Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Having finished the aforementioned fellowship application, written a trash packet, made a round trip to Ann Arbor to play in a tournament, packed up and driven to a park in northern Indiana for two nights of camping with Rick's sister and her kids, and driven back, all in the last five days, it was very nice to finally get some sleep last night. I seem to be getting worse and worse at sleeping in tents, which is a damned shame because I really do like the outdoors, and I hate to think that we're at the point of retiring from tents and into a pop-up camper so soon.

My nephew (14) and niece (9) are at extremely portable ages now; neither too young to tolerate an afternoon of a single activity nor too old to want to be with the family. Of course, I'm not sure that Rick and I necessarily qualify as adult supervision. But we did have a lot of fun swimming with the kids (which meant Rick's sister could get some rare peace and quiet while reading on the beach). I also spent more uninterrupted time with my sister-in-law than I ever have before. She and I have very different lives, but I'm astounded at how much we have in common. I'm also pleasantly surprised at how much the kids enjoy nature. My nephew, though he prefers Nintendo, has racked up some outdoor experience with Boy Scouting; my niece has overcome her fear of big bugs (though not of snakes) and even enjoyed watching Uncle Rick photograph a huge mama wolf spider guarding an egg mass the size of a gumball. I wish we'd made a trip like this one years ago.

Hate to close with a downer, but near the end of our stay we witnessed one of the most appalling sights I've ever encountered at a campground. The folks across the road from us set up their pop-up and a bunch of lawn chairs, built a campfire in the fire ring -- and then one of their number came out of the pop-up with what must have been a full can of bug spray and completely doused all the grass and exposed dirt with it. I mean, this wasn't just a perimeter spray. She went over and over and over the whole campsite for several minutes, including around the open flame and the picnic table (already covered with the tablecloth they were presumably going to place their food on), and then announced loudly, "Well, that's the end of this can." Four or five children then poured out of the pop-up and started romping in the same freshly sprayed grass.

All of this happened at dinnertime, when it was beginning to get cool enough to cover up with jeans and maybe even a sweatshirt. That and a minimal amount of low-DEET insect repellent would vastly reduce the family's mosquito-bite tally. I doubt the spray did much to prevent mosquitoes from flying in -- and of course it would do nothing for you when you walked to the restrooms or into the woods. (But I'm sure they wouldn't bother going into the woods. My niece says she saw a TV on the picnic table too.) Instead, these folks gassed everything on the ground and several meters above it -- harmless ants, tiny spiders, caterpillars, and small vertebrates -- and turned their entire campsite into a toxic waste dump. Then, for good measure, they immediately sent their kids out to play in it. I swear I could hear the birds wheezing.

I can understand wanting to camp somewhere with running water and flush toilets. (I prefer this kind of ambience myself.) I can understand being more comfortable in a pop-up than in a tent, and wanting to be near an electrical outlet for a few added amenities. But I can't understand people who deliberately take a vacation that's more or less outdoors but insist upon mass-poisoning the wildlife to make sure that nobody's larva upsets their delicate sensibilities by wriggling across the picnic table. (Sheesh, if you're that scared of West Nile, spend your vacation at the mall. Or at least take some precautions that are more effective against mosquitoes than a generic scorched-earth approach.)

I hope no one has previously done this to the campsite that we all ate and slept in for a couple of nights. I really don't appreciate absorbing the chemical fallout of other people's phobias. And I'd like to be able to tell my niece and nephew, with confidence, that playing outside is healthful as well as interesting.


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