Out of the darkness, from somewhere not too far above our heads, Valerie and I heard a loud scream.
“What was that?” I blurted out. I may have needed a few more words.
The last time I asked Valerie that question, it was a fisher cat, letting out its blood-curdling howl from the woods near our house. This time it was last week at a campsite.
Valerie and I heard the screeching as we unloaded our luggage from our car and carried it to our tent. I activated the flashlight on my phone and aimed the beam at the treetops surrounding us. Neither Val nor I knew which creature had screamed. All I knew was that if the thing turned out to be some kind of big bat, I would repack the car and fly it away on the plane.
We heard a loud flapping in the trees. Then we saw the shadowy outline of an owl dodging the bright light I threw in its path.
“Huh,” I said as the bird disappeared from view. “Understood.”
I had never heard an owl screech. The truth is I thought they were just cheering around.
This was the first time I had been camping in over 20 years. The last time hadn’t gone so well as the night was muggy and Val and I didn’t have a fan to provide both relief and the white noise I needed to sleep. Sometime in the middle of the night I heard heavy footsteps approaching our tent and stopping just on the other side of the tarp, just a foot or two from our heads. I never heard the footsteps again and let myself believe that the beast had been outside our tent all night, ready to devour us if we dared run to the outhouse in the dark. It sounded like a bear to me. Valerie said it was probably a rabbit or a chipmunk.
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There are other disastrous stories I can tell about that long-gone trip, but whatever. That was in the summer of 1999. You know, the summer when The Blair Witch Project came out. Val and I watched this indie horror movie the night after we got back from camping. The film struck a chord.
And here we are in 2022. And it wasn’t exactly camping that Val and I went to last week. It was glamping.
Surely you know what “glamping” is. I’m confident you’ve read both of the articles I’ve written for the Coast Star over the past few years about the phenomenon. “Glamping” is “glamorous camping”. Your tent is a solid canvas structure large enough to hold a table and chairs, a counter with plates, mugs and cutlery, a small fridge and a table for breakfast or dinner.
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Some of these “glamping” tents are even large enough to include a bathroom with a shower. Val and I got neither, and had to make do with the restrooms—which, by the way, were clean and well-lit—a few steps down the dirt track.
“Glampsites”, as they are probably called, are popping up everywhere. Valerie and I lived in Huttopia, up in the White Mountains in Albany, New Hampshire. We had a carefree few days, reading on the front deck of our tent in the mornings, swimming in Iona Lake in the afternoons, venturing into North Conway for dinner, and sitting around the campfire in the evenings. On our second night there one of these owls sat next to us and stayed for a short while while we sat by the fire.
Val and I felt like the old folks on the block as we were mostly surrounded by young families and couples taking full advantage of the location’s physical and social opportunities: swimming and biking and jogging and playing basketball and cornhole. On our first night there, the campground was showing Inside Out, the wonderful Pixar family film from a few years ago, and Val and I joined the crowd for a little look. A nearby food truck was selling crepes — and instead of choosing between the sweet and savory options, I got one of each.
Just a few nice, relaxing days, a relaxing getaway during a week off from work. It was nice to be in Albany knowing that we actually had a Huttopia right at home in Sanford if we ever wanted to stay there. Admittedly, the ease and convenience of glamping is my speed, as I’m more used to urban life and have little patience for tent pitching.
I got that from my father. He and Mom took my sister Kelly and I camping when I was about 5 years old. Halfway through the weekend we were hit by a torrential downpour that was expected to continue for the remainder of our stay. We decided to collect our bets and go home. Or rather, Mom decided that Dad should tear down the stakes so we could go home. She and Kelly and I stayed in the dry, warm car. I can still see Dad through the windshield dismantling our tent—he was soaked, kneeling in the mud, struggling to pull stakes out of the darkness, and no doubt conjugated a variety of profanity to himself.
Ah, but look, with glamping, the tent is already there, ready for you. I slept well both nights at Huttopia thanks to the cool air from the screened windows and the fan we bought from Walmart in North Conway. Yes, the tents also have power sockets. As I lay on my back and fell asleep, I looked up and half-wished it would rain if Val and I could just enjoy the splashing on the screen. We would have done that without worrying. The next morning we couldn’t take the tent down again.
Dad would have loved glamping.
Shawn P. Sullivan is an award-winning columnist and reporter for the York County Coast Star. He can be reached at email@example.com.