Camping with a Fragile Rose

Not shockingly, I'm a bit of a princess when it comes to my personal hygiene.  My mother first noticed this when I came home from preschool without the commonplace smudges and dirt stains required of normal 3-year-olds.  I enjoy a good shower every morning and tooth brushing twice daily.  Crisp clean sheets are manna from heaven and nothing makes me feel cleaner than a good, hearty floss.  What can I say?  I get off on praise from my dentist!

Now with this hygienic predilection, it makes sense that I'm not all that into camping.  I don't need a 5 star hotel (though I certainly wouldn't object) but my version of roughing it still includes a bed, mirror, running water and preferably a private toilet.  Most hostels wouldn't make the cut which is why I have yet to travel Europe with a pack on my back.  And I was completely comfortable and in fact a bit proud of my non-camping self living in the backpacking-prone East Bay until I met my husband.  There aren't many unresolved issues in my marriage,  but among our small list of concerns, my distaste for the great outdoors takes the cake.  My husband and I have both wondered why a nature-loving eagle scout and a clean freak bed-lover chose to get married.  And whenever the topic of camping arises, this question is always at the forefront.  It comes down to the fact that we are both amazingly confident in our individual abilities to get our own way.   When we decided to commit, my self-proclaimed "subtly persuasive" husband simply thought he would wear me down with amazing vistas and smores while I believed I'd just dig in my heals and refuse to go.  This has left us at a bit of a stale mate.  He cannot reconcile in his brain how anyone would not want to spend the night under the stars while I do not understand why anyone would willing put themselves in close proximity to mosquitoes, bears, hairy spiders and a pit toilet.  I mean come on people!, running water and flushable potties are amazing.  Get with the program!

Gray is convinced my hate of "all things nature" comes from deep-seeded trauma incurred upon the sole family camping trip I took at 10 years old.   My uncle Mike was getting married in Eureka and rather than fly, my parents had the brilliant idea to pack up their 3 children (and most of the house) and camp up the California coast starting in our little strawberry town of Oxnard.   The first stop was an RV park in Pismo Beach that allowed for tents.  I have only three memories of that stop.  Aggressive and incessant mosquitoes, a very hot, dirty swimming pool, and mac and cheese that my mother made on a small two-burner stove.  My father was the navigator of the trip and drove in relative silence,  sprinkled with the occasional outburst of "Jamie, stop asking if we're there yet!" and "Laura, kick the back of my seat one more time and I'm pulling over!" while my mother, brother, sister and I fancied ourselves The Greenwood Family Sings and rallied through numerous renditions of  The Mamas and the Papas California Dreamin' for most of the 630 mile excursion.

I remember camping in the red woods, the dank, sweet smell of water and earth intertwined filling my nose and reminding me that yes, I did have to sleep outside.  We pitched tents in Big Sur where my mother rewarded our good behavior with bottomless cups of steaming Ovaltine.  And then there were the towns we stopped in along the way, small communities that looked like they had been dropped in from a Little House on the Prairie episode.  I always felt better in town.  Safer, more secure.  As if the buildings kept me from being swallowed by the surrounding woods.  And therein lies the rub.  I do not like camping for the bugs and lack of a good shower but more importantly because it is me out in wild in unpredictable surroundings.  My self preservationist instincts run deep and there is simply something unnerving in the inability to bolt my tent.  How is my little nylon abode to protect me again a large advancing animal, rattlesnake or the insane ax murderer that I know is hiding somewhere nearby, just waiting for a little girl named Jamie?  It is not that I have ever experienced an particularly traumatic event while camping, it is simply that camping, in its essence, is traumatic to me.  What a fragile rose I am!

And so it finally came to pass that just last weekend I agreed to go camping.  This was the second time in 7 years I allowed Gray to take me into the woods with the distinct goal of eating and sleeping outside, the first being a beastly hot and mosquito-infested incident in Yosemite that we choose not to discuss in deference to marital bliss.   I agreed to the second excursion for a few reasons, but primary because Gray was very subtly persuasive.  He bought a 3 room tent that easily replicated a small apartment, packed an aero mattress to ensure my beauty sleep and guaranteed my safety by accepting the invitation from our experienced camper friends, one of whom is a fellow eagle scout and CHP officer who packs a big gun.  I agreed, I wasn't going to get any safer than that.  I got to hand it to my man.  Yes I was outside, yes I had to pee in a hole and yes I was stared down by a three foot rattlesnake, but as far as roughing it goes, it wasn't too bad.   Though I seriously could have done without the snake part...

Though I hate to admit it lest my husband take credit, I honestly enjoyed being out in nature.  I loved sitting in front of the campfire, embers glowing gold and amber against the night's darkness and feeling so small under the canopy of giant pine trees, as if they had created a protective circle just for me.  The night sky overflowing with white and silver stars combined with the sweet, smoky air unearthed a serene calm within me only ever otherwise found under a sturdy roof while meditating.  The night became a meditation of sorts as I took in the new sights, sounds, and smells and committed them to memory, a new memory of the outdoors as clean, safe and surprisingly enjoyable.

Now I don't want to get all you backpacking enthusiasts excited at the thought of a new covert.   I'm still not trekking into the woods, belongings on my back, looking to start a fire with my bare hands.  However I do now understand, a bit, the draw and appeal of leaving our bustling modern lives for a forested retreat.  I'm not sure I'm quite ready for a reprisal, but I can say I do see it in my future.  And that is definitely saying something.

Tuna and White Bean Salad

Serves 2

So how does Tuna and White Bean Salad play into all of this?  Well, it is what I quickly whipped up the night we returned from our camping adventure.  I love this salad as it's light, very satisfying and perfect for the warm nights of summer.  It is also an easy meal to make outdoors as it requires few ingredients and no real cooking per se.  It's more assembly than anything, which is perfect on a hot night after a long car ride when all you really want in a thorough shower.

1 can white beans, rinsed and drained (I used Eden's Great Northern beans [love the BPA-free cans] but any white bean will do)

1 jar Wild Planet Tuna fillets, drained

1/2 a fresh fennel bulb, thinly sliced

1/2 a small red onion, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Splash of extra virgin olive oil (about 2-3 tablespoons)

Splash of red wine vinegar (about 2 tablespoons)

Sea salt and pepper to taste

Drain and rinse the white beans to make sure all the starchy liquid is gone.  You can also quickly blanch the beans to remove any tinny taste, if you like.  Place in a medium sized bowl.  Open the jar of tuna, drain any excess liquid and flake into the bowl.   Add the sliced fennel, onion and chopped parsley.  Drizzle olive oil over the mixture and splash with a bit of red wine vinegar.  Add a touch of salt and pepper, stir well and taste for seasoning.  Add whatever you think it might need, serve with a green salad and that is it.  Enjoy!

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