I grew up in Bombay, India, a far cry from the west coast of North America, where I live today.
Yet for a girl who grew up in the city, I was lucky to experience natural and wild spaces far from the paved, urban environment I lived in. My mother made it her mission to get us to a nearby “hill station” (or hilltop town) for school breaks. And we rock climbed, hiked and explored river banks and followed waterfalls to their source during the downpour of India’s south west monsoons.
The one thing, we never did however, was camp. There were no national parks in India where you went and pitched a tent or drove your RV.
In fact, I’ve only been camping a few times in my adult life in North America, but I have wanted to go camping every year, a feeling that was enhanced since our son was born six years ago. I have always desired for him to be comfortable in the WILD and to truly love NATURE.
This past weekend, we went camping as a family for the first time.
My son Ananda and I were very very excited. Eoin, my husband’s excitement was palpable but perhaps a little cooler.
FYI, I am married to a man who grew up in the wilds of central Canada, to whom camping is a not a romantic notion and in no way resembles a glamping fantasy. He does not romanticize sleeping in a sleeping bag. He relishes a cosy bed. He detests mosquitoes (especially because they love him). But he does love being in NATURE.
So off we went to Big Sur, California. I had found a campsite in North Big Sur just a week earlier, described online as one that “backs onto redwood trees, has a fire pit and picnic table; close to the bathroom;” and offered no visual unless you count a very grainy, grey picture that showed a picnic table. I clicked “purchase” with a lot of hope and excitement.
On Saturday, we loaded up the car and I prepped food. “What shall we eat” became my obsessive question for the weekend. I asked friends, consulted Sunset magazine, but finally decided on a tried and tested menu. A.k.a. food our son would definitely eat without a fuss. :-).
For dinner: a simple Japanese inspired chicken and vegetable stew that I could marinate overnight – it has miso, tamari and lots of ginger; cucumber salad and smores for dessert as requested by Ananda. In addition some humus and veggies; avocado and tortilla chips to snack on; eggs and kale for Sunday breakfast and some fresh bread from a local baker.
Since we were car camping, it was.
We had a very large borrowed cooler and a camping stove, thanks to some well versed camping friends. I packed a cast iron skillet, a le creuset pot that has traveled many places with me – it is hardy – and a small pot for boiling water. We packed melamine plates, cloth napkins, our enamel coffee mugs and dish towels. I was thankful that the trunk to our diesel Jetta is roomy.
Eoin organized our camping tent, sleeping bags, mats and a hammock. We also threw in blankets, head lamps and an inflatable solar powered LED lantern that I found at a local outdoor gear shop.
Our goal was to keep our camping footprint light and as zero waste as possible.
I stayed up a little too late on Saturday night prepping and packing. I tried to pack just enough food so we wouldn’t have to waste anything. I think I overpacked just a little bit.
We left after a light granola, fruit and almond milk breakfast. It was not 8 a.m. as I had imagined. It was 10 a.m., but really did it matter? We were finally on our way. Ananda was elated.
We had planned to hike at a few points along the coast once we hit Big Sur.
But first we turned left at Carmel Valley and ate lunch at the farmstand at Earthbound Farms. A 10 minute drive off the highway took us to a repurposed barn and structures housing delicious, fresh, organic produce (strawberries for $1.99/ pound); flowers; and homemade soups, sandwiches and salads.
Ananda was not ready to eat yet, so we held a jump rope and let him practice jump-roping – a skill he is determined to master these days – until we had to drag him inside the cafe!
I am always amazed at how self-regulating children are. I’ve been sitting in a car for 2 hours. Now I need to move. It’s instinctive. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we all lived life in this way?
The farm stand was surrounded by abundant organic gardens – which supplied some of the food sold in the cafe, a labyrinth and fruit bearing trees. It was pastoral and lovely and I could have wandered here all morning.
But we had places to be. 🙂
So we drove down the famed 17 mile drive toward Big Sur. Jaw dropping clifftop vistas beckoned, beyond sparkled the deep blue Pacific Ocean; and we crossed narrow bridges still standing despite the wild storms of this past winter; past thick clumps of cars brimming over with tourists. Sunday traffic.
We stopped for a short coastal hike. Yes, there were many cars parked by the roadside, but the trail was not crowded. Where, we wondered was everybody. The paths winded past trails thick with native grasses, hedges and some poison oak.
“Careful,” said Ananda, who is vigilant about poison oak. He’s learned all about it attending school here.
We trailed down a slope toward a little creek running into the ocean and somehow managed to spend an hour or more at this pristine beautiful beach that was not empty, but did not feel crowded. The sand was soft and warm on our bare feet and here and there were odd driftwood palaces, built with care. Ananda climbed some rocks, we played float-the-stick-races down the river and time seemed to slow down. Our phones no longer worked. There was no cell phone service here.
Life felt as though it was cocooning us in its fullness.
Our campground was at Pfeiffer State Park on the banks of the Big Sur River among thousands of acres of towering redwoods. We had arrived at check in time, 2 p.m., which meant some waiting at the gate, more “are we there yet” from Ananda; and a drive down past many campsites, a river full of splashing children and there it was site 160, a pretty open spot with 2 picnic tables, a fire pit and a spot to put our tent up under a grove of redwood trees.
Ananda was hungry, so we unpacked the food, made him some guacamole and let him nosh on his snack before we put up our tent.
Our tent took a few tries, and then magically, we set it up, put on the cover and admired our handiwork. Next, we blew up our sleeping bag mat pads, and Ananda helped to arrange everything inside the tent. He loved being inside the enclosure – and promptly took out a coloring book. He was settling into our home for the night.
There was still more to be done. We organized our stove, cooler and set the table for dinner.
We had collected driftwood and shells and some feathers at the beach and Eoin crafted a nature shrine on one end of our dining table. It felt apropos, a thank you to the earth spirits and added so much beauty to our dinner table.
The next few hours were a blur. We walked to the river and decided that it was perfect for a play but now too cool to dive in. Instead, we tried to find the sunniest spot atop some boulders and attempted to have a short family meditation, which lasted for about 10 seconds of peace.
Yet, the light was golden and the water rushed on its way past us. We were the last folks left by the riverside. Smells of cooking fires wafted down to us and the coolness of the air bedded the heat of the day.
We were ready for dinner and a night under the stars.
That night, we shared stories.
We heard each others joys and disappointments around the campfire. We were closer as a family.
These are the moments that offer us meaning, I thought to myself. The times and spaces when we are undistracted and focus on those we love. When we are not distracted either by the noise of mass consumerism or by our wants.
When we get quiet.
When we realize how simple our needs really are.
When we open up to the life force present in nature.
When we breathe it all in.
We left the campsite the next day under-slept but over-joyed.
Something felt more still and more peaceful in my body and heart.
This whole weekend, I decided was a yoga practice.
ECO CAMPING TIPS!
Here are some tips to keep your camping trip as waste free as possible. This may be second nature to you; but I can tell you how shocked I was at the amount of waste I saw in the trash and recycling bins at the campsite.
- Bring reusable dishes, silverware and glasses.
- Bring cloth napkins to wipe your hands with.
- Bring eco dish soap, better for your hands and the environment.
- Prepack and prep veggies in reusable boxes that make packing up a whiz.
- If you eat meat, or fish, you can most likely burn the bones in your camp fire.
- Consider bringing a container to take compostable food leftovers home.
- If you use a quick starter firelog, do use one made from old coffee grinds, vs. the toxic varieties.
- Pick up any pieces of trash you may find at your campsite before and after your stay.
- Use glass containers or reusable BPA plastic free ones for water. We brought 3 x 1 gallon glass growlers that are easy to transport (while car camping).
- Look to nature around for table decor. Involve your children in the process. Our six year old loved helping make our evergreen napkin rings!
- Make your mantra less is more, but do remember to test our your sleeping bags and camping gear so you know you will be comfortable (a lesson I am still learning).
- Embrace the simple life.
- Have fun!