When I was 5 years old, I wanted more than anything to go camping, to be out in the woods, running, climbing, exploring. But we didn’t own a single piece of camping gear, and my dad was, let’s just say, not much of an outdoorsman. He came from Iowa, where forests didn’t really exist. As a boy, he joined the Boy Scouts and went to a nearby lake with his troop, where they were supposed to cook food “like the Indians did,” buried underground with hot coals. His potato came out black and hard on the outside yet somehow raw on the inside. So he went to bed hungry, tossed around all night on the hard ground, got eaten by mosquitoes, and vowed never to set foot (or at least sleep) in the woods again.
But I begged and begged, until finally some uncles invited us to go camping with them, and my father grudgingly agreed. At a garage sale down the street, we found an old canvas World War II tent and some worn cotton sleeping bags. With these, we headed into the wild.
We met the others on the banks of the St. Croix River. My uncles came hauling a new, shiny pop-up camper that looked like the Taj Mahal on wheels. My dad looked around, picked a spot at random, and set up our tent. That night, we tied the flaps shut and drifted off to the buzz of mosquitoes in our ears. Some hours later, I woke up to the sound of my dad splashing around and swearing, having discovered too late that he’d put our tent (more or less) in a dry creek bed. Water was flowing through the middle of our sleeping area, and we spent the rest of the night shivering on the car seats. I realize now that he did all this not because he loved nature, but because he loved me.