I got an "A" on this final paper, and I got an "A" in the class. More significantly, I got to know myself a little better. This was written out of thin air in a computer lab at the education center. I did not have time to think. I did not need research. I was given the option between writing two very personal essays, and either one I chose I think I would have come out of the final paper knowing something I did not know before: I am still affected by my parents' divorce twenty years down the road.
I haven’t been camping since my childhood days. I am not a princess, I can handle the dirt. I wouldn’t mind pitching a tent and building a fire, or hiking to the top of the waterfall. I love the smell of the campfire. And it is always nice to get away from the everyday life and get closer to the fresh air and television-free, natural life for a moment or two. But I don’t go, I don’t even make the effort to go. It was only in recent conversation with my sister that I finally came to the conclusion as to why this aversion has come to pass. My happy memories of family vacations to the Great Redwood Forests of California have been polluted with the divorce of my parents in my teenage years.
From my earliest memory I can see myself standing like the tiniest ant next to one of the world’s tallest living things. The great Sequoias of the Sierra Nevada are like nothing else on earth. A vehicle can pass through a carved tunnel, or drive on top of a fallen tree, with room to spare! As small children, my siblings and I would run rings around the base of the tree until we were out of breath, never once catching up to the other side. I couldn’t resist rubbing my palms over the furry, outer layer in amazement that the tree had existed for hundreds and hundreds of years. We were lucky enough to travel to the National park several times a year, always camping, always excited to explore what nature had to offer.
I remember one time the whole brood of us, five kids in all, went for a hike through the forest with our parents leading the way. We came to a meadow where the giant trees had fallen and made homes for all kinds of animals to live. We climbed on top and for dozens of meters we crossed the marshy meadow on the fallen foot bridge to the end where the branches shot out into the sky. We saw deer and rabbits, but my favorite were the littlest tree frogs I had ever seen, no bigger than a teaspoon. We spent the next hour catching and releasing the frogs, hoping to cause no harm.
There were times when I didn’t enjoy myself as much. Some nights were cold and I know I must have been sleeping on rocks. Occasionally our camping neighbors stayed up too late being rowdy and playing loud music. I couldn’t wait for the morning to come, to release me from the long night of waking and drifting. But an early morning campfire to warm us up and hot cocoa never failed to get a bunch of kids running and playing and generally giving back to our neighbors a taste of what we got the night before.
Once we were a little older, I had the permission to wander the campground with my sister on our bikes. A little freedom in a time of perceived safety did wonders to young girls’ confidence. We never came across any real danger, and in the world we live in this was a miracle. It did happen that we got careless in our bike safety, and chose not to use helmets while riding tandem on a one-seater down a big hill. Ouch! No concussions, but scrapes deep enough to keep my father at bay while my mother played nurse to clean out the wounds.
By far my favorite memory of camping was Beatle Rock. Even before the siblings became numerous, and my sister and I were barely old enough to go to far from our parents, we would wander about on the great rocky mountainside that overlooked the valley below. It wasn’t impossible to catch sight of a bear or an eagle from this magical place, and I even knew as a small child that the sunset was unbelievable. I had moments of fear that we could fall off the edge of the great rock that held us up so high, but my parents were both there to lead us and reassure of us against any danger that could pass our way. They were our protectors.
As the marriage dissolved, the illusion of safety and guidance dissolved as well. My parents became separate individuals trying to make an impact in our lives, and often times contradicted one another. Their influence didn’t hold the same power as it once did when they were one parental unit. I left out into the wide world soon after the split and forged my own way in life, not really mourning the loss of my parents’ marriage or my childhood, but not looking back either. Now I have become one half of the parental unit, “the great protectors” to my children and I am finding that I am finally taking a greater look at my childhood days. My happiest memory will always be long summer days camping in the Redwoods with my family, even if the thought also brings out the hidden sadness I feel of the dissolution of our family as a whole unit. The solution I feel, may be, that it’s time to go camping again.