Chelsea's small mermaid pony must come for the trip. Leaving the rainbow colored petroleum mold at home with painted on eyes and synthetic hair would be out of the question. She must have it. The DVD cheerily fills the car with the sound of Hello Kitty or Clifford the Big Red Dog. Grassland and rolling hills are left behind as forests of pine and grey cliffs replace them. The sky is surprisingly clear considering the awful weather predicted for this weekend. My partner glances at me and smiles a knowing smile as we listen to the music of children's programming.
The roof rack normally hums as we rush through the mountains. This May long weekend took a week of preparation. Everyone tells us that the weather is going to be terrible. The usual fully serviced campground is closed due to an avalanche earlier that month. Nothing, not even a closed campground or rumors of snow, will keep us from our annual tradition. People in their sports cars and big trucks leave our 4-cylinder fuel-efficient vehicle in the dust. They charge up the highway like their very survival depends on getting up this road first. We look a little like the Clampet's with our car loaded to the gunnels. With hope in our hearts, and being slightly over-prepared, we're sure we will beat the odds and have a memorable trip.
The night promises to be cold with snow-lined shadows and a late spring. I have never enjoyed the May long weekends that happen earlier than the 21st. Winding mountainous roads are no stranger to me. Childhood memories abound with camping trips and hikes. I have an inherent love of the outdoors, and dream of instilling such respect and wonder into my children. I do not want to be the last child in the woods.
Our destination appears on the left. A tiny service road and a worn sign indicate we have reached our destination. We arrive at an un-serviced campground that operates by dropping payment into the unattended payment box with your site number. There are no RV's in sight.
"We're here girls!"
They squeal with glee as we wind through the campground searching for the perfect spot. As the only campers there, we have our choice! We find a beautiful site - it's a walk-in with a small bridge and away from the other sites. It's got a fire pit and a picnic table like the serviced sites. We roll to a stop hearing the gravel scrunch beneath the tires. They pile out of the car, giggling, exploring - child's paradise. I take the dog and tie her to the picnic table.
The first thing I notice is how peaceful it is. The sky is clear and the sun is hot. We are the only noise in the area. The air is clean and has the delicious scent of decaying wood and earth, damp, renewal at it's height. New shoots of grass and leaves are a bright happy green, and occasionally a dragon fly swoops by as we start to unload.
The girls are in hysterics about the bridge, and have likely frightened every animal for 10 miles. They are underfoot, exclaiming over who gets to hold the dog leash first, and who's turn it was last.
"Girls, the dog stays here at the site. Mommy needs to set up the tent so we can sleep tonight. I want you two to go and play - " I gesture out into the woods. "Remember not to touch leaves that look like this - " I show them a picture of poison oak we'd talked about before we left "You both have to stay within earshot and eyesight. Chelsea, do you know what that means?"
Chelsea nods uncertainly. Jada bobs her head up and down.
"It means that if you can't see us, we can't see you and that's too far away for Mommy to come and save you if there's a problem. Earshot means I can still hear you. Just stay close to the campsite, alright?"
"Ok Mommy" they reply in unison.
The girls gallivant off into the woods. They sneak up on squirrels and try to point out birds. They brandish sticks like magic wands, and claim the top of their log is the highest point of their castles. They make moss beds for the rock-toys they've found.
Meanwhile, the tent is up, the gear is stowed. The dog is contently laying in the sunshine chewing on her bone. Most importantly, the small mermaid pony, precious, a necessity, is long forgotten. It is discarded and lonely in the back seat. The small mermaid pony is no match for quality of playtime when a child discovers the outdoors and the magic of imagination takes over. No campground with running water and flush toilets can compare. Those campgrounds where the sites are inches apart, and there are more RV's with big screens and microwaves than tenters like us, cannot compete. Here we unwind, leave behind the rush of the city, forget what time it is, and our only task is to make sure we have enough to eat and keep the site clean so we don't attract predators. There was no TV, no video games, and even beloved toys were forgotten in favour of the great outdoors. I love this earth and its magnificent natural beauty.