On our first camping trip, the spouse and I drove to Nova Scotia, which is divided into two distinct pieces, a southern piece shaped like the figure 7 and a smaller, northern piece, Cape Breton Island. We headed to a campground that was at their conjunction, far away from any towns and up on some hills overlooking the Northumberland Strait (I think). For the first time in my life, there was no light pollution. I thought that I had seen a night sky before. I was wrong. The star-lit sky was breathtaking. I finally understood why it’s called the milky way.
Although we were there in August, it was not what I thought of as summer weather. It was cold. Everywhere we went, some Canadian would say, “This is really cold for this time of year.” After a while, it seemed as though the natives had constructed this narrative to appease us tourists. I began to think that even though the cold was actually not so unusual, they wanted the foreigners to think that so the American dollars would keep coming.
Those frigid nights taught us that picking our camp site mattered. Of course, one would like to have a good view of the water, and a picnic table was desirable. We had cleverly set up our tent away from the bathrooms so we would not be disturbed by the people coming and going. However, the long walk to the facilities in the middle of the night even with the incredible sky made us realize the foolishness of our ways. Having to put on even more clothes for the midnight necessity than the many layers we had put on before getting into the sleeping bags woke us up too much, and no matter what we threw on, we came back shivering, making it hard to fall asleep. After that first night, we moved our tent closer to the bathrooms. Camping was teaching all sorts of practicalities.
I was also learning that I had trouble in a sleeping bag. If I turned over or just tried to adjust my position, I would get tangled up. Eventually the spouse and I found it better to unzip our bags completely and then zip them together, which allowed one to turn over while those “blankets” stayed in place as the partner slept. Not only was it warmer this way, it offered other potential benefits as well.
I was also learning the curse of the air mattress. They weren’t comfortable to begin with, and it was amazing how often they developed leaks. Go to sleep on a cushion of air but wake up on the uneven ground feeling a little rock pushing into the small of your back. Eventually we got camp mattresses made out of foam that rolled up into a tight package. We liked them very much and often used them at home to sleep on when guests came, or we took them with us when visiting friends who did not have a spare bedroom. One of the best purchases we ever made.
I don’t remember much of what we did while staying at this first Nova Scotia campground except that we climbed a fire tower for the view and learned a lot about keeping warm. Upon leaving, we circumnavigated Cape Breton Island where every little quaint fishing village looked as if it were posing for pictures. We made our way south to a campground outside the fishing town of Lunenberg where the incoming tide and waves crashed into caves and caverns making sounds like booms from a cannon. In Lunenberg, we treated ourselves to a restaurant meal in an oceanfront inn. It was quaint as all get out.
From Lunenberg we headed inland to a provincial park containing several lakes, each feeling more remote than the others. In this park I learned why “crazy as a loon” had become an expression. I heard a pair of the birds for the first time and caught a glimpse of one. Once heard, the sound stays with you forever.
By now we were getting pretty good at camping and cooking al fresco. We had stopped in a liquor store before turning inland, and it seemed fitting that in this maritime province the store had a wide array of rums but not too much else. We also bought there a bottle of wine, Canadian wine. Getting to our new campsite, the spouse decided to use the wine in making a beef stew. I don’t know what we thought we would get in a local Canadian wine, but we should have remembered the adage that if you use a wine in cooking, it should be a wine you would drink. We hadn’t drunk any of it. Cooking the stew over an open fire (no wimpy camp stove for us!), we patiently fed and stirred the fire for hours waiting for the stew to be done. In the end, the stew was…well, awful, putrid, uneatable. We had been told not to leave food about the campsite, but we were pretty confident that the racoons and bears would not have eaten it either. (It was a long time before we were willing to try a Canadian wine again, but, dear maple leaf friends, we have had good ones since then—ice and dessert wines from Ontario, and some almost excellent reds from British Columbia.)
We took a ferry leaving Nova Scotia. It went from Digby to St. Johns, New Brunswick, over the famous, picturesque Bay of Fundy. It was short and affordable and cut hours off the drive home. I remember little of that return trip. I think for a change of scenery we drove down the interior of Maine instead of the coast, and I saw that even in the highly settled Northeast, the country still has much inhabited territory. We must have stayed overnight somewhere before getting to Brooklyn, but I have no memory of it.
What I do remember is that we loved the trip, and after getting home and unpacking the car, we started planning our next camping trip. We had found a way for us to travel.
Our camping days are over. Too bad, too, since tents pop up with ease these days without the need of tent stakes, and sleeping bags can keep you warm in arctic winds. Someday soon I hope that we can again find a way to travel. Maybe a first-class boutique hotel in Paris, café au lait, croissants…….?