Bonding is important, folks. Knowing this, when I became a father myself, I made sure even to take part in the actual birth of each of our children. For all my growing-up years, I was close to Mom and distant towards Dad. Mom and I would even talk about Dad behind his back, while he was out helping people as a Methodist minister. Mom found it difficult to be a minister’s wife, always feeling that touch of jealousy as she watched her husband express agape love to his parishioners while she was set aside for housework and child rearing. Meanwhile I developed thousands of interests, none of them to do with my father.
Dad would choose a campground somewhere in the western foothills of the Cascade Mountains that divide the state of Washington into two countries, and the campground would always contain a river or large stream. We didn’t fish, but the water would give life to the place and lull us to sleep at night. Our family-size tent wasn’t made of taffeta walls with polyurethane weatherproof coating and pre-attached poles. It was heavy canvas that smelled like canvas, with a big wooden center pole. Its pegs were fat, wooden, potentially-vampire-killing stakes, not the skinny metal things that bend when they hit a rock, and if we were short a peg, which we always seemed to be, we would cut one from a tree branch and sharpen it with a knife.
We had olive-drab Army cots to sleep on--a piece of canvas stretched between pieces of wood and held up off the ground by wooded legs. The canvas was stretched so tightly that it was risking injury to assemble the thing, but perhaps not as risky as the sharper contraptions called cots nowadays. Our sleeping bags were old and also Army issue, and I don’t remember ever sleeping through a warm night in them. I would shiver through the damp Cascade nights, but always thought this was the normal thing to expect on a campout.
Now the funny thing is that, out of the few times Dad and I went camping, I remember so little. I don’t remember any of our conversations, or even our hikes, other than that both were fairly short. But what I do remember will last until I die, and hopefully beyond.
Although I know our menu was varied, I remember only the tuna fish. And this is because, after each of us opened a can, Dad would announce that we had no forks and so would have to make them. At first I thought the idea was absurd and wondered how he could be so thoughtless as to forget forks, but it turned out to be a joy as the two of us perused twigs on the trees around us, until we found the makings of a wooden fork. And with pride in my industriousness and creativity, I was soon delving into my can of tuna fish with a two or three pronged masterpiece from nature’s bounty. It even made the tuna fish taste better.
One day as we were hiking around the campground (by the way, the two of us always seemed to be the only campers at each campground), Dad stopped and got down close to the ground and looked at something. I stepped around to see what it was. A sasquatch footprint? A snake eating a mouse? A prehistoric artifact uncovered by erosion? No. It was a flower. A wildflower. Good grief, I thought. Dad looked at this flower for a long time. It stood alone among the rocks and packed dirt. He gently touched the delicate little petals, then looked around, then looked back at the flower for awhile. I stood there wondering, What the heck? Then Dad turned and looked at me with an expression of wonder, and said, “And some people think there is no God.”
Finally the morning came to pack up and head for home and for all the fascinating things in my comfortable room. And while we winded down the mountain roads, Dad handed me a piece of paper, and said, “Can you memorize this?” It was the lyrics to a song. We ended up singing it together. At first I felt like a fool, singing this goofy song with Dad, but it took me hardly any time to memorize the words, and Dad raved about how quickly I learned it, and so I wound up feeling pretty good about myself in singing with Dad. When we got home, I remember the first thing Dad told Mom was how quickly I could memorize something. And so I returned to my secure room upstairs, but in my hand I had a piece of paper to add to my fascinating things:
THE HAPPY WANDERER
I love to go a-wandering,
Along the mountain track,
And as I go, I love to sing,
My knapsack on my back.
My knapsack on my back.
I love to wander by the stream
That dances in the sun,
So joyously it calls to me,
"Come! Join my happy song!"
I wave my hat to all I meet,
And they wave back to me,
And blackbirds call so loud and sweet
From ev'ry green wood tree.
High overhead, the skylarks wing,
They never rest at home
But just like me, they love to sing,
As o'er the world we roam.
Oh, may I go a-wandering
Until the day I die!
Oh, may I always laugh and sing,
Beneath God's clear blue sky!