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Looking back down the Trail, Part One: The Summer of Life

May 17, 2013

2013-04-22 13.31.28I’m the blonde mop head on the left, with my eyes squinted shut in the sunlight, and some rope and a canteen wrapped around my waist. Next to me are my little sisters, Katye and Jenna, and my older sister, Analyssa. This is some of the earliest physical evidence of my excursions in the forest. This picture was probably taken when I was about 6 years old, at some Missouri campground southwest of St. Louis somewhere. The year was 1984, and as I don’t remember how often we headed out to the woods, I do know that I loved it. In a search through a couple boxes at my parent’s house in Barnhart, I was able to find pictures from us camping at Bass River Resort along the Cortois Creek that year. Turns out we also went to Onondaga Cave State Park and Lane Spring Recreation Area during that summer, and then another trip to the shores of Lake Michigan somewhere near Chicago in the fall. I remember that trip as my first cold weather camping experience.


Who knew I would still like sittin’ around by a fire almost 30 years later?

Though it wasn’t any longer than what seems like a lifetime ago, I still have faint memories of the rolling hills along interstate 44, up and down for miles and miles. I was just a little kid looking out the car window, watching the forest fly by as we drove down the highway toward some adventure filled destination in our brown Mercury Zephyr station wagon. Every time we head down the highway these days to go camping, with my kids in the car with me, I still feel that same sense of excitement as I watch the hills go by. The only change is my the perspective from the driver’s seat now, as opposed to the back.


Jenna and Katye hangin’ out on the old green Coleman cooler.

I remember the tent that our family had. It was a big heavy canvas thing with about 1000 aluminum poles that had to go together just right, usually with missing instructions that wouldn’t have helped anyway because the poles weren’t labeled. Yeah, that thing was gigantic and confusing, but that one room temporary house is where all six of us somehow fit at night on camp-outs. Looking back, I guess because we were little there was room for the whole family. In fact, it seems to make a lot of sense that tent manufacturers must use the size of children to determine how many people a tent can be rated for. To see that tent now, it would probably be much smaller and less monolithic than I remember, for obvious reasons. I think about it with a grin on my face every time that I set up some lightweight, 4 man, 2 bungee-pole tent…in a matter of 5 minutes.


Jenna and Analyssa

Though I wouldn’t have been able to conceptualize it as a 6 year old, I had my first real experience with death on one of those rivers. Were you to look into a Missouri waterway back then, you would be appalled at the amount of crawdads flitting about under every stone in the water. They were all over the place, and to a little kid, they were enticing and frightening at the same time. They were like tiny lobsters. Miniature versions of the ones in the tank at the grocery store, and you knew they just really wanted to pinch your toes with their little claws. They also shot backwards faster than you could follow with your eyes, due to their powerful little tails. They were elusive and dangerous…but I had an empty yogurt container. I would slowly wade through the shallow area, just off the beach, and scan the water for the little guys. I learned that once I found one, if I carefully held the yogurt container about six inches behind it, I could get it to shoot back and right into it if I put the lid in front the little guy. After a few hours I ended up with a whole bucket full of the tiny claw snapping, crazy looking water dwellers. However, being six, I had no idea about the importance of a creature’s environment in it’s ability to survive. The next morning I discovered that crawdads need the river and the rocks, and that I was responsible for their deaths. These days when I stand on the bank of a creek, sometimes I will scan the water for crawdads, and ponder the impact that lifeless bucket has had on me. The only environment that can sustain us is a healthy one, and we need to make sure that we understand the factors necessary so that life can continue.


Playin’ in the river.

I remember my first canoe trip, down the river at Onondaga Cave State Park. So afraid of tipping, as it was the most pressing danger according to my distressed and anxious parents, and sitting in the front holding a paddle with which I had no idea what to do. How we survived that trip, 2 kids and 1 parent to a boat, can only be a testament of my Mom and Dad’s shared ability to overcome ANY adversity to protect their children. I know the anxiety from the other side now, every time we are coming to a sharp turn ahead and all I see is the tiny frame of my daughter in the seat in front of me. The danger involved is real, but it is magnified by our protectiveness of these little extensions of ourselves.

046That summer of 1984 camping in the forests of Missouri was a notable experience and somewhat self-defining, that I look back to fondly, if not a bit cloudy after almost 30 years. There is a wonderful charm to the nature we have in our state, and years of human connection to it. The way the rivers and creeks shape the land and the way we have always been drawn to them is more than just a tradition of being close to a water source. It is a powerful force in the history of us, and so much life is there, in the valleys and hollows where the water is. If you can look across the broadness of time, you can see that we are all drawn to the rivers, and it flows in our spirits as it does through the mountains and hills from which it springs.

It turns out though, that sometimes things must change, and that would be my last summer in Missouri for about 6 years. Our family’s path was about to take a right turn and head to the southeast. The forests we would experience soon would have a different look and feel to them, and a bit more of an exotic nature. We were about to trade sycamore and limestone for palm and shale, not to mention the more sinister wildlife. To see a deer in the forest is beautiful, but to see an alligator is another thing altogether.

To be continued…

  1. A very well written essay looking back on your formative years. Mine were very similar, but twenty years earlier.

    • Thank you! I was lucky enough to find some old pictures that were in good enough shape to scan and use. It really created a sense in me of the importance of taking pictures. Also, as this will end up as a multiple part entry, I have had to think about the length of each entry. How much are people willing to read in one sitting, about another person’s life? I ended up cutting what this one was going to be in half, and then adding even more to this first part.
      And I think that regardless of generational station…what’s important is that we all got to experience nature as a strong influence in our human development.
      I’m glad to know that other people share the connection. Thank you, as always, for checking it out!

  2. I am going to send you an email, but this is a wonderful post. It is spiritual, personal, and historical. I am enjoying your posts so much, please keep blogging. You have a talent.

    • You know, my little sister Katye shared this post on Facebook this afternoon…and the tears welled up in my eyes at the joy that she conveyed after reading it.
      Again, emotion stirs. The accolades are something of an unexpected but welcome gift, and I am very thankful. Thank you, for your kind words. It is not a talent, it is just a story I was part of, that if I am lucky…connects. You are too kind. Thank the trees and the river and the soil, for any talent that they speak through me and all of us. Their influence in OUR story is what is truly notable.

  3. Great post! I love the tasteful level of nostalgia, and the mature understanding of the evolution of our childhood selves, and smile to hear you’re carrying on the lessons and experience another generation. You’re making me want to go camping in Missouri!

    • Thank you! I have been enjoying trying to remember those days, way back when. Looking at the old pictures has been slightly cringe-worthy however. The fact that I can share it with my kids, and that they (like just about any kid) enjoy spending time in the forest, IS really neat. Thanks for checking it out!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Looking back down the Trail, Part Two: Encouraged to Grow | Camping Missouri
  2. Because it is more than just “Camping”. A little back-story, part one | Camping Missouri

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