Text and photo by Virginia Parker Staat
“Reality simply consists of different points of view.”
~ Margaret Atwood
It seemed like a good idea at the time. It’s wildflower season here in Texas, and each spring David and I take a trip to the Hill Country to find and photograph as many bluebonnet fields as we can. Because we store our truck camper at a friend’s farm in East Texas, it takes a day to pick it up and another to take it back. We were short on time this year, so we decided to tent camp instead.
We’ve had a two-person dome tent for over forty years. Early in our marriage, we backpacked with it across Colorado, up into the Bitterroot Valley, over to the Olympic Peninsula, and throughout most of Texas. But we haven’t slept in that little tent in over twenty years.
Undaunted, we set it up in the living room to make certain it was still useable, had all the parts, and was still seam-sealed. It smelled funny but looked great, so we loaded up the tent, the sleeping pads, all the other necessary camping accoutrements, and our now seven-month-old Golden Retriever pup, Samantha.
Our first stop was Pedernales Falls State Park near Johnson City. It was a beautiful evening with a light breeze. We hastily set up camp and took Sam for a long hike down to the river. By nightfall, under a canopy of stars, we crawled into the tent. Sam had never slept in a tent, nor does she sleep in bed with us at home. She was delighted to have us at ground level. We feared she would never calm down enough to sleep. Once she did, we discovered too late that there was little room for us in our two-person tent with a 60+-pound dog taking her half out of the middle.
Early the next morning, Sam slithered between us, offering kisses and paws to start the day. It was then that we realized how far down the ground had become over the past twenty years. Getting dressed in a tent that you can’t stand up in is bad enough at our age, but rising from the ground to a half-upright position to exit is even worse. I just shimmied into clothes while lying on my back and crawled out in a most unceremonious fashion. David, half stooped, almost fell backwards trying to crawfish out of the tent through its narrow zipper door.
No harm done, we broke camp and drove to Fredericksburg under increasingly cloudy skies. By evening, when we arrived at Muleshoe Bend, it was misting. We set up camp in light rain. The rainfly offered no ventilation, and the air was heavy with moisture. We ended up sitting in the truck and reading for several hours rather than spend it lying on our backs with Sam in the tent.
It was still misting rain the next morning. David donned his raincoat to keep from being soaked while making coffee on the truck’s tailgate. We were all damp by the time we broke camp. As we sipped our morning brew, we made an executive decision: This would be our last tent camping trip. It is worth it to spend two days to pick up and unload our truck camper. While we were once limber enough to sleep on the ground, our mature bodies are no longer happy in a tent. Our truck camper is off the ground, making access easier, and, although spartan, it has other necessary amenities, including ventilation during rainstorms. Perhaps most important, the truck camper bed is too high for Sam to reach us.
I suppose you would call our truck camper a more mature form of camping. It is much like mature writing. When we begin to write, we are flexible and feel the rush of words, we write with flowery and flowing descriptions rather than longing for simplicity. We are less into comfort for our readers than the conquest of finishing a story. I think most of us can look back at our earliest writings and cringe.
Author Lee Odell answers the question, “What is mature writing?” He concludes that mature writing begins with “Mature thought on the part of the author.” He continues that it “is reflected in writing in the following ways: recognizing that the audience is different from himself or herself; providing an appropriate context for his or her statements; basing his or her arguments on values the audience is likely to share; trying to anticipate and respond to objections or questions the audience is likely to have; recognizing the legitimacy as well as the limitations of other points of view on a given subject; acknowledging, where appropriate, the limitations of his or her own point of view; indicating what the viewpoint cannot explain; taking note of apparently contradictory evidence; and recognizing the complexity of the subject at hand by attending to more than one feature of an experience.”
Like mature camping, mature writing first considers our audience. We make our writing more accessible to our readers and move towards their comfort. We recognize our limitations and consider the broader experience.
I hope David and I are able to camp together for many more years. We, however, have learned to listen to our maturing bodies, our needs, and make adjustments accordingly. It is without remorse that we give up tent camping. Now we just need to figure out how to move that seven-month-old puppy to maturity!