As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my camping adventures began when I was just a toddler and we’d go on family trips. I’m the youngest of 5 kids, and my dad taught high school social studies and my mom ran a school lunch program once I started elementary school.
Because Dad always worked a summer job, about the only time we could take a vacation was at the beginning of June, right after school got out. Unfortunately, according to the National Weather Service, that also happens to be the rainiest week of the entire year in Minnesota.
Our experiences would certainly back that up, because we camped in some real gully washers. This photo of me and Dad is from a memorable trip to the North Shore of Lake Superior one June. It not only rained, but was so cold that we wore stocking caps most of the time.
One year we camped in 3 different spots in one week, and the rain followed us the whole way. In one spot my oldest brother, Mike, and Dad even had to dig a drainage trench around the tent. The water still came flooding through the door. This was before the days of lightweight nylon tents, and a wet canvas tent–especially the huge one we had–was a real hernia-inducer.
It didn’t always rain, of course; there were plenty of beautiful days, too. Dad loved the outdoors, and we spent many hours on the water or on the road with him. He would talk to us about the things he noticed, like loons calling across the lake, a unique rock or tree along the shoreline, or a roadside historical marker that he cheerfully pointed out as we drove past at highway speed. “Can’t stop!”
Before he and Mom were married, and for several years thereafter, Dad ran summer camps and did some guiding in the Ely area, most notably at Camp Widjiwagan, a YMCA camp on Burntside Lake. It was there that he learned to cook on a big cast iron griddle over the campfire. When we camped he would do a lot of cooking on a griddle, especially breakfast: bacon, eggs, pancakes. He had it down to a science, with just the right amount of wood split and ready to use so he could always keep the fire at the perfect temperature. He had a small pair of pliers that he kept in a leather holder on his belt, and would use them to move the griddle around on the fire. Today those pliers sit in their holder on the mantle above our fireplace.
I know that I come by some of my OCD traits honestly: all his life my dad liked to check and double-check things, including the little ritual he would run through before he crawled into his sleeping bag when were camping. He would run his hands through his pockets and go through a checklist: “Billfold, handkerchief, coin purse, keys.”
Dad passed over a little more than 5 years ago. It’s been raining a lot here the past few weeks, and sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night and hear raindrops on our roof I think of raindrops hitting the roof of that big, green canvas tent, and the sound of my dad sleeping.