|Baby J camping at Bluerock Alberta|
|Toddler J camping at Fernie British Columbia also one of my all-time favorite photos of J|
|At Fernie British Columbia, Canada|
But darn it, that boy just kept asking. And darn it, opportunity just kept presenting itself. An off-the-cuff pre-Christmas comment to friends about camping the final weekend of the summer holiday in late January bore fruit. The plans were made, five families were committed, including our reluctant selves, and off to Lake Eildon in the Victorian Yarra Valley we went for two nights and three days.
Our kids (and Murphy) spent three days unplugged, outside, engaged, curious as hell, and forged a little band of explorers. They rode a mountain board tearing downhill through our campsite, they trudged through a crystal clear stream looking for snakes and bolting out of it when they found one. They jumped off piers into the lake, they expeditioned through the forest looking for Koalas and Wombats, and J positively vibrated with joy during our cozy nightime bedtime stories. There was a total fireban so it was early nights and early mornings.
|A rare moment of collective quiet|
We adults enjoyed birdsong, being woken by Kookaburra laughter, breathing fresh air, cool nights and hot days, quality time with each other, coffee in the morning air, cold beers at the end of hot days, and the joy of bearing witness to our children's nonstop outdoor energy. We had a French chef in our group and a kitchen tent to admire him under.
We had such a good time that we did it all over again two weekends later. This time, we went to Balnarring on the Mornington Peninsula, a short hour's drive from Melbourne. If it was at all possible, we had an even BETTER time. Well, other than C2 being bitten by a shark but I'll get to that. This time, we camped beside the ocean with a beautiful beach, a playground, an ice-cream shop, toilets, sinks AND showers. After Lake Eildon, this was very upscale.
Again, the temperature was in the mid-30s, the sun was intense and we spent hours at the beach. The kids spent ages at the playground away from us learning to be independent and responsible. They explored tide pools looking for starfish, swam in the clear water, dug giant holes at the water's edge, and inhaled those two wonders of natural elixirs: sun and salt water.
OK, so the shark story. C2, myself, a friend Nick, J, and a couple of his mates were about 100m out in the ocean, thigh deep. It was low tide and we were swimming in an area between large patches of reef and seaweed. As we began to make our way back, all of a sudden C2 yelled loudly (really screamed not unlike a baby) and began hopping about on one foot. A quick inspection revealed that he had likely stepped on the spiny dorsal fin of some low-tide bottom dweller, and had a very painful puncture wound.
We slowly made our way back to shore supporting a grimacing C2 when all of a sudden he yelled loudly (again that baby sound) and grabbed his other foot which was bleeding rather badly. I looked around frantically expecting to see the fin of at least a Great White as I am prone to worst case scenarios but saw nothing. I escorted a pale C2 to the Yacht Club where the consensus was that a Banjo Shark had taken a hunk out of C2's second foot. A quick call to the poison control center confirmed that there was nothing in these waters which could have lethally poisoned C2 with the initial puncture but I quizzed him regularly "how do you feel", "do you feel faint", "is it getting better", "are you dying". All in all, the rest of us concluded it was good of him to take "one for the team" instead of a child getting bitten, and it did make for an awesome story. I quietly bought J water shoes this week, however.
So surprise, surprise, we remembered how much we enjoy camping, especially with friends. We were reminded of the amazing quality of life spent outdoors, especially in this Australian climate. And isn't this the good stuff of childhood memories? Exploring, sleeping in sleeping bags, eating outdoors, rediscovering the joy of nonstop play, following each other down new trails, the smell of sunscreen, and running in packs on the beach at sunset.