Tuning Out and Tuning In

It had been way too long since I’d taken the kids camping.  Earlier this month, however, I managed to get two out of three of them to come with me and we had a great overnight trip to our family prairie.  We go out to our prairie – and other natural areas – pretty frequently, but there’s something extra special about camping.  Maybe it’s the collaborative work needed to set up housekeeping, and tend to basic needs such as food, fuel and shelter.  Maybe it’s the opportunity to slow down and spend time with family away from all the distractions at home.  Maybe it’s the chance to see the stars, listen to wildlife calls, and experience other nature-at-night phenomena that we usually miss by being at home in our beds.  Maybe it’s all those things and more.

(Ok, who am I kidding?  It’s mostly the chance to play with a campfire – at least from my boys’ perspective!)

Against my better judgement, the boys talked me into setting up camp at the bottom of a draw (there was zero chance of rain, fortunately).  One advantage of that location was that we had enough trees to support our hammock.

Against my better judgement, the boys talked me into setting up camp at the bottom of a draw (there was zero chance of rain, so I gave in). One advantage of the location was that we had enough trees to support our hammock.

Anyone who has been camping knows that food always tastes better when cooked on a campfire.

Everyone knows food always tastes better when cooked over a campfire.  We had to have two fires so the boys could “work” with one while I cooked on the other.

We filled our time with simple but profound activities.  We practiced a little archery.  The boys took turns lying in the hammock.  We poked around down by the pond.  Supper was cooked on sticks held over a fire.  When the sun went down, we walked into the prairie, laid down beneath the stars and let ourselves be swallowed up by the universe.  We identified a few constellations and saw either a satellite or the space station, but nobody really cared about identification.  After playing some cards in the tent, we listened to coyotes, owls, turkeys, frogs, and some passing cranes as we went to sleep and woke up the next morning.  I figured the boys would enjoy a chance to sleep in, but well before sunrise they woke me and pushed me out into the cold morning to get a fire started.  (Did I mention the boys like campfires?)  Breakfast was unhurried and delicious.

We weren't remote enough to escape lights from nearby towns, but we still had a pretty great night sky show to admire.

We weren’t remote enough to completely escape lights from nearby towns but we still had a pretty amazing night sky to admire.

I brought along some loppers and saws for cutting small cedar trees out of the prairie, figuring that if the boys got bored we could at least be productive.  As it turned out, they didn’t get bored and we didn’t accomplish anything productive.

Except that we did.  We really did.

This entry was posted in Prairie Natural History, Prairie Photography and tagged , , by Chris Helzer. Bookmark the permalink.

About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.

15 thoughts on “Tuning Out and Tuning In

  1. Your night sky photo with the off-center, glowing tent is quite spectacular. Makes me want to get out & go camping, too. One of my kids’ favorite places to camp is in Preparation Canyon SP, they love prairie camping, especially running through the tall grasses under a full moon.

  2. My favorite campsite in western Washington, was Lake Ozette campground accesible only by boat and midweek, no one else there!! At night “Dad what is that noise”? Just a deer munching on some weeds by the shore, and of course flash light reflection on their eyes is always cool. Yes, camping with kids is always memorable! Good story.


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