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Published on Dec 17, 2007

Camping with my family was a perennial tradition. Once the clamoring hallways of school emptied, and the dog days of summer settled in, my family would pile in to the station wagon and head to the woods. Packing the snail cargo holder, and attaching it to the roof filled with me with a sense of exhilaration. It meant soon, the miles would be snaking beneath the blue station wagon's rolling tires, and I would pester my parents from the back seat with the annoying, yet age-appropriate question, "Are we there yet?"

"We'll get there when we get there," was usually my parent's response. It was an answer I knew by heart, as well as our family's usual destination: William O'Brien State Park. When the park's familiar sign rolled in to view, I knew summer had officially arrived.

While in the confines, sounds became more than a vibration on the eardrum. The place imbued each twig snap with the texture of dry wood, the rustle of leaves with the smell of autumn tucked around the corner, and the hushed whisper of my mom and dad with a soul-jarring simplicity. For these reasons, William O'Brien was hallowed ground for me.

When my sneakers crunched under the grassy trails, it felt like I belonged there. My sanctuary was an olive and green colored tent; my family's prayer candles were propane lamps and Coleman flashlights. Communion consisted of bottomless cups of hot cocoa and turkey sandwiches. And at night, the sky would be filled with chirping crickets, and the rustle of leaves from undisclosed animals.

After a day of activities worshipping the soil around us, we'd return to our sanctuary to sleep to for the evenings. Even this simple task became an event as we marched to the bathroom. Complete with showers, bathrooms, sinks, and toilets, it served host to the most enormous bugs I'd seen before in my life. Their wings seemed as large as the orioles and warblers singing in the trees. Their legs the size of the herons splashing in the lake. It was as if prolonged exposure to O'Brien's mystic properties had distorted their bodies to the proportion of birds.

Standing by my father and brother's side at the sink, we would brush our teeth in unison. With mint foam oozing from my mouth, I caught my dad's eye and smile. My dad. My brother. Me. Like bandits, we'd steal back to our camp site, led by the familiar glow of our fluorescent lamp as our guide.

My parents whispered their goodnights, and soon, the tent would be filled with slow, rhythmic breathing and crackle-pop of neighboring fires. Kneeling at the point where God's feet grazed the earth, heaven approached and dwelled around my slumbering family.

The fires. Ash-colored logs. Fluorescent flames, flickering to shades of blue and red. Ants foolish enough to crawl upon our firewood, before it was pitched in to the dwindling inferno. Its innards hissed and popped on charred sticks brandished wildly in the air, leaving behind smoke, and it's trail momentarily burned on my retina. Flashlight-sabers creating small pillars of light. "Luke, I am your father." The smell of burning rubber. Smoldering tennis shoes pressed against the white-hot fire grate.

"Daniel James, get your feet down! You're going to wreck another pair of perfectly good shoes!"

A green acorn bursting from the shoot like a phoenix propelled from the ashes. Golden-brown marshmallows. Hot dogs on wire sticks. Metal lawn chairs. Embers flying through the air like a thousand fireflies bid to the heavens by an unheard voice.

These seemingly mundane elements combined in to something simple, yet transcendent in its beauty. Each moment was magnified by the company around me. My mom's squinty laugh. My dad's hot chocolate in the morning. My brother and I playing catch. Habitually, punching our baseball gloves to loosen the leather before the ball met its target. Each person magnified these moments, until each crystallized as a memory. A fleeting glimpse of youth. The warmth of love. This was camping.

This is a portion from the book that I'm working on entitled, "Pandora's Son." I know it's a departure from the usual, "Holy Crap" content, but I hope you like it all the same.


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