I don’t mean to intimidate you, but I can’t help it. I’m a mountain man of Central Pennsylvania now. Grizzly face. Worn-out wrinkles. Tired eyes that have scanned the horizon from Stone Creek to Mt. Nittany. From Bellefonte to Tyrone. From Old Main to the Starbucks on Atherton. The sensitive boy who grew up on the mean streets of Highland Park in St. Paul has faded. And now, as a sailor-poet once said, I am what I am. Rugged.
The world is burning friends. The Covid is angry. American democracy dissolves in the face of nationalistic zeal. A fervor fueled by a pathetically transparent, money-hungry oligarchy. These oligarchs are on the verge of doing away with elections. The polar ice caps are melting. Our Comcast bill continues to rise as my children attend school inside a computer. My student loan debt laughs at me. The Minnesota Twins can barely keep up with the lowly Detroit Tigers. We didn’t start the fire, friends. Well, maybe we did. But things are really cooking now.
So what’s a rugged mountain man to do? Take to the hills, friends. And that’s exactly what I did this Labor Day weekend. I gathered my family. We grabbed our sleeping bags. Packed the tent. The Tanners traveled the Central Pennsylvania wilderness, and ended up twenty feet from our back door.
Camping, friends. It is what we rugged people of Central Pennsylvania do as the world collapses.
“This is the first time I’ve ever been camping!” Solomon squealed with delight.
I looked at him with hardened eyes.
“I know, boy,” I told him. “Yinz will get used to it.”
The Tanner family intended to camp this summer. So we got a tent. A lantern. Some sleeping bags. We scouted the local campgrounds. To our dismay, they were teeming with campers. Each RV contained more Covid than the last. So we didn’t make it out to Black Moshannon or Greenwood Furnace or any of the other beautiful state parks near us. But, come September 5th, 2020, we made the decision to take to our backyard. A wild place. A rugged place.
I taught my boys to respect the land, as any person of the mountains might do. We cooked chicken burgers from Trader Joe’s on the grill. We roasted marshmallows on that same grill because, darn it, we don’t have a fire pit. But when you’re rugged like us, you learn to make do. So chocolate covered our rugged faces as we shoved rugged s’mores into our rugged mouths.
We colored pictures of monsters from Minecraft, read books, and played Sorry. As the ancient ones did. I set my phone against the wall of the tent, and watched Kenta Maeda lead the Twins to a 4-3 victory over Detroit. We attuned ourselves to the earth at sunset. A holy ritual.
Sure, our neighbor started mowing their lawn at 9:00 PM (because who doesn’t mow their lawn on Saturday night after the sun goes down?) And yes, we may have had seventy-three pillows, countless stuffed animals, and Solomon’s robot-night-light to keep us company. But we were rugged, darn it.
Apocalypse now? Okay. The Tanner’s are ready.
Sure, I didn’t sleep a wink. And yes, my body felt like it had been crushed by a steamroller in the morning. And maybe a freaking spider found its way into our tent and, somehow, was dangling from the ceiling in the morning. And maybe I squealed a little when I saw the spider. But we did it. We survived the night.
“Did you like camping, Solomon?” My tired wife asked our son in the morning.
“It was fun!” Solomon said with real enthusiasm.
“I was cold,” Samson complained.
I looked at my boys with wild, rugged eyes.
“Yinz will learn to deal with the cold.”
I looked up. Scanned the gentle mountains in the distant. Let the cool September air rush over me.
“Yinz have plenty of cold coming your way. It’s time to toughen up, boys.”