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The sudden community, Part 2: Wilderness diary

The sudden community, Part 2: Wilderness diary

by Wolf Pascoe on June 18, 2012

Is that weird, taking my Louis Vuitton bag camping? — Jessica Simpson

The Fern Hill Memorial Weekend trip arrives.

When I first call to tell the rangers about us, they don’t believe a group so large is coming. The real difficulty, I assure them, isn’t getting sites enough for 150, but getting those sites in proximity.

During my spare time the week before the trip, I’ve been assigning families to campsites on the cliffs above the shore. Silly, I’d intended to use the time to assemble provisions.

This family wants to be near that one, that one wants shade, this other one will be arriving Saturday, is it too late to change our mind? etc. It’s normally the rangers’ job, this year delegated to me. The rangers are not used to groups of 150.

Early on Friday of Memorial Weekend, still short of breath from the virus laying siege to me, I overload two vehicles with food, drink, coolers, dry ice, sleeping bags, mattresses, duffle bags, stove, supplies, wife and son.

Did I say tent? I’m so glad I didn’t forget the tent.

We arrive with 150 other souls at El Capitan State Beach.





The week before the trip, I send out a constant stream of emails in an attempt to make everyone happy. I learn it will be impossible to make everyone happy. In my final email, I give up and conclude with words that I will come to regret ever having penned:


Fern Hill Campers: I’ve done the best I can to make everyone happy. Undoubtedly some will not be…. I’ll be around camp, but please remember that this is an individual family event. I am not your host. You are your host. Have a good time.

I think it strikes the right note between confidence and despair.




GOOD — has beach. BAD —  ocean rough and cold.
GOOD — very pretty. BAD — too close to highway.
GOOD — the great outdoors. BAD — noise from cars on highway.
GOOD — trains go by and whistle. BAD — trains go by and whistle.
GOOD — among friends. BAD — can’t hear friends on account of cars.
GOOD — new mattress works great. BAD — can’t sleep on account of car noise.

Decide Fern Hill may not be going back to El Capitan next year.

Question: How is it possible, when I visited here last fall with Nick, I did not hear the cars?




Wake up in tent cold. Put on parka. Parka too hot. Take off parka. Wish I had fleece jacket, which would be just right. Try to recall what I’ve done with fleece jacket. Decide it must be in Eduardo’s tent.

Why is jacket in Eduardo’s tent? Recall I gave it to him last night to wear. Recall him shivering because he’d left his jacket at home and I was wearing my parka anyway.

Question: Wake Eduardo’s family and ask for fleece jacket back?

Answer: No.

Not that Eduardo would think me ungenerous. He’d think me unable to adapt.

Put parka back on and adapt.




Nick: Dada, what time is it?

Me: 6:15. Go back to sleep.

Nick (puts pants on): I’m bored.

Me: You just woke up.

Nick: Can you read to me?

Me: Yes. Let me get the rest of my clothes on.

Nick: Oh, Dada. Can we take a walk all over camp?

Me (almost dressed): Yes.

Nick: I can’t find my sock.

Nora (eyes closed, appears to be asleep): You’re wearing it.

Nick: (pokes head outside tent): Dada, Joshua’s up. I’ll be going now.





On Sunday, the car noise dies down. Whole minutes pass without a car driving by on the highway. One can relax. One can think.

I walk through the camp serene, stopping to chat with with Hallie and LuAnn, two of my favorite moms.

“How come you never put me in a blog post,” says Hallie.

“I said you were my rock star on the reservation team.”

“That was LuAnn,” Hallie says.


Quick feint. “So, how’s everything working for you? Apart from the cars, I mean.”

“It’s quiet today,” says Hallie.

LuAnn nods.

“What I can’t figure out is why I didn’t hear the cars when I came up with Nick last fall.”

“What day did you come up?” says LuAnn.

“A Sunday, right?” says Hallie.

I am not the host.



The sudden community continues next time with Mr. Happy Kills.




El Capitan Brochure



Camping complaints? Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)


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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Barbara June 18, 2012 at 11:55 am

When I was growing up, the place to camp was Garner State Park. I convinced my parents to go every year and it was a blast – lots of other kids, a dance every night, a cold river to tube and hiking trails into the hills. Even a couple of caves. The rangers would come around at ten or eleven, after the dance, and tell everyone to be quiet. Flash forward thirty years. I convince my husband (the primitive backpacker) to go there with our kids and two other families. We park in the old part of the park, near the hiking trails, caves, and within walking distance of the river and dance pavilion. The park has expanded quite a bit and is still hugely popular. We go to the dance but can barely move through the crowds much less get on the dancefloor. Our kids are too young to want to dance, and too young for us to leave them unattended to dance. We go back to our camp. The rangers don’t come around anymore. The dirt roads are now paved and cars of teenagers cruise round and round until well after midnight. The next day we let the older kids (around twelve) go hiking on their own and several years later find out some people offered them alcohol. The next day waves of rain from a tropical storm begin rolling in. We’d already had enough and just leave. On the bright side, the river was still cold and clear and the kids had a blast swimming!


Wolf Pascoe June 19, 2012 at 1:03 am

Pave paradise, put up a parking lot.


Robin June 18, 2012 at 12:18 pm

“I am not your host. You are your host. Have a good time.”

As a Fern Hill camper, I thought it struck the right note between kindness and self-protection.

I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve come to regret these words. I had a FANTASTIC time on the trip. Mostly because of how amazing it is to be in a large gathering of Fern Hill folks.

And yes, Mr. Happy was a priceless highlight.


Wolf Pascoe June 19, 2012 at 1:04 am

Of Mr. Happy, more later.


Jim Parkevich June 18, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Hi Wolf,
Wish we lived closer..I would love to gather some of my current and past scouts (BSA) and come to a camp out with you. In a large dutch oven, for the adults, we would cook a beef roast, flavored to perfection. Large baked potatoes, wrapped in foil, would bake, in the fire, to perfection. In another dutch oven, we would steam broccoli, or better yet asparagus, to absolute perfection. For your kids, we would cook, on flat skillets, pizza or hot dogs, roasted to crispy brown, served on toasted buns, laid out on super-heated rocks..Afterwords, a “dump cake” in the large dutch oven, enough for everyone.
During the day, we would teach your kids how to handle a pocket knife, so they would qualify for a “tote-n-chip” card..Carving little figurines out of Ivory soap, with a guiding hand is amazing to youngsters.. A nature course on trees and geology always gets their interest. Games such as “capture the flag” lets youngsters burn off a lot of energy, so as to sleep real well at night. Star gazing, being able to see the “milky way” fires the imagination….By the way, so does preparing boiling water, in a paper cup, sitting in the fire !!!! I wish we lived closer.


Wolf Pascoe June 19, 2012 at 1:14 am

You are the man. The weirdest, most amazing thing my troop ever did: in the middle of nowhere, there was a shack that somehow had electricity. One of the scoutmasters set up a screen and projector, and 100 of us kids watched “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” under the milky way.


Sirena June 19, 2012 at 1:45 pm

I think Ricky Nelson summed it up quite nicely:

But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well
You see, ya can’t please everyone, so ya gotta please yourself

Well, it sounds like you were the host with the mostest to me…


Wolf Pascoe June 19, 2012 at 2:38 pm

Wasn’t Ricky the travelin’ man who in every port owned the heart of at least one little girl?


Sirena June 19, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Well, yes, but I didn’t think that one applied to you as well lol….


Wolf Pascoe June 19, 2012 at 7:37 pm

In my dreams.


Cathy June 19, 2012 at 8:04 pm

I have helped plan, organize and supervise many camping trips in my time. Luckily there were (mostly) no adults – only boy scouts. Children are much more adaptable then adults.

I like your last line – very appropriate and I hope you really didn’t regret writing.


Wolf Pascoe June 20, 2012 at 10:17 pm

But if you take only kids, then you’re really the host.


Kyle Bradford June 21, 2012 at 2:54 pm

I went camping once and forgot the sleeping bag. I should also mention it was in September. I wrapped myself in a canvas lean to and learned a very valuable lesson….”sleeping bags make camping much better.”


Wolf Pascoe June 21, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Jedediah Smith said much the same.


pamela July 1, 2012 at 3:02 pm

You are your host.

Love that!!


Wolf Pascoe July 1, 2012 at 9:46 pm

Okay. You can come on the trip.


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