Continued from Part 1
I have noticed that my attempts to ‘build character’ into my children often backfire, resulting in an excess of character sloshing out upon me and passing strangers, indiscriminately. This is unfortunate, because many people agree that I have all the character I need. “That Tim, he’s quite a character!” they say, rolling their eyes and edging away.
Having sent several of the children off to gather firewood (in the unlikely event that we would be allowed to use our fire pit), I quickly tested the little camp stove I borrowed from my boss. As I often remind my offspring, an expert camper is prepared for every eventuality. I was quite proud of my foresight in purchasing two extra butane bottles, up until the moment that I discovered the fuel canisters were the wrong size for the stove. “I could’ve sworn these were the bottles “purchased by those who bought your camp stove’ on Amazon”, I grumbled.
Fuel or no fuel, it was a great little stove, or so the Amazon review indicated.
As the children returned with a few paltry sticks, I redoubled my efforts to build a fire. Racing about the campsite on all fours, we gathered enough twigs and pine cones to make a damp, but creditable little teepee in the fire pit. Congratulating myself on bringing waterproof matches, we made an attempt to light the fire. And tried again. And again. It seems that the matches, while no doubt resoundingly waterproof, were also strike-proof on all known surfaces, a feature the manufacturers failed to mention on the outer wrapper.
Eventually we were forced to beg a light from an Australian group that took up residence in the next campsite. They peered at me disdainfully, remarking, “You’re not much of a Boy Scout, are you, mate?” There was some rather impolite sniggering.
“Heh heh, no, I guess not,” I replied sheepishly, grinding my teeth. Although I usually like Australians, I devised a plan to pour honey inside their tent at the earliest opportunity.
“Say, those people snigger like Uncle Torpid, don’t they, Dad?” My son Toadflax has always been very observant.
With much coaxing, and having expended at least half the matches we had ‘borrowed’, we produced a fire. We took turns roasting hot dogs (the only thing we brought for dinner) with our solitary roasting stick. Nettle announced to the world at large, “I don’t really like hot dogs.”
There are some who disparage my cooking skills, maintaining that I “would have trouble heating a pot of water”. I was able to disprove this ugly rumor in less than an hour, producing not only a pot of hot water, but a mess of soggy, half-cooked noodles in cheese sauce, to boot. Latte eventually returned with shoes, a tarp, and a battery-powered espresso machine. We charred a few token marshmallows, and called it a day.
The air mattress we borrowed (as Latte had insisted) was the self-inflating kind, or at least it would have been, had only the four ‘D’ batteries been present. Less than 45 minutes later, it was fully inflated. In spite of my encouraging words, Latte seemed irritable. “You might at least get off the mattress while I inflate it,” she huffed.
As we tossed and turned in the darkness, dodging a parade of small feet in their hourly visits to the bathroom, I reflected on the memories we were storing up for future family gatherings.
“Do you remember, har har,” I’d ask, as the grandchildren clustered around, “how Toadflax was sick all night from eating too many marshmallows? Or how ’bout the time Latte woke us all up, ordering an “extra-hot double-mocha skinny half-caf vente with foam” in her sleep?”
“Yeah, har har,” agrees Slug, giving me a significant look as he pores over the latest copy of Discount Nursing Homes for the Indigent.
Maybe we won’t have all that many family gatherings, now that I think of it.
The next morning dawned fresh and clear, and found us huddled hopefully around our fledgling campfire at 5 am. “I told you we should have paid more than $10 apiece for sleeping bags,” grumbled Latte. We broke camp in the usual manner, by stuffing everything into the tent and wadding it up in the back of the car. The older kids rushed off for ‘just a little last-minute exploring’ and were not seen for at least two hours, in spite of my bellowing. Eventually the children returned, about the same time we were escorted from the campground by the hosts, “for your own protection”. Considering how cranky the campground residents were, I guess it is a good thing that most campers aren’t such early risers.
We drove to a ridge on the side of Mount Rainier and, just for the look of the thing, took a short hike down to a lake. Weasel complained much of the way down about the weight of the fanny pack I asked him to carry, with two 12-ounce water bottles and a package of crackers. I can’t imagine what would cause him to exhibit such behavior, perhaps some weakness of character handed down from Latte’s side of the family.
I was determined to capture a few decent pictures of Mount Rainier, if only to prove to my brother that we did actually go camping. I remember when I was a boy, how my Dad would stop every hundred yards or so to take ‘just one more’ picture of the mountain. Sometimes he would allow the family to appear as sort of a fuzzy counterpoint to the majesty of Rainier, but most of the time we sulked in the car. Strangely, I found my own family exhibiting similar immature behavior, after only a few attempts to digitally capture this magnificent peak.
“It’s a good thing your camera has a 2 gigabyte card,” I remarked to Latte. In retrospect, I don’t think my wife has much appreciation for natural beauty. “Just gimme back my camera,” she snarled.
We enjoyed wading in the lake until the park ranger made us get out, on the pretext that the lake was their ‘water supply’. “We’d rather not brush our teeth with water polluted by athlete’s foot,” he complained. I think some very fussy and inflexible people are drawn to the life of a park ranger.
As we ate our lunch in a picnic area above the parking lot, I congratulated the family on our frugality, since the whole trip had cost only $17 for a camping spot, and $440 in gas (or perhaps a little less). Then they saw the souvenir shop, and all was lost.
Driving home, I reflected on the ephemeral nature of wealth, and the need for a car-top carrier. Latte sipped daintily from a souvenir mug, while Toadflax swung his souvenir necklace wildly about his head. “Nice folks, there at the Mt. Rainier Souvenir Shop Credit Bureau,” I mused to my wife. “I thought it was very courteous of them to waive the loan origination fee and home appraisal.”