Each summer as a kid, I could always count on at least one family camping trip to Pearl Lake State Park north of Steamboat Springs. It would usually be the highlight of my summer break. Deep in the woods where the cranes call at dusk and dawn —and the only thing that could wake you up at night was the call of a great horned owl — I found my family at its happiest. Dad could fish as much as he wanted, Ben could capture crawdads all day, Mom could look for birds or identify wildflowers, and I could venture off down the sawgrass-laden shore and play pretend.
I’m not sure there is an activity more clouded by nostalgia than camping. I have so many fond memories, and yet, when it comes to camping these days, my thoughts immediately get all adult and practical. Will this tent be big enough? Do I bother with a pillow or does that take up too much room? What the hell are we going to eat?
Sadly, those thoughts have proven to be a barrier to camping. What can I say: I’m fully fledged as city folk.
But this summer, with my daughter venturing further and further into childhood, it was clear I needed to make a camping trip happen while she was still at such a magical age. With a five-month-old new addition in the family, it was either going to be just me and her, or we’d pair up with our good friends, the Lambertons. My old friend, Tim, and his five-year-old daughter, Cora, made for a perfect fit … and there was no question in my mind where I wanted to go.
The appeal of Pearl Lake does not lie in the grandeur or seclusion of the park. It’s more about the simplicity. A lake, some forest, stands of willows and lots of sawgrass. There’s a low-slung mountain to the north, which barely crests the treeline. Wyoming seems like a stone’s throw away.
If there is any drama in Pearl Lake, it’s short-lived: we were camping during the height of wildflower season, which gave the girls all kinds of inspiration.
They also passed the time by making a birds nest in the grass, roasting s’mores, lighting the tip of their s’mores stick on fire and spelling their name in smoke, and playing Elsa and Anna in the tent (which somehow involves both girls being Elsa). Just after dinner, Varenna joined me for a walk down to the lake, and after I took her picture, you could see a lightbulb go off over her head.
“Can I take your picture?” she asked.
“Sure.” So I handed over my expensive Canon 5D and gritted my teeth into a smile while she held it. Here’s the result:
OK, not bad, I thought.
“Can I take another?” Soon Varenna was giddily taking pictures of everything: flowers, her stuffed cougar, her friend Cora, now Tim and Cora, now just Cora and Daddy, now Daddy and Tim, now just Tim …
I was witnessing what every father wishes: a passed-along passion. My little girl was in her element behind the lens, each time snapping two consecutive exposures, then holding the camera aloft for me to safely commandeer. Here are some more of her compositions.
This last one, while accidental, blows me away. My four-year-old perfectly backlit me!
And so, in the end, it felt like I came full circle. For on this lake as a child, I shared passions with my brother, my mother and my father. The joys of sleeping in a secluded spot away from toys, technology and TV has been passed down to the next generation of Days.
I just better get back out there to feed the flame.