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Reflections from the SwampCamping with the Grandchildren

Camping with the Grandchildren

Reflections from the Swamp
Richard van Duyvendyk

Dear Reader

When was the last time you went camping? I don’t mean cruising around in a Winnebago or even a tent trailer, but a real tent pegged to a campsite’s uneven, bumpy slope? Here is a story about camping with grandchildren at Bon Echo Park.

I often camp in Algonquin Park with a friend or my bride during the summer and fall. We minimalize our supplies so that everything will fit into a 15ft canoe with two people. We never take the barbecue, bikes, barbies or stuffies for the trip. Last week we went to Bon Echo Park with three grandkids and a son, a place we haven’t visited since we went there with our kids many years ago.

I had to borrow a friend’s trailer to fit in all the bikes, air mattresses, tents, and inflatable kayaks, that accompany the modern camper. I thought the lack of Wi-Fi would eliminate computer games; however, you can store movies and games on those things. You already knew that. I wasn’t sure if the pope made it to Canada, but I could hear my granddaughter’s playlist loud and clear. We compromised and limited electronics to one hour a day.

I interrupt the story to bring you a message from our sponsor. This story is brought to you by plain ordinary instant coffee. Don’t leave home without it! You may find that your nerves are rattled enough without a caffeine hit, combine that sense of depravity with three kids fighting over the last few fragmented chips in a bag four inches away from your exploding eardrums in a wet tent, and you’ve got the picture.

Keep coffee in a safe; some kid might pour it into the cooler while rooting around for a snack. This spilling of coffee happened to someone I know very well. You might find yourself licking off the coffee from a package of hotdogs or pouring the liquid found in the bottom of the cooler into a cup of hot water. Coffee always tastes best when you’re camping.

Hundreds of trees blew down during the storm that swept through Ontario last May. Ironically, they still expect you to buy wet wood for $8.00 a bag while the wood piles from the storm surround your campsite.

We used to camp at garbage can 52 at Sawmill Creek and returned for old times’ sake. Now all the garbage in the park is brought to bearproof bins outside campsite 52! The raccoons spent the night collectively trying to spring open the containers. They could lift the lids enough to let one coon into the bin and then ceremoniously engaged in loud primordial chants before robbing their comrades of their dirty diapers or burnt hotdogs.

It’s great to be so close to wildlife, especially when they run into your campsite, knocking down poles trying to enjoy their meal without six other coons attacking them. I finally got up, sat in one of the lawn chairs unoccupied by a raccoon, and gazed at the dazzling Milky Way in all its glory. Life couldn’t be any better. I kept telling myself that this was as good as it gets. It feels more factual every time I say it. Maybe it is true!

My grandson found a sizeable smooth, round red rock which he adopted in lieu of the stuffy he forgot to bring. He called the stone” Supersonic.” Supersonic needed a lawn chair, which left one kid standing around the fire. Supersonic didn’t want granola; he wanted fruit loops. It didn’t take long before Supersonic disappeared, leading to searches around the campsite. Hiding Supersonic became the favourite game at the camp. The kids discovered that the sandy floor of the grounds was just a thin veneer hiding all kinds of rocks easily dislodged using the hammer claw. The following campers at 52 Sawmill Creek will be entering a lunar landscape with a multitude of craters.

The grandchildren were disinterested in learning the names of trees or lectures on the geological history of the rocks, preferring instead to play hide-and-seek on the hiking trail. They did enjoy swimming, playing games in the water, and meeting other kids on the beach. One pleasant kid from a family of seven suggested that we should be friends and share our snacks. He didn’t have any snacks. He also enjoyed using our inflatable kayak and towels. Great kid.

Having bikes on your campsite is a great idea. Kids love to go exploring. The eldest granddaughter returned with a report on where the showers were and where to find the cleanest washrooms. Another discovered where the second beach was, the beach with the famous rock cliff with the pictographs.

Camping may have changed over the years, but the essential elements remain. It’s in the little things, like finding a snail crawling across the tarp, counting and comparing how many mosquito bites you got, or the laughter at pulling a prank on a cousin that makes for cherished memories. Sitting around the campfire under a stary dome telling stories connects us to the hundreds of generations before us who made communal campfires the centre of their gatherings.

In the future, I hope that we will be able to camp with our grandchildren in the interior of the parks again. The canoe is getting a little heavier each year, so we don’t want to wait too long. As long as my bride is still willing and able, we’ll enjoy the great outdoors and the skies full of billions of stars, reminding us that we are but a speck in this wonderous universe.

I’m thankful for burnt marshmallows, the “are we there yet from the backseat,” and the pure fun of play. These gifts will soon enough disappear. We’ll happily grab these moments while we can. Camping places you in the great outdoors and opens the windows to the world.

Photo: Claudiu Dobre, Flickr

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