This is not the actual raccoon we saw, but at 3am, it was more or less what I saw in my mind. Except bigger. Like 3 feet bigger.

raccoon psychology

When you go camping, the first night is pretty exciting. All the comforts and amenities of home are stripped away as you try to return to some simpler state of being. As parents, there is the added pressure of pretending to be some sort of wilderness expert despite the fact that we usually end up fumbling our way through this process with a smile on our face to ease the nerves of onlooking children.

And so it was our first night at Devil’s Lake. We had setup camp and the kids had a snack of some fruit snacks and granola bars to keep them occupied. Our plan called for us to run into town for some final groceries and to eat one more supper with the common folk before we transitioned to our diet of things that can be prepared over a poorly regulated cookstove and a fire.

As we settled down to go to bed that night, everything was going great. The kids were having fun, Jamie and I hadn’t made total fools of ourselves, and so far no one had gotten hurt. Not bad for a half day away from home.

The kids surprisingly went to bed easily. We were all tired and were quickly asleep in our tent, all piled side-by-side. It was good. For most of the night.

“Honey, wake up.”

It was about 3 am.

“Wake up, there’s a raccoon outside the tent.”

Through the haze, I processed what Jamie said. This is roughly the exchange I had in my head for those 3 seconds, that seemed like an eternity.

Animal. Outside. No problem. Back to sleep…..

Wait. “Outside” doesn’t mean 2×4 construction and sheet rock. It means single-ply nylon between me and nature. And what about the kids? And Jamie? How exactly do you fight a raccoon? Do you “get big” or “play dead”? Both?

As I stirred myself and shook the cobwebs, I grabbed a flashlight and aimed it at the end of the tent where I heard the snarling and rustling. I saw a white garbage bag and a flash of teeth moving quickly around. It was at the other end of the tent, right next to Eli’s head who was sound asleep, unaware of the monster feeding next to him.

Like any good husband and dad does, I pulled myself off the hard ground, unzipped the dew soaked tent, and slowly shuffled my way in the dark to the far end of the tent. It’s funny how your mind can run wild with each step as you approach a wild animal. As I type this, I can see how irrational any concern about a raccoon is. In that moment though, that raccoon was a 6 foot long alligator covered in fur, wearing a leather jacket, wielding a switchblade. It was tough. And I was tired, cold, and caring a child’s flashlight as my only weapon. Seemed like a fair fight.

As I turned the corner to see where the raccoon was, I expected some epic confrontation. What I got instead was a torn up white garbage bag, the remains of some Cheez-It snack bags, and a sudden realization of how ridiculous this must look.

I slinked my way back to my sleeping bag and tried to calm my nerves. Eventually I went back to sleep. A few hours later, another raccoon visited, this time to Jamie’s end of the tent and found nothing but a way to have me woken up again. It ran away before I even saw it, but I’m convinced it was the raccoon’s way of getting one last shot in before he left for the night. But I was wrong. He wasn’t done with me yet.

The next night I walked up to the shower house to take out my contacts and brush my teeth. I realized I didn’t have my glasses, so I walked half-blind back to our campsite. I looked to the sky hoping to see the stars and the moon, but all I saw was a white blob on a black canvas. I could see blurry orange lights dotting the campground where smores and stories were still being exchanged.

I looked forward and was just across the street from our campsite, remembering the raccoon fiasco from the night before. Just then, the loudest slamming sound imaginable crashed to my left at the dumpsters. I spastically jumped two feet to the right as if the dumpster had tried to eat me. Was it the raccoon!?!

No. It wasn’t. It was my mind and blurry vision. Instead of a vicious animal, it was just a responsible camper putting their white garbage bag in the dumpster for the night to avoid the same fate we had the night before.

And that’s how the campground trains us to be more responsible with our garbage. No signs or warnings are needed. They don’t even have to pay someone to clean up the sites. We live in fear of the many-toothed consequence that awaits the litter bug.

Nothing draws a family together like doing dishes…except maybe every other activity known to man.

when the camp family goes camping

introduction

We survived. I wish I was being clever and melodramatic, but the best way I can summarize a family camping trip for 3 nights with 4 young kids is simply that. We survived.

It was still a good trip. There were some bumps on the road that I’ll share in the next few posts, but it cannot outweigh the moments of wonder and happiness each of us experienced during the trip. As we were driving back, I asked Jamie “In hindsight, would you have rather spent two days at a waterpark, or still have this camping trip?” Without hesitation, she still would go camping. And that’s one of the reasons I love her. (Many of you would probably take the waterpark once you hear some of the more trying moments of this trip.)

For me, the best part of going camping as a family was just to sit with the kids and listen to them. Everyday I hear them, but I realize I don’t always really listen to what they are saying and try to figure out where the words are coming from. There were several moments during the trip when the kids would say something and I would just smile to myself at the curiosity and innocence that they see the world with.

And the same was true for my time with God during the trip. It seemed as though I had this ongoing conversation with God during the entire trip with a friend I had not be in touch with for some time. A flood of insight kept hitting me day after day. These moments of reminded me that it is important that I let God inform my view of life and not to allow life to inform my view of God. If I start with Him, the rest makes much more sense and allows me the strength and endurance to be who He needs me to be.

I look forward to sharing a lot of the insights from this trip over the next few days. Some will be about God, some will be about family and some will probably just show how broken I can be at times. Through it all, I’m eager to share it and finally do some writing.

part 1: the crow’s song

One of the best parts of going camping is setting up camp. It is the initial moment when you get to build your house for the time you are roughing it. The decisions of where to put the tent, the picnic table, the kids toy tent and extra stuff are all integral to success. That’s why I let Jamie do it.

In reality I know that Jamie knows the flow of our family better than I can pretend to. She manages the day-to-day operations of our household better than I ever could. I just pray I can keep her laughing and sane enough to do it each day.

And so as she directs where things go, I go about setting the tent. We invested in what is probably the largest tent I have ever seen, but when you have a family of 6, things don’t get any smaller. In a park full of RVs, we seemed to fit in until people realized our tent didn’t have wheels or an air conditioner.

So as I was working with Jamie to put the poles through their respective sleeves and pretending to remember how this thing went together, I kept hearing the unmistakeable call of a crow. The obnoxious “caw” over and over again. When contrasted with the other birds in the area, it sticks out so painfully.

And when there is one of these large blackbirds, there are more. Soon a whole group of them is constantly piercing the relative quiet of the park with their noise. There are few things more ominous than these large groups sitting in a tree by your tent either. I suppose that is why a group of crows is affectionately called a “murder” of crows.

It was during this growing annoyance with the crow that I felt God remind me of the plank in my own eye though. As if to remind me, “There are plenty of times I hear nothing but cawing from you like that crow, but I love you all the same. Your song isn’t always pretty, but I still care. Day after day, in happiness and sadness, the crow sounds the same because it only has one song. I gave you a voice and heart to do so much more. Try to remember that with those you meet as well.”

As I paused to let it sink in, I gave a knowing sigh as I realized this was going to be a good couple of days for me. I need these reminders. I need to keep perspective so I remember I am more like a crow most days than some wonderful song bird. Even at my best, I can do better, serve more, be more generous, and love more people. I hope that even on my days of sounding like the crow, I caw out a song that pleases my God even if it isn’t easy to compose with one obnoxious note.