Getting into the Great Outdoors

Whether you’re roughing it at a primitive camp site or pitching a tent in your own back yard, any time spent outdoors with family is the best.

Writer Heather Boughey, about 5 years old and second from right, and brother Joel Burton, second from left, making s'mores with friends, circa 1976.

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity.
–John Muir


The father of our National Parks was definitely on to something. A century before the age of instant connectivity, John Muir
already knew we’d be ready to get back to nature and relax.
    Adults spend 89.3 percent of their time inside buildings or cars. Kids spend almost seven hours a day on electronic media. Only one-quarter of kids play outside every day.
    You don’t need to travel far to find an outdoors escape. You can start in your own backyard with the kids for The Great American Backyard Camp-out June 22.
    In anticipation of the big day, husband Jon, daughter Mackenzie and I tried backyard camping. We live off Nabbs Creek, and our densely wooded backyard resembled many of the campgrounds we’ve stayed at over the years. Mackenzie picked out the spot for our tent, and we cleared away rocks and sticks that would make sleeping on the ground uncomfortable. Then we set up camp.
    We don’t have a fire-pit, so we made our s’mores in the kitchen microwave and sat outside enjoying them, as no camp-out is complete without the chocolate-marshmallow treat. Once darkness fell, we climbed into our tent to sleep. The neighborhood outdoor cat, Bubbles, wandered by to check on our sleeping arrangements but declined to come inside.
    There’s something about sleeping in your backyard that gives an entirely new perspective. I never paid full attention to all of the nature sounds right at my back door. We listened to the different animals outside and tried to figure out if they were raccoons, squirrels or cats wandering by. In the darkness, I reminisced with Mackenzie about camping adventures of my childhood.

The Wilder the Better
    My father, Bill Burton, was always up for any adventure in the outdoors, so we went on many camping trips. In the late 1970s, our family and friends would head down to Wachapreague, Virginia, and take a boat ride to Cedar Island, a small and empty barrier island, where we would be dropped off for a week. There was nothing on the island. Everything we needed for our week-long adventure had to be brought by boat to the island. A small two-way radio was our only communication with the mainland.
    This was primitive camping. We had to bring fresh water and all of our rations with us. The privy consisted of finding the right sand-dune to dig a hole behind. Baths consisted of taking soap into the ocean. It was us and nature, with little distraction.
    We were seven-, eight-, and nine-year-olds, roaming free. We explored the island. We swam in the ocean. We enjoyed great bonfires. We stayed up late in the tents, giggling and telling stories. We didn’t know we were roughing it.

Heather and Jon camping in 1995.

    When I started dating the man I married, I was delighted to learn that he also enjoyed the outdoors and camping. One of our first getaways was a week at Pocomoke State Park on the Eastern Shore. We loaded our tent and supplies in my little two-door car and headed out. We brought a pup tent, a hammock, two chairs and our food. No electronics and no cell-phones. We spent our time kayaking on the river and hiking the park. At night, we sat around the campfire, talking and playing cards.

Civilization Creeps In
    Once Mackenzie was born, we upgraded to a five-person tent, in which we could stand up, and we had room for an air-mattress. We now had cell phones with us as we went camping. Civilization was slowing creeping in.
    With age, my father couldn’t easily get in and out of a tent on our family camping trips. Many Maryland state parks rent camper-cabins, upgraded wooden tents of one room with a bunk bed and a double bed and an electrical outlet. These were our solution. But we still cooked our meals over the fire ring and used the communal bathhouses.

How to bathe a child when camping, 2006.

    Modern-day conveniences continued their advance. Instead of waiting for the fire to heat up to make our morning coffee, we brought a coffeemaker to plug in in the cabin. Laptops, with air-cards, started to make appearances on these camping trips. We watched movies on the laptop. To help keep the cabin cool at night, we brought an electric fan.
    Over Memorial Day weekend, we visited Herrington Manor State Park in Western Maryland. This time we upgraded our camping accommodations to a full-service cabin with a wood-burning stove. We had not only two bedrooms but also a complete kitchen with refrigerator, stove and microwave. We had our own bathroom with a shower. We could eat our meals at the picnic table outside or at the large table inside the cabin.
    Even in the great outdoors, everybody had brought their electronics on the trip. My daughter had her iPad to read or play on at night. Others brought Kindles. Every single adult, and a few of the children, had cell-phones. One adult in our group was doing a work project on his laptop, while another was studying for an on-line course. Civilization has fully injected itself into our camping.
    As I told Mackenzie these stories, she asked me about my favorite type of camping. Did I prefer the primitive roughing it or the amenities-filled cabins?

Mackenzie Boughey plays chess with her grandfather, Bill Burton, around the camp table in 2007.

    Cedar Island was a child’s paradise. We didn’t consider that emergency help would be a radio call and a boat ride away. Cabins are good options, especially in colder weather when the wood-burning stove comes in handy. It was in the upper 20s in Garrett County over Memorial Day. Still, you lose some of what camping’s about.
    I thought about it and gave Mackenzie the best answer I could: Any time spent outdoors with family is the best. It doesn’t need to be survivalist camping, and it doesn’t need to be full-service cabins. You can use modern communications as much or as little as you want.
    You can even pitch a tent in your backyard and spend an evening together under the stars. In our busy world, that’s an easy way to get away, and a great way to introduce your child to camping and nature.
    Join the National Wildlife Federation and thousands of families across the U.S. on June 22 for the Great American Backyard Campout.
    No experience needed. Just pitch a tent in your back yard and enjoy the nature that is right around you It’s a free event, but the Federation also takes donations to help fund programs to get more children involved in nature: www.nwf.org/Great-American-Backyard-Campout.aspx.