The first and only s’more I’ve ever eaten was indoors. Not by a campfire, not beneath a moonlit sky — but at a restaurant in Atlantic Beach called Amos Mosquito’s. I had the oyster, scallop, and shrimp platter with fries (delicious), and at the end of the meal, the server brought over a tabletop hibachi grill, miniature Hershey bars, a stack of graham crackers, six large marshmallows, and a handful of wooden skewers.
Everybody at my table squealed, catapulted back to childhood camping trips at Hanging Rock, at Pilot Mountain, at Jones Lake. But I sat silent, no camping memories of my own to contribute. I didn’t even know how to assemble my s’more.
I grew up with the Uwharrie National Forest in my backyard and Holly Bluff Family Campground less than six miles away. My dad had a shelf of Foxfire books, and I read them all, learning the skills that seemed useful for surviving in the wilderness, like which wood to use to start a fire (pine) and how to make my own sassafras tea. My high school boyfriend was an outdoors guy, a trout fisherman and deer hunter who spent weekends, when he wasn’t with me, in a tent in the woods near Lake Reese.
Now, at 47 years old, I’m craving an experience I never had.
My mother tells me that I’m wrong, that I don’t really want to go camping, that I don’t like mosquitoes or being too hot or being too cold or having dirt on my feet, and that despite how often I played by the creek in the woods, I always ran back home before dark, in time for a hot bath and a home-cooked supper, and that she and my dad sent me to camp once when I was a child — Don’t you remember that? — the YMCA’s Camp Cedarwood, and I went stiff as a board when the camp guide lifted me up onto a towering horse, and, after I nicked my ear pulling back on the bow in the archery session, I called my parents to please let me come home and never send me back to this torturous place.
But that was a long time ago. The outdoors haven’t changed, but I hope that I have.
A few years ago, I started day hiking — I have a small backpack and the right shoes and wool socks — and, sometimes, when I’m deep in the woods, I think about what it would be like to just stay there, to find a spot with soft leaves and lay down a sleeping pad and a blanket and turn my head toward the stars.
I’m preparing. I’ve researched which camp stove to buy, and I save recipes for hamburger dinners in foil. I’ve listened to all the “Ask a Ranger” podcasts on the NC State Parks website. I’ve even picked out my campsite at Lake James State Park — I like Site 6 at the Catawba River Area, which has a beautiful view of Lake James and is 90 feet from drinking water. I want to know how dark it’ll get when the sun goes down. I want to see sparkles on the lake in the morning.
I think about this when I sit on the patio at my townhome in Greensboro, where the stars are obscured by streetlamps, where I can barely make out the bleat of a bullfrog over the rush of passing traffic.
There’s a lot that I love about living in a city, but, lately, I’m feeling a draw in a different direction, to finally see for myself what’s out there.