The light of a waning blue moon filled the clear night sky Saturday. The air was crisp, bordering on chilly. Dusk came earlier than in mid-summer. It was a perfect night to introduce the kids to camping, and the first time I have slept outdoors in far too long.
We borrowed a nearly-new tent from friends, and I dug out my much smaller, 15-year-old backpacking tent from the days when I used to sleep outside on a somewhat regular basis. That little tent has sheltered me alone and with good friends, in deserts and forests, on bike trips and road trips and solo summer hikes where I laid awake listening to the eerily-close howl of coyotes. I’ve slept there during an April snowstorm near the Grand Canyon, at Mesa Verde and the Canyonlands, and near the Canyon DeChelly, part of the Navajo Nation.
Saturday, that tent became the “Mama and Papa Tent” in our backyard campground, as the kids claimed the newer, roomier dome as theirs. The children’s excitement was palpable, although whether for the campout or the accompanying s’mores I’m not sure.
Three small sleeping bags were tucked into the tent before lunchtime, with the added necessities of stuffed animals and blankies. After a busy afternoon away from home, the kids plowed through dinner, donned jammies, and bounced around until it was dark enough to light the fire and the tiki torches and get to business. We roasted marshmallows as an amber moon peeked over the mountains, then rose and brightened to white high above them.
Eventually, after several adjustments to the tent layout and items inside, the kids were all tucked in. From our tent 10 feet away, my husband and I listened to the chirping of crickets, the distant hum of the interstate passing through Franconia Notch, and three little voices discussing bears. (The bears have been active and regularly sighted around the yard lately, including a big one near the berry patch in the front field earlier that evening. The snapping of apple tree branches as a bear clumsily climbed for its breakfast 30 yards away from our tent would wake me early the next morning.)
We thought for sure the kids would want to retreat inside at some point that night. But after one last “I love you” across the small expanse between tents, they quieted, and they stayed quiet until morning.
As the morning sun worked through gathering clouds, the littlest kid launched into an impromptu song with no words, her tune joining the smattering of early birdsong and the distant cawing of crows. Soon her brother and sister were up, too, and as the happy chatter veered toward bickering, I headed to the kids’ tent to check on their night.
They all proudly declared that they hadn’t been scared at all to sleep in the wilds of the back yard, bears or no. As the first of that day’s many raindrops hit the tent fly, we headed in, refreshed from a night under the stars – and happy to have a dry place to cook and eat breakfast.
The kids were ready for backyard camping round two that night. Alas, the weekend had other plans for us. Sleeping bags were stuffed back into their sacks, stuffed animals placed back into their inside beds, and the tents dried out and put away. We vowed to go camping – in the backyard or further afield – more regularly. Maybe once or twice a year. Definitely more often than once in a blue moon.