeping bag, my brain receives a message indicating impending urinary explosion. I lie there and calculate the odds of being able to discharge out the front of the tent from my current position. I'm untroubled by the idea that I might drench Fred, but my son also lies in the path of my contemplated trajectory.

I grab a flashlight and, shivering, I step outside.

It is then that I hear the bear.

[ by W. Bruce Cameron Copyright © 1999-2003 -- { used with permission } ]


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