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January 10, 2010

As I lay in my sleeping bag, snuggling deeper against the early morning chill, I hear the clanging of pots and movement around the campfire.  Jeff is making coffee.  Is it our morning to make breakfast or theirs?  I smile and snuggle deeper – theirs.

Not much later I decide its time to get up.  So I un zip my bag, get dressed and exit my camper to see four of the six kids sitting by the fire, and Matt in the tent/gazebo thingy visiting with Jeff and Jami as they cook breakfast.  Jeff asks if I want coffee.  Matt brings it to me.

After a yummy breakfast, Matt and I do the dishes while Jami helps the little ones get dressed, the big girls jump rope in the road, Jeff and Seth chop/gather wood or tend to the fire.  I love these mornings, where everyone is working, everyone is helping, all for the good of the group.  Standing there, wiping a plate, watching the activity around me, I wish our whole lives could be like this.

Even living in a big city sometimes I can feel very alone.  Between church responsibilities, working, getting the girls where they need to go and Matt’s church work and studies I rarely have time to just be with other people.  We’ve tried inviting people over but I find that others are just as busy as we are.

When we first moved to Chicago Matt and I lived in an intentional community.  We found a few others who were feeling as we were and wanted to challenge the common way of living.  The seven of us moved into a five bedroom apartment.  We shared rent and utilities as many roommates do.  But we also shared a common food budget and menu.  We took turns cooking and we had common cleaning days.  Though it eventually ended, I still think of those years with fondness.  A time when we refused to accept the isolation that can come with independence.

Since our experiment in communal living, Matt and I have talked with others about trying it again, with some adaptations based on the lessons we learned.  Inevitably we hear others say that it sounds like a great idea but they couldn’t give up their privacy or their independence.  This can make me feel sad and lonely.  We as a society have come to value the freedom to make decisions without having to talk to others about them, over closeness and relationship.  We’ve chosen “me and mine,” over “ours.”  This, I think, leads to such a scarcity mentality.

Camping with the Vanderkooi’s is my oasis in the desert of individualism and independence.  Here are two weeks every year where we share.  When each brings what we have to a common table.  We share resources, stories, hopes, dreams, chuckles and tears.  We are family.  We are community.


Why do we Camp Together?

December 31, 2009

Two families. One from Chicago, IL and one from the Z-Land, MI. Camping together for two weeks each summer. We talk about it for the entire year after and before – scheming, dreaming, and remembering. So why do we camp together? Why is it important to us?

Matt and I are cousins. We grew up differently; we lived in different towns, we went to different schools, and we had different friends. But we shared one same tradition. For many summers (I wish I could remember exactly how many), our grandparents would take us camping. Matt and his brother, me and mine, and Grandpa and Grandma Winstrom.

We would drive together to some far off land, park the motor home (for me and Grandma,) and pitch the tent for the boys. The boys would play with their hatchets, and I would widdle with my knife. Digging holes in the sand, picking wildflowers (don’t worry, Grandpa knew which ones were protected,) fishing in the stream, hiking down long trails that lead nowhere….we loved every minute of it. At night, Matt would tell stories around the fire that made our bellies hurt from laughter. Life was always so good around the campfire. It was perfect, actually.

One of my favorite memories is our lesson in orienteering. Grandpa would set a trail with a Hershey’s Chocolate bar at the end. We were to follow a map using our compass to find our way. I learned to be still and listen, and to watch and feel my way to the prize at the end. It was a simple yet profound game of concentration and trust. We needed to trust Grandpa’s map, trust that it would lead us the right way, trust our own instinct, and follow out a plan. It was more than a lesson in finding the chocolate bar; it was a lesson in life. Which path do we choose to follow?

As we grew up and our Grandparents grew older, our camping tradition came to end. I don’t think any of us really noticed the stop back then. We continued on with our lives going our own separate ways. Football games, school plays, church camps, graduation, college, weddings, children…we were all so busy with life.

Four years ago, things changed. I think our families (now married with children – Matt and Margo, and me and Jeff) began looking at our lives a whole, and realized that we needed to get back to our tradition somehow. As we watched our Grandparents age, I believe our hearts began to ache a little bit. Parts of us wished that we were still children walking quietly through the woods and dreaming under the stars. Our own children were growing, and we wanted them to have many of the same experiences that we did. Grandma and Grandpa couldn’t take us camping anymore, but we could honor them and their tradition by taking our own children and teaching them all the things they taught us.

And so a new tradition begins….