I would not have guessed that cafeteria style, blue plates decorated with camping images and “Hit the trail!” would have been the trigger that left me standing in the garage crying. I don’t cry easily, but there I was, gear laid out in the driveway to be packed for what might be our last family camping trip. Those sectioned, melamine trays, purchased for one of our first camping adventures almost 12 years ago, have been the girls camping dinnerware for for countless trips.
This summer we embarked upon our longest trip ever – two weeks together through nine states, touring six national parks. We had planned the trip with the awareness that summer road trips would likely become less frequent as our daughters launch into adulthood. As I packed, I wiped the tears from my eyes while memories of our trips snapped through my mind. When we began camping, they were picky eaters and barely able to see over the plates as they sat at the picnic table. For countless meals, I dutifully separated their cut carrots from their hot dogs and their pie iron pizzas from their watermelon into the tray compartments.
We didn’t start out as a camping family. In fact, my husband made it pretty clear before we got married that sleeping in a tent was not something he had any desire to do. It wasn’t until the girls and I came home from an amazing weekend at a “mommy and me” camp that he decided he might like to give it a try. The slower pace, the new adventures, and new family memories were gifts that inspired us to make camping a part of our family life.
One of the greatest gifts of camping has been the opportunity to slow down. If you’ve ever cooked a full meal over the fire and then cleaned up, you know how much longer things take while camping. I tend to be more patient with the slower pace, because really, what else have we got to do but just be? Since campgrounds don’t have very good internet service, we look up from our phones and watch the sunsets and the stars. We meet the people camping around us. We live in the moment and break the cycle of endless rushing in everyday life. In those still moments, we connect with one another, with creation, and perhaps even God.
Camping also awakens us to wonder and adventure. Some of our best memories have been made when the path is not as clear or we’ve ditched the schedule to follow the advice of a ranger or a local. The world is an enormous place, full of amazing sites. Each of the national parks we’ve visited has jaw-dropping natural features – yet each of them are unique. Through camping we’ve gotten to delight in God’s creativity and marvel at the scale of creation.
I found myself in tears again at the end of this last, epic road trip as we drove down from the mountains. I’ve made a habit of scouting for “perfect spots” to enjoy peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. With our GPS set to “home” I saw a perfect shady spot, next to a singing mountain stream, to note for our next trip. Tears welled up in my eyes as I realized that there may not be a next trip – or at least not one with the four of us together. I let the tears flow as I remembered the good spots (the table by that stream on the way to Grand Lake) and the bad (the gas station parking lots with no shade). I gave thanks for the times together, with simple meals before us on our camping plates. I prayed that wherever the next part of our family journey takes us, our children will always remember the gifts of our camping experiences.
What summer traditions allow your family to connect with one another, with creation, and perhaps even God?