Bon Echo 2019

I really enjoy camping. I enjoy escaping my own materialistic wants and desires as well as the complexity and stresses of modern life. I get to explore as I hike, or lounge on a beach by a lake as I dip in for a swim as I feel like it. When I get hungry, I eat a simple meal. When I’m tired, I sleep. The acrid smell of a fresh camp fire is a most wonderful and comforting aroma, and gazing into the coals allows me to easily empty my mind and meditate. I usually record our excursions to various provincial parks and upload those videos to my channel on Youtube, but then this particular weekend made me realize that I am a writer and a photographer first, and I enjoy creating and sharing stories by that medium. I’m also okay at video, but as I move forward in life with a goal to simplify, I believe that I can convey so much more through photographs and writing than I ever could through video. While I have two other previous camping trips recorded on video and ready to upload, I wanted to utilize my precious little spare time in getting back to the writing that I love.

My brother waiting for our camping trip in May 1995.

Bon Echo this year was a very special and very short camping trip. It was special because my parents were also there for my father’s birthday, and my brother was visiting from Alberta with his two beautiful children. Sally and I planned this trip with my father while the snow was still on the ground, and I was really looking forward to it. Since we didn’t book right away, we were unable to book one of the sites closer to the beach and the rock; however, we were able to book two nice sites in the Hardwood Hills campground. I wanted to bring the canoe so my brother could paddle around Joe Perry Lake with my father, and perhaps I too would take a turn with someone. The last time I ever camped with my brother was in the 1990’s, when we were both very young and single.

Site 27 at Emily Provincial Park

Of course, camping was much simpler then. A couple of pup tents, sleeping bags, a Styrofoam cooler, a tarp strung up above the picnic table, and a couple of coal oil lanterns were all we needed to have a good time. I’d light a cigar back then as we sat around the camp fire, as that smell reminded me of the pipe tobacco one of my favourite boy scout leaders smoked. The opportunity to reconnect with my brother in this way with his children and my parents and with my wife and son was something I was really looking forward to. Sadly, there is no real escape from the complexity of modern life, and all of our lives have become pretty complex, leaving all of us with precious little time to spend together.

Me setting up our trailer on site 401.

The first thing that cut our trip short was because my brother bought his return plane tickets to Alberta thinking his kids started school the following week, and so he had booked his flight for Saturday night. Once he realized his mistake, it was too late, the tickets were non-refundable through the service he used, so my father cancelled their Saturday night stay, leaving only the Friday night. The other thing was my fault; I started a new position that week, and while I would normally have had Friday off, I had to work on Friday which meant we were later than we wanted to be arriving to the camp site. We arrived sometime around 7 pm. Another disappointment was the fact that our son had to stay behind because he had training this weekend for his job. Because of these things, we decided to not bring the canoe with us, as we realized we would not have enough time to enjoy it, and loading it up would steal precious minutes from our reunion.

My parents with their new friend.

When we arrived, we soon discovered that my parents had made fast friends with the people at the campsite across from them. My parents are like that; they’re friendly, open, and if they accidentally cross your camp site on the way to the washrooms, you’re liable to be invited over to their site for some of my father’s famous homemade wine and my mother’s famous birthday cheesecake. My brother cooked the sausages we brought with us on the campfire he made, and they tasted fantastic. My niece made a fire pit of her own, and my nephew curled up on my lap to tell me about the tooth he had lost in the sink drain while washing it. We stayed up far later than we ought to have, catching up with each other’s lives and making new friends with my parent’s new friends.

My nephew and niece by the fire pit and fire they made themselves.

We really didn’t get quite enough sleep, as we were up bright and early the next morning to spend the last remaining hours we had visiting. A lot of times, we noticed large families would get together and book adjoining sites and enjoy a week camping together. We talked about making this sort of reunion a family tradition. Perhaps if we planned enough in advance, we could do this again next year.

My nephew taking a picture of his father, my brother.

All of our plans dissolved as time continued to march on. We wanted to go with everyone up to the rock and the store. Originally, I had thought how nice it would have been to take the boat ride, but sadly these boats did not run on the weekend. That plan was scaled back from my first idea of all of us actually climbing up to the lookout after taking the ferry across. As it turned out, we were lucky to go for a short walk around the camp grounds with my brother and his children as we talked about our goals of weight loss, fitness, and the marathons we wanted to run. My niece and nephew, along with their new friend, the granddaughter of my parent’s new friends, were full of energy and life.

A rare family photograph

I felt fortunate that we had the time to take a group photograph at my parent’s camp site before they left. 11:00 am was coming up fast and it was starting to rain. They were packed up and ready to go, so we said our final good-byes. As it turned out, it was also the last night for their friends who had arrived earlier in the week, and they left as well. Sally and I decided to retreat back into our trailer as the rain picked up. Our cell phone signal was practically non-existent, and neither of us were really up for doing too much, so we took out our trusty portable DVD player and Twilight Zone box set and settled down to watch the episode, “A Hundred Yards Over The Rim.”

Eventually, the rain stopped, the episode was over, so we stepped outside for a walk. As we walked towards site 402, I was suddenly struck with a sense of melancholy. My greatest fear as a child was the fear of being left behind; a fear that was so strong, I would get off the school bus one stop before mine, which was the last stop, just so I would not be the last one left behind on the bus. Having just watched “A Hundred Yards Over The Rim,” I felt like how the character Christian Horne felt when he turned around to look back at the wagon only to see it gone. I realized how much I loved my brother, his family, and my parents, and started to wonder why we live in a culture that seems to keep us apart, when other cultures, like the Amish and the Mennonites, and indeed even other cultures from around the world, have developed in a way that places great value on these family connections.

Sally and I walked hand in hand down the long and lonely dirt road that leads to the Hardwood Hills campgrounds, talking about how we both felt about the time we spent with my parents, my brother, and his children, taking pictures along the way. I realized that it was us who left our son behind on this trip, and wondered how long it would be before his life became too complicated to co-ordinate with ours. We felt it to be a good idea to create an annual family tradition of a camping trip every summer, planned well ahead of time so that everyone could participate.

After our walk, we decided to drive up to the park store and visitor center, which are located at the historic area of the park where it’s very difficult to book a camp site unless you book it very early. We reflected on how fortunate we were to have each other to enjoy this sort of thing, and wished we didn’t have to keep it all to ourselves this weekend.

As evening quickly approached, I started up the campfire and we opened the bottle of my father’s homemade wine that he had left us. We cooked our dinner over the fire, enjoyed the wine, and fell asleep by the camp fire next to each other on our folding love seat.

We awoke just as early Sunday morning as we did Saturday morning. After having breakfast and packing up, we rode our bikes down to Joe Perry lake to get our exercise and to get one last picture together before leaving.

Just like my parents and my brother, we were packed up and ready to go by 11:00. As we were leaving, it started to rain. We drove by my parent’s site, #402, to find that some new campers were set up and enjoying the site, and so the cycle continues.