I have only the vaguest recollection of camping, though I was a Scout for two years and a troop leader to boot. None of it was motivated by a love of nature. In my high school, one either joined the Scout Movement or enlisted in Citizens’ Army Training. Both groups wore green and tramped in the outdoors all day—proclivities that repelled my photophobic nature. But the Scouts tolerated rebellion far more than the Cadets, which was why in my junior year in high school, I found myself buying a sleeping bag and a box of mosquito repellant.
I was appointed troop leader in my senior year because my utter lack of survival skills meant that I possessed the natural ability to delegate responsibility. I couldn’t cook, sing, play guitar, dispense first aid or build tripods. To avoid the embarrassment of having a leader who couldn’t do anything except play despot, my troop designated me the official “knot-tier.”
(Besides the oath and the ten laws, all scouts learn the eight basic knots, the instructions to which are embedded in nursery rhymes involving rabbits jumping into holes and going around trees. I can only remember how to tie the square knot, the execution of which is captured by the wonderfully austere phrase, “right over left, left over right.” The fact that no cottontails are involved has likely contributed to its lasting impression on my memory.)
I remember little of what went on in the camps I attended, probably because there is little actual content to a camp. At bottom, camping is simply a rhythmic cycle of chores that involves, among other things: unpacking gear, pitching tents, building tripods, tying knots, gathering firewood, making fires, fetching water, cooking food, washing dishes—and tending to injuries suffered in attempts to do all of the above without the aids of civilization. Occasionally, one learns esoteric things like how to cook rice in Zest-O tetra packs, but for the most part, one is preoccupied with more prosaic tasks like learning how to open a tin of corned beef without an electric can opener.* (So how does one do it? Very very slowly.)
In hindsight, there is something awkwardly charming about an assortment of girls braving the outdoors in thin green cotton dresses and black leather shoes. It is also faintly moronic, given that few other items of clothing can possibly be as ill-suited to roughing it out. But my friends and I seem to have managed, despite the sheer audacity and impracticality of the entire affair. My recollections, though vague, seem oddly happy: marching in circles around the green; telling ghost stories around the campfire; sleeping five to a tent on a rocky patch of mountain; waking to the knobby feel of roots between the shoulder blades; and, of course, greeting the morning sun with an off-key chorus mumbled far more than sung.
Few childhood memories can survive the withering scrutiny of adult recollection. It’s just as well then that I barely remember my camping days.
* To this day, the survival value of cooking rice in Zest-O tetra packs continues to escape me. Heaven forbid that I be stranded on a desert island with only a clay pot for assistance.