The Technology of Camping, part 1

I just voluntarily subjected my body to a week of exposure to the natural environment, specifically, the lovely but inhospitable north woods of Wisconsin. There were mosquitoes, mud, spiders, torturous outhouses and other indignities. Why would anyone happily habituated to civilized life do such a thing?

The act of camping means a human being has chosen to give up the privileges of “civilized” life  and headed back to the primordial swamp for a time, to exist as do primitive peoples. It means we choose to deny ourselves the sanitary conveniences our ancestors could only dream of. It is a sacrifice that removes us “out of our comfort zones” and into the un-meditated filthy zone of “natural” living.

Why the sacrifice? What does a camping trip bring us? I can identify at least two potential benefits:

  1. increased knowledge of basic life processes — both inner (one’s own body and mind, by oneself and in community) and outer (the way biological life goes on in its “wild” state)
  2. increased physical health — provided it takes place in a clean eco-system alongside vigorous activity and decent nutrition

As it turns out, I was motivated by some of the same reasons that approximately 66% of other modern Americans choose to go outdoors. According to National Survey on Recreation and the Environment, “more than 207.9 million people age 16 or older are involved in some form of outdoor recreation.”  The top five of that list goes:

  1. walking
  2. family gathering
  3. viewing natural scener
  4. visiting a nature center/zoo, and
  5. picnicking.

Camping is not in the top five, because camping is  an extreme outdoor recreation activity. For a predetermined period of time including sleeping hours, the camping trip alters human experience.
Of course, not all “camping” is the same. There are degrees of camping, just as there are degrees of masochism. How much un-mediated interaction does one really wish to have with the “wild”? Americans can choose. I recently spent time in an RV camp ground full of TVs, internet hookups, and AC. That is not the type of camping I chose. But our masochism only went so far. As you can see from the image, we were well-provisioned by our camp outfitter (B. Blaus) with good tents and propane stoves. We also each had a good supply of sun screen and bug repellent (how did mankind survive riverside woods in the days before Deet?). –sleeping on the ground and carrying our tents in canoes, we were rather “roughing it.”

I chose to remove myself from our life of instant satisfactions, where I could more or less control to a less controllable state of “natural” living, where how I felt would be influenced by a whole biosphere of new influences, and I was reminded that used to a relatively comfortable and sheltered life as I am, I lose sight of some important realities.
It  reminds civilzed me of certain existential truths, things one already knows, but can easily forget in suburbia.

  1. that a human in wilderness is at the mercy of some powerful forces–weather, rivers, bugs, one’s mental and physical health, etc. [One remembers that one’s machine is fundamentally networked, subject to environmental effects, and only operates accordingly]
  2. that a human in wilderness must secure basics (food, water, shelter, sanitation) to stay healthy [that one’s machine needs nourishment, both physical, and–next–emotional]
  3. that a human similarly needs community
    (with its story-telling and values sharing ) to stay healthy, and [no
    machine works well by itself–we are social animals], and
  4. that because of his urgent needs, a human in wilderness can only somewhat effectively act purposefully [that one’s machine, un-modified, is only somewhat reliable
In subsequent parts, I will describe in these categories the benefits of camping as a tool for the modern human.

One response to “The Technology of Camping, part 1”

  1. I might ask, “Is camping really a sacrifice?” In many ways, the experience is so fulfilling, even as life is boiled down to the very bare essentials. One must judge what’s important to take and what can be left behind. The rewards so outweigh the negatives: the sense of freedom, of survival (against nature, against silence, against ourselves), and a sense of the pure beauty of our earth. Spending a stretch of time without the trappings of our suburban, civilized world triggers a reset button.I have camped in a farmer’s field and been imprisoned by clouds of black flies. I’ve spent days in a pup tent, shrinking from the sides of the tent so it won’t leak. I’ve done primitive camping with the closest bathroom miles away. Walking through the woods after a chance encounter with a wild animal, following a day of exploring with personal reflection, catching a perfect walleye for dinner, starting a fire to cook and keep the darkness at bay, spending quality time with people loved and cared for; though it is messy and dirty and the first night back in your own soft bed is heaven, the camping experience rates in my book. While I may be a victim of nostalgia, in many ways, I am just not sure if it gets much better than this.


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