Friday, August 21, 2009


A red truck is backing a pop up trailer into a campsite as I write this. Several folks are calling and waving their arms as attempts are made to position the trailer onto a campsite. Our own Palomino is backed very nicely into our driveway for us by a gentleman named Horace who has hauled hundreds of trailers. Horace resides now in Long Beach after, he reports having lived in a multitude of other places. He spots us attempting to detach the Palomino and roll it across the road unto our campsite. I am certain in the nanosecond when our eyes meet that he is witnessing the single most hilarious thing he has ever seen in his life. He registers my terror stricken face and musters a self discipline honed by a lifetime of driving big trucks cross country. He does not laugh at us. He gets grease all over his hands and we have no paper towels available and there are none in the bathroom. I offer him a Starbucks napkin I find in my car upon which I have blotted lipstick. A few hours later the Palomino, is erected, pretty much just by me, Himself and the kids and we are scarfing down a pretty good dinner. Horace passes by with his wife. They smile and Horace says warmly, “well it seems like you have adjusted to camping.” Himself reports back to me, with excitement, after having crossed the road to snoop, that the newly arrived popup trailer is real tricked out and seems to even have air conditioning.

We are sitting now before a fire thinking about making dinner. Spuds is at work on a crossword puzzle. The 16 year old naps in a tent that he and his brother have assembled themselves. Himself reads a selection from a heavy bag of books. I have to look on the laptop calender to determine the day and date. The Palomino is sort of a pain in the ass but it is very pleasant to sleep bundled under quilts behind a screen high in the middle of the cool forest. Critters skitter in the night and distribute the contents of our garbage over the site. Birds sing and squawk and the toilet flushes in the bathroom across the road.

The Palomino has a propane stove with three burners that don’t get very hot. It has no running water but there is a toy refrigerator and lots of cunning little storage spots. It is amazing what the small box that we hauled with trepidation and two bicycles mounted on the roof unfolds into. We have the clothing, food and equipment we thought we would need for a week in two ice chests, a plastic bin, one small tent, my car and the Palomino. Advanced yoga maneuvers are required to retrieve and replace items in the Palomino. Much time is spent looking for, buying, loaning and borrowing things. The campground bathrooms are quite clean and very close by but the toilet paper is not of premium grade and is difficult to remove from the roll. No soap is provided. A quite warm shower is a quarter and it is three quarters for a shower with hair washing for me and a single quarter for Himself. The kids, based on their appearance and aroma, seem to have used no quarters at all.

Much of camping revolves around things we do not have and walking around the campsite looking at popup trailers and coveting other people’s camping gear. There are dish washing sinks, ovens, all manner of shelves, and chairs that fold up into a rectangular handbag and open to be comfortable and armed and cupholdered. I am charmed by big sturdy looking stuff that folds up into unimaginably tiny reticules. I witness the inflation of a mattress thicker than the one I sleep on at home that comes with a pump that indicates it should be charged every three months, even if not in use. Camping is a lifetime commitment. Many of our fellow campers offer samples of pancakes and cinnamon rolls and tamale pie, and serve libations while we stroll the camp to ogle their gear. We walk around the campsite scribbling notes about what campsite we would like for next year. Factors, in addition to beauty, include proximity to bathrooms and campstore, and quality of showers.

I am escorted to an unmarked road off Hwy One towards Pfeiffer Beach to a wildly painted hippie house, an acutely observed film set, to purchase wood. The wood is arrayed in cartons in the front yard. The price and a Christian fish symbol are hand printed on each box. A sign requests that money for the wood be pushed under the kitchen door. The proprietor himself, a man called Noel, meets us though and he is jocular about the weather.

The store in the center of the park containing over two hundred campsites offers three electrical outlets for charging. I arrive with dead cellphone and depleted laptop to find a twelve year old suspiciously guarding the outlet while Ipods charge. The shop does not sell coffee and has a bare bones inventory of convenience foods at exorbitant prices. Pricey wi fi is available and there are tables between the laundry area and the store. Campers congregate here, washing, charging, accessing the Internet and patronizing the shop. There is amiable banter and sometimes someone plays the guitar. It is pleasant but not conducive to productive work. A special effects designer speaks via cellphone to his workshop back in Los Angeles about a photo he’s been Blackberried and instructs his assistant that the finger is lacking gore and that it needs to look more like it was hit with a sledge hammer. He recommends practice with cherry tomatoes.

My friend Diana is marooned in Massachusetts much of the summer while her father, in hospice, rallies or declines from day to day. The August camping trip to Big Sur is sacrosanct for many of the families since its inception. No one can agree on the exact first year but well corroborated facts substantiate at least 16. College students fly home to attend and now even college graduates take time off work to make the trek. We are but a few summers away from having grandchildren toddling about. Diana and her family arrive only to hear the news that her father has passed on and they return home immediately. It is impossible to wish at times like these. It is impossible not to. At least with the finality the weight of that is lifted.

Mimi Pond lost her pistol of a gal mom Janet recently. There was no protracted suffering and Mimi says that as she watched her mother die she thought about my mother. My mother is serene and blank when I visit usually but her caretakers report that she calls for me in the night and also for her long dead brother and my father from whom she has been divorced over 45 years and whose ashes I flung from the Space Needle. I think a lot about how she would have react if she knew what she’d be reduced to. I look at Mimi’s tribute to her mom, a stalwart book lover and library volunteer, see the perfection of it and wonder what sort of tribute I would pay to mine. All I can think of is rolling a grain of sand between my thumb and my forefinger.

Many of the families are very athletic and take all day hikes and kayak and other things that require wetsuits and other athletic apparatus that I cannot identify. I borrow Spud’s bike briefly and would borrow it again, even though it is scary to ride on the bumpy dirt path, but I am accused of messing up the seat. Otherwise I sit at the store online keeping tabs on the office, read old New Yorkers and nap and eat. I spend more time napping than strolling and have given up on ever getting my ass over to the yoga class. The kids run in packs to the gorge or hike or just hang out at the campsites with either good food or no adult supervision. The adults eat late dinners and chat and drink around the fire.

A group of moms assemble at a campfire and drink wine and make s’mores and I smoke a single cigarette. We recall our secret lives as teens and wonder what is really happening down on the girl’s campsite. One daughter has moved into a seedy part of Oakland. A son has purchased a motorcycle. There is constant terror. What’s left of my mother is worn away a bit more every time I see her but always when I leave after my weekly visit to run some errands, from which I promise to return to her very soon, she says, “Be careful.”

We have adjusted to camping and can even see ourselves with a little Palomino of our own. I write this now on our last day in Big Sur in the cool morning as the campground begins to come to life. There is the scent of fires and bacon and the toilets flush in more and more rapid succession. I have built a weak fire by myself and I sit in garden gnome pajamas and an ancient torn robe. Today we will give away our leftover food and fold up the Palomino. I hope someone will help us hitch it to the car. I spend weeks pouring over lists and planning our first camping expedition. We eat well. I do not hike or do yoga or kayak but I see people I’ve known for many years hair down. It takes weeks of preparation for this journey north. Breaking camp and loading up the Palomino is an involved project and camping, despite naps and magazines, is not the most restful vacation that we’ve had. I long for a long soak in the tub and the clean sheets on a bed that doesn’t require gymnastic skills to crawl into. I want to burn every garment in the boys’ duffle bag. Yet, it seems a certainty that the August Big Sur Camp out will be on our annual schedule for years to come.
Shabbat Shalom.


Chris Berry said...

I see you and John with the deluxe Palomino in your golden years...Sampling gourmet viddles (and just one smoke) by the campfire. Hopefully we'll be parked next door. You should submit this to Outside Magazine...

Cari said...

Hehehehh, you think that's "roughing it"? Years ago we used to camp in the back of the El Camino. We were the true laughing stock of the poshy campgrounds we would stay in. Our neighbour in their tricked out rig even defrosted our frozen ground beef in their microwave for us. But you know, some of those evenings in the extreme coziness of the camper shell were the best sleep I ever got, and the mornings before everyone else woke up were utterly holy.