Camp Life

This is the second article in August of the School for Housewives 1909 series published on August 8, 1909, and is an article on the benefits of camping.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of the The Buffalo Sunday Morning News.

Camp Life

WHILE it is true that the fad of camp life may be said to have preceded the tuberculosis crusade, it is certain that it has quadrupled in vigor and in extent since the public at large has been educated as to the vile importance of living in and breathing fresh air. While a great moral or physical good becomes fashionable, its success is assured.

Camping out is no longer the pastime of hunter and fisherman. It is the business of thousands who never cast a line or fired a gun. Al fresco sanitariums do hillsides and fill the hearts of pine woods. The Americans would seem to have become suddenly alive to the duty of living as near to nature’s heart as they can crowd themselves, and, when there, they hold on with pertinacious resolve that is a national characteristic.

We do nothing by haves, nor by three-quarters nor four-fifths. Well men and women and healthy children have the camp craze, and it is on the rapid (I had nearly written “rabid”) increase.

We might do much worse. The most luxurious of the “play camps” of which I shall speak presently is far better for the fashionist who spends her time in seeking out new luxuries than the palatial hotel in which she used to dance and gossip and flirt away her summer “season.”

The rudest of tent life is better for the family of the man of moderate means than the stuffy rooms and “hearty” fare of the cheap farmhouse where he used to board wife and babies during July and August. “Roughing it” is good for children, and cooking under an open shed compels the mother to take in full draughts of such air as never finds its way into her town or village kitchen.

Sylvan Dissipation.

I have spoken of the luxury of the “play camp.” I can think of no more apt descriptive epithet for the toy with which our world-weary Croesus amuses himself by building, and to which his wife invites one house party after another during the month or six weeks that suffice to tire her of this, too, and to send her jaded wits afield in quest of a fresh sensation. “My hut,” she names it in notes of invitation. Her husband calls it a “box.” It is built, ostentatiously of logs—selected and costly timber, you may be sure. It is lined with hardwood, and the verandas are a feature. So are the varieties of lounging and swinging chairs that crowd pergola and porch. The latest patterns of camp appointments furnish the interior. There are suites of rooms, and bathrooms galore, all in perfect keeping with the camp “scheme.” A retinue of servants is in active service; boats and buck-wagons are fashioned and manned in furtherance of the same scheme. Cards and music for the evening, rowing and driving in the mornings and evenings, and noon siestas are as truly a program as the round of winter pursuits that made rustication necessary.

First and last, it is sylvan dissipation, yet. As I said just now, better for one much-abused bodies and racked nerves than town life, inasmuch as the air is continually renewed and pure; subtle healing and calm breaths from earth and air and sky for the least appreciative of sybarites.

Sinking in the scale of expense and rising in the scale of sensible comfort, we come to the family tent set up a dozen miles or so from the nearest railway, in what they used to call in North Carolina, where they cover hundreds of miles, “the piney woods.” The head of pater familias gave out last winter; or the mother had a slight but alarming hemorrhage that ay or may not have come from the lungs; or the children came out from the winter term at school puny, wan-eyed and fretful. In any or in all of these “ors” the prescription of the up-to-date doctor is the same: Fresh air and plenty of it, and indolence of mind and body for as long as you can afford to stay out of town.

“Buy a family tent and live out of doors for two months. No frills and no furbelows. Get a gamp cookstove; arrange a kitchen in the open and be comfortable, but not fashionable. They have brought this matter of camp outfits down to a fine point, as you will find. Travel light! You can carry all you’ll need in the woods in your suitcase.”

It may be enough to cover the aforementioned “fine point” with one word, it would be “collapsible.” The adjective comes to pater and mater familias with first purchase named by the genial salesman. The family tent has three partitions. One is for the kitchen and one for the living room, where the family will eat and in the corner of which the boys will have two “bunks.” The third is the sleeping room of the parents and the younger twain of olive plants. The obsequious shopman shows immediately and dexterously into what a small compass the tent, partitions included, may be folded. “it may be subdivided by collapsible screens,” he pursues the subject by illustrating.

Like an Opera Hat.

The cookstoves may be had at the same place. The business of providing campers with all things they will certainly, and may possibly, require to make life one care-free picnic has opened a new avenue of trade, a vista that is practically endless.

The cookstove is a miracle in itself. It folds up into a dimensions of a butler’s tray. “Could be carried in your trunk, sir!” And every utensil collapses at a touch from the quick fingers. The handles of frying pans double up and shut back upon the body of the utensil; knives and forks slide into their handles and shoot out again, stiffened for action; there are nests of plates and dishes; saucepans that, mater familias exclaim admirably, might be mistaken for opera hats when folded down. “Could carry the whole set in your pocket, sir!”

The beds are hammocks or pallets.

“The old-fashioned hemlock and balsam boughs have clean gone out with the better class of campers,” the salesman informs his customers so confidentially as to put them indubitably in the said class. “To be candid, they were never anything but a makeshift, and a sorry one at that.”

For the hammocks he suggests air-mattresses, so collapsible that mater familias had mistaken them for rubber aprons. He inflates one in two minutes, proving in half that time that it is more luxurious than the finest spring bed. Ditto pillows. “Could carry a pair in your vest pocket, sir!”

“The only place about me he didn’t fill was my watch pocket,” remarks the head of the house, in telling the story of the expedition at the dinner table.

He is in high good humor already, more like the man he was before his head gave out than his wife could have hoped. She enters gaily into his improved humor in laying the “canned stuffs” that must be the chief of their diet while in camp. She had never dreamed that so many provisions could be potted.

“Were they collapsible, too?” inquired her helpmate jocosely.

“They were condensed and concentrated,” she replies, “which amounts to the same thing.”

Economical, Too.

For clothing she gets flannel suits, blouses and skirts for herself and the girls; fills the souls of the boys with joys unspeakable by adding to stout corduroy and flannels a suit of serviceable khaki for each.

A hatchet apiece to cut away underbrush and to fell balsam saplings for firewood; an axe for “father.” Who is to chop wood of stouter grain to keep the collapsible stove going; soft gray blankets, two red-and-white tablecloths and dozen and dozens of Japanese paper napkins; a store of unbleached towels—the “must be saving of washable things in the woods”—pack the traveling cases (collapsible) bought for the transportation.

If I seem to treat the occasion with levity, it is not for lack of sympathy with our campers. When every purchase is made the paternal purse will be heavier by some fifties, or , maybe, hundreds, of dollars than if madame and her brood had been equipped creditably for a month in a seaside caravanseral or at a modish “mountain house.” If the location be chosen judiciously, there are farmhouses near enough for the boys to fetch therefrom fresh eggs and vegetables twice a week, and, mayhap, chickens for a Sunday dinner. Condensed milk, sweetened and unsweetened; sardines, canned chicken and pickled lambs’ tongues; glass jars of bacon, pickles and relishes of divers kinds, evaporated fruits, cheese, crackers, ginger snaps, and dozens of et cetras are lined up temptingly upon the rude shelves father and the boys have rigged upon one side of the kitchen. Bags of flour are kept in tin boxes to keep them fro getting damp.

Mother develops unexpected talents in the direction of biscuits baked over the embers in a covered (collapsible) frying pan, and flapjacks—a forbidden indulgence in the summer at home—are altogether permissible in the woods.

If the mother pine secretly, now and then, for the orderly routine and decorous conventionality of “home,” she stifles the yearning as selfishly sinful. For is not father made over almost as good as new by the freedom and rest of a life that flows on with the bright monotony of a meadow brook? and the children tan and fatten hourly. The green glooms of the forest, the russet carpet of fallen balsam needles, the ceaseless sought of the wind in the boughs may bore her. Sometimes it makes her “blue.” To the rest the days are full of events and the nights bring such depth and deliciousness of slumber as never visits their pillows in “that noisy, smelly old town.”

Let her possess her convention loving soul in the peace that rises from the consciousness of inconvenience and hardships borne for one’s best beloved.

If her thoughts take a winder range, she may rise into philanthropic thankfulness for the multitudes who will take a new lease of life and take up, each bravely, his allotted fardel of care and toil in the winter to come, more bravely for the experience of CAMP LIFE.

Marion Harland

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