We went camping yesterday. It was a quickish trip — overnight, just about 40 minutes from our door — to Big Pine Campground, home of Montana’s largest known Ponderosa Pine (aptly named “Big Pine”). In addition to the large and lovely 350+ year old tree, there were five primitive campsites tucked individually into pockets in the lush woods near a sprawling, peak-rimmed meadow, and a little slice of river front heaven.
(For those of you unfortunately, if blissfully, unaware, the Clark Fork River carves through 312 miles of Montana’s most beautiful, and unspoiled, terrain, and is the state’s most voluminous river. We share in it’s splendor (almost, if not) daily through the thick of summer because the Clark Fork runs through the middle of our town and makes itself readily available for quick dips and/or longer floats. It happens to also snake right passed the edge of the Big Pine Campground, about 100 yards from where we pitched the new tent my parents just gave us.)
We set up camp, by way of eating some snacks, fending off mosquitos, and deciphering tent instructions (which tell you to do exactly what you already tried to do but couldn’t accomplish)… By “snacks”, I mean a smorgasbord of various edibles from raw fruit, raw hummus, and animal crackers to chopped apples with goat-mozzarella slices, hard-boiled eggs, and sandwiches (Turkey and PBandJ) — all of which Natalie prepared and/or made sure we brought. By “fending off mosquitos”, I mean rubbing the virtually empty bottle of Purification essential oil (a pretty decent bug repellent in certain quantities) all over ourselves and our daughters, and offering the youngest as a sacrifice to the whining hordes.
Eventually, we did set up the gargantuan structure later known as “the Sultan’s Tent” and even later as simply “Eric”. Eric sleeps 4-5 with ample elbow room. Eric’s chief feature is that his interior height reaches 6’10”, making him the first tent in which I have ever (as an adult) stood. He also has more pockets than a Trapper Keeper ™.
After the tent set-up, we all raced down to the river for some serious play time. Bella took mini-floats on the currents — at one point even floating in various positions on a surf board of drift wood. Echo plopped in the shallow water and followed Natalie here and there. Natalie waded. And I made a little pool in the sweeping river’s edge, hoping Echo would find it still enough to float and play.
I built this oval ring of stones, pulling new ones from the middle, and soliciting the assistance of the whole party at varying moments (Izabella was an amazing big-rock-extractor). And what began as a pool for Echo, quickly turned into an oblong wading arena for the lot of us that got plenty of highly-enjoyed use.
We ended up having both the river and the campground to ourselves, so we wandered and ambled, played faeries, and tried all the various beach spots and eddies nearby to our hearts content. After a long while, we headed back to camp.
We brought fire wood, though even if we hadn’t, there would have been plenty. Between the spoils of other emptied campsites, and the odd branch or so grabbed willy-nilly from the numerous choices, we could have easily forgone the precaution, but we had some marshmallows to roast and we didn’t want to take any chances.
We built a lovely fire which immediately mesmerized Echo, who was having her first cognizant camping trip.
The fire crackled and snapped as we ate more sandwiches, avocado slices, and turkish apricots. When we had feasted, and turned the camp fire to a nice bed of coals, we roasted a ton of marshmallows. After awhile, Bella just wanted to make toasted marshmallows for other people.
A little later, after some fireside teeth-brushing, the kids went to bed, each snuggled up in a sleeping bag. And after the process involved in helping Echo fall asleep, Natalie was finally worn out and followed suit pretty quickly. I sat by the fire and thanked my lucky stars, and the mostly-full moon.
We had the most beautiful time. Everything was fantastic. I was (am!) grateful for my parents’ sweet generosity, and grateful for my partner’s well planned and executed preparations, and even grateful for my own additions to the accoutrements (like the water filter!), grateful for everything — from the money to purchase the delicious food we brought, and Silvia the Mini Van who carried us the whole way and back, to the 350+ years it took for Big Pine to become what he is, and the magic of the river as she washes the earth. In that moment, by the fire, I was suddenly aware of the precision of all the preparations that theoretically and actually occurred to make our visit to and stay at Big Pine Campground so delightful and so memorable.
Natalie said it took us roughly four hours from start to finish to prepare for our trip. Considering how scattered our camp stuff was and how well prepared we were through the night, that’s pretty respectable. But I was laughing just now, thinking, it really took 4.5 billion years to get ready for that trip, and how that still seems worth it for the amount of fun we had.