I’m lately outfitting for a trip. I was given a generous gift a couple years ago with the stipulation it be used for a trip to Ireland, which I’ve dreamed of visiting since I was wee mite. This will be my first visit; I’m renting a car and spending a month wandering and mainly camping. I haven’t been this excited to go somewhere probably since I went to Australia for college. While looking for travel guides for that trip, I came across Lonely Planet’s “Trekking in New Zealand.” This was about 1990. Trekking in New Zealand meant backpacking, I learned. The hook sunk deep.
Despite growing up in Colorado, I’d never once backpacked. I don’t actually remember ever putting on a pack at all – not even for school, though I seem to remember some flimsy canvas jobs from Sears that mainly just carried toys to your friend’s house: GI Joes, silver six shooters, firecrackers, a lego spaceship you’d designed that week, artfully painted metal toy soldiers from England you bought with your lawnmowing money at Southglen Mall, walkie talkies so you could coordinate your defense from the enemy, with your friend hiding in a bush in the back yard, you in the front.
My family camped regularly, but not even every year. You’d go with a friend’s family sometimes, a church group, or to Chief Ouray, the YMCA summer camp. You’d pitch the tent in the yard in the summer as a kid, and later camp at the reservoir with your girlfriend, first learning how mostly terrible camping sex is. I hunted, but that didn’t involve overnights in the field.
My dad was a skilled hunter, who’d fed his family as a young kid during World War II by hunting in the woods that surrounded their rural Massachusetts farmhouse. He was restless, a purpose-driven person. Camp life didn’t suit him. If you were in nature, you had to be trying to kill something to eat, so we fished but he was a terrible fisherman. His antsy vibrations spooked them through the line, so calm-ish kid that I was, I caught most of the fish, which cooked on a Coleman stove I generally found disgusting as food. Later in life he went on hunts but didn’t take ammo. He’d grown tired of killing, but had to have that pretense of purpose. He’d track and draw a bead on a beast, gently pull the trigger, then, click. He was such an impeccable marksman he’d know if he’d bagged it. I wished for him that, like my uncle who’s also a great hunter, he could find a similar joy in photography, maybe. Something. All the guns! Jesus.
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