On Camping, Politics, and Learning

A Memory

Austin and I have not been camping a lot since the pandemic began. We are gearing up for an active camping season, but I reviewed some of the camping blogs I started through the years and never finished, searching for ideas for this week’s post, and came upon one from when we camped in a stock trailer. 

Now camping in a stock trailer (minus the horses) is an experience all by itself and perhaps why I’m not really picky about accommodations. Still, since I never published this memory, I thought readers might enjoy it now. It was written back in 2014, and the similarities to 2021 are uncanny. Enjoy.

Background for This Story

Camping in a state park is a fun experience that all Americans should try at least once. People from all walks of life frequent state parks making these parks a microcosm of society. I observe and learn a lot during any weekend spent camping.

This weekend, for instance, I learned that flies have a way of bonding people. I’ve been to Lee State Park before to camp and ride horses and never had an issue with flies. However, this time, we must have hit breeding season this weekend because when I say flies were an issue, I mean flies in biblical proportions descended upon us, making outside activities, well, miserable.

To be clear, I live in a rural part of South Carolina. My next-door neighbors are cows, and I have horses in my backyard. I’m used to flies. I’m used to getting rid of flies too. I’m not, however, accustomed to swarms of flies being everywhere I turn. I have never seen so many flies in my life as I did at Lee State Park this weekend. Those flies, however, created many relationships.

My “camper” is a 4-horse bumper pull that has been converted to a sleep-in, two-horse bumper pull. We have a bed and an air conditioner in the “sleeping quarters.” The bed is a metal frame with an air mattress on it. We cook and entertain ourselves outside and are usually quite happy with this setup. 

The people camping across from me had a $500,000 bus/RV for their accommodations. They were in their 60s/70s and camping with grandchildren. My husband and I are in our 40s/50s, and we were camping with our youngest daughter. There was not a lot in common between us, and it wasn’t just the age or accommodations. Our fellow campers were Clemson fans and worked at a Clemson Extension Office while we are diehard Gamecock fans. If you are from South Carolina, this fact alone explains the differences. But those flies, boy, did they brought us together.

Our fellow camper walked over to see if we were having the same fly issue that he was having, and when he learned that we were, the bond was instantaneous. He outfitted his rig with house fly spray, a fogger, and some flypaper. (It seemed he’d done this before.) I’m a seasoned camper and have NEVER experienced flies of this magnitude, so we had many provisions for any number of possible mishaps. Still, a biblical plague of flies had never made my list of things to prepare for.

A Friendship is Forged

After our camping neighbor got his site prepared for battle, he brought us some of his fly remedies, and a friendship was forged. I’m not naive. I know that he was fully aware that if he could help us keep flies away from our property, he benefited as well, but these flies were EVERYWHERE, so his reason for coming to our aide did not matter.

We learned a lot from this 71-year-old man. It’s amazing what you can learn when you engage in conversation with people. While I didn’t share all of his political views, I sure appreciated how he came to have them. We talked as his grandchildren bonded with Valerie, and that is how we were able to stay for the weekend. Valerie was invited to stay in their camper, so my “city girl” was no longer begging to go home.

Where We Are Today

I don’t know where this man is today, or even if he is still alive. His granddaughter and Valerie remained friends for a few years and are still “Facebook” friends, but I’m not sure if they ever really talk to each other anymore. But the lessons this man taught me that weekend are worth revisiting today – during this pandemic.

The Haves and the Have Nots

There is no question that the United States is in a crisis. The middle class seems to be eradicated; in terms of politics, we are polarized; authority is met with distrust. The right side won’t listen to the left, people are judged as worthy (or not) by their political affiliations, and maintaining friendships has become complex – and it’s not because of the Covid. The pandemic was just the catalyst. America has been headed in this direction for many years.

The only question is, do we love America enough to turn this thing around, or are we hellbent on becoming the thing we hate? I fear the latter.

Another Microcosm

My fear for what can happen to America if we don’t find a way to unite was heightened this week when I returned to the face-to-face classroom. The landscape is vastly different. People I once held in high esteem are different, as am I. We are cordial to one another but guarded. 

Just like the communities we represent, schools everywhere have the maskers and the anti-maskers, the “covid is real,” verses, “everyone dies of something” group, and we have the vaccinated and those who are either convinced the vaccine is a conspiracy of some kind, or waiting to see if the rest of us are adversely affected before protecting themselves.

Like the campground, high school is a microcosm of society, and the thing is, on some level, we could all be right. That is what makes this so scary.

Students seem defeated. If my classes are any barometer, most believe that America has seen the best days it will ever see. For them, the Roaring Twenties that followed the Spanish Flu cannot be repeated. Economic destruction is imminent.

There is a level of disrespect in the hallways that I have never before encountered, and support is divided because no one seems to know the right thing to do. 

I can’t blame the kids; the adults in the building follow vastly different policies. To be sure, we have one district policy, but as with everything else in life, that policy is interpreted more loosely by some than others. 

So Teacher A allows students to remain maskless in the classroom, but Teacher B requires masks. The policy states that this difference in classroom mask policy is ok. Face covers can be removed when social distancing is possible, and the teacher decides if social distancing is possible.

Masks are required in the hallways, but students without masks or with masks worn incorrectly walk by teacher A without comment, but the same student encounters Teacher B and gets reminded to wear the mask correctly. The problem is that the students are angry. Their right of passage – high school parties, football games, concerts, competitions, etc., — has been canceled or vastly changed. 

Therefore, many respond to anyone who corrects them with disrespect by either pulling up the mask until passing said teacher or saying something disrespectful and refusing to wear the mask. Their compliance or noncompliance is, after all, the only thing they can control. 

Again, I don’t blame the student. The adults, the district, parents, and even the state disagree on what needs to be done to defeat this virus, and there are still a handful of people who believe the whole thing is just political.

The Hope

All is not lost. There are sparks of hope in my classroom when we discuss the future, and while those sparks are often quickly dashed by classmates whose conviction that America is doomed is stronger than the hope of others, their teacher has always found the good in things when the good was not around. 

So we keep talking. We keep digging. We keep asking questions. Sometimes they respond in incredibly insightful ways. Other times they sit and stare, but they know they have a voice.

My class requires critical thinking, compelling argument, and diligent research strategies. Sources are vetted, and this requirement and lessons on how to vet sources are probably their most valuable lesson.

Most things are open for discussion, and all participants are required to treat each other with respect no matter how vehemently they may disagree. If I teach them nothing else, I want them to learn to discuss complex topics with the aim of coming to an agreeable outcome where neither party wins all, but everyone compromises and walks away with a better understanding of the other side. Only then will they learn to develop the tools it takes to find solutions that benefit all.

Even though I have no answers for them, and even fewer answers for myself on how to handle the disrespect and disregard for others that seems to be a common thread in all of America today, I’m reminded of the 71-one-year-old man that we met at Lee State Park. I laugh at how we fought a common enemy – those flies. At that point, our political beliefs didn’t matter. The sports team we pulled for was a non-issue, and the fact that we were from different parts of the state was of little consequence. We had flies to get rid of.

I hate to admit that seven years later, I have no idea how we dealt with those flies, but I still remember my seventy-one-year-old camping friend. 

I hope that is what happens with America. Years from now, we’ll look back and forget the pain, remember the lesson, and rise stronger, more empathetic, and more united than before.

Sources

“Lee State Park, SC 1” by Mzuriana is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

3 thoughts on “On Camping, Politics, and Learning

  1. I remember that trip. I also remember it’s the last time I stayed in that camper. Glad we have the travel trailer now. Love you!

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