The Whidbey Island Camping Mix of My Life

Posted by  Been
March 25, 2014

“Pleeeeeeeease release me let meee gooooooo / for iiiiii don’t love yooooou anymoooooooooore / to waste our liiives would beeeee a sinnnn / releeeease me and let meeeee love agaaaaainnn...”

I have a repertoire of song lyrics that I cannot account for firmly entrenched in my brain.  I deeply suspect most of them come from camping trips to Whidbey Island when I was a kid.  Story time.  Everybody sit cross-legged on the carpet.

So when I was a kid our family vacations consisted of a lot of camping.  And I don’t mean the sort of camping I would vaguely tolerate now where I pack half my closet and away to an electrical hookup in a motorhome and then overnight in a hotel because the motorhome puts just too much ‘rough’ in roughing it, either.  I mean the sort of camping that requires a cooler in the trunk and tent pegs to keep your nylon roof from blowing away and exposing your ultra comfortable ground-laid sleeping bag to the elements.  The sort of camping where you did have access to showers and toilets, admittedly, but you had to remember where your shoes were in the middle of the night and then find a flashlight and walk for fifteen minutes along a black silent road to the facilities building where mosquitoes thronged and moths lost their minds against the caged light bulbs.  And then afterwards you had to trudge back and slip back into your tent and bag and get comfortable again while various unseen creatures (some four-legged, some two) howled and rustled in the trees around you.  And in the morning a fire had to be lit or else breakfast was those little cereal boxes you cut open with a knife at the bird-shit stained picnic table.  Am I romancing it too much?  I do that.  Anyway, our family’s favorite spot was Fort Ebey on Whidbey Island in Washington State.  (I didn’t grow up in Alberta.  I’m a born and bred west coaster.)  Through the sheen of too many years to publicly track and with the rose-hued glasses of nostalgia on I will readily admit that those kind of were halcyon days.  Pre-9/11.  Pre-reserved spots.  Pre-wifi.  Pre-smart phones.  Pre- actually I’ll stop there because I’m dating myself terribly.  But anyway, it was pre a lot of stuff.  It was the era of walkmans if that helps.  In my teens I had one of those bright yellow Sony ones and an enviable collection of mixtapes.

I digress.

Fort Ebey was the lesser of the two main campgrounds in the area; the more well known and crowded being Deception Pass.  I know at some point (likely more than once) dad took us on a family hike that included a stop at one of those national park posts that explained exactly where Deception Pass got its name.  I know I could also look it up but I’m both lazy and a fiction writer so I’ll go ahead and tell you that it takes its name from the deception a thousand and one parents played on their young children who were promised a tropical beach and instead got a pup tent under redwoods and small boxes of cereal you have to cut with a knife.  I wasn’t one of them.  My parents never promised us tropical beaches.  We were promised camping and that’s what we got.  I admire their honesty.  (Though mom always made sure we got Froot Loops in those small boxes and that's major.)  Fort Ebey, however, was smaller and situated a short walk from both creepy abandoned fort tunnels and a large seaside bluff.  The tunnels were the stuff of nightmares to a girl who both believed in faeries and witches and was afraid of the dark.  I one hundred percent believed ghosts would eat my eyeballs in those tunnels because of the dark but there’s no real way to put that into words when you’re a kid.  You just shake your head vehemently and flat-out refuse to cooperate with quavering lower lip.  The bluff, however, I loved.  I loved how wide-open it was.  And this was pre, remember, so it was pre the days when everything had to be safety-railed and developed to within an inch of its life.  Nowadays there’d be danger signs and guard rails and cautionary concrete embankments and toilets and probably a gift shop that sells sepia postcards of what the bluff used to look like before all the ‘improvements’.  Progress.  Anyway in those days there was a rickety wooden rail that warned you, as you wandered, about the steel ladder down to yet another aspect of the abandoned military fort - the lookout embedded into the bluff that scouted for enemy ships.  (I’m guessing.  I really never paid attention on those family hikes.  Sorry dad.)  And that was it for safety.  The wood rails warned you not to just walk clear into the hole and the rest of the bluff was this incredibly vast expanse of waving prairie grass so tall you could lose a kid (I know, I actively tried to lose my sister more than once), dirt trails that wound along the edge and up into the rigid line of silent trees, and the sheer drop into the roiling ocean below.  The wind was always up there, always whipping around and smelling both fresh and tarnished.  It was both awful and glorious there.  I loved it because I could put my headphones on and just get lost in my music and my own mind and the stories that were forever shaping behind my eyes.  I didn’t love all the ground-sleeping and dark-walking to the bathroom.  I didn’t love camping.  But I have to admit that Calvin’s dad was right about things you hate building character even if I didn’t learn a single thing on any of those hikes.

Oh wait, that’s not entirely accurate.  I did learn not to lean against a red ant hill while taking a photograph.  Thanks dad!  

At any rate, to get to Whidbey we had to drive from our home in a modest Vancouver suburb across the US border - I liked the Peace Arch crossing best because if given a choice between Vegas and a farmhouse it’s no surprise what I’d pick - down past Bellingham and Mount Vernon and the like and into the depths of Washington.  We were a family of four in a Pontiac sedan.  My sister and I used to fight on the drive because we were related and cooped up in a back seat.  To solve the “she’s on my side” issue dad would construct a wall of sleeping bags between us so we could hardly even see each other and we’d set out cocooned in our tiny square of car that was much like a prison but with a larger window and less leg room.  The drive would take hours.  Hours and hours and hours and we were never there.  Not yet.  Not yet.  Not yet.  Not - and sudden U-turns would be threatened and knees would be reached by long-armed parents up front and squeezed firmly.  And we’d listen to a lot of music.  I guess it’s accurate to say it was my parents’ music but from what I recall dad was the one who mainly collected and selected it.  And that same music would play over and over year after year, neither updating with the times nor going out of fashion because it is impossible for something not in fashion to go out of it.  Which is also the working definition of something timeless.  And that music shaped my entire life.  It earwormed itself into my brain and etched indelibly into my memory and became a part of me.  Now, present day, at work sometimes we’ll turn to CBC Radio’s Jukebox Favorites or 70s station and I will know every. single. word. to every. single. song.  

And that was the longest introduction ever to the original topic.  Which is, these are the songs that comprise me, unbidden, and I can recall them absolutely and without effort in their entirety.  I sometimes find myself downloading them entirely voluntarily from iTunes for reasons I can’t explain.  And humming them randomly unprompted.  

They make up the Whidbey Island Camping Mix of my life.

“Talking to myself and feeling old / sometimes I’d like to quiiiit / nothing ever seems to fiiiit / hanging arouuunnd / nothing to do but froooown / rainy days and Mondays always get me dooooooown...”

“Love / love will keep us togeth-ah / think of me babe whenev-ah / some sweet talkin girl comes along / singin her song / don’t mess around you just gotta be strong / just stop - because I really love you / stop - I been thinkin of you / look in your heart and let love keep us togeeeeeth-ah...”

“Trailer for sale or rent / rooms to let fifty cents / no phone no pool no pets / ain't got no cigarettes / ah but two hours of pushin broom / buys a eight by twelve two-bit room / I'm a man of means by no means / king of the road...”

“I am just a poor boy though my story seldom tooold / I have squandered my existence / for a pocket full of mumbles / such are promiseees / all lies in jest still a man hears what he wants to hear / and disregards the rest / mmmmmmm mmmmmm....”

Copyright Corinne Simpson

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