Back to Basics MAG

By Elizabeth H., Wellesley, MA

     As we drove deeper into the middle of nowhere, Susie stared out the window with her headphones on, my mom talked on the phone with her new boyfriend, and I searched the radio for a signal. It had been years since we had gone camping, but as we approached the Maine wilderness, the lingering smell of campfires and the nip of the cool morning air that pulls you out of the tent came back to me.

As a child, camping was an enormous adventure without parallel. I longed for the hours spent fishing and swimming in the lake, riding bikes to the camp store for penny candy, and telling ghost stories around the fire. Camping let me escape and experience a freedom I never had at home. It fulfilled my childhood dream of running away into the forest without any consequences. But as Susie and I got older and began high school, camping became just that, a childhood memory, a lost cause.

“So, do you want to go camping this year?” my mom had asked two weeks before.

“No,” my sister moaned. “We go every year and it sucks!”

“We haven’t been in like two years, idiot,” I said. “Let’s go.”

“No!” Susie yelled. “I hate camping!”

“You’re a brat,” I said, as she stomped out of the house. For some reason I knew this year we would not be singing along to Shania Twain on the way there, like in the past.

We decided to go for only three days since Susie couldn’t stand being away from her friends any longer, and my mom was eager to get back to her latest hot date. Even I did not want to be stuck in a tent with my family for more than a long weekend, despite my nostalgia for the long-lost camping days. I saw the trip as a break from the exhausting nights and dull days in my small suburban town. I welcomed the memories of a simpler life when happiness was easier to find.

When we finally arrived at the small campground, Susie put on a happy face and my mom tried to relax, despite her long list of things to do. We bought maple sugar candy and put up the tent without any complaints. The weekend crawled by as we went through the motions of camping: making pancakes for breakfast, going down to the river (even though it was too cold to swim), and biking. We built huge campfires at dusk and roasted marshmallows, but there were no ghost stories. Susie listened to her iPod and my mom read a book as I peeled the bark off a stick with my Swiss Army knife.

As the third day approached, we were all satisfied with our “camping experience,” and felt a bit of pride at making it through the weekend, even if it only was “making it through.” We had just one day left.

The sunlight faded as I struggled to start the last campfire. When I finally got it going, I pulled up three chairs and the bag of marshmallows, eager to make this final night count, but my sister was lost in sleep and my mom joined me for just half an hour. I sat by myself, poking at the dying flames and felt something that I had never experienced before: excitement to return home. I wanted a hot shower and a warm bed. I wanted to watch a movie and order pizza. And as I reluctantly crawled into the tent, I started to wonder what I had thought had been so amazing about camping. I looked at my mom and sister, fast asleep, and questioned whether we would ever be as close as we were back in the camping days of the past.

A few hours later my mom pushed my shoulder, pulling me out of sleep. “Get up!” she said in a frantic whisper. She sat up straight, eyes wide open, looking around in the darkness.

“What’s going on?” I asked, realizing it was the middle of the night.

“There’s something outside!”

“No, there’s not, Mom. Go back to sleep.” I lay down and closed my eyes. Then I heard a loud thud, and I shot up.

“What are you doing?” Susie moaned as my mom unzipped the tent.

“Turn on the flashlight,” I said.

Mom whispered, “No, then it will see us!”

“We have to look!” I searched for a flashlight as my heartbeat quickened.

“There’s something outside the tent!” my mom yelled as she looked out the screen. She let out a little yelp and then covered her mouth. I laughed at her terror and shined the light.

“You’re right!” The beam flashed in the eyes of a black bear as he looked up from our tub of food.

“You left the food out!” my mom scolded.

“Me? You were supposed to put it up!”

Susie crawled out of her sleeping bag. “That’s a bear? Mom!”

“Be quiet!” My mom stuck her head out of the tent.

“Stop, Mom!” I yelped, actually fearful that it might eat her.

“Shoo! Go away!” she yelled.

“It’s not gonna listen!”

“Okay,” she said, “we have to run.”

“What? We aren’t going out there!”

“We have to!” my mom said. Then in a moment of realization, she yelled, “It’s probably attracted to Susie’s lotion! It smells like melon! It might go after Susie!”

“Don’t worry, I have my pocketknife!” I said.

“Now, listen,” my mom crouched beside us. “We have to make a run for it to the car. I’ll go first.”

“No, I’m going with you!”

“I don’t want to go alone!”

“Okay, we’ll all go together.” She unzipped the tent in time to see the bear slowly walk into the little strip of woods behind our campsite.


“Wait for me!” Susie said, I dragged her out of the tent before she could get her shoes on.

We ran across the site to the car and jumped in, locking the doors. Out of breath, I held my open pocketknife, trembling.

“We made it!” Mom whispered. She turned on the headlights and looked for the bear.

“Can it get us in the car?” Susie asked.

I still held my pocketknife in front of me and searched the trees. Then I looked at the clock, 2 a.m. My heart was racing. I turned to Mom and smiled. “We just saw a bear.” I started to laugh and my mom joined in.

“What are you guys laughing about?” Susie asked from the backseat.

We kept laughing. “And you tried to scare it off by saying ‘Shoo,’” I howled.

My mom laughed, “Well, you didn’t even believe me!”

“At least I didn’t think it was gonna eat Susie because she smelled like melon!”

We sat in the car, wide awake, our hearts continuing to race. My mom recalled the camp office had emphasized the importance of locking food in the car at night. I told her she was dumb and she laughed. My sister trembled and we snickered at her, even though we were still too scared to sleep. I started to tell a ghost story, but Mom yelled at me when Susie began to cry, and we kept laughing. We made fun of our reactions to the bear and our genuine fear of getting eaten.

Energized by our adrenaline and just happy to be in each others’ company, we stayed up the rest of the night and talked, and, for the first time, I felt the relaxation that camping used to give me, the pure happiness that clearedmy mind. I watched my mom drift to sleep and looked at my pocketknife, remembering my readiness to attack the bear. I closed my eyes and wished the night would never end.

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i love this so much!


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