Out in the Woods

by Matt Benoit

With the days growing longer and the natural world’s creatures calling out their springtime mating noises—some of which give the impression that they are in considerable pain—it is evident that America’s camping season is finally here.

I’ve held a fondness for the outdoors ever since I was a child, and growing up in the Pacific Northwest, one could ask for perhaps no better place to experience nature. After all, as the legendary explorer and conservationist John Muir wrote of the area while surveying it many years ago, “this place has a buttload of trees.”

Of course, being that it is the Pacific Northwest, it rains more often than Lindsay Lohan goes to court, and so many people retreat indoors to coffee shops to read books and drink overpriced lattes. But others are more hearty souls, braving the elements in their brightly-colored rain jackets and tarps and eating those weird packages of freeze-dried food that should only be given to astronauts.

While camping today is basically a novelty, it hasn’t always been that way. At history’s beginnings, “camping” was more a means of “surviving,” where early humans endured nature’s harsh elements because their brains had not yet evolved to the point where they could invent such things as indoor plumbing or the Winnebago.

But eventually their brains did evolve, and now many people go “camping” by pulling into a state-funded campsite with their RV to enjoy satellite TV and air conditioning.

But not me.

I like to actually camp outdoors, in places with no amenities. In other words, in or near wilderness. In fact, whenever I think of wilderness camping, I am reminded of the eloquence of the Walt Whitman poem, “Making Camp in Wilderness”:

Now I’ve got a beer
And I’ve got a gun
Look, there’s a deer
So let’s have some fun

Yup, Walt really knew how to party.

Anyway, I love camping for many reasons, and one of those is that camping with male friends and family makes for a great bonding experience. Nothing makes you closer with another man than venturing into a grand expanse of forest armed with only the bare necessities (guns, alcohol, sleeping bags, toilet paper, more alcohol, etc.).

Besides bonding, another thing I’ve noticed about camping is that it makes men want to frequently answer “nature’s call,” by which I of course mean “defecate.”

At least this is what happens when I go camping with my dad.

My dad is the kind of guy who always makes sure there’s a roll of toilet paper nearby when we have ventured deep into the woods. If they made hip holsters that held toilet paper rolls instead of handguns, he would probably buy one.

Because very often, we will be gathered around the fire talking or eating or aiming handguns at small, defenseless animals, and my dad will suddenly say, “I’ll be right back” before grabbing a roll of toilet paper and lumbering off into the woods like a metrosexual sasquatch, past large fallen trees and old, mossy stumps, to squat amid the beauty of the area, and to be laughed at by watching chipmunks.

This happens a lot (the defecating, not the laughing chipmunks) at our favorite camping spot, Hart’s Pass, which is located in the Methow Valley in northeastern Washington. Just driving there on the North Cascades Highway is a treat in itself, because in addition to witnessing the breathtaking views of “America’s Alps,” you get to pass the famous spot where Robert De Niro stopped to pee by the side of the road in the film The Deer Hunter.

My dad is always quick to point this out every time we travel the highway, and we have both agreed that this location should be on the National Register of Historic Places.

Anyway, my dad and his friend Bill have been camping in Hart’s Pass for years, and about the time I turned 16, I started going with them on these most masculine of trips. Hart’s Pass and the wilderness surrounding it is a place of immense tranquility, unsullied wildlife and, if something goes terribly wrong, a place where no one will hear your screams.

But it’s truly a wonderful place, and I have lots of great memories from being there.

There was the time we brought a tent with us that we’d never set up before and for which we had no directions for assembling, which resulted in a dark, hour-long struggle with a bag of mismatched rods and torn fabric and my dad using every conceivable profanity in the English language multiple times (this type of problem solving is known as the “Joe Pesci Method,” which is basically where you swear at things until they start working properly).

There was also the infamous “ax incident,” which occurred after my dad and I had left Bill at camp and driven down the mountain to a general store for supplies because my dad neglected to bring any silverware with us. We drove back into a seemingly-deserted campsite, and about as soon as my dad uttered the words “Where’s Bill?” a banshee-like yell pierced the air as Bill emerged from behind a large tree, wielding an ax with the deft precision of a deranged killer. And then he tripped on a root, falling face-first into the dirt.

So, as you can see, camping is great, and if you haven’t gotten “out there” recently, you should. Experience what nature has to offer you, from the accidental inhalation of mosquitoes at an alpine lake to the stunningly beautiful sight of empty beer cans in their natural environment.

Just be sure to watch out for roots.

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