In late June, I took my girls camping with our friend Molly, who was visiting from Australia. Our fellow campers at Staircase were overall a rough and tumble crew, except for a tidy hipster contingent. This cadre ran an orderly campsite of floaties, french presses, and frisbees, all in meticulous states of categorization. They played sprightly games of badminton, thumbs peeking from their Arcteryx, while I yawned and lost myself in a spinetingling mystery novel, and the girls played with matches. We hadn’t brought proper firewood, so I listened to a chorus of “It’s burning!” ”It’s going out!” “It’s burning!””It’s going out!” as they flogged a fire out of gathered sticks. It’s good for children to shift for themselves sometimes; not all parents can be eternally cheerful and well-coiffed, ready at all times to let their faces go numb blowing up yet another floatie. Okay, they probably had a solar-powered pump.
Normally, I would have sought out a book more fitting to the setting, like my old faithful A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson. But he recounts so many tales of people getting mauled by bears, and I didn’t want to be up all night, convulsing at the slightest leaf quiver. I mean, I do that all night, every night, but usually there is a slightly thicker membrane between me and peril than a stuck tent zipper.
In the course of one of our little hikes, I lost a button from my shorts and Molly’s eagle eye served us well, ferreting it out where it lay on the dusty trail. My shorts’ decision to jettison this button had nothing to do with the carbovore camping diet we were enjoying. And even if it did, nothing could get me down. Not midsection bloat, or an overabundance of clouds on the first day, not the hipsters’ kids, (despite, or perhaps because of, access to state of the art camping gear/parents, they were absolute turds) and not my hips, which after a night on the ground felt like forest creatures had been pummeling them with my hiking poles. I was impervious to every insult and injury, because this was my first trip with Big Red.
I speak not of myself, who has been called Big Red a time or two. Nor do I speak of my namesake gum; I am referring to my new Teton Camp Chef stove in all it’s shiny metallic glory. It will never look this good again (nor will I, after sleeping on the ground).
What did I cook on it? Who cares? It doesn’t matter. The point is, I love it, and in spite of it being as low tech as it gets, I felt sassily competent using it. Like if all else failed, I could always make something for my family, as long as I brought enough propane – and I actually did! Recently, my sister-in-law used her stove on a road trip back to Washington, whipping up her (in)famous Quesadillas ala Bathroom, in offputting proximity to the toilet in a “rustic cabin.” It was 95 degrees, and there was no air conditioning, so cooking anything for her children was a little act of motherly love.
And that may be why I love stoves: fancy ones with extra burners in other people’s well-appointed kitchens, the wood stove I used to make us dinner and dessert once during a blackout, and humble camp stoves employed while swatting mosquitoes. Looking at them makes me think of all the meals cooked on their surfaces – some delectable, some just fair, some inedible. But hopefully all with some affection in them, some desire to please people we care for, or at least fill them up, so they go to sleep and we can behold their soft, and above all, silent, faces in repose, cozily tucked up in their sleeping bags. Kumbaya, Eaters.
Happy camping, happy cooking,