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The Family Room by Michelle Martin

July 5, 2009

Back to nature

Ah, nature.

Who wouldn’t want to spend a little time communing with the great outdoors, wondering at the splendors of creation, perhaps composing a line or two of poetry (“I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree,” and so on)?

That’s the fantasy.

But a recent weekend camping trip with 14 Girl Scouts, ranging in age from 9-11 years old, was not exactly an exercise in tranquility.

It started with a deluge, with storms raking Chicago and making uncertain whether we could travel to the Wisconsin campground where we were staying. But an hours-long break in the weather allowed us to leave town and make it to the site, where we just had time to get the girls’ gear stowed in their tents before the heavens opened again.

Then the rain poured as we set up the kitchen area … and poured as we cooked dinner … and poured as we ate … and poured as we cleaned up, told the girls to brush their teeth and spend the evening either in their tents or in the kitchen shelter.

Most opted for the tents, round structures with wooden floors and plasticized canvas walls and roofs that kept the rain out, but made it sound even heavier than it was. Unfortunately, given the weather, lots of six- and eight-legged fellow creatures also decided to seek shelter, and our girls weren’t all too happy about sharing — especially the bathrooms.

Some weren’t very happy about the rain and thunder and lightning, even though it came without high winds or hail, thank God. Others were not used to being away from mom and dad and needed extra reassurance. Still others were real troopers, settling down and going to sleep (except when they were telling us that someone else was having a problem). But we all survived the night with few actual scars to show for it. Just some dark circles under the leaders’ eyes.

The next day dawned clear, with a hot sun making the wet ground steam. A quick hike round the camp showed the girls where most everything was, before starting a round of painting ceramics, shopping at the “trading post,” archery, swimming and canoeing.

By the time the day ended with s’mores round the campfire as the sun set (around 9 p.m., it being near midsummer), the girls (and leaders) were tired and ready for bed. Unfortunately for one tent, so were several spiders.

The next morning, we got up, made and ate breakfast, made lunch for the road, and cleaned up the campsite for check-out, doing our best to leave it better than we found it.

While the weekend was busy, and packed with new experiences for the girls, it did have one form of tranquility in our modern world: no iPods, no video games, no TV and limited cell phone use.

That in itself made it worth it. Ah, nature, indeed.

Martin is assistant editor of the Catholic New World. Contact her at [email protected].