6.25.2010

A Boy in the Woods

I am off to the bush for the weekend. Off to set up a campsite, build a fire, chop wood, fish, whittle sticks with a pocket knife and drink beer. I am off for a weekend of manly endeavours. Camping is one of my favourite things. The last time I went camping it was for a boys fishing weekend on the east arm of Great Slave Lake.

Ever since I was a little kid camping has been one of the greatest things ever. We used to go out to a little place in Alberta where our family had a cabin. The cabin was built by everyone out of cinder blocks and recycled building materials. The cabin was a hexagonal white structure with a leprechaun green door, dark brown roof and large windows facing the lake. Sir John's Crapper was to the right of the driveway and a dark green canoe was propped up near the woodpile. The first thing we did when we finally got our stuff hauled up the rungs of the aluminum ladder to the loft was to race as fast as we could to the dock without tripping over any exposed tree roots.

For me camping was glorious freedom where I could fish of the dock in the sun. I could put on a life jacket and paddle the canoe along the lakeshore. I could walk through the forest and discover trees, animals, weeds, flowers, rocks, sand, bugs, snakes, vegetation, scat, tracks. I could run around in jeans and t-shirts, get dirty eat hot dogs and chips, build a fire, chop wood, climb a tree build a fort and run around without worrying about anything except missing the last powdered doughnut in the box.

There was no such thing as gender. Except when you had to "go", then it was obvious. Far too many mosquitoes enjoyed feasting on my bum when I had to drop my drawers behind a tree or bush somewhere. The boys just snuck their junk out the top of their shorts or out the fly of their jeans, watered the grass and off they went. Boys never worried about paper, or drips, or mosquito bites on their behinds. When we were out in the middle of the woods as kids all of us were rowdy care free little beasts splashing and shrieking and getting dirty.

Life was simple and the grandeur of the earth was beautiful. There were a million billion stars in the night sky framed by the tips of the Ponderosa pines. The air was clean and fresh and smelled better to me than any other place in the world. The lakewater was cold except in August when the sunburn, mosquito and horse fly bites could not be soothed with anything else. Late afternoons in July the clouds grew dark and lightning kissed the surface of the lake, the thunder was louder than at home and I believed that there really was an angry god bowling his way across the sky. I loved going to bed in the loft, crawling into my sleeping bag smelling of woodsmoke and pine trees as much as I loved waking up to the lonely echo of a loon or a red squirrel chastising a porcupine.

Sitting around the fire pit listening to stories, drinking iced tea or hot chocolate, making s'mores, laughing with my cousins was pure happiness. I was free to be the boy and there was someone who taught me a lot of my favourite boy things: how to build a fire, how to sharpen a pocket knife, how to whittle a stick, and how to whistle with your fingers. So much of my boyhood memories, my boyhood lessons were learned camping. One of my best boy memories was standing in the bed of the old blue and white GMC learning to shoot a .22 at the dump. Finding out I was a real good shot was an excellent boy moment. I learned to drive that GMC on those old gravel roads and fell in love with trucks and the freedom of driving a dusty road with the window down and the radio up.

 So I am off to pick up hot dogs and marshmallows, wagon wheels and Muskoil.  There will be no cabin, no towering pines, not even any stars (this time of year). Instead I will have the company of friends, my lover lying next to me in the sweet fresh air, the smell of the campfire in my clothes, and that happy feeling of just being a boy in the woods.

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