We have just returned from just short of two weeks in Algonquin Park, it is the first time in a number of years that we have been able to get away for that long a period of time. It was as it usually is a relaxing and enjoyable time, what struck me most about this year was how camping and the camping experience has changed over the years. I have been going camping for, I am afraid to admit this but over fifty years; my first visits are outside my recollection as they occurred before I was able to process such things. The first being just a few short months after I was born with a trip to Algonquin Park, there have been many trips over the years to parks in both Canada and the US, and the odd farmers field on the edge of whatever body of water was being paddled, all this is just to say that I have been doing this long enough to notice that things have changed and seem to be doing so even more quickly of late.
Those of you who have seen my facebook page will know that I was bemoaning the slow internet connection while in the park and my inability to upload pictures in a timely fashion to inform those who may be interested in what was happening. I am becoming more convinced that the ability to do things such as get on the internet and in particular to have high speed access is not necessarily such a great thing, it is wonderful to be able to keep in touch and to make sure that everything is OK at home but do we really need to post pictures and messages now? Camping was once upon a time a rather social happening focused on what you where doing now and you talked to those who where there taking part in the same experience, most often those path crossings remained just that brief encounters with an interesting cross section of people you would never have otherwise met. On occasion these encounters could lead to lasting friendships, my grandparents made some friends that became very close to over the years; they met in Pinery Provincial Park. The relationship continued for many years with invitations to birthdays, anniversaries and holiday visits to each others homes, at one point in time my younger brother dated one of their granddaughters.
Today rather than a group of people who have gathered in the same place, to share a common interest and are happy to meet others who have come to do the same, the parks seem to be a set of site designated individual enclaves. Some come to the park and set their sites up in the camping equivalent of the old west’s circling the wagons to keep out intruders, the tents or trailer are used to block any view of the site from the road and a vehicle used to close off the path to the encampment when the residents are in. Not everyone goes that far, the more common creatures now are the ones who set up, get the fire going and since most car camping is done in areas with cell service they park themselves by the fire and start making phone calls, texting and informing their online ‘friends’ of what is happening on their camping trip, practicing the modern version of being social, no human contact required.
There are of course exceptions, the people who say hello as you walk by and strike up a quick if passing conversation, and those who allow their kids to do what I remember wandering about the park in the area prescribed by them, under their protective eyes but with enough leash so to speak to feel some sense of freedom. It is fun to watch these kids, excited as they run about or ride their bikes to explore their new surroundings, this is how this past week I was able to meet a nice young man and his family, he is about eight years old and while wandering as far from his parents as allowed came by with a series of questions about our kayaks and comments on how he has always really wanted to go kayaking. After meeting his parents as they passed by our site we arranged to get him and his mom into a boat so he could have that experience.
When he gets home and he goes back to school and writes about what he did on his summer holidays and on into the future, I hope that is what he remembers about camping, that he met someone that was outside his families’ normal experience and that he had fun. I know it is what I remember, campfires and people lots of people gathered around them sharing a common joy and each others company whether it is a passing thing or leads to a lifelong friendship it certainly makes memories.