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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Pitching the Tent

I know I tend to put a soft focus on my childhood memories, but that's really how the slide show plays in my mind. Not everything was picture-perfect, but the snapshots make me smile.

Camping was a family adventure—not because we were up close to the great outdoors but because we were up close with Mom and Dad, which always produced dramatic tension (the kind you might see in a film starring Lucile Ball and say... Harrison Ford).

The tent box (in the above post), for instance, epitomized Dad's mantra: “A place for everything and everything in its place.” He was always methodical—but never more than when he was pitching our tent. The steps were not routine; they were ritual— passed on from an ancient cult of cryptic campers.

The smell of the tent wafted from the open tent box like an incense offering to the pines, and Mom assumed her supportive priestess role. She knew not to laugh even if she stood tangled in rope, comically draped under canvas like a statue waiting to be unveiled. She understood that the tent-raising ritual was not to be mocked—lest the wrath of the gods be raised before the tent was.

We kids understood, too, but sometimes forgot the meaning of basic ritual commands like: “Hold this.” And sometimes... things fell down. On good days in the sun, the gods would laugh, but when the ceremony took place at night or in the rain, it was much more important to remember the meaning of ritual commands and for Mom to be as quiet as a statue.

After we finally had the visqueen down–tent up–awning pulled–ropes taut–and the last stake driven into the heart of the earth…the ritual was over, and the worrisome drums in our head quieted. Only then it seems would Dad smile again, and Mom could laugh and joke, and we kids could relax and watch the happier steps of “setting up camp.”

Dad always found clever solutions to whatever “problems” the wilderness threw our way. He was a backwoods engineer at heart. I’m not talking about Rube Goldberg appliances like those in Swiss Family Robinson. Dad kept things simple and his designs and systems maximized his minimalist bent.

Sometimes his creations were worthy of a patent, but more often they were announced with little fanfare:

“Okay, everyone, from now on this hook I just carved out of a branch and lashed to this pole with 'catgut' is where the fly swatter goes.” The next day, another invention would be revealed for hanging damp dishtowels or the Coleman lantern. There was always something to improve upon. Dad was about function; Mom was about feeling.

She added her touches to tenting by making us feel at home away from home. We kids would be inside the tent arranging our flat foam-rubber pillows and other gear, and Mom would duck into the tent with a broom and a giggle, "Isn't this homey?" It was. We all felt safe and sound—even when we camped up in "bear country."

At night, Dad would drive us to the trash dump near the campgrounds and shine the headlights on the black bears pilfering through the garbage for a midnight snack. They didn't seem to mind the limelight or the audience. When they had their fill of rubbish, they slipped back into the woods.

Back at our dark campsite, with nothing but a veil of green canvas between us and the bears outside, we'd say our "good nights," and Mom would add, "Isn't this cozy?" The six of us snuggled down in our flannel sleeping bags, Paul on one outside edge and Mom and Dad on the other like bookends.... I never felt more secure in my life.

I'm not sure which of our camping trips was the last one in that tent...probably Killbear Point at the Provincial Park on Parry Sound, up near Tobermory, Ontario.
There's great SCUBA diving up there in Georgian Bay, and that was a big part of our life for many years.

When I was much older, Dad finally caved to the echoes of our summer chants (and Mom's patient desire to sleep above the ground) and bought a used pop-up trailer. It was an old dull green-and-gray Apache—a steal at $400. Sure it was a fixer-upper, but that made it all the more fun for our backwoods engineer. That frumpy camper was the oldest thing on wheels wherever it popped up, a fact that made Mom sigh... Dad smile... and both laugh. Their ability to see the humor in their unshared perspectives brought a unique balance to our lives.

The trailer was rightly rolled off a few years ago, but the tent...ah, the tent...is still there in that magic box in the attic.


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