Here in the U.S of A, camping is a little more efficient and user friendly then in New Zealand. Rather then hike into the bush with a tent strapped to your back, you can pull up to a camping site in your vehicle, and there is a table and a fire pit good to go. It is a little more civilized but it still serves the purpose of providing a step away from the material confines of civilization itself.
Last weekend, we went camping in Ojai, a lovely little spot. The cute town is potted with bountiful thrift stores and more then its fair share of hippies. Ahhh hippies...the older I get, the less I hate them. Just outside the cute town center is a lovely campsite called Denison Park. We drove up to our tent site which sat atop of the mountain. Super. It was hot, crazy oppressive hot. I don't know how we survived really, out there in the middle of a giant wilderness in sweltering heat. Oh yeah, I know how we survived this ordeal, we jumped back in the car, turned on the air conditioning and headed back into town where we whiled away the hottest part of the day sipping on boutique beers from The Ojai Brewing Company.
Following our refreshing and flavorful beverages, once again we answered the call of the wild and headed back to nature and our camp site. It was time to get started on maybe the favorite party of the whole camping experience: creating fire. Doesn't everyone have an inner pyromaniac? Speaking for myself, starting a fire is primal and thrilling. I wouldn't say my fire starting abilities have any finesse whatsoever. In fact my fires, much like my personality, like subtlety on any level. I cover the coals and any small flammable debris I can find with copious amounts of lighter fluid and then set a match to this accident waiting to happen. Maybe it is a tad reckless to use the amount of lighter fuel I do, perhaps one might venture to suggest that it is in fact extremely dangerous. Well, that being said, I never regret my generous, liberal application of highly flammable liquid because when that fire explodes to life with a vicious fury and wild rage, my inner pyromaniac rejoices. If there was a camera focused on my eyes, I would hazard to guess that my pupils would dilate with excitement, if of course that is what pupils do when they are excited. I know for a fact my eyes would look a little crazy and wide when that fire bursts to life, because I feel a little bit crazy standing there in front of the blaze I created with nothing but a few sticks, a lighter and, well, you know about my affinity with accelerant.
The madness begins...
Once the campfire is up and burning, it must be kept alive! What usually follows is a rather wild, obsessive and desperate hustle to keep the fire burning as brightly and a big as possible for as long as possible. I'm not proud of what I do to keep a campfire burning. I've had to use whatever resources are on hand. Yes, I use the dead vegetation around me, even though its illegal. That's what fire does to me; it turns me into a criminal. When the fire is lit, within moments you will probably find me hanging ten feet off the ground trying to wrestle a half rotten tree to the ground or manically wondering off into the darkness grabbing for anything remotely flammable. I usually wake up the next morning covered in scratches and grazes from an evening hunting for fuel in a fire frenzy. It's worth it though. There's little more satisfying then a raging campfire that is bordering on being dangerously out of control.
You gotta love toasting Marshmallows, or in my case, burning them to a lump of ashen crispy molten goodness. You gotta love drinking a little too much wine and looking at the stars invisible to city dwellers, and you gotta love snuggling up in your sleeping bag with nothing to protect you save a flimsy layer of canvas.
I find that lack of solid protection a little scary and yet exciting. When we turned off our torches in Ojai it was dark. Black in fact. Scuffles and sounds of the night start to trigger ones paranoid mind space. Was that noise in the bushes a Coyote? Some psychopath on a killing spree? I gave Michelle my pocket knife for protection and kept the larger knife on hand as I had deemed myself head protector and thus responsible for most of the knife work possibly required against imaginary adversaries that may include, but not limited to, Grizzly bears, axe murderers and wolves.
As usual we woke up in the morning in one peace, zipped open the tent and were greeted by the never failing beauty of a natural vista. I love camping, I love the connection with nature, that spiritual sense of our mortal fragility and also an appreciation of our powerful survival instinct. It also serves to remind us how we can be very happy and most content with very few material possessions...I'm sounding a bit like one of those Ojai hippies aren't I?
For those of you interested in visiting Ojai and camping: