Column: Family camping can take you far and wide … and bring you closer

by Bob Waite

There is nothing like the inside of a tent to bring a family closer together.

I was mindful of this last week when our son and daughter — their respective partners absent due to work commitments — were snug in their canvas bunks.

This particular tent was one my spouse and I had shared with our son, now 31, and our daughter, approaching 30, for a week each year for more than two decades. 

The advent of girlfriends and boyfriends had them moving out to other, nearby tents, but now here they were (along with a newcomer, our lab Kumi, snoozing where her predecessor, Tashi, once lain).

My own family camping days stretched back to the 50s and 60s, when my parents pitched a tent at Cedar Point near Steep Hill Beach or at Sandy Point on the tip of Plum Island (the latter now off-limits).

With our own kids, camping was a way to take trips to places like Japan, New Zealand, Hawai’i, and Costa Rica without breaking the bank. In Hawai’i, for example, we could bed down in a state campground for as little as $15 a night … and be steps from a magnificent beach.

In Japan, on the northernmost island of Hokkaido, we once camped next to an elderly Japanese couple. We spoke little Japanese and they little English, but they nevertheless invited our children over to sample dishes they were preparing. 

The man managed to convey to us that he had served in the Imperial Japanese Army and had been imprisoned in Manchuria for five years before being released. Life after that, he indicated, was a joy to savor.

When the weather turned colder, the elderly couple drove home and back — four hours, round trip — returning with blankets and toys for our children.

Another memory from that trip was my reading chapters of Stephen King’s The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon to the kids each night before they fell to sleep. Funny thing — they never strayed far from the tent at night.

In New Zealand, we camped at Abel Tasman National Park as part of a breathtaking two-day kayaking trip. 

Not every camping experience was without incident, of course. In Costa Rica, we went to Santa Rosa National Park, reaching the Pacific coast location after a harrowing 12-mile drive down a deeply rutted road in our SUV. 

The park, an “arid jungle,” had no drinkable water. We thus had brought in several large, sealed bottles. The park turned out to be extremely hot — in the 90s — with no breeze. We bedded down for the night. Sometime after midnight, my son and I awoke to the sound of two white-nosed coatis — think of a racoon’s eviler and more dexterous cousin — gleefully twisting the caps off of our water bottles and tipping them over. We beat an inglorious retreat to a hotel. And laughed.

All of these experiences were magical. They created that most elusive of modern-day commodities: “quality time.”

You do not have to travel to exotic locales for these experiences. This past week, we were in the hills of Richmond, N.H., less than 100 miles from Ipswich.

And I did not have to read from a Stephen King novel to keep everyone happily ensconced in our canvas cocoon. 

Bob Waite’s new book, Ipswich On My Mind, is available locally at Betsy Frost Design, Market Street, and Zenobia on Essex Road. It can also be ordered as a paperback or Kindle through Amazon. Meanwhile, you can read more of his columns here.



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