Friday, August 5, 2011

The Transient Village

    They spring up every weekend between late May and early September - temporary encampments, of people who have travelled from the cities and suburbs and the small towns, to enjoy a couple or three days close to nature. The campgrounds begin to swell with new-comers on Friday afternoon, and by Saturday the congregation reaches its peak. The village is formed.

    Cars and pick-up trucks park on the individual campsites, and tents of various kinds spring up between them. Others bring trailers of various types, and yet others come in small or full-sized recreational vehicles that are like small mobile homes.

     Most campers are couples, families with their children, or small pockets of friends. But often there are gatherings of large groups. They might be sprawling, extended families, associations of friends or neighbors, or groups gathering to celebrate some occassion or anniversary.

    These temporary communities spill over with children, splashing in the lakes, running in packs along the paths, rediscovering and inventing ancient and new games. Adults make their own fun, going on excursions to hike in woods, to kayak or powerboat on the waterways, driving into the nearby towns or exploring the countryside. There is occassional music to compete with the sounds of the birds and insects, made with instruments and voices, or blaring from car radios. The beer and wine begin to flow by mid afternoon, and they animate the camp fires that spring up at dusk and burn until the early morning.

    On a Saturday evening, these appear as entrenched little villages. Hammocks swing between the trees, cook stations sit on picnic tables, and camp chairs form circles around the fire pits. Clothes hang to dry and tarps are strung up as protection against the rain that is never so predictable.

    On Sunday - or Monday, if it's a long weekend - the camps begin to be broken down. There are always the few who begin packing up right after breakfast, perhaps because they've come furthest, or are simply anxious for the highway or for home. By mid-afternoon, the village no longer exists. There remain only a few occupied campsites, and they are scattered. Some of these are merely lingering, waiting for the rush of campers homeward to diminish, or just stretching the getaway for as long as possible. There are the privileged few who are here for another day or two, maybe a week. Occassionally, a family that is hopping cross country, park by park, camp by camp.

    It feels like part of an ancient process, this springing up and subsequent dismantling of villages. Neighbors for a day or two go their separate ways. A home is erected or inflated out of a trailer or the back of a car, only to be collapsed back into it later, leaving no trace that it ever was. The transient community that forms under the stars might be a modern counterpart of a nomadic tribe, except that the bonds between us are more abstract and far flung. We'll never come together in just this combination again. 

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