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The question

Years ago, I was invited to go camping with a group of friends even though I was a complete newbie. We had such a great time that we’ve continued an annual trip. I have developed a love of camping and learned a lot, first from my pals, but later from others. Trouble is, I’ve learned that a lot of the things my friends do when they are camping is ... well, not really “best practice.” Stuff like paper plates at every meal, leftover food in the pit toilet, sneaking in their own firewood, feeding the wildlife, canoeing without personal flotation devices in the boat and so on. A lot of the things they do are the kinds of things that actually harm the natural environment that they say they are enjoying. I have been invited to go along again this year, but my heart just isn’t in it any more. I can find other folks to camp with who have values more similar to mine (at least about camping), but how do I do it without alienating my friends? I don’t want to preach to them. They’re good people, they just go bad once a year.

The answer

Camping is tough.

For me, anyway. I’m really a city guy. I’m not good when it comes to rural/country/nature-type experiences.

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I guess my marriage has come closest to cracking while camping. It was raining, my wife and I were trying to set up the tent, the rain kept shooting down, we were hungry (primordial problem), I was trying and failing to get a fire going (ultra-primordial problem), and in my frustration snapping at my wife (even more primordially annoying, for her) and yadda yadda yadda. It’s a lucky thing I’ve been kind and respectful and loving toward her before and since because otherwise, once we got back to the city she would have been thumbing through the Yellow Pages under: “lawyers – divorce.”

It almost makes one wonder: Why camp? Why do people camp, unless they actually have to? If you have a house or apartment or condo, why choose a tent?

I understand there are stars to gaze at and tra-la-la, but at the same time a bear might a) rip off the top of the tent, thus exposing you to the elements in your pyjamas and subsequently b) rip off your head and throw it into the nearest gulch, c) attempt to use his claws to rip open and hoover down your can of pork and beans.

But maybe that’s just me: not a camping-type guy. I know many people love it.

My father-in-law was and probably still is a brilliant camper. His family (my wife and her siblings) have numerous fond memories of him quickly popping open a tent, getting everything organized, putting weenies on the grill and everything working out well.

I’m just not that sort of person.

But if I were, I might say, about camping and life in general: The less of a footprint (ecologically speaking) you leave, the better.

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Therefore, I think you’re within your rights to say something such as that to your friends.

Something along the lines of: “Hey, the whole point of camping is to commune with nature and I feel like all these paper plates and everything are the opposite of that.”

And P.S. – “feeding the wildlife” does not sound like “best practice” at all.

Wildlife has a way of being dangerous. That’s why we call it wildlife. If you feed them they will come around, and if they come around – well, they have fangs and claws and all kinds of other things you do not necessarily want applied to your soft and tender body.

So, I think speaking to your friends does sound like “best practice” and if your friends don’t listen, then – as you say – you have other camping friends.

And maybe they’re the ones you should join to sing Kumbaya, make s’mores and muse aloud with, as you stare at the stars, on the nature of the universe and the problems of humanity and so forth.

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Maybe your new camping friends will be more respectful of the wildlife, the environment and everything else that goes along with the camping experience.

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