Happy Campers



We went camping this weekend! We went with a group of other families from Robin’s school, so our whole section of the campground was like a single neighborhood, with kids running around freely among the sites. Here’s Robin and Davy with Robin’s “kitty friend” Evie:


The trip was fantastic. I was a little shocked when Sam came back from REI with an eight-man tent—all the tents I camped in as a kid were probably a third of the size—but it wasn’t too much of a bear to set up, and I have to admit that it was nice having a tent with an air mattress and room to walk around in.



This apple was Davy’s comfort apple. He toddled around clutching it all Friday evening—occasionally, but not often, taking a nibble—and when he climbed into his sleeping bag he was still cradling it to his chest. We eventually divested him of it on Saturday morning.

Davy seemed to have a really great time from beginning to end. He got in his sleeping bag so happily that we’re thinking of letting him use one at home, as a way of transitioning into his own bed. He ran all around the campground—this was a little wearying, actually, because one of us had to be constantly chasing after him. I’d say my most common sight over the weekend was Davy, rapidly retreating into the horizon.

Robin was a little more anxious about the whole thing. When we first got there on Friday afternoon he was excited, but as the sun set he started asking to go home. “It’s late,” he said. “We need to go home.” He elaborated on this theme at great length. “Sorry mommy, but the fire needs to stay here. We need to get in the car and Daddy could drive home.” I explained over and over that we were all going to sleep in the tent, that all of his friends were sleeping in their own tents nearby, that he would not be alone, that our house was still there and that we would return to it in due course, that camping was fun and it was all a grand adventure. His response to this line of argument was to tell me that I could stay, but he and Daddy and Davy needed to go home.

Interestingly, when it was fully dark and we all got in the tent, Robin put up no protest whatsoever about climbing into his sleeping bag and going to bed. I think he was just super exhausted at that point. The next day, though, he started to talk about going home again. So we decided that we’d stay for the day, but pack up after dinner.

The campground (Del Valle, down near Livermore) was a really beautiful example of California wilderness. I remember when I first moved here, being a little taken aback by the “golden hills of California”: they’re not really golden, you know. They’re brown. A tannish kind of brown, but still. The trees grow thinly, following the waterways: even the wooded areas are much less dense than the Ozark forests I grew up in, and all of the colors are dustier.


Anyway, in Del Valle I decided that I must have finally acclimatized fully to California, because I was just delighted with the landscapes. The tawny hills and the dusty oaks looked beautiful to me. Here’s some views from the campground:





On Saturday morning we went for a hike. Davy was a game little hiker:




We saw a lizard:


And vultures, and deer, and (on our way back to the camp) a family of ground squirrels:


And ferns:


And lots of wildflowers. Again, California wildflowers are sort of strikingly different from what I grew up with in the Ozarks: I remember tiger lillies, goldenrod, wild roses, Queen Anne’s Lace—big splashes of color. That’s not what you find in these dry hills. It’s more an exercise in keeping your eyes open, looking very carefully for tiny flashes of color, and then being rewarded with these exquisite little flowers in striking, almost orchid-like shapes:




I think those are California native bees nestled into the flowers. There are 1,600 species of native bees in California, most of which are solitary and live in burrows in the ground rather than making hives. They tend to be smaller than the familiar honeybee, and these as you can see are super iridescent, almost metallic-looking. The native bees don’t make honey, but they are critical to our ecosystems, and they’re under pressure for a variety of reasons (including mulch! Mulch is terrible for native bees!). My goal is to slowly replace our front lawn with flowering native and drought-tolerant plants that will provide a habitat for our indigenous bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. My mountain lilac just mysteriously died, but I have coyote mint, gooseberry bushes, and a manzanita that are all thriving. I also have a couple of pots of California poppies that gamely put out a few blooms every summer despite lacking proper drainage, and I planted some native irises by our drainspout that are kind of grimly hanging on. (I also planted lavender and rosemary, though they aren’t native species. They’re doing fantastic and they attract clouds of honeybees. Something for everybody!)

There were lots of birds around our campsite too. I got all excited by the scrub jays even though we have tons of them in our backyard. The woodpeckers were a treat too:


Also there were a flock of little grey tufted guys that I called tufted titmice even though they weren’t (I don’t think California has the true tufted titmouse). But “tufted titmouse” is incredibly fun to say, so that’s what I called them. Anyway, they probably were some kind of tit.

Sam and the boys saw quail, and wild turkeys, but I didn’t.

There was a lake at the campground:


Robin splashed about a bit in the shallow water. We have vague plans to enroll him in swim lessons this summer, so I guess that’s something we really need to get the ball rolling on.


I was worried about my chickens, but the girls were fine when we got home—just ready to get out of the coop for a bit. They’re doing great; I’ll try to get some pictures of them up soon, but I think this is enough photos for one post!

5 Responses to “Happy Campers”

  • Madeline Says:

    Wow–the landscape is so alien to me. It’s beautiful. We had a few early camping experiences with toddlers that were quite challenging (endless rain; ticks; late bedtimes; drowning hazard right by our campsite). We are planning to try tent camping again for two nights this summer now that the kids are a bit older. We also invested in a bigger tent (6 person) and an air mattress with a car adapter. I’m optimistic!

    • shannon Says:

      The landscape is really different from the east coast. Not even as completely alien as, like, the Southwest, but different in subtle and (initially) disconcerting ways. It took me a while to adjust.

      I think you’ll find that having an air mattress is totally sweet.

  • Molly Says:

    Gosh that looks fun. And it looks like you had fantastic weather, too!

  • ...iph... Says:

    Oh, beautiful photos! Robin’s insistence on going home is so sweet. Glad he settled in well for the night.

    I remember how struck I was by the very different landscape in the deep south and out west, when Jeff and I were traveling cross-country. The difference in rain fall is so clear in the structure of the foliage!

    It’s been a LONG time since I’ve been camping. (The last time was actually the just aforementioned cross-country trip.) I’m more of an indoors-near-a-wireless-connection type, I guess. Jeff keeps threatening to take the kids camping, though. I’ll probably tag along, just for the charming photographic possibilities. 🙂

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