Camping checklist: Lantern, Percolator, Puppy...
Camping checklist: Lantern, Percolator, Puppy…

In the quiet moments of the early morning while camping, I relish in the connection I feel with Ken. Usually the first one up, I take great pleasure in the ritual of making coffee and readying the stove for breakfast once the others have emerged from their tents, scattered around two adjacent camp sites. It was Ken who first taught me how to camp, so touching–using–the things we bought together have great meaning for me.

I wonder if they always will.

And I sometimes wonder if I would be such passionate camper were he here to take on that role for the both of us.

My most recent outing with friends for the second time this summer was–quite unintentionally–to familiar territory for me. The friend who planned the trip wanted to see Wolf Park, a habitat for studying wolves located near both my hometown and my alma mater, Purdue University. (I have a connection with Purdue I was made aware of long after I’d graduated: Ken had gone there too. His last two years there were my first two.) In the four years I studied there in the [gulp] late 80s, I’d heard of Wolf Park, but had never gone to check it out.

Getting there was a path I’m intimately familiar with, having driven to my folks’ many times over the years since I’ve lived in Chicago. After a dog drop off and a quick visit with them, I headed 30 miles south to Lafayette where two camping two cohorts awaited, with one still yet to arrive later in the evening. The stretch of highway between my hometown and Lafayette was both familiar and foreign at the same time. Enormous wind farms stretched up in the fields along with the corn and soybeans. It seems like such a good use of the “great plains” that wasn’t an option when I was growing up there in the 70s and 80s.

Seeing the wind farms always reminds me of a time when Ken and I were at my folks for some holiday and the topic of these wind turbines came up. At the time, they had been springing up all over the area. In fields. In people’s yards in the country. My mom pondered aloud, “I wonder what you get for one of those in your yard” to which Ken (who generally stayed out of the fray with my family) shot back immediately, “probably cancer.”

I don’t love zoos, so I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about Wolf Park. It was interesting to hear about the habitat and the grey wolves that lived there. We, the audience, howled (I didn’t participate as a conscientious objector) in order to get the two wolves to howl. Once they did, we heard the coyote’s answering the howls across the pond, but never saw them. I’m glad for the memory of having experienced it, but I wouldn’t do it again.

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It had been more than twenty years since I stepped foot on Purdue’s campus. I’m not sure I was old enough or wise enough to appreciate college when I was there. I’m grateful for the education, but I never really connected with “Boilermaker” pride–particularly in matters extremely important in Indiana: sports. The campus has at least doubled in size–if not more–than when I graduated in 1990. I took my friends on a short tour. It was a hot day, and Purdue itself would be worthy of a trip all its own.

But as I walked through the halls of the Purdue Memorial Union (where every student spends at least some of their day), I considered that Ken had walked down the same hallway all those years ago. And that we may have even unwittingly crossed paths, embroiled in our own wolds as we passed–unaware of our future together.

In fact, I’m sure we did.

The Purdue Bell tower.
The Purdue Bell tower.

As for being back at my college and in a town I lived in for several years, returning to the campground was my favorite thing. There are fewer treats than sitting around a glowing campfire, surrounded by darkness and the sounds of nature’s tiny creatures calling to one another, delighting in s’mores, laughter (and cocktails!), then crawling onto my puffy air mattress in the little dome tent Ken and I shared, putting in headphones to block out aforementioned creature chatter and falling asleep to a movie on my iPad.

Ahhh…roughing it, indeed.

Dawn breaks over the campsite.
Dawn breaks over the campsite.

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