When I was a kid, my family spent summers away from civilization. Regular readers of this blog have been entertained by the tales of my exploits and derring-do in the mountains above Boulder, Colorado. You may also be familiar with the effect that all that frontier living had on my adult life. For example, my wife understands that whenever she brings up the notion of camping or even taking a walk in the woods, I dismiss it all with a flick of my hand and remind her that I spent three months out of every year trapped in a cabin with no running water, electricity or phone. We chopped wood and hauled water from the creek to wash our dishes. At night we read by the light of kerosene lanterns. By this point she has already sighed and walked out of the room, bearing me no particular ill will, but wishing that I hadn't been so scarred as a child.
Now the truth: I wouldn't trade that time for anything in the world. It was perhaps the single most important element of the way our family bonded together. It would be silly to suggest that we were living close to the edge of survival. My mother baked us chocolate chip cookies in that big iron stove. We climbed rocks and swung from trees. We had plenty of chores to do, but we always had enough energy left to read comic books in our sleeping bags by flashlight long after our parents had hollered up at us to go to sleep. We had the run of acre after acre of tree-covered hillside, and when that wasn't enough, we could always squeeze through the barbwire fence and slip on up to the neighbor's barn where we could jump from rafter to rafter before plummeting into the piles of hay below.
And now I know why my father's brother-in-law got so angry at one particular family gathering. He was drunk, that was the base, but he was also incredibly jealous. He wasn't spending summers in the mountains. He was stuck down in town. On the streets. Where you could be outside but never exactly away. I'm sure he was mad about being cooped up in all that urban tangle. Well, to be fair, suburban tangle, but tangle nonetheless. There he was, taking big wide verbal swings at my father because he could count, among his possessions, an outhouse. Now that's what I call civilized.