Pitching Tents: Fantasy vs. Reality

As kids, we loved pitching tents. We never had a real one, but improvised with bed sheets, blankets and our coveted, ladybug-patterned sleeping bags.  Something about summer screamed “pitch a tent!” so we did.

The year I turned thirty I planned a camping trip with a friend in Hawaii.  Permit in hand, we would camp for two or three days, then move into a hotel for the rest of our stay. She borrowed her friend’s tent, but didn’t know how to set it up. After struggling for hours, we gave up. We went to a camping store where I bought a two-person tent for $99. It was an unplanned expense, but a necessary one. Lessons learned.

tent in hawaii

1989: The Tent

We spent one horrible night camping before cutting our losses and moving to a hotel. The tent was fine, but the campground was overrun later that evening with a crowd of young men, drinking and shouting into the wee hours of the morning. This was not the serene, camping-on-the-island-of-Kauai fantasy we were after. Though nothing bad happened, we spent a long, scary night in that tent. We realized how vulnerable we were.

I pitched that tent a few more times over the years, once at the Monterrey Bay Jazz Festival and again at Big Sur. One of the trips was the beginning of the end of a relationship.  On another trip I discovered a black widow in the corner of my tent. The third and last time I planned a trip, the Bay Area suffered at 7.2 earthquake.  The trip dwindled from 12 friends to 2. We went anyway, but looking back, it just felt weird. Forgive the following abhorrent cliché, but I am not a happy camper.

Backyard Camping

When the boys were young, I set up my old tent a few times in our back yard.  When their interest waned, it was easy enough to put it away. Looking at these photos reminds me  how good I have it at home: the perfect pillow, a firm mattress and a nice hot shower down the hall.

pop tent

2006: Playing Monopoly in the back yard

Fairy Garden Camping

Today I relived my let’s pitch-a-tent sensibilities with an inverted pumpkin flower. I draped the golden  tent in a verdant corner of the fairy garden. Tucked inside are a pair of pink sleeping bags with a scattering of fragrant blooms nearby.

This is the fantasy I dreamed of when I pitched that first tent in Hawaii nearly 25 years ago.  Lush, idyllic, and without a single shred of reality. Meanwhile, my reality is pretty darn good.

pumpkin flower progression

Male pumpkin flower progression

pumpkin tent

Inverted pumpkin flowers make excellent tents


19 thoughts on “Pitching Tents: Fantasy vs. Reality

  1. Your fairy garden tent is part boho chic, part Arabian Nights – I love it! That is so you to think about the fairies having a lovely summer camping adventure too! I’m sorry to hear your Hawaiian idyll did not go as planned, but hope the time was better enjoyed in a hotel. I’m not a camper either – in fact I would go so far as to say you will never see me in a sleeping bag or a tent ever again 🙂 My years of teaching included annual camps with 25 students and assorted parents for up to a week at a time and was never my idea of a fun way to spend a week. Like you I love my lovely mattress, my gorgeous pillow and my sheets and duvet – not to mention the solidity of four walls and a door between me and the rest of the world while I snooze 🙂


    • Oh I like that…boho chic. Those lucky little fairies.

      We did enjoy the rest of our stay, with plenty of days on the beach, touring sites and hiking. We also met a nice young man named Scott (how I regret not remembering his last name) who was on his way to New Zealand after Hawaii. I wonder if he stayed?

      Oh good grief…a week of camping with students and parents would be enough to put anyone off the experience.

      You’ve said it best: why invest in all that pretty, clean, comfortable bedding, only to leave it behind for dirt and bugs.

      I love dirt (and some bugs) but only before nightfall. 🙂


  2. In another part of our life, my husband was an infantryman and he slept under the stars more nights then he spent with me at times. Needless to say, a vacation spent “civilian camping” was not his idea of R&R. It was just fine with me when we would end up in a “suite style” hotel with a full kitchen and bath, lovely pool, and a hot breakfast every morning.


    • What an interesting story, ME. If sleeping under the stars was work, not to mention work under pressure, it stands to reason that a hotel would be a better choice.

      When the boys were small, we loved hotels with a small kitchen. It was much more convenient for breakfast in the room and snacks later on. It already feels like a lifetime ago.


  3. Aah, how lovely! Your fairies will have a great time in that! I’m not a happy camper either… one experience in Italy of noisy campsites and biting ants put me off for life! Such a lovely post Alys! 🙂


  4. Having done more than my share of camping, I have mixed feelings about the whole camp culture. I’ll say ‘culture’ because campers are like sports fans, the ones that are good at it seem to go rain or shine and relish in the idea of eating hotdogs in the rain and wearing soggy clothes.
    I’m with you though and enjoying the comforts of home and just throwing up the tent in the backyard. That’s a cute picture of the boys. They sure have grown up in just a short time. As kids, we never had a real tent but made a lot of tee-pee type things with blankets along the fence. Orange blankets worked well and in the 70’s they were plentiful.
    Thank goodness the marauding men in maui left you girls alone. I would have been totally freaked out. I’m afraid these days I’m pretty spoilt when we travel. Wi-fi and nice digs are part of the deal.
    Now if I were a fairy though, I might have to rethink it all. Heavens Alys, that’s the cutest campsite ever. Your pumpkin bloom works perfectly. You have an excellent eye for creatively re-inventing things. Love it! xoxo


    • Perhaps if I had more pluses than minuses, I would feel better about the whole thing. I think your assessment is spot on: you’re a camper or your not.

      I remember eating scrambled eggs in the rain over a camping weekend where I never warmed up. I was never so happy to come home and put on clean, dry clothes as I was after that trip.

      I love the image of you in your orange tee-pee. We were always building tents or ‘forts’ as we called them.

      Looking back, I’m sure they were just a bunch of guys drinking beer and having fun, but it was scary and we did feel vulnerable.

      Yes, wi-fi and nice digs will be high on the list for any future travel. I’m with you 110% on that one.

      I’m so glad you liked the pumpkin tent. It’s funny what strikes you. I picked it up off the ground, turned it inside out, and then the wheels started turning.

      Thank you. xox

      Liked by 1 person

      • 😀 We called our temporary yard architecture ‘forts’ too. Funny, that sounds so ‘pioneer’ to me but I guess 45 years ago was a lot closer to those pioneer days, LOL Plus, show’s like F-troup and Daniel Boone or even The Andy Griffin Show were very wholesome and popular. Can you imagine kids watching those today?


  5. Alys, your creativity amazes me. And it’s wonderful to hear how much use that tent found–maybe there’s still life in it yet?
    I too much prefer an actual mattress to a sleeping bag, but I have to say, there have been a few magical hours passed in a swaying hammock beneath a starry night or two. The outdoors definitely call out a siren song. (As long as that siren comes from nature and not rowdy co-campers!)


    • Thank you! I have a good time playing in the garden. When I get going, I’m like a child that doesn’t want to come in from the rain…not that we’ve seen rain for a loooooong time. I digress.

      That little tent did log some miles. Now I fear, I simply couldn’t get back up off the ground after a night in a sleeping bag.

      I too have enjoyed some time in a hammock. When my in-laws were alive, they had a small vineyard in the mountains above Calistoga. That was some of the best star-gazing I’ve ever done.

      Thanks so much for stopping by.


  6. Well, I’m obviously in the wee minority; the good side of that is that I will not be over-run when I go camping. I still prefer no tent so I can look at the stars. But I have only camped in a campsite a few times; in my time, we just went out ‘in the bush’ and stopped near water and set up camp. A few times I was able to stay for months. I suspect things have changed out there now, though; so many people now that I’ve heard in some places you have to use a campsite. But I still know a few places in BC. 😉

    I’m not a hotel sort of girl, really, although the few times I’ve had to stay in one, I took time to appreciate the luxuries. Hostels are much more my way to go. When I was in Washington,DC, back in ’97, I paid $10 US a night; hotels were at least ten times that. The best part was being close enough to walk to everything I wanted to see except Arlington Cemetery and that was only a short LRT ride away. The next best part was meeting young people from all over the world (and some older people, too). I stayed one night at the hostel in Phoenix after I won a trip to Sedona (same year); that one is just a house (the Washington place is more the size of a large apartment building), with ladies upstairs and men down. That one was good, too.

    I’ve camped with an old army tent one summer, a 9′ by 12′ deal, and that was good; I had a year old child that time (my youngest son). And I sewed my own tipi by hand and lived in it for almost a year. That was the BEST!!! It was only myself, my sons’ dad and the elder son that year.

    I’ve camped out for a few months with only a tarpaulin for a smallish shelter, and slept out with only a horse blanket a few nights, too. Good times . . .

    Coking over a campfire is great. I don’t think we ever had hot dogs, but we did have venison and salmon. I remember making soup with the salmon heads and bbones, adding masses of watercress and thickening it with a handful of oatmeal. I cooked up a soyflour-based ‘butter’ that worked well, too, as it was way too hot to keep real butter solid that summer. Oh, and wild asparagus! Mmmmmmm…… Pancakes and bannocks, too . . .

    Thanks for surfacing some great memories; I miss those days . . .

    Best of all is seeing your faery tents. Pauline is right; they do remind one of the Arabian nights; I could live in a silken tent like that forever! Or maybe a yurt, if the winters were chilly . . . 🙂

    If time ever permits, I will have to make a faery refuge of my own. Yours look like so much fun. ~ Linne


    • Linne, I am amazed and impressed at your camping prowess. You do indeed have some remarkable experiences outdoors.

      I would venture to guess that if you ‘camp’ for a year, it’s more a lifestyle than a camping adventure.

      There are very few places left that allow camping without a permit, but people figure out ways to get around that. Have your read the book by Sheryl Strayed about her year hiking the Pacific Coast Trail? If not, I think you would enjoy it.

      I too stayed in youth hostels when traveling in Vancouver, Whistler and Victoria in 1982 and again throughout Europe in 1989. They were generally clean, well run, affordable places to stay and a wonderful way to meet fellow travelers along the way. I have many great memories of those travels.

      Thanks for sharing. I’m glad this post evoked such positive memories.


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