A couple of weeks ago, after a U.S. steel plant across the river shut down, Windsor, Ontario residents finally got rid of the mysterious “hum” that had plagued the city for more than 10 years. According to the lead researcher into the hum’s source, the plant’s blast furnaces had been running at higher than normal capacity, causing its foundation to reverberate intensely. Residents reported the hum wasn’t a sound, exactly, but a feeling— “a general sense of uneasiness and reverberation through one’s body.”
It’s easy to relate to that feeling of uneasiness this year, as news sources run at higher than normal capacity in their attempts to keep us informed of the current state of the COVID pandemic. While I don’t agree with people disregarding safety measures in their pursuit of “normal” summer activities, I get why they want to silence the constant COVID hum. Our foundations have been reverberating for five months, and there’s no end in sight.
But, if you’re looking for a temporary respite, you might be able to find it in a getaway to a local campsite.
In Alberta, even before the pandemic, the spontaneous Thursday decision to pack up your camping gear and head out of town the next night for a weekend away from town is a relic. And this year, the campsites are busier than they’ve ever been. When we hopped onto the Alberta Parks reservation site a few weeks ago, every site we looked at on every weekend was covered in a red X. But we discovered a Wednesday/Thursday night combo at Marten River campground in Lesser Slave Lake Provincial Park, three hours north of Edmonton. Done.
With the honey scent of clover wafting through the open truck windows, and the sun at our backs, highway 44 took us past chartreuse carpets of canola, bearded barley fields, and cattle standing in shaded windbreaks, flicking their tails in each other’s faces. Halfway up the highway, the field and pastures gave way to dense forests. Logging trucks passed us going south, trailing spruce cologne. We stopped for a tailgate picnic in the parking lot of the roadside Flatbush Recreational Center. A Lesser Slave River utility truck was parked outside the arena, but we never saw its owners. We ate our ham and cheese sandwiches in the quiet heat, the dragonflies hovering and darting after insects like tiny divebombing biplanes.
In many ways, camping is a near-perfect activity in this strangest of all summers. You can experience other people’s energy while staying safely in your own accommodation. You’ve got your own food. You don’t have to wear a mask because you’re outdoors all day. High touch surfaces are limited to water taps, garbage bins and toilet areas so as long as you practice effective hand hygiene, you’re okay on that account. If, like us, your household income is less than it was when COVID hit, camping’s a cheap escape, at $29 a night. And best of all, you’ve escaped your house, which I’m betting has devolved from the cozy sanctuary it was last March.
Our two day vacay was filled with a lot of nothing much. Poplar and pine towered over our campsite, sheltering us from the midday heat. We ate and read and walked and napped, backdropped by the same soundscape we recalled from our childhood camping days: The ring of ax head on metal tent pegs. Chicka dee dee dees. Little kids racing past on bikes and scooters. Couple banter as he backs the trailer into the narrow space between pine trees and she directs him. Delighted shrieks still echoing from the playground until twilight. At night, silence.