Turning the small t-shaped handle, a familiar squeak-squawk-swoop sound filters through my ears and into a deep nook of my brain. “Ah,” my brain says to the familiar sound of a campground water spigot, a sound tied to a hundred different memories.
The memories that come first are from camping trips with my family when I was a little girl. Vacations meant camping and, though we occasionally stayed in hotels (preferably ones with pools in my sister’s and my opinion), I don't remember hotel trips as well. Hotels didn't have those familiar water spigots.
My memories are colored by vivid fern and pine greens, the pale blue of early morning sky and a bit of haze from campfire. They feel like the rough flannel of my dad’s button up shirt, warm like a cup of hot cocoa my mom made, spongy like the old yellow-foam mats we’d roll out every time we set camp, and soft like our matching navy-blue sleeping bags that smelled faintly of campfire and earth. With a soundtrack of chirping birds in the morning and the crackle of campfire along with the spigot squeak, these colors, feelings, and smells paint the backdrop to memories of hide-and-go-seek at twilight in the woods behind our campsite. Roasting s’mores to the perfect golden brown and mourning the loss of ones turned to charcoal. Setting up our gigantic Colman tent with its confusing color-coded poles that could fit the four of us plus our bags and the dog and our toys and maybe a school bus or two (or so it seemed in those days.) We camped close to home, and we camped hundreds of miles away too.
With my sister, mom or dad, I would walk to get water from a spigot for cooking dinner on our 2-burner Colman or cleaning the dishes, to fill water bottles before a hike or to fill the dog’s bowl. After dark, my sister and I would walk closer together on our way to wash our hands and brush our teeth, while trying to one-up the other with scary stories of ghosts and Bigfoot and the boogie man. With a squeaky turn, the high-pitched whistle of water would signal the flow through pipes while we did the "chore" of filling some pot or bottle, inevitably splattering the ground and our feet and faces in the process.
Camping led to building forts in the roots of massive trees in the Olympics, seeing the late day sun shine on Mt Rushmore, playing cowgirl in wooden-porched museums, daydreaming of dinosaurs in the Badlands, crying about the approach of the Hells Angles while stopped a South Dakota rest stop. My imagination stretched with curiosity as landscapes changed before my eyes at the speed of 60mph on the drive to our annual summer destination. I learned to pee outside without getting it on my shoes and that blue colored berries are edible, red are sometimes edible and white are never, ever to be eaten. I learned that whatever you see, look a little closer, a little longer and you'll see more than you ever expected. And I learned that sleep comes faster, deeper, and more restful under the canopy of trees, stars and a quiet, wilderness sky.
I don't know why my parents chose to camp. Maybe because they both camped as kids with their families. Or, maybe financially, they could afford to travel more with a family of four by not spending on flights and fancy hotels, but rather driving and carrying our home in a rolled up canvas bag. Or because they really just love the outdoors. Most likely, it was a little of all. Whatever the reason, I am grateful.
Now, from the moment I set out for a campout in an established park packed with July tourists or some solitary backcountry spot, I nearly instantly find peacefulness and creativity forgotten in the standard routine of coffee, house, work. All it really takes to get there is the turn and squeak of a campground faucet.