It seems like everyone is going camping these days – people at work, friends of friends and far away relatives enjoying a few days roughing it.
Of course, today’s camping is a bit different with the advent of homes on wheels, ranging from luxurious self-propelled RV’s to towable trailers and even pop-up campers for the budget conscious. Some still rough it in a tent, but even those tents are far more user-friendly than an experience had in our youth.
It must be remembered times are far different than 40 years ago. Kids going to summer camps or even families packing up for an adventure tour in the wilderness were the exception and not the rule. Certainly, in our small corner of the world at that time, most kids stayed home all summer to help parents or neighbours on the farm.
The first exposure to camping for most farm kids was through being a member of Cubs or Scouts. Usually there would be one campout per summer. The leaders at 1st Barrie Hill Scouts were topnotch. I think of those men who taught important lessons like respect, camaraderie, self-reliance and group effort. They were also a lot of fun.
One summer our troop camped on the mighty Speed River just north of Guelph Lake. For impressionable kids it may as well have been the French River or some other exotic far flung place. The bravery of those leaders escapes me as a parent all these years later. They had a chore on their hands, but there were also older boys keen to lead and help out.
After camp was set up, including tents and what not, the older boys brought us in for a serious chat about supper plans. Some fish were caught, but we needed fowl of some sort. That was our introduction to hunting the illusive bird known as a snipe. It had long gangly legs and a long thin beak, with colouring like killdeer. Killdeers were known to most of us living in the country so this mission wouldn’t be that hard – or so we thought.
Off into the bush we went. Every leaf flying in the distance or crack of a branch must have been a snipe, but none were to be captured. Dejected we returned to home base empty-handed. Then we got the tip that snipes make an interesting sound, much like a clap when two good-sized stone were smacked together. Off we went again, rock clappers in hand, but for myself the enthusiasm was already starting to wane. There was something fishy about this whole scheme.
There were numerous sightings of this crafty bird. Confirmation came in from a few boys but how does one catch a bird that easily runs away someone asked? The next advice was dispensed by the older boys – make a trap or sneak up on them with a box or sack of some sort to capture the helpless prey.
Some stuck with it and those of us who gave up headed back to camp. In the end, not a snipe was caught. Stupid snipes.
Like most young lads this First World problem of being failed hunters quickly subsided. It was a round of tag or some other game like that until it was time for the campfire where Akela regaled us with great stories and some scary ones.
Finally snuggled into sleeping bags, after all the jokes and carry-ons that young boys find funny, exhaustion set in. It was so doggone hot, much like the weather Wellington finds itself immersed in now. It was so humid a thunderstorm was possible and a shower erupted. As the rain came down one of the boys experienced in these matters said, “whatever you do don’t touch the side of the tent.” So, many of us touched the side of the tent to see what that was all about. Needless to say, it was a soggy night on the banks of the Speed.
We left the next day, happy for the adventure and the experience.
The snipe hunting story was something that hadn’t crossed my mind in any serious way but I found myself thinking about it quite intently in recent weeks. What was the point?
Such games can be dismissed as a practical joke or a rite of passage. Fair enough, after all experience is the best teacher.
But in real life, such a setup can be a very dangerous game depending on the actors involved and the fool’s errand impressionable people are compelled to fulfill. The point of that is more difficult to answer.