As you may have deduced from some of our articles and pictures, the Urchins are an outdoorsy trio. Margaret loves to run, climb, bike, swim, and travel at wild speeds on boards of various design. Sarah finds any excuse to be outside if it means enjoying the sun and befriending wild animals. Geo has been outside before, too.
One thing the Urchins have yet to do together is camp. Until that opportunity arises, here are our favourite individual stories from the campground.
Fourteen years ago, my parents and I went camping with our black lab, Tuffy, at Caprock Canyons State Park in the Texas Panhandle. We rolled in right around dinner time and began setting up camp. My dad started dinner on the picnic table as I did whatever middle-schoolers do when camping. After a while I heard someone whisper. I looked over at my dad and saw him frozen, staring intently at the edge of camp. I grabbed Tuffy’s collar and watched as a small, trundling creature with a black and white striped tail moseyed into camp. Tuffy growled and its tail arched in warning. The skunk made a b-line for the fire ring (fortunately without a fire) and climbed in.
Then I saw another one coming from the opposite edge of camp. And another. My dad motioned for me to get in the camper. I dragged Tuffy inside the little pop-up and quietly shut the door. My parents climbed on top of the picnic table and helplessly stared at another four or five skunks amble into camp. We quickly realised that all those peanut shells that the incredibly smart campers before us had left in the fire ring were attracting our little friends. This went on for close to thirty minutes. The skunks had us bunkered down. Any sudden movement or noise caused their tails to rise subtly as though saying, ‘Just do it. See what happens.’
Finally, with our dinner going cold, my dad snuck into our car and started the ignition. He flipped on the brights and skunks slowly raised their heads, blinked, and then one by one scurried away into the mesquite brush.
One day early in our time in New Zealand, we had just spent the day hiking to waterfalls and playing on the beach in Piha and were looking for somewhere to spend the night. We were very close to Auckland but wanted to camp. We found the tiny dot of Ambury Regional Park south of the city on our atlas and with no other information headed over, expecting a standard camping area. What we found instead was a campground/working farm combo deal, as only New Zealand can do. With huge paddocks of sheep and cows flanking the camping area, and kilometres of walking trails through the paddocks, the decibel level of my squeals was probably record-setting.
We quickly parked our van/home Hongi and set off on a sunset safari through the sheep paddock that ran along the Manukau Harbour. It was like a dream. There were so many fluffly little friends I had to stop counting. After frolicking Sound of Music-style through the sheep, and at least four unsuccessful attempts to pet one, we headed back to camp for a headlamp-lit dinner and some in-van entertainment (reading from Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley, if I’m not mistaken).
In the morning, I harassed some more sheep before heading over to the barn area to watch some shearing, see some baby cows, and meet a tiny little piglet being raised by a local volunteer after being rejected by its mum. If heaven exists, for me, it will be just like Ambury.
This is just your typical story about camping with a man who cuts the head off a snake with a machete and later becomes your dentist. You readers can hardly be surprised these days, anyway. But I have no other story, so this one will have to do.
I was probably about ten years old and, perhaps not shockingly, I haven’t been camping since. My parents used to take my brothers and me camping quite often when we were children. We’d always go with a big group, usually with extended family or my parents’ friends and their children.
One afternoon, I was wandering about the campsite looking for a safe place to play with my X-Men action figures when I heard a collection of gasps and shouts. Then I see several adults jump and run for safety as a long, black snake slithers through the open campground. Just as quickly, a middle-aged man, presumably from our party, appears from nowhere wielding a giant machete and chops the snake’s head off. The man is then met with hearty laughs and handshakes, and I never see the man (nor another snake) for the rest of the trip.
As a young boy, it was quite a memorable event to behold. So imagine my unshakable confusion when, about five years later, this conversation with my mother occurs:
Her: We found you a new dentist.
Her: He’s a family friend. We went camping with him once.
Me: Would I remember him?
Her: Maybe. He has a moustache.
Me: Hmm, I don’t—
Her: He also chopped the head off that snake.
Because of the intransigent family tie, he would become my dentist for the next few years, pulling stunts and pulling teeth. He informed me the day of the procedure that he’d be pulling my wisdom teeth. And he did it himself, rather than sending me to an oral surgeon. As I entered college, he tried to dissuade me from becoming a writer for a more lucrative career. ‘Like dentistry,’ he said. When it became clear to him that my mind was made up, he said, ‘Well, at least take care of your teeth so you won’t be like those writers known for bad personal hygiene.’