Moonshine (How to Camp) – Beginning

The biggest misconception Abby held, growing up, was that adults had the answers. The most erroneous lesson she learned was that her parents knew how to live.

There were sufficient reasons for her mistakes. “Mother knows best.” “Because I said so.” “Don’t do as I do; do as I say.” “You’ll understand when you’re grown.” Although she contested each phrase they had their cumulative effect. There must be something to them, she then thought: a fundamental truth like in cliches.

Her parents acted like the road to happiness was narrow and bordered by perils. They were satisfied with their own level of fortune, and they firmly believed that their way was the only way to be safe and content. Their way consisted of plans.

Her father was careful and logical. He retained all original packaging. He never commenced a road trip, not even a two-hour drive, without first checking the tire pressure and the windshield fluid. Her mother hummed with unharnessed energy. She put as much acuity into comparison shopping as a Nobel-scientist employs in analyzing lab data, so the family was always satisfied that they had the best airfares, motel rates, and fuel prices.

Superficially, Abby learned to never leave home without maps, provisions, and a clear plan. Viscerally, she learned to never leave home.

It seemed like way too much trouble. And no matter how much care she took, she was bound to miss something. Her mother had a mind like a steel-trap, for finding bargains or renegotiating transactions; Abby preferred to spend her quickness on puzzles and poetry.

When she was small, she made a secret place inside her room. Each of the bedrooms in their tract house had one wall papered, and hers pictured four different versions of moonlit stylized trees against a pale background. Abby would crawl into the knee space under the desk, and she’d sit there pretending to rule a camp in her own forest. She’d read. She’d lay on the floor with her feet wedged up under her desk drawer, and she’d contemplate existence.

Her parents hauled her out for weekend outings and summer travel. The day trips were often picnics and the vacations were usually camping, so planning was involved.

Her father collected topographical maps. He had them for the High Sierras as well as the surrounding areas. He stored them flat, sorted them by number, and taught the kids to treat the paper with care and the contour lines with respect.

He also owned a Coleman stove and a matching lantern, and a quantity of carefully stored fuel to power them. In time he added tarps and ground cloths and storage bags, each slotted into its special niche in the garage shelves, all extracted and checked like a moon launch whenever the family left their suburban home for a nature visit.

Meanwhile, Abby’s mother collected cooking utensils. She scooped up painted metal bowls and plates at church thrift stores, and she acquired cheap flatware at Army surplus outlets or with supermarket stamps. She investigated trailer rentals and annually recommended the tent/trailer unit they could pull with their compact. The top flipped open when it was parked, so that it became grownup-tall with canvas-framed upper sides and ceiling. The two big top pieces turned into the bases for double beds at each end, and the permanent area in the middle held cabinets and the rudimentary kitchen. They always camped in reserved sites, with a water spigot and picnic table at hand and public toilets nearby. Unless it was raining all they ever did inside the trailer was sleep and change their clothes.

They usually made their camping trips to Tuolumne Meadows in upper Yosemite. They’d travel up the Imperial Valley, often with a daytime moon riding like a nickel out the rightside windows. They always knew when they were nearing the 10,000 foot level on Tioga Pass because Kevin’s nose would start bleeding. Abby’s little brother was prone to those messy events. They were normally triggered by colds or falls off his bicycle, but they also heralded his first venture each summer into the low air pressure of the High Sierras. He had to tip his head against the car seat. He had to swallow the slide of blood down the back of his throat. He was little but he was used to it. After the first cresting eruption he probably wouldn’t have another nosebleed all week.

(continued Wednesday)

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