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Get out and stay out, in the woods

Notes from the North Woods

There are precious few beds that are as comfortable as the floor of a tent camp on a cool summer’s night.

There are precious few beds that are as comfortable as the floor of a tent camp on a cool summer’s night.

I’ve often wondered what is the real attraction of camping. Why do people really go to someplace wildly different from home, to sleep on the hard ground while insects buzz about the windows while daring them to step outside. Is there a good reason for giving up a soft bed and a real toilet, in order to sleep with a root under your back and a tent full of snoring bikers parked within hearing range? Most campers have their reasons, and they’re usually glad to share them with anyone who will listen. “Yeah,” they’ll tell you, “we just wanted to get away from it all, and get a little peace and quiet by spending some time alone away from home.”

Human beings are an incredibly curious species. We are all born with an innate sense of discovery, which typically results in an inexplicable need to explore our environment.

Why do they do it? What is it that causes more than 150 million Americans every year to walk out the front door and go hiking, rock climbing, bird-watching, mountain biking, paddling or fishing?

Perhaps it’s because camping and outdoor travel reduces our needs to a minimum. Routine chores such as getting the water, collecting the wood or starting the fire become more interesting, just because it has to be done.

There are also the simple survival contingencies that foster bonds of interdependency among all the participants. Teamwork comes easily, and the ability to enjoy the inter-reliance of the group is a key function of the camping experience. Oddly, teamwork often happens without any system of order, campers just seem to know how to take care of each other. It is instinctual, after all.

Our species spent tens of thousands of years living in the wild, and modern man has only been around for a small fraction of that time. We’ve spent less than 2 percent of our time on earth functioning as members of a ‘civilized society.’ We go outdoors to see the stars and stare at the fire and to hear the night sounds. We don’t actually go there to ‘get away from it all’ we go because we have an inner need to be outdoors, and to foster a reconnection with the earth. We may all be part of a civilized society, but individually we are a part of the pack. We aren’t seeking to get away permanently, we just want to get back to a time and place where we were once very comfortable.

Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at brookside18@adelphia.net.

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