The Christian, like any other human being, needs recreation. After days and weeks at the desk he finds, like Charles Lamb, that the wood has entered into his soul. And she, even more, needs an out from her seven-day round of meals, beds, dishes, vacuum cleaning, and children.

They both need periodic refreshment, preferably together, and best, as a family. Golf, squash, tennis, a basement hobby, often are escapes for one. Family ski-trips may help in the winter. And the car is always with us.

But for a complete change of scene, a source of happy family memories, and a freshener of the spirit, give me camping trips—properly equipped and planned. And I don’t mean just public-camp stops on a motor tour.

Of course, to sit in a rain-beaten tent with three nothing-to-do children and an I-told-you-so wife—or husband—is not a source of happy memories. But if you have proper rain gear and waterproof minds, a trip through wet woods can be a lovely and rewarding experience. If, in addition, you have cached in a dufflebag a few paperbacks like The Guns of Navarone to read aloud, a game or two, and something special to cook on the emergency two-burner, a rainy day can be something to tell about later. And it builds resilience and an enviable state of mind.

Or, if you are just trying it out, you are doubtless near that lifeline, the car.

Of course, if you have two left hands which are all thumbs, camping is not for you without a guide. But let us suppose that you are resourceful and have a healthy sense of adventure, and have had either experience or the briefing of dyed-in-the-wool campers. Also, that you have borrowed or bought a suitable tent and other equipment, and that you know something of the country you intend to visit.

To illustrate three things that camping can do for a family, let me, as trail man for a Maine girls’ camp for thirty summers and as the father of a started-camping-young family, take you on a few trips.

1. A lean-to at three thousand feet off a trail in the White Mountains, the first flush of day showing through the firs to the northeast. The scent of balsam beds under our sleeping-bags. Firewood ready under a plastic sheet. In a few minutes fire is leaping and water from the spring is heating. An hour and a half later, with sleeping bags airing on a line under the shelter and dishes washed, we are heading up the trail for a trip along the ridges. A bay lynx scuttles off from a spruce partridge he has been tearing and climbs a balsam. After a mutual look-see, we leave him there.

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2. A dirt road along a lonely Nova Scotia beach. Driftwood crackling between two rocks. Seagulls sailing by. Air-mattresses ready on the station-wagon floor and under a tentfly beside the car. Canadian T-bone steaks. And then the sunset across the water, and a lighthouse winking.

3. A night under the stars in an open field lent us by a farmer. “Of course you can sleep out there. But wouldn’t you rather come in?” To wake briefly at two in the morning with the winter constellations blazing across the sky. “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man …?”

4. Five miles in from anywhere, beside a mountain stream in a great slanted valley. We have taken two easy days to carry in, and slept one night under a huge slanted rock. Even Cynthia, aged five, has carried her six-pound sleeping bag on her little packboard. Now we are camped for three days by a rocky pool of the cloud-fed stream. The children make a water wheel, gather balsam for their beds, sit around the campfire, help to cook. We take short exploring trips together, go wading and swimming, watch the sparks zig upward, go to sleep with the firelight flickering against the shelter cloth, doze off to the voices of the rapids.

5. Canoes upturned safely back from the river edge. We have paddled and floated ten miles downstream, around bends, under overhanging trees, down sunny reaches—kingfishers flashing across ahead of us and turtles slipping off half-submerged logs as we pass. We have swum whenever we felt like it. Now the river sweeps silently and sleepily by under the stars, and a crescent moon rides halfway up the sky.

6. Colorado—the dirt road along the Rampart Ridge—a beaver pond reflecting aspens turned to gold—great snow patches still in the high pockets of the mountains.

7. Katahdin under a full moon. After a day over the Knife Edge, down Pamola to Basin Pond and back to our camping spot high up Hunt’s Trail, the family decides during supper to go down the several miles to the car by moonlight. After four hours of sleep we break camp and start down. For the first part of the overhung trail we pick our way with flashlights. But as we come out on the open lumber road along the Sourdnahunk, we look back at the moon-silvered slopes above. In a clearing beside the stream we pass a camp of boys asleep. As the first grey of dawn lightens the sky, the mountains flatten to black silhouettes. Then a gleam of gold edges them. We see a fox catching grasshoppers in a grassy meadow.

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I could go on to scenes in the Canadian Rockies by glacier-fed streams or lakes, or to small islands along the Maine coast reached by sail or power-boat.

But what about the discomforts, the unnecessary effort, the bugs, the mosquitoes, the snakes, the wet? Is it relaxing or beneficial to leave the comforts that make life easy? Why not be comfortable at home or in a lakeside cottage with screens and beds and electricity? “I can endure hardness for a good cause, but why punish myself for fun?”

The second gift of camping is, I reply, the bracing effect of overcoming difficulties. “Comfort,” says Kahlil Gibran, “is a stealthy thing that enters as a guest and becomes a master.”

Our great-grandparents felled trees for their cabins, cut their own firewood, and warmed themselves at open fires. They carried their water from dug wells or springs, washed clothes and dishes by hand, baked their own bread, plucked their own geese for feather-bedding. The children walked to school. Perhaps it gave them something—iron.

(One word of warning: the iron should not be mostly mother’s. If she is left to plan the meals, buy and pack supplies, do all the cooking away from the gadgets she is used to, roughing it will be roughest on her.)

We need something of the primitive occasionally to counteract our usual dependence on oil burners, deep freezes, and Beautyrest mattresses. Not that we can call modern camping very primitive—what with canned goods, package mixes, air mattresses, and gasoline stoves. Compared with the difficulties our ancestors took for granted, we have it easy.

Finally, besides the back-to-Eden urge that drives some of us to the woods and lakes and mountains, and besides the urge to prove ourselves, to show that we are not tied to our comforts, we have also a feeling that it is good to get away from the works of man to the works of God.

A week or two away from neons and traffic and TV may help us to see with the writer of the Hundred-fourth Psalm the One “who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain: who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind.… He sendeth the springs into the valleys which run among the hills.… He appointed the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth his going down.… O Lord how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.… The glory of the Lord shall endure for ever.”

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Tribute To Baby Bird

How far from what it will be

Is the featherless baby bird.

The open beak

Now larger than its wings,

A tottering head

That awkwardly sustains

Its own wide open jaws.

Raw, new-made need

That gives no forward glimpse

Of radiant plumage,

Or of will-be flights.

For this the mother bird

Flies tirelessly from food to nest,

For this unpretty tribute

Weak and wide-mouthed faith.

Bird patience

In a patterned miniature of God

When needs like these

Unfeathered, wide-beaked birds

Reflect for us

Our groaning emptiness,

Our cries which are no more

Than bird, or child-like

Trustful asking.


Pierson Curtis, a graduate of Princeton University and a secondary-school teacher of English for over fifty years, is a camper of long experience. He has given talks on camping procedures before the New England Camp Directors Association and the Southern Camp Directors Association and has served as a guide in Maine.

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