In August, we bring a set of new full-time writers to the blog. Covering the 19th of each month, please welcome Lillie Spackman (’20). Lillie grew up on a forty-acre hay farm in Central Oregon, making the trek out to Michigan to study mechanical engineering and sustainability. After graduating in 2020, she’s stayed in Grand Rapids finding opportunities to live out her passions for creation care, social justice, engineering, and advocating for women in STEM.

Photo: Eastern Oregon, near Plush, OR. PC Julie Spackman, 2010

I went camping a lot as a kid. My parents met in Alaska, so outdoor adventures pretty much run in my blood. That, combined with the fact that week-long camping trips are a lot cheaper than going to a hotel or a theme park, meant that most of the long weekends and vacations of my childhood were spent in a tent. 

My dad swapped out camping gear the same way some people reinvent their closets: about every six to nine months, I’d come home to find an unexpected new tent set up in the yard. But most of my camping memories were in The Wall Tent. 

An 8×10 waterproof canvas tent with metal poles and the space for a wood stove (yes, a stove inside the tent—how else do you keep warm when you’re tent camping in the snow?), that tent has seen most of Oregon. 

One summer, probably over some holiday, we drove to the lake for a weekend of fishing and hiking. We stuffed the four of us and our big dog in the car, and strapped The Wall Tent to the roof. I don’t remember much about that trip, other than I must have been no more than six or seven because my kid slicker still fit—an important detail because of the downpour. 

The day we left our campsite, it rained buckets. My brother and I donned our slickers, looking like sailors braving a storm on rough seas, and we all hurried to pack things up in the rain. My dad strapped the tent to the roof of the car again, wrapped in its protective tarp, and we drove home listening to a book on tape with the smell of wet dog filling the car. When we finally arrived back at the farm and began unpacking, Dad untied the tarp and a gush of water spilled out, covering the driveway. “Well, the tarp works,” he said, grinning. 

Often, we would set The Wall Tent up in our yard so my brother and I and our friends could camp out. Though we often slept out under the stars, enjoying the view of the Milky Way in rural Oregon, it felt so much more serious to get the tent out. We built fires and forts, excited to recreate some camping experience without having to sit in the car for hours. 

But the trip that almost made me never go camping again happened when I was in middle school. It was November, Thanksgiving break. We had been travelling around the state visiting some of the hot springs Oregon has to offer (thanks, Juan de Fuca subduction zone), and my parents decided this was the perfect time to make a trip to Crane Hot Springs before joining the extended family for Thanksgiving festivities. 

It looked like it might be cold, so my dad packed up the tent stove along with our usual gear. Already a bad sign. When we pulled up to the hot springs, we were the only visitors. There were cabins, all vacant, and not a single tent pitched on the cold desert ground. We set up anyway. 

Over the next few days, we realized why we were alone there: the pump that made the hot springs swimmable was broken and left nothing more than a lukewarm pool. And then it snowed six inches. My dad likes to say that the only reason the tent didn’t blow away in the storm was because the stakes were frozen into the ground. We burned wood in the stove all day and night, my brother and I taking turns collecting firewood when we had defrosted enough to move, and wrapped the dog in every extra piece of clothing we could spare. 

When we finally made it to my grandparents’ house, with a crackling fire inside, warm cocoa and hot showers, I was ready to swear off camping altogether. 

But I couldn’t. In the spring, we ventured to the coast, went horse-camping in the Cascades, and eventually we even returned to Crane Hot Springs (after calling to confirm the springs were hot). The Wall Tent saw a lot of adventures and many memories: I can still remember the scritch-scratch of the canvas on my cheek, waking up sardined in with a bunch of friends, the smoky smell of the wood stove, and the most effective method for putting the poles up. 

Eventually, my dad traded The Wall Tent for a 10×10 tent from Cabella’s, still with space for our tent stove: The Circus Tent, we call it. But it’s not quite the same. The Wall Tent was my childhood, and it is irreplaceable.

3 Comments

  1. Mary Margaret Healy

    This really evokes the feeling of adventure that camping as a child always was. Those tents could be like second, more interesting homes.

    Reply
  2. Avatar

    Nicely done Lillie. Glad to find you’re writing for TPC, and excited to see the stories you decide to tell in the future.

    Reply
  3. Kyric Koning

    The persistence of habit pushing its way up. The more it means to you, the harder it is to stay away (or the worse it feels). And that’s camping! The only camping I’ve done is in my backyard, and frankly, I’m fine with that. But I look forward to hearing a new perspective on it.

    Reply

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