I spent most of this last week in northern Idaho, in a tent beside Lake Pend Oreille. It was my wife and I, joined by a daughter, her husband, and four children.
We stayed in a state park campground. Those of you who have spent time in campsites know what it’s like. It’s a small town that springs up every afternoon among the trees. Although we were staying in two tents, we were surrounded by camper-trailers larger than some of the apartments my wife and I lived in when we were first married. They pull into their reserved campground spots ready to go with TV’s and indoor plumbing, central heating and running water. Just like the wagon trains when they crossed the plains.
It’s an amiable community. The kids are on bicycles, and circle aimlessly through the gaggle of motor homes laid out along the paved road we are all temporarily inhabiting. People sit outside their tents and trailers in their Walmart folding chairs and seem capable of filling entire hours talking about nothing but the current weather, and what might happen with tonight’s weather, and tomorrow’s weather, and the lake, and the fish, and how the weather will affect the fish this afternoon, and how tomorrow will be different from today, except that it probably won’t be different at all.
The reason nothing much will change tomorrow is because it’s summer; the happy few weeks each year where the drama calms and being outside in shirt sleeves is something a person can count on being able to do without having to duck and run in the path of an approaching squall or dust storm.
In my experience, it takes modern kids a full day to adjust to campground life, especially one like this one, where cell service is spotty and the internet ain’t happening.
I feel sorry for the teenagers, except that I don’t. I’ve been watching the newcomers do that “ungh, ungh, ungh” grunt that they do when they become frustrated by something, while they look up at the sky as if pleading with God for at least three bars. Then, with no miracles apparently forthcoming, they sulk for ten minutes, and then climb on a bicycle and ride off in search of other similarly disoriented social media refugees.
And thus begins the lazy river of bicyclists as they roll through the campsite. They are surprisingly silent among their fellow sufferers as they lackadaisically pedal along, circle after circle, while slowly discovering that, to their vast surprise, there are worse things to do on a warm, boring summer day than watch the endless variety of old people sitting in their chairs watching the kids watching them.
There’s a playground in the campsite designed for the smaller kids that’s next to the bathrooms and showers. While paying my afternoon visit to the restroom one day I saw, and I’m not making this up, a girl, probably sixteen, swinging by herself on the playground. I had a vision of the girls I know in that age group, so emotionally invested in making smoochy faces into their cell phones for their Snapchat and Tik-Tok posts, all trying so desperately to be uniquely hip and relevant in the same exact way, and here’s a girl just being a girl, whiling the afternoon away, with a daydream on her face, and her body swinging by itself, without even trying to see how high she could actually go.
The thought came to my mind—they’re in there: the kids, I mean. For all their teen angst, anger and snide condescension towards the adult world they so desperately want to attain, inside they’re all just insecure dreamers like you and I once were, looking for a quiet spot to dream, though they’re not allowed these days to admit it.
Here they don’t have to admit anything. They can just ride their bikes in lazy circles, and be lulled by the creaking rhythm of slightly rusted swings.
Teenagers aren’t the ones enjoying the break, of course. I didn’t hear Trump or Biden come up in a single campfire conversation. Not one.
It was a good week.
Chris Huston is an author and award-winning columnist living in the Magic Valley. Connect with Chris on Facebook and Instagram at Chris Huston-Finding My Way and at chrishustonauthor.com.
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