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When I was 7-years-old, my father took my brothers and me on our first camping trip—to our backyard. We lived on a quiet cul-de-sac, and our backyard sloped slightly downhill before leveling off and butting up against dense, gray-black woods. Nights were quiet and dark, interrupted only by the occasional hissing of the leaves shaking on the trees and the sporadic glow of a lightning bug. It was the perfect setting to pitch a tent.
Jamie and Will helped Dad set up camp while Mom and I gathered the sleeping bags, loaded batteries into flashlights, and prepared a few homemade snacks for devouring late-night. Peanut butter on crackers was always a favorite.
At dusk, we kissed Mom goodnight, and the four of us trudged down the hill to the back corner of the yard, a mere stone’s throw from the glow of the back kitchen window and Mom’s ever-watchful eye.
There were strict rules about sleeping arrangements in the tent. The three of us kids could sleep anywhere, so long as Dad nabbed the station closest to the tent door. You see, Will had a tendency of sleepwalking on occasion. As luck seemed to have it, I managed to pick the sleeping bag positioned just so on top of a sharp rock that lodged itself between my shoulder blades for the night.
The best thing about camping out was that Dad truly was (is) just like one of the kids. We stuck flashlights under our chins and told ghost stories—Dad’s stories were always the scariest—and we played pranks on the one who started to drift off to sleep first. Surely, if Mom knew the amount of horsing around that we did instead of sleeping that night, I’m not so sure she would have let Dad supervise that campout.
By morning, bleary-eyed from our lack of sleep, we trudged our way back up the hill to the kitchen, where Mom laid out a hot breakfast and we lingered in soft, cushioned chairs resting our weary bones (or, in my case, back). And there we sat, laughing and reminiscing about our big camping night, and talking in excited tones as we planned out our next great backyard campout.
Tomorrow the National Wildlife Federation celebrates the Great American Backyard Campout. What will you do for it? I encourage you to join in the fun and pitch a tent in the great outdoors—or, as was in my case, in your own backyard.