This weekend we had a much needed visit with family. Chris’ cousin, Caitlyn, her husband, Justin, and their two young children came to visit. It was a relatively last-minute thing, and it turned out rather well. There was a break in the rain and cold weather which afforded a brilliant opportunity for them to bring their kids, aged 2 and 5, camping for the first time.
They drove down from their home in Nashville, TN and arrived late in the afternoon on Saturday. The kids were, as all kids are, immediately struck by excitement upon exiting the car. They scurried around the campsite helping their Mom and Dad to find a good place to pitch the tent and inspecting our set up.
After we exchanged hello hugs and had the customary exchange about how the drive was, they quickly set about unloading the car and getting the tent erected before the sun disappeared over Blood Mountain. Chris tried his best to spook the kids with stories of bears and coyotes that come sniffing around in the dead of night, but I think he only succeeded in spooking Caitlyn and Justin a little.
With relative ease and only one minor error with the rain fly, the tent was erected and we were all ready for the best of camping – campfire sitting. I had laid a fire that afternoon in preparation for their arrival so with a quick flick of a lighter we were in business. The kids were pretty taken with fire, but Jay (the 2 year old) was particularly entranced by it. Once he discovered the sheer delight of putting a stick in the coals until it was alight then waving it around he was in hog heaven. Of course this set off a chain of events leading to some increased parental supervision and some lessons on the dangers of campfires, but the kid needed no further entertainment for the night – he was set.
Annabelle is their older child. She’s incredibly sweet and dangerously intelligent with a thirst for knowledge that makes her an utter joy to hang out with. Several times throughout the night she came and climbed into my camp chair with me for a snuggle and said “let’s talk”. Then she proceeded to ask questions. ALL the questions.
“Why does water put fire out?”
“Why do trees grow taller than people?”
“What are stars?”
“What are those dark spots in the moon?”
“How long does it take for the light from the stars to reach here?”
“What is consciousness?”
That last one was a tough one. But she’s a smart cookie and was able to not just sit and listen to my responses, but actually understand them and explain it back to me when I asked. It was really fun to spend some time with her and see her learning about the world from a different perspective. It made me excited for when Junior reaches that age where he will be full of questions big and small, and hopefully many of them about wildlife, the woods, and the world.
Unfortunately we had some trouble getting Junior to stay down that night (probably too excited about his cousins visiting) and so Chris and I had to keep taking turns trying to get him back to sleep. But we were able to spend some time by the fire chatting and catching up. I truly believe there is no better way to spend time with people than relaxing around a campfire. It was nice for us to have some family around to share our new life with, where conversation comes easily because we have common interests and outlooks, and it was an adventure for everyone.
The next morning the campers piled into Old Patsy to defrost after a rather chilly night in the tent. The kids went pretty much straight to playing and exploring and Junior was particularly tickled at having another little boy to play with. It was nice to sit back and watch them with the hope that it’s the start of a lifelong friendship and that there will be years of getting into mischief together ahead of them.
After everyone was suitably thawed out and fueled up, the campers set out for a hike around the lake while Chris and I plonked Junior in his stroller to set about cleaning the bathrooms.
Their hike went well without only a minor incident involving Jay’s shoe being launched into the water (boys will be boys). So after they returned we got the fire going again to get Jay’s shoes dried out. Caitlyn and Justin also brought a slack line – something Chris and I had never tried before – and set it up between two trees at the back of the campsite. We each took turns attempting to find our balance on the narrow, taught strap – something that wasn’t very easy after a night of a little too much wine and beer – but it gave us all a good laugh.
The younger boys found great fun in picking up sticks, poking at the fire, and using a small multi-tool shovel to dig in the dirt. Junior seemed to be rather intrigued by his cousin and spent some time following and mimicking him in an adorable attempt to try and communicate with him. Annabelle pottered around the campsite and tried her hand at the slack line which put us all to shame.
Then Caitlyn showed Annabelle how you bust open rocks with a hammer and find geodes and pretty crystals inside. So they had a great time smashing up some rocks and inspecting them closely.
As the afternoon drove on though, it was getting late and time to pack up and head out. The kids were thoroughly exhausted and set to nap the whole way home with sweet dreams of campfires, waterfalls, and mountain trails winding through their heads.
It was wonderful for the kids to spend some time together. Living so far away from all our family means that we don’t often get to hang out together – so we don’t take these opportunities for granted and are grateful that Junior is able to form bonds, and eventually memories, with his cousins.
As for us, we had a blast running around with the kids and are so grateful to be a part of their first camping experience. We hope it’s given them a thirst for it and that they will nag their parents endlessly to come back to the woods for a weekend soon.
We were also grateful to spend some time with Caitlyn and Justin. A downfall of this lifestyle is that it does take some determination from family to have them come and stay. We don’t have a big spare room that they can stay in and, though the couch and dinette fold into beds, it’s tricky with a 1 year old sleeping 3 feet away from 7pm to 7am. So it requires visitors to either be willing to camp, or spend the money on a cottage. This makes it logistically tough for anyone to visit us, so we’re very grateful for the company when we can get it. But the flip side of this is that when a trip like this happens it’s nice to have the kids outside all day, learning, getting fresh air and exercise, and being stimulated without the need for screens.
We’ve made tentative plans for a return trip in the spring before we leave Vogel, and hopefully we can get someone here to take all 3 kids for a night so we can all do the 13 mile Coosa backcountry trail and do some REAL camping along the way. So that gives us something to look forward to.
Overall we had a great weekend with family; the kids got to make some memories together and hopefully thoroughly caught the itch to camp; we had a great night catching up with some quality time around the fire; and we got a taste for what it’ll be like when Junior is a little older and all the fun things we can do with him. But time flies when you’re having fun – and it did just that. So we hope it won’t be too long until they come back for more fun by the campfire.