To commune with nature.

At Girl Scout camp, circa age 7.

This morning is one of those mornings where the air, though thick with humidity, is just cool enough to reignite the memory of waking up at summer camp in a old, rusty cabin or a tent in the forest. As a kid, whether it was through Girl Scouts or my own volition, I was away at camp at least once a year. When I wasn't at camp, I was tucked away reading books or playing games in an ugly brown tent my parents bought me on a whim. I'd put it in our backyard or take it with me to Pop Pop and Nanny's, where I'd park it under a big tree and stow away for hours. I love camping and being outside in the wee hours of the morning more than most folks would expect from me. There's a quality to it, a freshness and an undeniable exuberance I collect from the experience.

Even as an adult, I've been camping now and then. I spent one summer as a camp counselor at a local regional park. More of my time was dedicated to outdoor pursuits that summer than any summer since. I still marvel at the ability of people to take weeks or months off from life to hike, camp and commune with nature. Growing up in suburbia, close enough to the wilderness but far enough away from it to feel like I didn't have time to mingle with it, taught me few survival instincts. But I can manage quite well at a well-planned camp; I can even make my own fire. The closest I've come to camping in recent years was a weekend at the HighAcre house in Harper's Ferry, WV. Though not camping, it is managed by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club and the proceeds go the upkeep of the house and trail management.

I miss the smells of camping. I miss waking up in a sleeping bag that smells like the campfire you sat in front of for hours the night before. I miss tethering a hammock between two trees and hearing nothing but the unaffected sounds of nature all around you as you swing gently back and forth. I miss the smell of an almost dewy morning, where most of the forest sleeps except the squawking birds. I miss not being afraid of bugs and plants, knowing where to step and where to avoid. I miss sitting on rocks next to creeks and absorbing the intoxicating sound of water trickling. And I miss knowing how to interact with the world around me without the help of electricity, without the entertainment of magazines and television, without the insistence that talking fill up empty spaces of necessary silence.

Even more now, I am reminded that the people who cling to nature are not hippies or environmentalists exclusively. They are wise and careful explorers, escapists of the most enviable variety. They have found that which is the most magical, the most real, the most soul-settling and they've committed themselves to enjoying and preserving it. I feel like an old man when I say this, but I wish that kids these days knew what that felt like.

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All content © Meaghan O'Malley, 2009-2012. Header image by Rebekka Seale.