Camping, for me, started with little feet running through the muddy grass with blankets scraping the ground behind me. I’d run the 100 feet to the large misshapen rock in my backyard and set up shop with my similarly aged next-door neighbor.
We’d treat this rock like it was the Plymouth Rock of our nature excursions in the seemingly massive forest expanding beyond my back yard. Always running our hands over the cool mossy surface before a sudden sprint through the earthy scented underbrush.
I remember being no older than 8 the first time I tried to camp out there. I was convinced the rock was a portal to a fantasy world of nature, clearly an influence of too many fairytales read to me during my upbringing. But looking back, I realize that rock was indeed a portal to a fantastical world for me. It let me see the stars speckled in the dark night for the first time, back braced against the dampness that clung to the rock like the beads of sweat cooling on my forehead. I felt the grass as it turned cold, and heard the animals come out from their retreats to howl and chitter in the moonlight with me. The world of this rock and the woods it ruled over like a King made me feel like its Queen, on my throne of broken twigs and decaying leaves.
I discovered in this night the feeling of being inside nature, not just observing it as you let lawn clippings gather around your wet feet running through the yard. Camping allows you to feel that silence of nature that you really have to listen and search for, the silence that gives meaning to the noise of the outdoors. I turned off my rampant need to yell and play in that night just for a little bit, and instead stared round eyed at what at once made me scared of how little I was in relation to the outdoors, while also excited by that same prospect.
I think everyone needs to camp to experience this feeling, the realization of how small we all are in relation to the great outdoors, and how that isn’t a bad thing to feel, it enables you to grow. I left that mossy misshapen rock that smelled of the mud by the small creeks running through and took solace in my dad’s arms bringing me inside to the yellow glow of my house and its inhabitants. I sleepily crawled into bed and closed my eyes to the memory of the image of the tree tops against the cobalt sky.