Bear proof barrels, bugs and bliss
By Jasjit Sangha
When was the last time you were in a situation where you used an outdoor toilet, ate all your meals outside, had to filter your drinking water, wear protection against mosquitos and just accept that you would be covered in dirt and dust? For many moms this may bring up memories of a visit to a remote village in South Asia. For me, this is a summer ritual that I look forward to as my blended family and I leave the comforts of city life behind and paddle out in our canoes to a remote backcountry campsite in northern Ontario. Although I didn’t grow up camping – my only experience sleeping outside as a child was taking a nap on the manja in my father’s village – it is now an important part of my life as a stepmother.
Our backcountry camping trip is the only time in the year that we get together without the distractions of smartphones, computers or the internet. We pack all our essential needs into two canoes and paddle out to a remote campsite a couple of hours away from any sign of cars, cellphone reception or electricity. It doesn’t take long for the family to relax as the stillness of the forest embraces us and the whole family sinks into their surroundings. Thoughts about stresses I may have in my daily life are replaced with a quiet contentment as I watch the mist rise off the lake in the morning or a snapping turtle sunbathe on a rock.
Teamwork is essential for a successful backcountry camping experience, so each person in the family takes on an important role that keeps the day flowing smoothly. Whether it is carrying our camping gear during our portage across a waterfall or a beaver dam, pumping and filtering water from the lake, or getting the evening fire started. When to this we add hiking in the forest, swimming and exploring the lake in our canoe, we have a full day that leaves little to no time or energy for bickering or thinking about the to do list that we left back home. Rather, each day ends with watching the sun set over the lake with the melancholy call of the loons reminding us about the importance of love, relationships and family.
When we head back to shore after our trip, we all feel rejuvenated, and are ready to go back to the reality of our lives. Before we leave the forest, there is one last message that I like to take home. There is a tree I see on our way to shore – it juts out defiantly from the side of the rock with its windswept branches wide open as it teeters to one side, its roots embedded in the ground beneath it. This image stays with me and reminds me of the perseverance of the tree and its insistence on not only surviving but thriving despite the storms it encounters. It serves as a metaphor for how I try to approach life as a stepmother by not letting challenges I face overcome me, but rather serve a purpose, making me stronger and more resilient but also more accepting.
For stepmothers who are reading this, maybe feeling overwhelmed and searching for some way to bring their blended family together, I highly recommend trying an outdoor experience. Before my family was ready for a backcountry camping experience, we started to enjoy nature in very simple and accessible ways. We started with outdoor picnics in a nearby green space. This in turn led to venturing outside of the city for a hike in a forest. This slowly progressed to renting cottages and introducing our children to swimming in lakes instead of pools. Once they were comfortable with this we started to go car camping in provincial parks and eventually backcountry camping.
It was a gradual process and it was not always easy to take the children (especially older children) out of their comfort zone. Initially it was hard even for me to see the value of camping and it took some convincing on my husband’s part for me to agree to disconnect from all modern conveniences. But the reward has been that all members of my blended family have experienced the solace that can be found in the depths of the forest and it is now one place we all look forward to returning to together.
Has your blended family bonded over outdoor experiences? Have you ever thought about camping (car camping or backcountry)? I would love to hear your stories! Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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