The silence is intense.
It was the first thing you noticed: no cars, no neighbors’ radios, no sirens, nothing but crickets and the sound of wind through leaves. The second thing you noticed were the stars because, without street lights, you can see them. Sometimes, you wish you could camp forever or maybe you could just read about it instead…?
If you’re thinking big, you could almost say that humans have been camping since the beginning of time and nobody made much of a fuss over it. In this country, though, starting in the 1840s and with the popularity of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, many more-affluent Americans began to feel a need to get “back-to-the-land,” though it should be noted that few aspired to Thoreau’s Spartan life.
At the beginning of the Civil War, “hundreds of thousands of American men found themselves living in army camps.” You can understand their hardships during the War but afterward, a surprising number of them had “cheery memories”of those camps and Civil War veterans “recalled [having fun] in great detail.” That, says Phoebe S.K. Young in “Camping Grounds,” was likely due to the camaraderie found there.
Around the turn of the last century, camping became both recreation, and a “tramp problem.” The former was embraced by the new class of mostly white, mostly white-collar workers flush with leisure and vacation to use. The latter generally were “marginalized men” and for them, “camping” continued well into the 1930s.
As for camping as we know it now, it was encouraged by the establishment of National Parks and private campgrounds. It’s a perfect way for “back to nature” types or anyone who needs to get away (but not too far away). And, as Young shows in this hefty, thorough, but totally enjoyable slice-of-history, camping is also a way for activism.
As for those parks, well, you’re going to want to visit some of them after you’ve read “Subpar Parks” by Amber Share. First, though, before you leave, give yourself time to laugh.
No doubt about it, campers and hikers will find some incredible places to visit in our national parks and recreation areas. But one man’s radiance is another man’s rubble, and some people are a little pickier when it comes to places like the Statue of Liberty (it’s just “a big green statue and that’s it”) and jaw-dropping mountains in Alaska. Reviewers were moved to say they were “too cold” at Glacier National Park, tired of cactus at Saguaro National Park, and sick of horse poo at a national park where horses are found. Park visitors weighed in, and Share’s project (collecting these reviews from “disgruntled customers” and park rangers who met them) turned into a passion that turned into this helpful, useful, fun book.
If you want more books on camping, hiking, and enjoying nature, your favorite bookseller or librarian can surely point you in the right direction, and they’ll even be able to find books for the kids. Be sure to ask them, and get these books in your tents.
“Camping Grounds” by Phoebe S.K. Young
c.2021, Oxford University Press $34.95 / higher in Canada 414 pages
“Subpar Parks: America’s Most Extraordinary National Parks and Their Least Impressed Visitors” by Amber Share
c.2021, Plume $22.00 / $29.00 Canada 205 pages