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The Purpose of Camping – Tri |

The Purpose of Camping – Tri

I was recently reminded what the purpose of camping is when my husband, daughter and I visited my brother and his young family at their campsite in a Custer State Park campground over Labor Day weekend.

When our kids when were younger camping had a totally different meaning for them than it did for my husband and me. Campground camping gave my husband a taste of suburban life with neighbors all around him and renewed his appreciation for rural living. For me camping meant a lot of work before, during, and after: packing, preparing food all day, constantly cleaning up the campsite, hand washing cookware, having raw hands creased with black from sooty pots and pans, and unpacking once home.


The whole purpose of camping to our kids was the campfire. A nearby lake for swimming was only important when they took a break from the fire. Campfires aren’t allowed on Forest Service land except in designated campgrounds with fire pits, so we resorted to a lot of campground camping in order to appease our kids.

Upon arriving, our kids would begin their inquiries about when we could have a campfire. Observing them around an open fire was like watching puppies fixated with the food on someone’s plate. Our kids wouldn’t go anywhere as long as there was a campfire they could stare into and poke a stick at.

It amazed me that all our kids really needed to be content was a kid chair, a long stick, flaming logs and hot coals to stir. Once a fire was going, our kids’ first order of camping business was finding their personal “fire stick” which got used throughout the weekend. They’d each find a branch long enough to reach the fire from their camp chair and would leave it next to the fire pit for later use. All weekend they’d poke at the campfire with their stick. They especially loved pointing its hot end in the air and as they waved it around, they’d watch the smoke as it drifted from its smoldering tip or would repeatedly admire its red hot end as it glowed in the dark.

Campfires kept our kids corralled and nothing quieted and calmed them faster or more than getting a fire going. Sibling arguments dissipated around the campfire, unless of course one of them took or moved or burned up the other’s fire stick on accident.

The fire almost always had their rapt attention; leaving them speechless much of the time. They stayed occupied for hours. Whether they were infants intrigued by watching the flames of the fire or youngsters fixated with campfire maintenance, they wouldn’t go anywhere if there was a fire blazing in the campfire ring.

For our son, camping was about the entire campfire process: preparing, starting, building, maintaining, using and extinguishing the campfire. He’d help gather the firewood at home for taking with us. He wanted to help chop the firewood logs into smaller chunks and make the kindling – using Dad’s little hand axe while supervised. He’d volunteer to get the fire started and always got up to add more wood to the fire when he thought it was dying out. He’d stir the fire to revive it and liked extinguishing the fire before bedtime.

Our kids loved utilizing the campfire also. They’d warm up in the morning with hot cocoa by the fire, line dry their wet swim clothes and towels by the fire, cook their own hotdogs, or whittle a stick into a pile of shavings by the fire. They’d roast marshmallows for s’mores of relatives who came out to visit us, help cook bacon and eggs in the frying pan over the fire, and be in charge of burning all the paper garbage so they could watch it shrivel up as it burned.

In retrospect, even though we took a lot of extra stuff in order to have one, campfires were some of our best and cheapest investments for entertaining our kids.

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