Mid-August, H. and I bought a small 5th-wheeler camper trailer, 21 years old, decent condition for its age, decent price for its condition, etc. etc. We hauled it home and while I washed the interior and began to scheme the things I’d need to stock it, H. (who’s as handy as he’s handsome) pressure-washed the outside and began to go through the plumbing and wiring and so on to bring everything into good working order.
We hadn’t even camped with it yet, and there we were, the first days of owning our “Winnie” (which is the name that’s stuck), and realizing we were having a great deal of fun with it. All that up and down into its compact interior, cleaning and moving about its tiny “main room” with table, fridge, stove, and sink, its little “bathroom” with shower, toilet, sink, and closet on one end, and its “bedroom” — a mattress on the raised platform part of it, under a low ceiling and behind a curtain for privacy — on the other.
There’s not much camping season left this year – this is really an investment for next season – but we did take three nights at lovely Otter Falls a week ago and, hopefully, will have another few days away if the nice weather holds. We used to camp with our kids, in a tent, and have wonderful memories of that, but somehow in the years since they’d left home, we’d lost our enthusiasm for sleeping “on the ground,” and behind damp canvas when it’s raining.
But now we were back at it and it got me wondering about camping’s appeal. It’s about Nature, that seems obvious, allowing us to intersect with a landscape and elements differently than one generally does in the city, the boundaries between us and the natural environment thinner, more porous somehow, as we move between it and our shelter, and also spend much of the day outside. And the pleasure of fire, of course, watching and tending and cooking over it. And the reading and talking one does when together away from home.
But maybe it was the fun we’d had while Winnie was first standing in the back yard that had me convinced it had a lot to do, in addition, with a couple of the patterns in A Pattern Language (one of the most compelling books I’ve every encountered, see * below), namely patterns # 188 (Bed Alcove) and # 203 (Child Caves). Here they are, with introductory explanations from the book:
188…Bed Alcove Bedrooms make no sense. Therefore: Don’t put …beds in empty rooms called bedrooms, but instead put individual bed alcoves off rooms with other nonsleeping functions, so the bed itself becomes a tiny private haven.
203…Child Caves Children love to be in tiny, cave-like places. Therefore: Wherever children play…make small “caves” for them.
Sleeping in an alcove. Playing house in small spaces. Yes, that’s it! I could expound at greater length, but suffice it to say, camping with Winnie allows me to indulge my inner Dutch — and my inner child!
*A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander et al. is a book on architecture, which contains what the authors call a new language from timeless patterns of how people interact with their living places. There’s 253 patterns, beginning with those of entire regions, all the way to doorknobs. What this book did for me, when I was introduced to it many years ago by my friend Ruth Bergen Braun, was tell me what I already felt but could not have articulated myself – why my spirit resonated so profoundly with some kinds of spaces and definitely not with others. I’m not an architect or builder but this is a comprehensively human book; as The New York Times put it, “A wise old owl of a book…Alexander may be the closest thing home design has to a Zen master.”