Indulging my inner Dutch and child

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.”

18 thoughts on “Indulging my inner Dutch and child

  1. I love A Pattern Language, and it is so neat to be reminded of this special old book, which I learned about in The Whole Earth Catalog many years ago. It is indeed wise. Somewhere around here is my copy . . .

  2. How absolutely FUN! I cannot seem myself ever tiring of camping, either ~ there’s just something so real and exotic about it – yes, even in a 21-yr old 5th wheel at Otter Falls. It’s perfect.

  3. Hey Dora,
    Are we all just part of a huge mass consciousness? Have I ever had an original thought?
    I ask these questions because my husband and I are currently looking at trailers too. We had a VW Westfalia for years but that old fold-down bed was a bit tough after awhile.
    And like you, I’m liking the idea of being off the ground and in a little more dry comfort.
    I love the sound of that book. I’m ordering it right away. Thanks!

    • I know, happens to me all the time, from your site and others, snatches of thought that I just had too, didn’t I? — I have the feeling you’ll love the book, Colleen, but in any case, let us know! And it’s not something one reads from the beginning, it’s a dip-in-anywhere book. When we bought it as a gift for our daughter, years ago, when she was studying architectural technology, it was in the $80 range; thankfully is available now for about half that!

  4. A Pattern Language sounds like a wonderful book. One of my friends turned a closet into a grandchild’s dream house with special books and toys and hiding nooks. And I got to see my grandson delight in having an afghan tossed over him — a cave with holes in it to keep a little one from being scared.

    My daughter and her husband are spending two months on the road with camping equipment in back of their vehicle. I’ll send this post to them to let them know they can hang on to their dream even when they are grandparents.

    Why do you call your inner child Dutch? Did you grow up in Holland?

    • I remember too, Shirley, how kids loved playing in the large boxes that appliances came in; endless hours of fun.
      Yes, the Dutch part… I should have explained. I’ve always had a yen to have one of those Dutch beds, built into the wall, behind a curtain. Here I’m “blaming” it on the fact that my Mennonite forebears were probably Dutch. My family traces back through Russia to Prussia (today’s Poland); the majority of the Mennonites who moved there came from the Low Countries, though there were also those from Swiss and Germanic areas who settled there. It was controversial when Mennonites who wanted to emigrate from Soviet Russia later began to claim Dutch heritage, as they’d been rather Germanized by then — controversial because it was suddenly strategic to be the one rather than the other — but is, in fact, reasonably accurate I think. As far as even “deeper ancestry,” well I find the DNA stuff amazing. Wasn’t it you who said yours traces back to the Celts, or am I thinking of someone else?

  5. Yes, I do have my Hershey family DNA results, thanks to my brother’s cooperation. Here is 100,000 years of the family migrations in a nutshell: East Africa-Arabia-Iran-India-Central Asia-Iran-Caucasus Mountains-Turkey-Balkans-Eastern Europe-Alpine Europe-Continental Celts-Gallo Roman Culture-Benedictine Catholic-Zurichian Swiss-Anabaptist-Mennonite. The Helvetti,a Celtic Tribe in Switzerland, were conquered by Caesar and became Gallo-Roman during the time of Christ on earth. Many Celts fled to the British Isles during this time, Which is why my Hershey DNA compares closely with the Thomas Maxwell family of Chester County, PA.

  6. What fun! Something similar is brewing in my future. (‘cept I’m considering a used sailboat. They have the cutest interiors.) Shall see. I have to catch up with the rest of your posts – am falling (like the season) behind.

    • Sailboat! Oh, and then you’re tracing your mother’s path around areas of the former Soviet Union, no? Hope they both happen for you! (BTW, hope you got my FB message re. my sister reading and greatly enjoying your The Kulak’s Daughter, also the invite for next week.)

      • Dora, I’ve a lot of time to imagine my future while I do my daily walk. Too much time, no doubt. Thanks for sharing about your sister reading my book. I’m looking forward to your launch next week and to reading more of your work!

        I hope you enjoy Neepawa – my in-laws used to live in an old-fashioned house a lot like Lawrence’s. It’s a great town.

  7. Your mention of A Pattern Language caught my eye because the speaker at St. Margaret’s Slater-Maguire lectures this year, Nikos Salinagaros, mentioned it in his talk (in fact, I’m sure he also said that he had helped edit a major work by Christopher Alexander). He was speaking about architectural design on a human scale, contrasting it with “inhuman” design.

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