My first husband (aka #1) taught me to camp. He was a lifelong adventurer and owned every imaginable piece of gear. He coached me on all the things I never thought I’d need to know about – how to tend a fire, safely wash dishes in a stream (I had nightmares about giardia after that), and where to put our food so that the bears (OMG! the WHAT!?) couldn’t get it. He even schooled me on (shudder) peeing and (sorry!) pooping outside.
I was pretty full of myself with all this newly acquired knowledge when we took our first camping trip together. It was relatively fun…I helped set up the tent without being too bossy (it was a struggle), helped unload everything, set up the ‘kitchen’ and even manned up and put a worm on a hook when #1 introduced me to fishing. I was pretty damn proud of myself…at least until I decided to take a little afternoon nap and woke to the sight of huge ant shadows crawling all over the outside of the tent! I turned back into a girly girl, made quite a fuss and pretty much demanded to be taken home…there may have been a foot stomp, but I can’t swear to it.
Over time I got more used to dirt and critters and noises during the night that I couldn’t identify. We didn’t camp often, but it wasn’t terrible when we did. The one thing that I truly loved from day one and that I always looked forward to was FIRE. I think most boys grow up loving fire, but my own exposure to it had been pretty limited (if you don’t count the time my sister burned the hair off of my prized doll from Germany…her little blonde braids going up like so much flaxen kindling). It just hadn’t been part of my world.
The first night we had an outside fire I sat close, and my eyes lit up as I studied the flames. It was peacefully hypnotic and it grounded me, not to mention that poking at it satisfied my ‘mama monkey’ need to pick at things. What’s not to like? What I didn’t realize, however, was that there would come a day when a fire pit would be the center of my life…the heart of my home.
Eight years into my marriage to #1, our world shifted. The details warrant an entire blog post, so suffice it for now to say that we sold our business and took off on ‘walkabout’. We sold all but the dearest of our possessions, packed everything into a U-haul, put the cats into the car and took off. “Where are you going…what in the world are you going to do?” people asked. Our pat response was an excited, “We’ll know it when we get there!” #1 was confident and hyped up on the idea…I was scared shit-less. I’d never traveled and didn’t know what to expect, but I was in for the long haul.
And so our adventure began. I don’t even remember how long we flitted from campground to motel to national monument to casino to RV park…was it weeks or months? We drove so much that I’d get dizzy when we stopped. We built campfires all over this country, had lunch in Dollywood, (barely) saved one of our cats in a cooler-lookalike carrier from the clutches of a bear in the Smokies, woke to the site of the surreal Mittens in Monument Valley (John Wayne had been here!), stood next to a herd of elk on the shores of Jackson Lake in the Tetons, looked at (but couldn’t see) a fogged-in Mt. Rushmore (so we spent the day gambling)…so many memories. It was an amazing trip and I’ve never regretted a minute of it. We still didn’t know where we wanted to be, but we kept pushing on.
We stopped in Portland, Oregon for a while, but #1 wasn’t really ready to settle down. He told me that he wanted to do something new…something ‘exciting’. I steeled myself and he told me that we needed to become… (wait for it) …gold miners. I thought, “Oh dear lord…”, but I was the follower at that time, and I went along with it. So we loaded up our pickup with what we could (envision the Beverly Hillbillies, with the rocker in the back), and started driving south. Before long we found ourselves living in an RV camp in the middle of nowhere (aka northern California gold country). By this time we’d acquired an 18 foot travel trailer that was now home to me, #1 and two cats. It was a crowded, crazy, fun little sort-of-home. We fit right in with the neighbors at the RV park we landed at…a mix of retirees, anarchists, and would-be millionaires. We were running from ourselves, and they were running from “The Man”, the IRS, the psych ward, reality, the law…you get the picture.
The one constant that we brought with us was fire. Our fire pit (our living room) became the center of our little world. Friends and neighbors gathered there with us, spinning yarns and sharing gossip (“Does that guy in the tiny trailer behind us, yeah, the one with the tin foil-lined windows and the colander for a hat….does he really own this whole town?) We warmed ourselves while listening to tales spun by a would-be lawyer with a dubious background who wanted to be ‘our leader’ (I’m pretty sure polygamy figured into his plan), and we shared food and wine with miners who claimed to be finding gold nuggets (that we never saw). It was raucous, loud, crazy, and the atmosphere vacillated from hilarious to folksy to downright scary…but we had a fire, and it was home.