GREAT MOMENTS IN DAD HISTORY PART 2
The first time I took my son camping, it was a Father’s Day weekend and we drove three hours to Devil’s Lake, Wisconsin. Located in the southwest corner of the state, the park offers family adventure. The small lake is about four miles around, with high bluffs on the east and west side that make for excellent hiking, as well as some good rock climbing. If you’re not hiking you can swim, rent canoes, goof around with your friends on the many open grassy areas, or enjoy a picnic.
My son couldn’t hold back his excitement and he talked continuously about what we would do when we arrived. Of course, the first thing we did was spend what he thought was an agonizing fifteen minutes setting up the tent, but then we were off. We loaded lunch and water into our backpacks and wandered through the trees to the hiking trail up the western bluff.
The western bluff rises up about 500 feet in elevation, making for a challenging climb if you’re a young kid. But my son handled it like a champ by badgering me into letting him ride on my shoulders. At the time, he was just young enough to get away with it. At the top we took goofy pictures of ourselves and regular pictures of the surrounding landscape. . Then we ate lunch in the sun on a rocky outcropping overlooking the lake. Afterwards, we wandered the bluff as my son explored every possible nook and cranny of the wooded hills. After spying anything interesting (like a really large slug) and asking what it was, he would follow-up by asking if it was all right to touch it. I remember being a kid, so most of the time I told him he could. But a few times I pointed out that he was just looking at bird poop. Later, we walked down to the lake for a swim, and then we ate ice cream in concession building. But then the rain started coming down.
I parked our cooler of food just outside the tent and we ate dinner inside. This seemed like a good idea at the time, but I forgot the one of the cardinal rules of camping: Raccoons WILL find your food.
Sometime around midnight I awoke to the booming sound of thunder. The rain poured down outside and splashed noisily against our tent, reminding me that a thunderstorm outside sounds completely different from one experienced indoors. But another sound caught my attention. It took me a moment to remember that I had left the cooler outside the tent and I thought something, or someone, was digging through it. I was just paranoid enough to think that it might be the famed Wisconsin Hodag that I didn’t open the tent flap to see what was going on. Finally, the noise stopped and I fell asleep to the soothing crashes of thunder.
In the morning, the cooler appeared undisturbed, which seemed odd. I opened it to find it almost empty. The only things left were the remains of some carrots. At least the raccoon was polite. He opened the cooler, took what he wanted, then closed it again. Nice guy. As an added gesture of kindness, he left a trail of garbage going into the woods that I felt compelled to clean up.
Later that year, at the start of school, the teacher for my son’s class asked the students to write a little story about what they did that summer. Of all the things, he chose to write about going camping with his dad and living through the raccoon incident, which he thought was hilarious, even though he wished the raccoon would have taken the vegetables. He even drew comical pictures of the thieving raccoon. I have to admit, that made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
I still have that story, complete with his original drawings.
The next year we returned to Devil’s Lake early in the season. The temperature was cooler and the park not so crowded. We spent most of the time at the little beach on north side of the lake, which was cold, but not too cold to swim … if you don’t mind risking hypothermia. In the evening, as the sun was going down, we had the beach to ourselves, except for one guy with a metal detector and a young girl who refused to get out of the water even though her parents were yelling at her that it was time to go.
In the waning light we built sand castles which resembled Mayan pyramids and then ruthlessly destroyed them in a Godzilla-like attack. Then we waded into the lake, just to see if the cold water would numb our legs. As we stood there, looking out over the dark, glassy water, my son started sniffling. I looked down and could see him trying to hold back tears.
“Hey, man, what’s wrong?” I asked.
“We’re never going to do this again,” he said.
I don’t know what gave him that idea. I reassured him that we would indeed do this again.
“But it won’t be the same,” he said. “It won’t be just like this.”
He was right, of course. The world is always changing and we’re always aging and no two experiences are ever exactly alike. But if they were always the same, how often would we do them? And how much meaning would we attach to them?
So I gave my kiddo a big hug and told him that all the new adventures we would have are just as important as the old ones. He seemed satisfied with that, but it was hard to tell.
I can’t describe the emotion of the moment, though, as I realized just how much this father-and-son moment meant to him.
And how it suddenly meant just as much to me.
Tomorrow, The Long Father’s Day explores the world of grandfathers!