The smell of campfire lingers on my sweatshirt the day I get home from a camping trip. It makes me smile. If I close my eyes, I can hear the snap of the white pine kindling, the birds chattering their evening songs, and the light sigh of the wind rustling the aspens. It is the highlight of nice weather, camping is.
It is living as close to the land as some of us can get. You instinctively rise with the sun, the dawn chorus rattling around your brain like a lullaby of chimes and bells. The dew on the tent is heavy and the air is thick with moisture when you unzip the door and peer out at the morning. Toss on a sweatshirt, grab some kindling and get a fire going to boil the water for coffee or hot chocolate.
I was camping this past weekend at a state park in Pennsylvania. It was beautiful. Hard to believe that though I've lived in Pennsylvania most of my life, there are still so many stunning places I have yet to see. The weather was perfect. It was clear and mostly warm, with comfortably chilly mornings and evenings so that down sleeping bags and campfires are craved and appreciated. A light breeze while hiking to counter the sun's warmth and mostly clear skies with a spattering of clouds.
Fortune was kind and the bugs weren't bad at all. A few bites here and there, but nothing to complain about. The bats came out in droves in the pink dusky light, which might explain the lack of insects. Such acrobatics they perform dipping and twisting and doing aerial pirouettes over the creek. I am greatly for the boisterous display of energy during their hunt, it made the evening hikes more pleasant.
I don't watch bats much while at home, simply because there is a roof and usually things to do, like laundry or dishes. But camping lets the obligations fade and the leisure take their place. Blazing sunset clouds, moths, bats, fireflies, and more are the opening acts for the night show which might feature squabbling raccoons, shooting stars, visiting porcupines, and owls.
Food seems to taste better, too, when camping. Whether you've spent the day hiking, fishing, boating, or just playing, the food prepared under a blue sky over burning wood is made richer as a result of its location. A sausage on a toasted bun, soup with fresh veggies, crisp snap peas and asparagus as an appetizer, hot chocolate, Jiffy pop and marshmallows as the "after dinner mint," the menus are infinite and simple, yet mouth-watering.
You don't have to travel to a state park. You don't even have to go to a campground to experience a lot of what camping is about. Try your own backyard. Pitch the tent, roll out the sleeping bags, get out your flashlights and your star charts, find a deck of cards and you're all set. If you can make a fire, make one. This great adventure to the backyard will help you connect with the world in which you live, drag you away from your energy dependent house, and let you reconnect with your family.
Leave the cell phones inside and off. No watches or clocks need be in a tent. No video games or iPods or portable electronics of any sort. This is real time - with the tangible world and the people you share it with.
Bring games, a Frisbee, and a butterfly net. Bring a camera, a journal, and lawn chair. You'll end up with smiles, great memories, and a lighter mind.
If you can get farther away from your daily life, do it. The state park system in all the states is great! There are county parks and national parks, too. There are private campgrounds, and friends with big yards. The farther you get from what you do every day, the more you connect with the people and place you are with.
The point of this is that June 27 is The Great American Backyard Campout, promoted by the National Wildlife Federation. The idea is that the more you are outside, the more likely you are to protect it and value it. It's true, by the way. Our daily lives depend on a healthy natural world, from the water we drink to the food you cook over the campfire. Camping is a fun, easy and inexpensive way to strengthen those connections to the world that supports all of us.
You can go the Web site to learn more about the national campaign, www.nwf.org/BackyardCampout/. Of course, Audubon encourages you to get out as often as you can in whatever way you can. Play backyard football, go for a walk at lunch, throw your canoe in the river, sit on the porch and drink your coffee - every little interaction with the outdoors builds a connection.
I hope to see houses dark on June 27 and the soft glow of fires instead. Even the flash of flashlights playing hide and seek, kick the can, or sardines would suffice. Get outside for a night, camp in your backyard, rediscover your connection to the planet.
During the day you can visit Audubon and reconnect, as well. We are located at 1600 Riverside Road, between Jamestown and Warren. Call 569-2345 or visit www.jamestownaudubon.org for more information.
Sarah Hatfield is a naturalist at Audubon and loves camping and the peace of mind that goes with it.