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i'm not a great outdoorsman. on my first ever camp outing my family went to yellowstone with some relatives from back east. my uncle had one of those boxy pop up campers. my folks and i slept in one of the two beds which hung suspended on either side of the camper. in the night i rolled against the canvas wall at the end of the bed, the snaps came undone and i fell out and onto the ground, never waking up. come morning my mom became frantic realizing i wasn't there (this being back when bears still roamed the public areas at night). half the campground was raised with people randomly shouting my name into the woods. after a short while my cousin terminated the search by walking behind the camper and calling "i found him. he's right here." even his young falsetto voice did not wake my footed-pajama slumber on a bed of dirt and pine-needles.

last weekend we went camping with marty's family. on the first day we went floating. this is possibly only a missouri thing, i don't know, but it entails lazing in a barely moving eight-man raft down an almost still river. average floats take three to six hours and are often rife with drunkards of many ages. the termination point of this particular float had a swimming hole and many earlier floaters and some locals were splashing and sunning in the mid-day heat. at one point during our play i was standing on the shore talking to bella. she interrupted me mid-sentence, pointed at my feet and said "Snake!". this is a new game bella likes to play trying to make people look at imaginary things and then cooing "made you look". not in the mood on this muddy-river day, i didn't bite. she looked me in the eye and said "father, there is a snake between your feet". just to end the game, i looked. sure enough an eight-inch snake was swimming right through my planted feet coming out of the river and onto the shore. i jumped to the side and nudged bella back with my arm. out of nowhere a gaunt, tattooed man appeared with a canoe oar raised over his head. i immediately held my hand up saying "whoa! what are you doing?" the man turned to me with barred teeth and said. "i'm killing a damn snake. my f'ing kids are swimming in there!" in the time it took him to retort the snake had swum safely back into the water and out of reach. he turned to me, still blood-thirsty, and i held back the next thing about to leave my mouth which was "that snake has more right to be in this water than your kids." i didn't say this because i typically don't crack wise with men holding finely shaped wooden sticks over their heads ready to strike. he grunted in dissatisfaction, turned and walked away. about seven minutes later some high school kids made their own sport of the snake by pelting it with fist-sized rocks.

the next morning i woke up in our tent to the smell of pancakes and sausage. the snake debacle was the first thing to enter my mind. i laid there for a short while playing the moment out in my head. i concluded that i wasn't built for this scene and my gut was telling me i should just stay back in the city with my broadband and paved streets. but then i heard my kids laughing and playing with their cousins and thought about how they enjoyed being out here. it's a nice change of pace for them and a neat experience to give them in youth and this seems to be what much of this is about, exposing your children to the world around them so they can form opinions about what this life has to offer. the laughter combined with this notion settled my debate. i got out of bed with a new resolution to step up and make the best of it for the sake of my children. i grabbed my electric toothbrush and tube of crest and headed for the campground's bathroom. on my way there, about twenty feet ahead of me a man left his campsite headed in the same direction as me. this man who was well over three hundred pounds was wearing only a pair of low fitting cotton shorts and had tucked in the crook of one of his arms a full roll of toilet paper. staring at this slow moving man and that pinched roll of toilet paper, i stopped walking and in that instant concluded two things. one, brushing your teeth while camping is completely optional and two, children today are coddled and catered to far too much.




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