When Nature Calls

Camping with kids takes extra effort--but it's worth it

| Utne Reader July / August 2007

Let me sing the praises of the big tent. Nobody else does. The talk is all about ultralight bare-bones-micro-nano-peanut-schmeanut. Nonsense.

Our tent is so big, our kids have used it as a playhouse, guesthouse, and train depot. And one recent summer, my husband, Jamie, and I, along with our two kids, actually used it as a tent. After five years of day trips carting bags of diapers, we were pining for some bigger expeditions. The wilderness had been a big part of our lives, pre-parenthood. So with a sense of thrill, we dusted off our gear, upgraded our mattress pads to the 'deluxe' models, purchased a couple of wee sleeping bags, and headed out with another couple to Colorado and Utah for a month and a half of adventure.

Our kids became budding birders. 'Look, Dad, there's the grateful heron!' said 5-year-old Ben on the San Juan River. Two-year-old Annabel learned to spot the nests of cliff swallows, and together we watched peregrine falcons soar past sandstone walls. Ben worked on his spin-casting, while Annabel developed a flair for hopping across boulders and peeing in the river.

Yet achieving moments like these is a little like engineering Caesar's conquest of Gaul. There's a tremendous amount of advance work, from finding routes to planning snacks to packing emergency boredom-busters. There's the mountain of gear and supplies; then there are the logistics of moving the mountain. So why do it? Besides the clich?d but true reasons--Family Togetherness! Memories for a Lifetime! Instilling a Love of Nature!--there's the future to think about. Starting little ones out early will help them (and us) be more comfortable and competent on bigger and better trips down the line. We do it for them and we do it for us.

We found that the logistics became less daunting with every new adventure. We now keep a checklist of essentials: first-aid kit, sunscreen, bug spray, munchies, stuffed bunny.

My, our lives have changed.