There’s something special about spending a night in a tent, particularly if you are sharing it with someone you really care about. I spent a night recently at a Cub Scout campout with my son, Jack. We got there early and pitched our tent on a quiet ridge a little bit away from the hubbub of the main camp.
Our tent is an old JanSport dome model I’ve owned since the early ’70s. It’s not cutting edge by today’s standards, but it’s a far cry from the heavy canvas tents I used as a Scout. I like it because it breaks down into three small packages-tent, rain fly and poles-which makes backpacking it easy.
I was explaining all of this to Jack as I pulled the tent out of its stuff sack.
“Phew! What’s that funny smell?” Jack asked, his nose wrinkling.
One whiff told me the tent must have mildewed since I last used it, but I wasn’t about to let on that anything was wrong.
“Oh, that’s just the way old tents smell,” I said, hoping the reeking nylon would air out before nightfall. Jack helped me put together the shock-corded poles and in no time we had our shelter set up for the night. It was a good thing, too, because the forecast called for late-afternoon showers. As it turned out, the rain held off all day and right on through the evening, much to the delight of the 300 Cubs who sat around a roaring fire that night watching Explorer Scouts in headdresses and beaded buckskins perform tribal dances.
As the fire died we made our way back to camp, where the heavy-eyed boys had just enough energy to roast a few marshmallows before we headed up to the tent. It still smelled awful, but Jack didn’t complain. We crawled in and read one of Jack’s favorite stories, Pat McManus’s “The Deer on the Bicycle,” by flashlight.
Jack gave a big yawn and snuggled into his sleeping bag as I doused the light. “What was your favorite activity today?” I asked, thinking he’d probably say archery.
“Just being here in the tent with you,” he said, as if that was all that mattered. It’s amazing how often the simplest things get overlooked, like spending the night in a tent with your son, thinking that the experience somehow needs to be bigger.
In the darkness I heard Jack’s breathing slow into the steady rhythm of sleep. I was still awake an hour later when the first big raindrops smacked the rain fly. Within minutes, we were being pounded by a serious thunderstorm. Jack slept through it all, as I listened to the clatter of rain on the overhanging oaks. Lightning flashed and I counted the seconds until the thunder rolled. “One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three…” _Boooom! _
It had been a perfect day of knot tying and nature walks and a perfect night of rain dances and thunderclaps. I found myself thinking about how much fun we’d have the next day and on all the campouts to come. And in the moment before I drifted off to sleep I realized that the old tent didn’t smell so bad anymore.
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