Last summer he was six years old and Alex, on holiday in Newfoundland from Nova Scotia, wanted to go camping. Not just camping, but “real camping”.
I assumed I knew what real camping was but I didn’t. I thought he meant sleeping out in a tent, so I took him up to my brother’s cabin at Terra Nova Lake. It was perfect. There was a nice patch of grass out front where we could set up the tent. If it rained a lot or got cold, or we got scared, we could just go inside.
In the tent, we lay down a nice sponge mattress, spread out the sleeping bags and had everything ready for the night. It was still afternoon and of course we had to go fishing. Alex had never caught a fish. We had tried a few times last year when he was only 5 years old, but didn’t have any luck. I knew I had to deliver the goods, or more exactly the fish, this year.
We took a spinning rod and a casting rod out to a point in the lake not far from the cabin. It was getting late in July and the best of the trout fishing was over. Alex was struggling with the spinning rod without much luck and I was busy replacing worms. Finally I got a chance to try with the fly rod and to my surprise, rose a small trout.
A small trout was better than no trout, so I started to show him how to fish with the fly rod. After a few casts, he rose a small one and let out a yell. He tried again and again, rising one occasionally and getting more excited at each cast. Finally he hooked a small one and flung it over his shoulder onto the rocks, jumping up and down and shouting with delight. I was as elated as he was.
We kept trying. After a few more casts and rises, bingo! He hooked a 14 inch ouananiche and yanked it towards the shore. It bounced on some rocks and came flapping off the hook. Both of us rushed at the fish and managed to keep it from going back into the water.
That was about as much excitement as he needed right then. Alex put down his rod as if finished for the day. I made a small skiver from an alder branch and we took our two trophies back to camp to show the others and take some pictures.
After supper, we got ready for a night in the tent. After playing some card games and reading a few stories we settled down and before long he was fast asleep. Although it rained during the night with thunder and lightening, Alex slept through it all and we awoke in the morning to another nice day.
I felt that I had fulfilled my grand parental responsibilities rather well. He had caught his first fish and had a successful night camping. It was only on the way home that I realized we had not been ‘real camping’.
“How did you enjoy the camping trip Alex?” asked his grandmother.
“Fine,” said Alex, “but it wasn’t real camping.”
Real camping apparently, was being away by ourselves with no other campers or buildings around! I knew that I wasn’t finished yet.
The next place I selected was a pond twenty kilometers up a woods road, about an hours drive from our country place. We got there early in the afternoon and unloaded the canoe from the trailer onto a nice sandy beach near the road. I hadn’t really explored this pond but reasoned that if there was one nice beach near the road, there were bound to be others.
We planned to spend the night in our tent on this assumed beach I hoped to find up the lake. After loading up the canoe and putting on our life jackets, we headed for the end of the lake about 3 kilometers inland, with a light breeze helping us along. The lake was long and winding and around each bend we expected to find the ideal beach for real camping. Of course, we found nothing of the kind and after about four hours paddling, we arrived back, tired and hungry, at the beach by the side of the road.
Alex didn’t complain. In fact he was glad to have arrived somewhere. We set up the tent on the beach and he happily fished and played with the canoe in the shallow water, while I rustled up some supper. After we had eaten, I lit a small fire between the beach and the tent while he settled into his Toronto Maple Leafs sleeping bag. The bag was only light and I suggested he add some extra covers because it was getting colder. He was tired and refused saying he had to use his bag. I was tired too so I left him alone and sat outside by the fire.
In a little while I heard him call, “Pop”. “What’s the matter?” I asked him. “I’m cold,” he said. I went in and covered him up some more and before long he was asleep.
The next morning was beautiful. We had breakfast and went fishing, not getting as much as a nibble. Alex couldn’t have cared less. He sang songs he made up as he went along and fished while I paddled us around the calm waters of the lake.
After a few hours we came back to camp. It was hot and we had been in the sun all yesterday afternoon and this morning. I told him we would get some lunch and then we had to go home. Why, he asked, couldn’t we stay out real camping for three more days? I realized too late that in planning the trip, I hadn’t made clear to him that we could only go for one day.
The water was very shallow near the beach so I let him play by himself with the canoe, while I got our gear ready to load our things into the trailer and car. The canoe wasn’t doing what he wanted and I heard a loud band as a paddle hit the side of the craft. He was crying. Surprised and a little cranky myself, I told him he couldn’t play with the canoe any more if he was going to behave like that. I turned and walked away from him, carrying some things down the beach towards the car.
When I got there he was right behind me, still crying. I picked him up on my knee and gave him a hug. “What’s the matter?” I asked him. “I’ve been crying,” he said, “and you didn’t even ask me why”. “All right,” I said, “why are you crying?”
“Its’ because I miss Rocky,” he sobbed. “He’s my favorite sleepy toy. I ’ve been away from him since I left Halifax and I miss him. Can you get Mama to send him down to me?”
I realized then that my buddy had had too much sun, was overtired and really didn’t mind the thought of going back to the country place a little early.
On the way back we stopped by a farm to watch some hens and a rooster
that obligingly cock-a-doddle-dooed, and got an ice cream cone at a small store. Ice cream cones, it seems, are an all right part of a ‘real camping’ trip.
Note: Appeared in the Evening Telegram, Slice of Life column April 29, 1998.