Unhappy Camper

by Brian

The old man unrolls his tent and looks at the directions.

“Let’s see,” he says. “Undergo pole elongation for support crossing…what kind of bootleg Chinese bullshit is this? Opening affixes from the nearby underhole make extend to opposition structure…Christ almighty!”

He throws the directions down in disgust.

“Maybe you shouldn’t have bought an 8-man cabin tent,” I say.

“I need my comfort. I’m too old for sleeping on the ground in a nylon sarcophagus.”

In addition to the cabin tent, the old man has brought a queen sized air mattress, a down comforter, 5,000 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, a memory foam pillow, a suitcase, a canister of bear spray, a 20 gallon cooler full of food, and a case of wine.

I pick up the instructions and study the diagram.

“Welcome to outdoor chic for modern adventure style,” says the message at the top.

I spread the tent base out, unfold the poles, and begin feeding the first one through. The old man receives the pole and inserts it into the opposite eyehole with one hand while he swats away flies with the other.

“I always forget how much I despise nature,” he says, wiping the remnant of a dead fly on his pants.

“I used to consider myself a real nature-lover, but I only loved nature because I did not understand it. People love their oil-painting nature…their photographed snow-capped mountains. Mankind spent the first 99% of its existence trying to overcome nature. It was only by conquering her that we were able to have nature as recreation. When a plane crashes in the woods and the survivors eat each other, nobody calls it a camping trip.”

The tent begins to take shape. Four crisscrossing poles complete the main structure. Separate poles support the vestibule and rain fly. The old man begins to inflate his air mattress.

It’s tragic: nature destroyed by her own creations. Probably the same fate awaits us.

“Those who claim they want to be one with nature are scrambling after a romantic primitivism. We used to be a part of nature. We no longer are,” says the old man, raising his voice above the compressor.

“Of course we are,” I say. “We need nature to live.”

“For now, yes, but not forever. Nature is the way to the past. As long as we cling to the natural world we are held back. Before we can move forward, the earth must be destroyed. Only when it lies in ruin can we stand in the full light of our being. Nature is like a mother whose apron strings we must get out from under.”

“But isn’t everything that’s out there—our world, outer space, the universe—part of one, larger nature?”

“Oh, no. If history and science are proving anything, it’s how terribly singular and alone everything is. The nature of things is to go apart. The idea that ‘we are all one’ is a form of totalitarianism. ‘We are all one’—disgusting! It means I have to be one with pederasts and cannibals and goddamned Dodgers fans. No thank you! It’s a cult…the cult of We Are All One.”

The old man makes the bed and gives the setup and experimental lay.

“I suppose it’s tragic: nature destroyed by her own creations. Probably the same fate awaits us.”

I erect my tent and organize the camp site. The old man emerges from his tent almost an hour later, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

“That Chinese piece of shit isn’t half bad,” he says.

“The chinks don’t have the same sense of preserving nature that we do. There is an abstract Confucian reverence, but in practice, the environment is a complete externality. It’s no wonder they’re getting ahead of us.”

I offer the old man sliced summer sausage and sharp cheddar. He grabs a handful of meat and cheese.

I guess we’d better do something other than stare at goddamned pinecones.

“Did I ever tell you about my experience on the Appalachian Trail?” he says.

“Looking back on it, I was having a midlife crisis. My second wife had left me. I thought nature would help me heal, yadda yadda. Boy was I wrong. About two days in I realized how goddamned stupid I was. But, I’d invested thousands in the gear. I’d come this far. I might as well push on. So I did, for another week. And then the storm came. A late season blizzard blew in and buried me in two feet of snow. My tent was a fucking igloo. No sense hiking in that. I knew it’d melt, eventually. Took a damn week, though. Temperatures stayed freezing or near it for 5 days. I ran out of food on the fourth. It was three days to the next town. I dragged my ass down main street like some missing-link hell creature, smelling like a badger’s asshole. That was it for my trip—and my camping career, for that matter.”

“Do you mean you haven’t been camping since?”

“That’s right. This is the first time in 27 years.”


“Meh. At least now I have my comfort. And my peace and quiet. That was the other thing about the trail. The worst part was the camaraderie among the hikers. Everyone wanted to stop and talk to you. They wanted to hear your ‘trail story.’ This one annoying bastard who was hiking at the same pace as me, he just decides that we’ll be hiking and camping partners. Well, excuse the hell out of me for thinking that if you’re going to hike 1,000 goddamned miles through the woods, peace and quiet is right up there on the list of reasons why! I prayed to god a bear would maul him in the night.”

“So why did you decide to come?”

“For want of else to do.”

“What do you say we go watch the sunset and open a bottle of wine?”

“I guess we’d better do something other than stare at goddamned pinecones.”

We make our way up a mild sloping trail. The old man has chosen a 2011 vintage Spanish wine. He stops frequently to sip.

“Man sees himself in nature,” says the old man. “When he feels good, nature is beautiful. Under the spell of melancholia, the sky rises up fearfully before him, grotesque and doom-foreboding.”

“And what do you see?” I ask.

“Nothing,” he says. “Sheer mindlessness.”

We reach the top of the ridge with 10 minutes to spare. The sun, as it must, falls away from us, unable to break the spell of gravity, lighting up the western sky in a fiery death of orange-red pastels.

“Sunsets really are garish,” says the old man.

He fills his cup and throws the empty bottle of wine off the side of the mountain.