Memorial Day front and center, tents will be loaded on car racks or in pick up beds, Coleman stoves pulled out of the garage and campers heading for a weekend in the great outdoors. Been there myself many times. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly I spent a year on the road in my misspent youth, traveling the highways and bi-ways of the U.S. and Canada. Free spirits with two small children, my first husband and I camped out sans tent in our sleeping bags three days out of five so I feel I can speak with some knowledge to the joys of sleeping under the stars as well as the disadvantages.
I wouldn’t change much about that year. Communing with nature was glorious, and certainly an adventure. These days my bones would object heartily to piling up on the hard ground. Back then it was all about the experience and living life to the fullest, something I’ve tried to do along the way.
Camping as a vacation choice started in my teens. Yosemite was my first actual camping experience other than a weekend at a Girl Scout jamboree when I was ten. Yosemite, at the time, was less traveled affording ample breathing space in the campgrounds to really enjoy all the beautiful scenery the park has to offer. At the beginning of the trip it was my stepfather, stepbrother and myself, with my mother joining us on the weekend. Mother is not a camper, rather describing herself as a “hot house flower”. Incapable of tanning, if exposed to the sun her pale English skin crimsons up like a lobster tail tossed in a pot of boiling water. A camper was rented for the two weeks for comfort and shade for my parents, and two cots for my stepbrother and my use were set up outside.
Bears wander freely about the park. It is after all, their home not ours, leaving us to be the interlopers in the end not the bears themselves. They follow the smell of food many campers leave readily available. Why not? It’s certainly easier than chasing down prey themselves or getting a slippery salmon to cooperate. I can understand the attraction. Nothing smells more intoxicating on a crisp morning in the woods than curling strips of bacon sizzling and popping in a cast iron skillet. Toss a few eggs in the pan, baste them with the hot grease and breakfast, along with campfire toast and a cup of strong coffee, never tasted as good.
The water in Yosemite most of the year is like diving into a refreshing glass of ice water. Quickly your limbs numb to the sensation and once your lips turn the color of the churning river it’s time to take a break. Often during that trip I ate my meals standing in the water. Not because I liked the sensation of freezing water against skin rather I did not like the wasps and hornets attracted to the goodies on my plate. It took us a few trips to find sprays and deterrents to help make this situation better. As I would vote to eliminate wasps and hornets from the insect population leaving the more docile bees to guard the nests, this would be the down side of eating el fresco for me. During that visit I was stung once in my ring finger. It swelled up like a knackwurst and split like I had left it in the pan too long. For as many times as they’ve nailed me it’s fortunate I’m not allergic to the little buggers or I might not be writing this story.
In my twenties I camped along Lake Mojave in Nevada. It you get the opportunity, don’t pass it up. Glassy a.m. waters and craggy colorful rock formations serve to make the area ideal for exploring. Mother Nature spent a little extra time on the landscape adding plentiful wildlife to keep your attention. High on the cliffs you might see huge owls perched on a ledge enjoying an afternoon siesta. Mountain goats climb nimbly up the sides of sheer edifices, and brightly colored birds call from tree branches. At night wild burros hee and haw along the perimeter of campsites, pawing and snorting at the moon. A labyrinth of private coves and inlets offer the perfect location for a boating picnic or private afternoon swim. If you don’t like the heat, stay out of the kitchen (if you will) because afternoons during the summer there will cook your dinner before you build a fire. During the heat of the day we dragged lawn chairs into the water and cracked open something cold and refreshing, settling in until the sun began it’s descent later in the day.
There is a feeling of peace commingled with vulnerability in communing with nature on such a basic level. With no walls around us we share the animal kingdom on equal footing with, well, the rest of the animals. No matter where I camped I learned early on to watch my feet, wear comfortable hiking boots, and check my sleeping bag before crawling in. Not a fan of slithering reptiles nor stinging insects, in order to cohabit you have to keep your eyes open and the bug spray handy.
Once while camping with my ex-husband and another couple in Arkansas a wild boar, or razorback, wandered into the campsite. Being vegetarian the big pig (I wouldn’t have called him that to his face) probably wasn’t attracted by the delicious smell of freshly caught catfish cooking over the fire. Curiosity most likely brought him in and he didn’t look happy to see us. Certainly we shared the feeling. Males of the species can weigh upwards of 300 pounds and if aggravated can be very aggressive. Not a particularly attractive animal on the best of days, snorting and digging at the ground this guy also appeared a bit grumpy. None of us willing to volunteer to get to know him better, we decided in unison to pile in the truck and wait to see what he had in mind. After foraging through our bags, poking at our gear, and cleaning our breakfast plates, he left a deposit by way of a message on one of our sleeping bags. Scraping both back hooves in the dirt before leaving, he turned and waddled back into the woods. A most distasteful smell lingered in his wake for some time. Looking back I believe we slept with one eye open that night.
These potatoes would make me happy with nothing else on the plate. They’re especially good with prime rib or grilled meat.
1/3 cup butter, divided
4 cups chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
2 1/2 lbs. peeled and cubed russet potatoes
1/2-3/4 cup 2% milk
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. prepared horseradish
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper
Melt butter in large skillet over med-high heat. Add onions and garlic. Cook for 5 mins. Add brown sugar. Continue cooking for about 10 mins. until onions are caramelized. Remove from heat and add white balsamic vinegar. Set aside.
Place cubed potatoes in large pot and cover with water. Bring to boil over high heat. Cook for 20 mins. or until fork tender. Drain well.
In small bowl whisk together mustard, horseradish, lemon juice, mayonnaise, and salt. Set aside.
In large bowl hand mash potatoes with remaining butter. Add 1/2 cup milk and sour cream and beat with electric mixer until smooth. Add onions and mix in mustard mixture combining thoroughly. Adjust seasoning if necessary. If too thick add additional 1/4 cup milk. Place in microwave on high for 3 mins.