I’ve always liked fall. I’ve always associated fall – even more than spring – with newness: the smell of new erasers, new pencils, new books, the deliciously crisp whiteness of the pages of a brand new notebook. So I’ve never minded when summer draws to its inevitable close. More than that – I usually feel a prickly impatience throughout the last days of August, an urge to get on with it, to move forward into the crisp, clear days of September, to pull on sweaters and crack the spines of new books and start a whole new year.
Except for this year. This year, we did something new, something summer-new, in the month that I most associate with the passage of time. This year, we took a holiday in late August. A camping holiday. We went outdoors – sort of outdoors, anyway, in our rented RV – and set Wonderbaby loose in the wilderness that is the network of provincial and state campgrounds of Southern Ontario and upper New York State. And it was just so wonderfully disruptive of what I’ve come to understand, in my adulthood, as summer fun – so wonderfully disruptive of August, a month that is usually spent sipping cold drinks on hot patios and plotting for September – that any and all notion of calendrical time was, for me, utterly destroyed.
It was disruptive, in part, because it was uncomfortable. It was uncomfortable because – for all the declarations of my husband’s extended family, from the mouths of their rain-soaked tents, that our accomodations seemed the height of luxury – it was spent in a rolling tin shack that had been decorated in 1991 and so bore all the hallmarks of suburban recreational luxury as defined in the late eighties. It was cramped, and the seating and bedding were uncomfortable, and we were surrounded by navy blue and burgundy and taupe and the occasional accent of wood panelling or gold-look plastic trim. It was ugly, and once a few days worth of sand and one thunderstorm’s share of mud had been tracked in and the shower stall had been filled with wet towels and dirty laundry and a few flies had taken up residence, it bore more than a passing resemblance to somebody’s grandma’s dank suburban basement.
What was more disruptive, however, was the entirely discomfiting experience of loving the discomfort. And not just loving the experience for its novelty – the appeal of the camping trip is, after all, the novelty of casting aside immediate home comforts and attempting to fashion something approximating a home in a hostile environment, to mediate ordinary comforts with the extraordinary materials at hand by wood or stream, to make cushions of pine needles and dining tables of fallen trees – but loving it for its familiarity. Her Bad Father and I have camped in tents and portaged canoes and kept warm by campfires many a time, in our shared past, but we have never sallied forth into the wild in a motorhome, never faced the elements from a padded bourgeois bunker, protected from severe discomforts by a thick layer of upholstery and wood panelling and the security of a Porta-Potty.