Call of the Wild

I grew up in a city.  I spent the first 27 years of my life thriving in the crowded city of Manila. I also lived for more than three years in New York City, the ultimate urban jungle. Not to mention also my short stint in Los Angeles. In spite of the fact that I am a city kid, I do love the wild. No, I don’t mean the crazy things people find in the city. What I mean is the wilderness.

Camping and mountaineering may not be a big cultural thing among Filipinos, but it has become a tradition in our family. In the school where I went to, camping is a yearly event. And I went to each one of them starting from 4th grade in elementary up until I finished high school. We had church camping as well. Going mountain climbing was also part of these trips. I have climbed to the peak Mt. Makiling, Mt. Makulot and Mt. Banahaw in the Philippines, and they were enchanting. A far cry from Smokey Mountain of Manila.

It is not surprising that I continued this camping and mountain hiking tradition with my own family here in the US. We went camping, almost every year, when we were living in New Jersey, New York, Florida, and now here in Iowa. It does not matter what season, for we camped in the spring, summer, fall and even early winter. Last weekend, my family, together with three other families (total of 11 kids) went for our spring camping.

Camping may not be appealing to many people. Who in their right mind would leave the comfort of their home, and their warm bed, and go and sleep in a tent with bugs and all, and freeze in the cold night? And call it fun? We do.

The weather was perfect during our camping, for it did not rain, though it dip down in the 40’s Fahrenheit in the early morning when we were out in the wild. But we were prepared and well-equipt.

We have a big and spacious tent, and I would not say that it is not without comfort.

our big tent, which can sleep 6 people comfortably

it can be cozy inside, especially when the campfire is near

We have air mattresses, so we don’t have to feel the rocks and uneveness of the dirt when we lay down. Our kids have warm sleeping bags that can be toasty inside even when the temperature is down in the 40’s.

plenty of room for our family of four

We even have a lantern inside the tent.

How about food and preparation of food? I would say that we are far from cooking like the cavemen did. Of course we can cook our food the old fashion way in the open fire.

roasting hotdogs

grilling in the open fire

Cooking in the open fire is fun, but it can take long and laborious. So for good measure we also brought a portable propane gas stove. The modern conveniences of camping!

our trusted propane stove

heating up water for the hot chocolate in the cold morning

We also brought lots of prepared food that we don’t have to cook, like adobo, brownies, cookies, and even cake. I know, I know, not your typical camping meal. So we have bountiful food that we are far from going hungry.

plenty of food on our table

What is camping without taking a hike through the forest and mountain? This year we went to the Backbone State Park near Lamont Iowa. It is Iowa’s oldest state park, dedicated in 1919. The park is more than 2000 acres and has 21 miles trail for hiking. It also has cliffs that climbers and rappellers can find challenging.

me and the trail sign

walking through the woods (“diwata ng gubat”- that’s actually my wife)

hiking under the shadow of a huge rock

open spaces overlooking a cliff

tight spaces between rocks

my best impression of Spiderman

conquering the rock

jumping from rock to rock

The trail even has a cave. It was not a big cavernous cave though. It was small and tight that you have to bend and crawl in the dark most of the way. Too claustrophobic and muddy for me. And it has bats. Yes, a bat cave! But no bat mobile in there.

climbing the trail leading to the cave

bending low to enter the cave

After crawling in the cave and getting dirty, we headed down the nearby creek to clean up. The water is clear and cold.

refreshing stream

We did not encounter much wild animals, just swarm of insects and birds flying around that filled the trail with their bird calls. No cougar, no elk, no bear (yes, there have been reports of black bear in Iowa), and no beaver that we spotted. (Though there are a lot of cows grazing in the prairie just outside the State Park.) But we did see sign of beaver marks around.

This tree was definitely chomped by a beaver.

After all the walking, climbing, jumping, and crouching, we needed some break time.

This type of break? (Don’t worry its all for effects. No fauna nor flora were endangered)

No. This type of break.

I know these camping trips and hiking can be exhausting, but they are also rejuvenating. Until the next call of the wild.

heeding the call of the wild

Fire and Rain

The past several weeks has been a roller coaster ride of emotions for me and my family. First was shock. Followed by joy. Next came more shock. Then grief. (see previous post)

In the few days that followed after our painful loss, a friend of mine asked me if we should cancel the camping for the boys that has been planned for a while, before all the unexpected turn of events had happened. He told me that maybe our family needs to spend time alone in our mourning.

So I asked my wife about this, but she was quick and firm to say that the plans for the boy’s outing should push through. She added that she will be fine while I am away. Besides, my son, who was really looking forward to this trip will be very disappointed if the camping will be postponed.

Yes we grieve for our loss, but we should also continue to celebrate life. For life should go on. No, life MUST go on. I tell you that life can be like butterfly wings: beautiful, yet can be delicate and fragile. But there’s nothing more resilient and tenacious than the human spirit.

Thus me and my son, together with our friends – another father and son team, headed to a lake-side camp and spent two days in the wild. Well it was not really the wild, for we slept in a cabin, that has heat, air-conditioning and even a refrigerator. There were two bunk beds, spacious enough for the four of us. By the way, this trip was only for the boys, but in a few weeks, our whole family, together with other families, will go for a “real” camping, that is sleeping in tents.

One of the main activity in the camp was building a fire. We enjoyed gathering firewood and sticks and starting our own fire like skilled boy scouts. OK, OK, we cheated. We brought lighter and wood fire starter, so it was no sweat at all. We spent hours and hours sitting around the campfire and staring at the fire. We burned woods, sticks, barks, leaves, paper, plastic, paper plates – basically anything we can find to burn. A little open fire brings out the pyromaniac in anybody.

Of course we cooked our meal too in the fire: hotdogs and marshmallows! What is camping without hotdogs and s’mores? We could have sung “Kumbaya” as well, but we’re too busy munching on our “perfectly” cooked food. Well for assurance, just in case we cannot start a fire, my wife did not let us leave without bringing chicken adobo and cooked rice. So we are not really left alone in the wild to fend for ourselves and survive without provisions.

During the early evening, angry rain clouds with gutsy winds came over. Rain fell over our campgrounds . But the rain did not extinguish our fire nor did it dampen our spirits. The rainfall did not spoil our fun, it just made the night more interesting. My son and his friend grab the umbrellas (yes, we even had umbrellas!) and frolic and dance around the fire. It was a mix of Native American fire dance and Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain. Minutes later, the clouds rolled away, and the twinkling stars appeared up in the sky.

This experience just reminded me that in life, even when the winds blow and rain pours, if we just hold on for a little longer and keep our flame burning, we will make it through, and we will see the stars again.

We also spent at least a couple of hours biking (we did hauled our bikes along) around the lake which has a nice bike trail, a loop of about 6-7 miles. Along the trail there was a covered bridge, an old round barn, farmlands, parks, beautiful lake-side houses, and of course the lake. It was certainly a scenic bike ride. Halfway through the trail, there was even a cozy diner that serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. So we were far from starving at all!

We did not do any water activity like fishing, kayaking or swimming as it was still too cold for the season. There are many pictures hanging on the wall of the cozy diner exhibiting photos of people showing off their prized catch from the lake, indicating that this place is a prime location for fishing. Maybe we will do that when we return some other time, so we will have big fish stories to brag about. Or should I say “fishy” stories.

As we were going home, I asked my son if he enjoyed our trip. He gave me a wide grin. I don’t need to ask more.

Life indeed continues.