Wet tents at dawn – remembering the old ways

Did you learn how to pitch a ridge tent? I did and it is the teaching I remember more than those first camp nights.

Camping rituals

It seemed to me, at the tender age of eleven, there was a ritual to the whole affair. Even then I was aware of the passing down of skills. Like sailors on a land-ridden sea as we pitched we, master and apprentice, were not only partaking of tradition, we were becoming tradition.

Magic in structure

Right from the onset, there was structure.  Correctly lay out the heavy wooden poles on the ground and hey presto, you knew where to bang in the main pegs. Always at 45 degrees, always sloped away from the tent, always solid. These pegs had some magic in them. From our first meeting, I knew their wooden shapes, clearly painstakingly carved by ancient tent mariners, would keep me safe, not just from storms but from the beasts that come in campers’ dreams.

Canvas stories

There was more magic. The waft of canvas can still transport me to another world. My first experience of ‘away’ was something that will never leave me. Light, diffusing heavily, casts utterly unique light and shade patterns inside a canvas tent. Like sails that have traversed the Seven Seas, tent canvas tells stories. Its fibres trap memories of warm grass, wet June days and wood fires. And shelter.

Jeopardy and shelter

You don’t notice shelter when it comes in the form of a house. But remove yourself from bricks and mortar, and shelter soon gathers priority status. Add this temporary level of jeopardy to your existence and your senses enliven. An approaching storm keeps you awake, the morning breeze soothes you, and rain becomes your music.

A half place

There were morning rituals too. Gentle damp is an integral part of canvas tent life. On sunny days we dragged our sleeping bags and blankets out on groundsheets to air. Then we brailled the tent, rolling each side up to allow air and light underneath. Stolen moments alone underneath brailled canvas transported me into an interworld space. Not of the outside, not of the inside. Suspended.

Doing not being

In truth though it wasn’t the being that placed canvas camping so happily in my heart. It was the doing. I loved the ritual. Even as we sadly decamped, I was heartened by the regimen. The Jenga-stacked pegs, the carefully knotted guy ropes, the hut-hung canvas, all spoke to me of next time.

There have been plenty of next times.

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