Episode 1215 – Excuses

It’s been long enough, I suppose.

The last post on this blog was over a year ago, concerning the death of my father, and it might appear that I stopped blogging in the wake of that. it just isn’t true. My posting prior to that have become infrequent, at best.

Twitter was killing it. My random thoughts, gripes and moments of my life were being siphoned away into little 140 character nuggets. By the time I felt like writing about something, I felt it was “old news” over on Twitter. If nothing else than an exercise for myself, I am going to force myself to blog something every day for a while. I have lost the art of writing “long form” I think.

I’ll start with a brief summary of what happened in the last year.

My dad is still dead – no surprises there. The rest of us are doing fine, although we’re all coming off some seasonal illness that is either 4 different illnesses or a single illness that manifested itself in four different sets of symptoms. I’m hoping for the latter, otherwise each of us has the likelihood of catching the other three illnesses in the household.

Speaking of dad, it took several months, but we finally honored his final request and scattered his ashes where he wanted. I made a video out of it, which might sound a bit ghoulish, but I found it cathartic.

The kids are doing well in school and are still maintaining straight A’s. Michelle has recently taken up violin, which she begged us for. Practice time is a bit of a chore – more for me than her, though.

You can listen here, if you dare: Violin Lessons, early days

In July we vacationed in California. First for a little while around Los Angeles, then up into the nearby mountains and the town of Wrightwood.

Wrightwood itself wasn’t the object of our trip. Michelle went to her first week-long summer camp at Camp Quest West. Chu-Wan also spent a week at camp as a counselor. I might have done the same, but James was one year too young to attend. Instead, he and I went father-son camping. Much like I used to do with my dad.

Michelle and Chu-Wan had a great time at Camp Quest and we’ll be discussing that more on the blog later.

James and my adventure was very different. We were not at all familiar with the area around the camp, so I relied on the Internet to identify potential campgrounds in the area of the camp. There were four forest service campgrounds, only one of which accepted reservations. I loathe making campground reservations, but because we had to camp in the area, I chose to play it safe.

The one campground that accepted reservations had over 100 sites available – only 2 were unreserved several months early. Apparently the proximity to Los Angeles makes this a popular campground. While the summer camp was in the 6,000ft altitude range, the campground was over 8,000ft. Again, with no experience in the area, I could only guess what July temperatures might be.

On the first day, before I dropped off Chu-Wan and Michelle at camp, we all arrived at the campground. As we pulled up to the reserved spot and got out of the car, I knew why this spot was the last puppy in the shop. It was awful! It had no trees. It was slanted at a 25º angle. The ground was tufty grass with abundant rodent holes in it. The metal table sat in the glaring sun and the whole site was 20 feet downwind of one of the smelliest pit toilets I’ve ever had the misfortune to experience. It was going to be a bad week.

My opinion of the suitability of the spot was confirmed when, as we surveyed the disaster that was the site, the campground hosts pulled up in their truck and said, “You’re not liking your spot very well, are you?”

Chu-Wan escaped sleeping in the tent as she had to be dropped off at camp the night before the session began. Michelle, James and I spent the night listening to the sound of unidentified rodents scurrying under the floor of the tent.

Michelle got dropped off the next day, leaving James and I alone in a packed campground… but not for long.

The campground hosts told me that, come Sunday afternoon, the campground would empty out completely and I was free to move my tent wherever I wanted. True to their word, by the time we returned from dropping off Michelle the campground was a ghost town.

I looked around and considered what a hassle it would be to collapse the tent and re-build it. I decided to limit my move to the nearest suitable site that I could pick up the standing tent and move it to. This was across the road and up a hill. It was a beautiful site, heavily wooded and flat, with hard-packed ground that had seen many a tent. At the back site of the site, you could see west into the valley and in the evening it had beautiful sunsets and twinkling lights from the small towns below. It also had intermittent cell phone coverage, which made it better than the other spot, which was a complete dead zone.

I told the campground hosts where I’d moved to. One of them said, “That’s fine. It’s a lovely spot. A bit windy, though.”

The other said, “Oh, well, it’s not as windy as the ones down on the lower loop.”

“That’s true,” said the first, “those get really windy!”

They had put their finger on the problem: That beautiful view down into the hot desert valley below meant that each night a prevailing wind blew up the canyons all night long. On the first night, the tent was at time whipped around like we were in a storm. I was kept awake most of the night by it and James clung to me in terror.

In the morning, while James was still asleep, I trekked down to the nearest restroom. I also had to trek around the campground a bit because the wind during the night had blown most everything in our camp a hundred yards away. Even the camp chairs had been picked up and sent flying.

While I was out of site of the campsite, I pondered how utterly alone we were. How my only family was at the summer camp, and they also had no cell phone signal. How anyone I knew was 7 hours or more away and no one really knew where we were. I realized how often my dad and I had been in such a similar situation. With my mother and grandparents dead, we camped all over Arizona, alone, without anyone knowing where we were. If something had happened to my dad, I would have been in serious trouble, but that had never occurred to me. I was actually scared. What would James do if I got hurt?

And at that moment, a dense, spiky pine cone, weighing a couple pounds at least, about the size of my head fell out of a tree and missed beaning me on the head by about 4 inches. It put my position clearly in perspective and after James woke up, we spent a good deal of time talking about what to do in the case of emergency. It didn’t change things, of course, but at least I felt like he stood a chance if something happened.

The next night was even worse! I was awoken at about midnight by what I could only assume was a bear trying to rip the tent apart. The whole tent was shaking and the flexible tent poles were being halfway to the ground. Then the rain fly ripped loose and blew off, expose the top of the tent to the night sky. Now the wind was blowing straight into the tent and puffing it out from the inside. One side broke away from the ground and started lifting up. I was only the weight of me on the air mattress that held it on the ground.

When it calmed down a bit, I got out, found the rainfly and put it back in place. The ropes had been torn off and I had to improvise a way to secure it. I figured I’d fix it in the morning.

That was not to be. surveying the damage to the tent revealed that it hadn’t caused the ropes to come loose, the canvas of the tent that secured them was ripped off. The tent stakes hadn’t come out of the group. The web stake loops had been ripped free of the tent.

I made an executive decision: The tent was deposited in the garbage at the campsite and James and I found our way back to greater Los Angeles to stay in a hotel. My first and so far only father-son camping trip had ended in defeat.

The rest of the year has been mostly routine save for one thing: Camp Quest Arizona.

In 2011, several of us came together to form Camp Quest Arizona, a summer camp for the children of atheists like us.

Summer camp with the Boy Scouts was the highlight of my year when I was young, but I have become increasingly disgusted with what they’ve become.

While the Boy Scouts have increasingly come under fire for their exclusion of gays, they discriminate against atheists as well. Atheists and even Scouts who speak out against their exclusionary policies are actively kicked out of the Scouts now.

Today as I write this, the Boy Scouts are expected to reverse their ban on gays due to public outrage. There has been no public outrage of their intolerance towards atheists and no repeal of that ban is forthcoming.

Camp Quest was formed years ago to provide an alternative to scout camps and bible camps, the two prevalent types of “camp by the lake” summer camps in the US. It is open to all children and is not intended to foster atheism, but is instead a place for kids to have fun at camp just like everyone else and to have a place to be with others with similar world views. Camp Quest teaches tolerance of different religious views and provides positive atheist role models for kids who live a world surrounded by people who too often claim that without religion there can be no morality. The weight of history proves that to be nonsense, but it doesn’t stop the people shouting it to the sky.

Currently, I have the privilege to serve as chairman of the board Camp Quest Arizona, the local chapter of Camp Quest. We’re in the thick of preparing for the 2013 camp session this June and it is a massively time-consuming, but rewarding task.

I shall save that for another day, though.

2 thoughts on “Episode 1215 – Excuses”

  1. Glad to “meet” you via your blog as well. (Here’s to long-form writing! I’m trying to get back on the blogging bandwagon too.) It sounds like you had quite a misadventure on your camping trip, but all the good stories happen that way. (The Time I Drank Leeches, The Time I Got Lost, The Time I Startled an Elk, and others come to mind from my own AZ camping adventures.)

    That video … not ghoulish at all. I loved it. What a wonderful tribute to your dad. What a beautiful video. I can see why it would be cathartic, and I’m glad you shared it.

    I think Camp Quest is absolutely wonderful. Whether I’m ever able to directly participate or not, thank you and the rest of your chapter for doing this. It makes my son (and me!) totally stoked just to know there are other families like us out there.

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