When I was in High School, a friend and I would occasionally camp on the Big Piney river, getting up every couple of hours to run a trot line. Those were good times, listening to the Cicadas serenade the river bottom, drowning out the other sounds of nature that are amplified in the pitch black, river cooled air. We always had plenty to eat, generally things that could be charred over a fire or eaten from a box or wrapper. We relied on an Army surplus tent to keep the heavy night air and dew off of us, and an old blanket or quilt for bedding.
Those days were marked with simplicity. No synthetic tents, replete with flexible fiberglass poles, sleeping bags that weighed no more than a package of Twinkies, or freeze dried delicacies that transformed a powdery substance from a foil package into a multi course meal that is the envy of Anthony Bourdain. Camping, for a night or two, was fun. My next experience with camping forever changed my view of communing with nature, altering my perspective about the great outdoors, perhaps forever.
To be sure, I was not in the field for the entire 11 months that I was a guest of the US Army in the Republic of Vietnam. I spent a majority of my time assigned to the 1st Calvary Division rear, working as a fire control specialist within division artillery, in a place named Phuoc Vinh, 80 clicks north of Saigon. My time in Phuoc Vinh was interrupted by forays to various fire support bases in support of infantry units operating within our artillery range fans. Enter “camping” in a war zone, with folks shooting at you, incessant rain, chilly nights and penetrating filth. The food was nutritious, boring and out of cans and foil packs. The water was dirty, odorous and lukewarm. There were mosquitos, some with instrument ratings, and rats, really big rats. An occasional snake made an appearance and broke the boredom. This experience jaundiced my perspective…..and I camp now only with certain irrevocable restrictions.
Today, I can spend a single night on the river. The wispy synthetic tent is fine, and one of the equally unsubstantial sleeping bags that can be rolled and stored in a coffee can will do the trick. A package or two of all beef hotdogs, and a bag of chips will get me through supper, and a breakfast of packaged sweet rolls with cowboy coffee will jump start my morning. The key is ONE night on the river. I am then ready to paddle to a take out, load out and head home or to a motel for a hot shower, hot dinner and an air conditioned room…….a perfect evening includes the Cardinals on the tube. I love the river, not so much being dirty, hot and uncomfortable.
Communing with nature is still in my blood and I hope to enjoy the day trips, hiking and one night stands on the river for years to come. I do believe we are shaped by our experience, and I am personally acquainted with many folks who share my philosophy about these things. I am writing this on our deck, overlooking the beautiful and now quiet Lake of the Ozarks, just a step or two from the air conditioned comfort of the living room where our Lab, Tazzy is quietly reposing. He stepped out here with me but soon indicated his preference for the condo……inside. To think they say dogs can’t reason…………