I recently let go of a tent trailer that had come to me from my father. This trailer had been a special sort of place for me, a mobile habitation invested of nostalgia, memory, and hope. But too little time spent inside its canvas walls, too few miles pulling it along the memorable highways of scenic lands, had left me with a hint of regret. In the end, neither the nostalgia nor the hope were quite enough to overcome the inertia that resisted more camping adventures. We just didn’t get out nearly as much as we imagined we would. Nevertheless, memories abound.
The opening entry in our camping journal appears March 11, 2005. It begins, “Our first camping trip in Dad’s tent trailer to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.” No celebratory hoopla; just a quiet weekend on the thickly forested bluffs rising from the Mississippi River not so far from our more permanent home in Memphis. This itinerant home, though, the small box on two wheels that folded open into our camping suite, seemed at the time more permanent in the imaginative recollections of my life. Lying on the trailer’s hard bed with campfire smoke wafting through the open screens I felt connected to the campsites of my childhood. More particularly, the trailer elicited memories of my father in his best moments, on the road and in the woods.
One of those best moments resides in the campground at Yellowstone’s Norris Junction long after my childhood. It was, to the best of my recollection, in September of 1994 when we set up our little camp up the hill on the farthest loop of the campground; it was to be a week of father and son in the park where we had spent many happy times in years past. The terrain was a bit steep and our site was small; behind us the lodgepole pines closed in and below us a meadow opened up to a small stream. Elk and an occasional bison wandered by. The mornings were cold, nearly freezing with a touch of frost on the grass near the stream, but the days were stunning in a way only possible during the fall season in the mountains. My father was in his element those five days in Yellowstone. We hiked the trails, explored every section of the park, joined the gawkers at wildlife sightings, soaked up the aromas of the landscape. It was to be his last time fishing in Yellowstone; we hiked back to Grebe Lake where he sought the elusive Arctic Grayling while I read, wrote in my notebook, and snapped a few photos. We spent nearly a whole day working our way around the lake in the company of only sun and wind and a brightly colored landscape anticipating colder months. Another day we hiked down to fish the Yellowstone River just above its confluence with the Lamar River, not far from Tower Junction. Dad tried a number of flies, unsuccessful as I recall, and I mostly listened to the river and watched the sky.
How little we realized the decades slipping by us with only these moments of supreme contentment sticking in our memories. Now for him even the memories have slipped into the ether of passing decades. And as his little trailer slips easily down the highway to Texas, off to make new memories of other places for its new owners, I am left with an uneasy nostalgia underlying my treasured memories, with any hope of making it last quickly waning. Perhaps these words will be the last hints of what it may have meant to my father to share a week in Yellowstone with his oldest son. And as I watch his little trailer disappear at last down the highway, I realize that the time has come for me to seek new landscapes to inhabit without the burdens of nostalgic pasts. ♨