Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Breathing Smoke

Like so many other Americans, I took my family on a short vacation over the long Labor Day Weekend. And like so many others, we spent the weekend braving the outdoors. Yes, we went camping.

Now, when I say "braving the outdoors" what I really mean is that we got our kids far enough away from a TV that they had to actually spend time doing something besides staring at a shiny object . . . unless you count the nightly campfire. We all sat around at night staring at the campfire, but we talked to each other.

We go camping every year with a group of families from our synagogue. Some families have campers. We have a tent. It's a huge tent though. It could easily sleep ten. The camping itself is a bit more work than staying in a hotel, but there are certain amenities that you don't find in an actual wilderness; electrical outlets at every campsite, bathrooms, showers, a consession stand, deliveries of firewood and ice; it's a very civilized form of camping.

We have fun. The kids play, but as they have gotten older over the past five years that we've been camping, their games have changed. The adult games have stayed the same, except for the game of supervising the children. It may be a bit more intense now. Some of our boys met some girls from outside the group. Gasp!

We are able, (when not watching what our kids are doing) to play horseshoes, Mah Jong, Euchre, football, and have scavenger hunts. One kid brought his bass guitar. My son brought his acoustic guitar. Some bring their bikes. It was too cold this year, but usually we go to the camp beach. One teenager, who is now in college used to plan the Havdallah service for Saturday night. One parent, who is a woodworker, brings a project for the kids to do. This year, each family designed a miniature golf hole, and the kids made putters. I spent a lot of time reading. It was cool.

Unlike some families, we cook our meals over an open fire. And let me tell you. There is no salmon better than salmon that had been marinated in shoyu for a few days and then cooked over an open wood fire. Even the pancakes taste better. Of course, we used a griddle so the batter wouldn't drain through the grill. The coffee was percolated, not dripped, so even I enjoyed it. My wife did complain the first day though, as the coffee took way too long because a local shyster sold us wood that wasn't quite seasoned. Due to the moisture in the wood, it didn't burn well. My wife threatened to buy a Coleman stove and a drip coffee maker for next year. My wife appreciates her morning coffee very much. Next year, even though the rules forbid it, we are bringing our own wood. (Don't tell).

The campground is a lot like a suburban neighborhood. The campgrounds are laid out around a series of roads, and they are all clearly marked. Each one has an electrical outlet and a sturdy metal and concrete fire pit. Everybody makes a campfire every day. Whether or not they are used for cooking, there's a fire at every campsite. Breathing smoke is something we did from Thursday until Monday. It's still better than breathing stale air conditioned air though. And we were able to see the stars at night. Even with an almost full moon, the star count was way beyond what is visible here in suburban Detroit. In past years, I've brought my telescope. This year, we took a walk down to the beach one night and out onto the pier. We chatted and stargazed until a huge mass of clouds moved it. The clouds could have been a remnant of Hurricane Ernesto, but fortunately they weren't rain clouds. We walked back to the community fire anyway. One year it did rain on the last night. It wasn't much fun.

My daughter and I took a walk around the nature trail. She took some great photos in the forest and around the marsh.

Now we are home. I'm back at work. We are doing laundry to wash all of the smoke and sweat out of our clothes and towels. The kids start school tomorrow. Reality always returns.

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