Saturday, May 31, 2008


When I was 6 or 7 my dad decided it was time to take me camping. We spent so much time in a small cabin on the Big River it didn’t occur to me my dad wasn’t really an outdoors man.

His plan was to camp alone with me and later take my brother. My brother is bitter to this day that he never got his trip.

I didn’t realize until I took my own kids camping that we went to Meramec State Park. We drove out in a little convertible Morris Minor. Someone had lent him the camp gear.

After he found a site he decided we could set up the tent later. We should go hiking. We used to do this a lot at the cabin. The first thing we did was fashion tree limbs into walking sticks. I remember walking around for hours on a small dirt path.

We came to a log in the road and my dad flipped it over with his stick. There was a very angry rattlesnake underneath.

We followed an even smaller path around a hill and discovered a cave hidden by trees. I thought this was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. Right out of Tom Sawyer. When we got to the bottom of the hill there was a larger cave and a tour was beginning. We followed the tour and saw an almost extinct species of bat. This section of the cave has since been blocked for their protection.

When we got back to our site my dad couldn’t figure out how to pitch our tent. He ended up stretching it from a car door to the ground. We had 2 single air mattresses that were inflated with built in foot pumps.

That night there was a torrential downpour of course. We awoke on rafts afloat in a small stream.

I don’t remember a camp fire or even that we ate anything while we were camping. I just remember he threw our gear into the car and said, “Come on, we’re going to grandma’s house.” She lived in St. Clair which, fortunately, was close by. We had breakfast as we dried. It’s hard for me to think of my dad running to his mom in times of trouble.

I resolved to take my kids camping individually in memory of my dad. Dylan was first. I randomly picked Meramec State Park and had chills when I recognized it all.

We immediately went hiking and found the same small cave I had discovered with my dad. Now it had a giant wooden staircase that led up from the bottom of the hill. They call it Indian Cave. The large cave at the bottom is Fischer Cave. I’ve taken the tour again with both kids. One of these tours was led by a woman named Jamaica. A unique enough name that I figured out she was my friend Sharon's daughter's best friend.

That first trip with Dylan we went canoing and turned the boat over in a rough spot. We float often but he doesn’t really like it unless we raft. I hate rafts.

There are caves along the river. We always bring flashlights so we can pull our boat over and explore. Once we were exploring the small cave I found with my dad. Chloe yelled, “Snake, snake.” I was sure it was just a rubber toy and told her to stop being so melodramatic.

Dylan yelled, “Cry baby,” and picked it up. It was a baby copperhead that was frozen and poised to strike. We all screamed and ran from the cave. Thank god it didn’t bite him.

Their favorite camping activity is reading comic books in a hammock. I can't think of anything I'd rather do.

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