It’s hard to think about camping in the heat of the summer. Actually thinking about it is really all we can do in the middle of the Florida June scorch. There was a day, when I would happily go into the woods and sweat it out any time of year just to be following the passion to camp. But time passes and so does the enthusiasm for sweaty nights in a hot tent. These day, I’ve traded in the tent for a big girl camper. I’ve become a traitor to the primitive camping lifestyle that I used to cherish not so long ago. Go ahead and throw tomatoes if you want. I don’t care. I even have a Margarita machine aboard, so I really care very little about anything those camping purist have to say now. I have abandoned my people for AC, a real toilet and a bed.
What I have not lost though is the hunger for new camping gear. I adore the anticipation of using a new gadget or tool. The L.L. Bean fall catalog arrives and I pour over it. I subject my dear friend Judi to stopping at the Bass Pro Outlet so I can ohh and ahh over the latest and greatest gadget. Because I am an undeniable gear head, some interesting new piece of equipment is usually added each season. This year’s new addition will be collapsible silicone dog bowls with suction cups to keep them from spilling. I am on the hunt for them. But the very best gear year was a few seasons ago when I found a heart-stopping new toy in an unlikely place. Here’s how that memorable day went:
My friend Penny and I were scouting out the local Goodwill store and I spied the beast on an end aisle. Be still my heart. It’s a screen room that is brand new, never been used, still in the box and a beautiful shade of blue. The box says 6 x 6 and roomy enough for four people. The description brags, “Just pops up right into place.” It is described as, “easy to fold and comes with its own compact carrying bag.” My eyes glazed over like most women do when they find that perfect pair of shoes. I was in shopping heaven. I couldn’t get to the cash register fast enough. Penny and I raced home with the anticipation of trying out how it “pops up right into place”. I simply couldn’t wait to see it spring to life in all of its big blue glory.
Saturday was a sweltering day, so Penny and I decided to take Big Blue into the living room where we could check it out in air conditioned comfort. We broke into the box and pulled out a tightly wound, spring loaded circle in a carrying bag. It was folded up exactly like the silver reflective sunblock screen that fits in your car’s windshield. The principle of the spring was the same. Easy, neat and compact. Penny prepared to read the directions while I just dove in with my usual reckless disregard for unnecessary instructions. After all, the box says, “Just pops up right into place.” And guess what………that is just what it does.
Who knew it was 6 x 6 and SIX FEET TALL TOO. In a millisecond it burst the confines of the tight fold that kept it in the bag, vaulted to full size in my living room and took a beating from the ceiling fan. While Penny dissolved laughing on the coach, I dragged poor Big Blue away from the pummeling it was getting from the fan. Well, that was a good start. In typical fashion, I had moved right on past the fact that the box clearly said, “CAUTION, do not open in a closed area.”, to get to the fun part.
Now, with the over sized monster open in all it’s glory, we began decorating. We imagined where we would place the camp chair, how well the small table would fit and exactly where the cooler with the Coronas would go. We imagined how well those pesky mosquitoes would be kept in their proper place. When those important details and others were decided upon, we realized it was now time to face another challenge. Now we must put Big Blue back in the little bag. Remember how hard it is to fold up that windshield screen the first time? Make it a screen house and you can imagine what the next half hour was like.
This time I did my research first and read the directions. Penny offered to help, but I declined. I reminded her that I must be able to manage this problem because I camp alone (this was pre-Arnie). I must master this task. The directions are clear: Walk one corner into the opposite corner, fold it like a book, flip it upside down, bring the bottom edge down to meet the top edge, stand on the rim with both feet to stabilize it and lower it in an arc down to thigh level. Next, cross your wrists and push the corner into the center and it will collapse easily onto itself. Well, trust me, it is not that simple.
What happened next was the equivalent of an audition for a contortionist in the circus. I teetered and balanced, wrestled with it, laid on it, swore at it and it still sprang back up “right in place”. Every time I got it nearly compact enough to stuff neatly into the bag, it erupted to life again with a vengeance. With maniacal intent, Big Blue aimed for me. It meant to harm me. It meant to humiliate me. It had an evil life force and was apparently possessed. I was taking this beating personally.
After a humbling period of struggle, I did eventually manage to wrestle Big Blue into submission. I think I even learned a few valuable lessons from it. The lessons were about the importance of doing prudent research before taking impulsive action, accepting help from others and slowing down to think through problems rather than just muscling through them. And finally, I was reminded that most situations in which you feel under attack are not at all about you. Usually it is about the other person (in this case, a spring loaded screen house) trying to gain their own position.
I went on to camp harmoniously with Big Blue for many seasons and finally mastered the technique of coxing it in and out of its bag without incurring a black eye each time. This year, when I went to check the camping gear for wear and tear, I found that it’s life span had reached its limit. The heat and sun had rotted seams and it was no longer usable. I felt a certain sadness saying good bye to my old foe. But the good news is………I am now able to go out hunting for a new screen house. Penny, get ready! I’ll need your help!