Ah, the great outdoors!
We took to the dirt last week, setting up camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and our first-ever family camping trip was a huge success! But along with the campfires, citronella candles and S’mores came a lot of new lessons -- for my kids and one parent alike.
With our SUV packed to capacity, we hit the road to Big Basin Redwoods State Park. We felt brave taking the kids camping, but not bold enough to affix a long drive to what we perceived might be an intense few days to begin with.
As a couple, my husband and I used to camp a lot. Prior to our trip, while taking inventory of our supplies, I was astounded at how organized we were once upon a time. In looking at our three blue snap bins, we had everything one might need for camping. All we needed to do was swap a few cocktail cups for sippy cups, add three new mini mummy bags and, of course, purchase a family tent.
As we drove Skyline Boulevard to Highway 9 and onto winding Highway 236, the sun peaked through shadows of redwoods, its vibrant heat shown only in patches. It was a beautiful drive down a one-lane road at times, curling around the majestic redwood forest like a coiled ribbon.
It was our first time “roughing it” as a family in the woods. It was the first time our little ones got a taste of what life is like without all the conveniences we use utilize each day that make the common tasks like brushing your teeth, showering and washing breakfast dishes so mindless.
Camping is good for everyone. It strips us of our stress of the complications of our daily suburban lives, relaxes us and calms and clears our spirits. It gives us all a few moments to stop and appreciate the things we have, while adding a dash of patience and realism to our thought process.
So with more than 18,000 acres of old growth and recovering redwood forest, a plentiful campsite and great weather, we had every assurance that our kids would reap the rewards of this essential life experience.
And they did, even from the very first lessons, like realizing that the campfire is hot – really hot and dangerous too. They saw how much work went into pitching the family tent, the need to work together to set up camp and to either help or stay out of the way.
When we first arrived, they explored the trails and checked out the one-stall bathroom situated about three campsites up, filled with moths, a few lonely live spiders and one roll of toilet paper if you used the toilet early enough.
We made S’mores, went on long hikes through the majestic redwood forest; spent a sunny afternoon catching and releasing water skeeters in bug jars and leaping across drift wood and rocks to cross the length of the shallow creeks.
There was no need for video games, television or even your run-of-the-mill plastic toys. The kids had dirt, rocks and twigs, no timeframe and nobody scheduling their free time but sunlight alone.
The kids identified the wild creatures they saw – the raccoons, chipmunks, blue jays and mosquitoes. They listened to the forest music – the crows and blue jays chirping loudly at first sight of dawn. They even got a lesson in what happens when you leave food out at your campsite, as birds pecked away at two hot dog buns while we were hiking a nearby trail.
The short camping trip served as a gateway to furthering an important lesson in children everywhere – understanding and respecting our earth.
So on day three, while visiting our one-stall potty tucked away up the hill, I reminded my nearly 6-year-old daughter of all the new and exciting things we experienced as a family the past few days. I asked her out of all of the things she did, what she liked the most about camping.
As quick as a wink, she replied, “What I love most about camping, Mommy, is that you don’t have to stop what you’re doing to answer a phone call.”
I froze. I waited for her to laugh. But she just flushed the toilet with one foot like I taught her, looked at me and said, “What?” as if she’d said nothing shocking at all.
Just like nature, kids can be so pure and unfiltered.
I am glad that on this camping trip I brushed up on my hiking skills, my ability to skip rocks and to cook a marshmallow to perfection without charring its outside. But if you were to ask me my favorite thing about this camping trip it would be just what Ashley helped me realize – that taking a phone call might be taking away from the things in my natural surroundings that matter most.