What a lovely bittersweet feeling to dig out the camping box before our recent, disastrous camping trip. The charred cookware, chipped plastic plates, and other musty survivors of outdoor adventures past are like a little hope chest. The wishes and dreams of the naturalist, the visions of perfect forest visits and lovely outdoor excitement, and rest.

As wonderful as any of my outdoor adventures have been, I’m not sure they could live up to the hopes and visions in my head when I bought the camp stove, the cheap Target glasses, when I sorted out the dinged flatware. Often I was shopping in response to what we’d forgotten on the last trip. “Next time, we’ll have a sharp knife, a corkscrew, some Saran wrap for the leftovers so the ice melt in the cooler doesn’t get so nasty.” A little utopia, the next trip. It will be.

This trip was brief. We braved possible rain on Mt Diablo. “Why is it called Mountain of the Devil?” my godson asked. I should have paid more attention. Instead I laughed that everyone else had stayed home; it was the first time I’ve been the only camper in the whole park. The rain held off until 2am, but the wind started early, snapping and popping the tent with sharp noise. It was like trying to sleep in a kite as it shot to the ground, that whippling end-of-the-world pop of the fabric. In the morning I found a crazed Racoon had disassembled the cookware box, scattering it in the rain.

At 6am my godson, no fool, said “let’s get out of this trashbag and go home.” What a relief.

Luckily he’s had lots of good trips that will make this one not the awful reason he hates camping, but a good story to dine out with the fourth graders. I’m sure he’ll milk it for all its potential. “Our camping trip was like John Carter: a big flop” he told Jay when we got home. You’ve got to admire his ability to tell the story.

Washing and packing back up the camping box I felt cheated. Is that all there is?

I thought of my parents, of the enormous work, and love, that must have gone into dragging us to all those camp spots; planning, and driving, and cooking, and putting it all away when we got home. Did they have this pang too, this feeling that while it was worth it, it was also somehow not enough. All that work, all that camp stuff bought, stored, saved. How many nights could we have camped between my 2nd and 12th birthdays, 40? 80?

It was enough to make me love the planet, being in the trees, hiking mountain trails. I loved the June snow in high Colorado, and even the awful wet heat and scary snakes of Big Bend National Park, when mom stripped to her bra for a hike because who on earth would be on the trail on a day like that? Who indeed.

But I wonder if they had this feeling too: so much work, was it worth it? Didn’t it all fly by in a too-quick blink, the kids suddenly too old to want to go, the old camp hopes dusty and dark in the garage? It’s heartbreaking, how short all of life is, how little we get to savor it.

The s’mores, before the storm started, up, were perhaps the most delicious I’ve ever had.