I hadn’t camped for a couple of weeks — a combination of visits with friends and bad weather — so I looked forward to my first foray back to tent living. The campground was full or rather, almost full. I lucked out and got the last space at Davis Campground on the Gulf Islands National Seashore in Mississippi. I had no idea tourism had picked up, but apparently this week hordes of people are on the move — spring break, Easter break, the last foray of the snowbirds, and the spectacular weather.
Since I could only get a space for the one night, I was glad of the new tent I had purchased. The big tent is too much trouble to set up and tear down for one night, and I feel vulnerable in my backpacking tent among the RV behemoths, so I needed another tent for one night stands. The new tent worked perfectly, though since the campground was surrounded by wetlands, and the land itself was saturated, I did experience a lot of condensation. And I was cold. (The temperature got down to 40 degrees, maybe even lower.)
The trails in the park were short, mere walks instead of hikes, but they suited me since I hadn’t done much walking recently. I could feel myself smiling as I wandered — I seem to be much happier with my feet planted solidly on the ground. And the stunning views, of course, contributed to that feeling of well being. Best of all, I saw an alligator on the shore of the bayou! I had seen an alligator just a couple of days previously, but the poor thing had been designated a town mascot and was being held captive in a large cage. The free alligator didn’t act any different than the penned one. Both just lay there looking prehistoric, barely even twitching as people stared at them.
And I realized something. Even though so many places look alike, it is the moment that makes the difference. Watching a particular alligator in a particular marsh separates that marsh from all the rest. Or seeing a particular leaf on a tree separates it from all the rest.
Adding to my own peculiar moment, when I got back to my campsite after dark, the men in the sites on either side of me — strangers to each other — came to look at my car. They each had a flashlight and scrutinized every inch of the body and engine. Like boys in a toy store.
And maybe that’s all any of us are — children in a toy store, grabbing whatever experiences we can.
(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”