When our children were much younger, my family would camp a dozen times each summer (I think we were within six of going to all of Missouri’s State Parks at one time). These were not primitive trips, but we didn’t have a satellite dish, a TV, or phone either. Great family times with lots of memories that we still talk about now that they are grown. There were also times I wanted a more primitive trip, so I would grab my backpack and take off to one of the many state forest and conservation areas. No electric, no worries, everything I needed in one overloaded pack.
It had been a few years since we “roughed it,” so my wife and I recently decided to go camping at the Thomson Causeway Recreation Area in Illinois along the Mississippi River. It wasn’t really roughing it for us, but compared to some of the six figure motor-home spas we were surrounded by, it was pretty rough. We fried fish, rode our bikes, watched the Mama and Papa geese with their new goslings and just generally had a pretty good time. My only compliant of the trip was the tiny little flying bugs that were all over us.
I will refer to these as “no-see-ums”, because the other name I have for them isn’t family friendly. Now mind you, I grew up in Missouri with ticks, chiggars, and mosquitoes and despite my hatred of those blood sucking insects, I would take a dozen bites from any one of them to avoid these little bugs. Don’t get me wrong these “no-see-ums” don’t bite, the just fly around in little clouds and then land all over your face, up your nose, and in your mouth and ears. It’s like being beat to death with a feather. I doesn’t really hurt, but after a while you are just thinking, “I wish they would just hurry up and finish me off.”
By the way, nothing phases these demonic gnats. I swear I saw a few of them licking the citronella candle on the picnic table like it was an ice cream cone. Even bug spray doesn’t work on these minions from hell. I know this because I used so much Deepwoods OFF Bug Spray, that I had chemical burns on my eyebrows. And when that didn’t work, I sat directly in the smoke of the campfire trying to dissuade the “no-see-ums.” Eventually, I needed oxygen and retreated in defeat to the comfort of my screened tent.
Turning in early, I had time to reflect on a few things. This trip highlighted for me just how lucky I have been to enjoy so many of Missouri’s State Park’s and Conservation Areas. In 1984, Missouri voters passed a one-tenth-of-one-percent sales tax that funded state parks, and water and soil conservation. The tax has been renewed five times now, I believe because Missouri voters know the value of our outdoors and have been able to see how well our taxes have been utilized. Illinois State Parks are nice, but the recent budget problems of the state have left many projects unfinished and lack of maintenance is starting to take its toll. Our recent travels have also taken us to Iowa Parks. The Iowa system seems to be handled completely different, and at the county level. If the park is in a county with good tax revenue from a large population, the parks are pretty good, but parks in other counties are hit and miss for amenities and staffing.
While I laid there watching the “no-see-ums” cluster on the outside of my tent, I also wondered, “Why do we go camping?” Our ancestors worked hard so that living in a tent is no longer necessary. So why do we do it? What makes us give up the comforts of our own home and venture into the woods? For me it is not just the weekend away or the fresh air or even the scenery. I believe that deep down I have a little piece of my DNA that wants to remember being self-reliant. Today’s world has everything at your fingertips. I think I am drawn to camping to remember what it is like to be uncomfortable, to remember how to “make do”, to be forced to think and plan ahead. Somewhere in my soul, I still need to know that I am not completely dependent on the luxuries of this world…except mosquito netting, that is not a luxury in Illinois.
by M. R. Cantrell
The mist holds tightly to the Mississippi this morning.
Like a blanket pulled up around its chin.
An eagle sits on a muskrat mound.
Sternly, silently, watching.
Fish chase each other into the shallows.
A mother hurries her goslings away from the ruckus.
A pelican skims close to the water as it flies.
His wingtips leaving a line of circles along the way.
The Mississippi is now awake.