There comes a time when every urban urchin needs to turn down the static of the city’s frequency and retreat to the restorative properties of terra firma at its best. Of course, at age 37, terra firma is feeling more firma than ever after three nights of camping at Pinery Provincial Park on Lake Huron. However, there is much praise for the soundtrack of such tree-centric sanctuaries: lulling waves that Mother Nature cranks to the max, the threading of the wind through feathery pine tops and the lonely call of the whip-poor-will.
Finding a campsite at one of Ontario’s provincial parks is much like booking your wedding venue. Keeners have already staked out premium spots in the dead of February and hog them for the majority of the summer. I can see why.
When we departed on Monday morning, the Saab was stuffed fuller than a pinata. My watch didn’t find its way to my wrist. For the next four days we operated on basic human instinct: hunger, thirst and sleep. Recreational reading was punctuated by tepid tall boys and picnics of various essential elements: guacamole, salty Fritos, roasted red pepper dip, jalapeno havarti and sweet potato crackers. We grazed, we dozed, we wandered barefoot. At dusk we sauntered back to our campsite, any latent stress completely evaporated with talk of spicy sausage and Weber burgers on the grill for dinner.
The cicadas buzzed like overloaded electrical wires and petered out with the fall of dusk. Slowly, we watched the woods transform into the pages of fairy tale lore. Fireflies mixed with the suspended stars until the soupy humidity of the day thinned out and encouraged long sleeves. We piled the kindling and split ash in a Boy Scout-approved teepee-style and gave in to the sway of childhood nostalgia: eating cloying sweet marshmallows until near-sick.
We awoke to the scamper of drag-racing red squirrels. A resident pair kept close eye on our cache. I think they suspected we might be carrying Squirrel peanut butter, the one with the peanut on top. If the squirrels were taking inventory, they would see that we took no shortcuts in comfort, ambience or bomb shelter-worthy canned goods. Not to mention our booze cartel of pink Prosecco, Malbec, gin and enough beer for two college football teams. We decided to do it as deluxe as possible. Inflatable Queen mattress (not those horrible maxi pad thin Thermaphores), real pillows (not balled up clothes) and pretty much all the pleasures of home, minus the walls and roof and fridge that makes ice on its own accord.
While some people take valuable days to decompress on vacation, we seemed to be breathing in tandem with the pines upon arrival. Not that I would choose to permanently sleep on an inflatable mattress….but, there is a different awareness and heightened sensory intake when you wake up outside. The crisp clarity of the air beckons stiff coffee, banter about the neighbouring birds and drop-in butterflies. My hoodie smelled like the unmistakable morning-after-campfire bacon bits scent. Inhaling deeper, I am glad that we get to stoke up another blazing fire that night. But first, a leisurely breakfast is all we’re obligated to do for the next few hours.
Kim and I assume unspoken roles, as we do. She is quick to boil the water for coffee and I take on the whipping of eggs and dicing of red pepper and onion. We meet somewhere in the middle, well entrenched in the premeditated laziness of the day ahead of us.
We’ve upgraded our Coleman stove menu from last year–our inaugural camping trip at Long Point Provincial Park on Lake Erie. Over coffee and the last bits of breakfast blotted up with a tortilla shell, we anticipate our al dente and al fresco menu post-beach. We decide to take camping to the next level with a jar of Jamie Oliver coriander and cashew pesto, penne and pine nuts (not locally sourced). The plastic checkered tablecloth will be spread on top of the picnic table, easily transforming our campsite into a pop-up Italian resto in the pines.
Each day we return to our site famished and sighing aloud from the joy of nothingness. The sun has warmed us right to our bones. Kim and I are sheer experts at this napping, wading and beachcombing business. My surf shorts are weighted down with more than a few polished stones. We walk the length of the sandbar to Port Franks, admiring cottage architecture, impromptu lakeside bars fashioned out of driftwood, greeting wag-happy dogs and exchanging pleasantries with the beach bum set.
Another fire is lit, snapping and spitting embers in no time. We pull the picnic table closer to the flames and talk as we do: all over the map. Always scheming of where to travel next and how we might opt out of this thing called work for more of the life balance equation.
The zen of the woods is like a medicinal salve. We solve the world’s problems each night and find solace in the stillness. I am thrilled to be away from clocks and social media appliances and obligations. I am thrilled to eat everything that causes hypertension, high cholesterol, heart attacks and gout in a span of four days. We drink and eat and lie about like royalty. And, not to brag, but our campsite even had an en suite.
Isn’t it time for you to get away? Grab the one you love and get grounded!