I first experienced camping at a very young age. I was also one of those kids who was sent away to sleep away camp for a week or so in the summer. As a result it is hard for me to remember my very first camping experience because the memories are all mixed together. One of the oldest memories I have is waking up at night to tiptoe off to the bathroom and being confronted with the darkest darkness that only the wilderness can provide. Living in the city, I was not aware that night time could be so dark. It felt suffocating and frightening almost as if you were going blind. I remember being frozen on the steps of the cabin trying to force my mind to make a decision, to step forward or go back into safety. That early experience with darkness in a way removed my fear of the dark. Any further experiences really paled in comparison. This fear of the dark can be seen at any campsite or group camping experience. People have the impression that if they can’t see then something has the possibility to sneak up on them or attack them in the night. Hundreds of horror movies have helped this belief grow, and in a way are one reason that I shy away from them. This fear ties in nicely to the second fear experienced while camping and that is silence.
We live in a noisy busy world. Take a moment to listen to the sounds around you, refrigerator, cars, air conditioner, maybe a cat or a dog. We listen to these sounds so much that we no longer hear them, however, we do hear an absence of sound. The first night in the woods can seem like landing on another planet. The first thing you notice is how much noise isn’t present. Depending on the season there might be insect sounds but in the fall or winter you may be faced with total and complete silence. Any noise that you do hear suddenly becomes incredibly loud and instantly dangerous. You enter a constant state of fight or flight and have trouble simply relaxing or sleeping.
It is for these two reasons that people tend to dislike camping in general. Having experienced many friendships both making and breaking on these trips, camping tends to expose fears we weren’t aware we had. It can be vulnerable and embarrassing to express these fears around people whose opinion you care about. Instead of facing these fears or abandoning camping all together, people have begun to shape their campsite to dispel their discomfort. People bring large bright lights to shine into the sky pushing back the darkness. They turn up the stereo to their favorite song, to avoid hearing a possible approaching monster. All the while pushing away an experience they could grow and learn from. The stars are not visible from your campsite under a 100 watt bulb and you can’t hear owls call to each other behind a stereo.
The photo on the far right is the moon, while the two left photos are RV lights.
The good thing is, you can absolutely have both. You can listen to music, hangout under a light and experience nature, just not at the same time. Most campsites have a 10pm curfew which calls for lights and sounds to be out past that time. A good camp host can also help you ease nicely into enjoying the wilderness. The host will drive around introducing themselves setting to bed some fears that we are completely alone out here. The best thing to do is take a deep breath, face your fear, and turn out that light.