We talk about fire bans, forest fires and the punishment for the people who start them. “What if they didn’t mean to?” the boys ask. It makes no difference, we tell them. Grown-up world is a different one, you know… You ought to know some things by then.
We’re camping by a small lake under a canopy of grey clouds. It’s been a finicky few days, with a peek-a-boo sun and a few rain splashes. But the boys insisted and we gladly agreed.
We put the canoe on the water and get the tent up. The wind blows the tent fly in all directions at all times, always in the opposite direction of where you want it to go, but two pairs of hands make it happen.
We go for a paddle in what we rightfully assume to be the sunset. The sun is only to be guessed, you see, as it is stretched into a thin orange layer behind the clouds. A bird lands in the middle of the lake and starts calling out to some peers. It sounds like laughing. The boys are laughing too; echoes of life.
We slide on the water over submersed logs wrapped in old soggy moss. The water is shallow and clear and the bottom is undisturbed. I touch it lightly with the paddle and create a short-lived muddy havoc.
A few fish jump and make us think dinner. Breakfast? Neither? Soon, very soon then…But the worms, the boys ask, that must be very uncomfortable for them. A first introduction to the greater good dilemma draws question marks on the boys’ faces. We’d be earning our food, too, we tell them, so there.
We tour the lake and explore a swamp at the far end. Back swimmers play water chess on the surface, gliding swiftly from side to side and we are mesmerized, yet again, by how they bend the water.
We return to the campsite and the boys get busy carving sticks for sausages and marshmallows. They chat about things that happen at school, they ask about the summer and whether we can camp every weekend this summer. Messy hair, muddy knees and shivery little bodies all happen at the same time.
We feed the fire to a nice roasty heat and the shivering stops. It’ll be a cool night but that’s when you have the best sleep. We camped in minus eight in the Kootenays in early spring and lived to tell the story.
Two of the sausages roll in the coals but the boys fish them out. Five second rule need not apply in the middle of nowhere, right? In fact, that’s one of the appeals of camping. Rules go mysteriously missing as soon as we squeeze in the car along with tent, sleeping bags, paddles, fishing rods and all the paraphernalia that even the most dedicated minimalists can’t avoid when camping.
Then we make s’mores. Stickiness spreads from cheeks to chins to fingers and tummies. Faces and coals are glowing the same and we’re but a droplet of orange warmth with voices pinching the thick darkness that has grown around us. It’s almost 10 and the wind picks up again. “Bedtime?”
Not yet. Scattered clouds reveals a starry smile and in that glitter we find the memory of another starry night a few months ago on a frozen lake, not far from this one. We feel rather smug about not being so new here, now that we carry around a handful of “remember when we went to…” slices of life in our heart pockets.
We get ready for the night and huddle together inside the wind-flapped tent like four chubby caterpillars. Coyotes howl long in the distance. The place it’s theirs, we know that. “Are there bears here too?” The boys ask, pretend to be all scared and then we proceed to tell stories about bear encounters.
Ten minutes later, after a few muffled giggles and yawns, sleep is spreading its soft wings all over our sticky faces.
In the morning the giggles resume and we take our sweet time in leaving our warm cocoons. The boys look for frogs and play a boy game that involves sticks and hiding.
In the meantime, behind an old stump I find a most astonishing thing: a fairy’s slipper. Singular and purple, it makes one grow quiet with awe. Gently so, its petals push up into the sky and we name it The Most Beautiful Flower We’ve Ever Seen.
Before we put the canoe on the car rack we go for a late morning paddle. The laughing bird takes its place in the middle of the lake and is laughing again. So long then, see you on another lake perhaps?
(Originally published as a column in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News on May 25, 2013)