Lake Catherine State Park, Camp Vol. 5

If our trip to the Smoky Mountains was the hygge and prosecco of camping, this one was the reject can of light beer and crumpled streamers. Don't get me wrong, Lake Catherine was lovely, but it takes more than a beautiful place to enjoy a peaceful camping trip: namely, energy. I don't want to sound too glum, because I have no regrets about making this trip, but I want to be honest in our account of these adventures, partially for the sake of memory keeping, and partially in order to paint a real picture of camping with kids. 

After our extended summer in Ohio, we were reunited with Cody (who had been in Europe) and made the long trek home to Waco. We had been feeling deep weariness in regards to how many miles we must travel over and over again in order to see our families, and now with three little boys, the challenges were even greater. I found myself saying “never again” far too many times, and then of course, doing it again, because what other option did we have? In an attempt to repair some of the damage we’d done to our psyche through these exhausting drives between Texas and Ohio, we decided to split the journey into three parts (novel idea, I know). The first was a 4 hour drive between my parents’ home and Cody’s grandparents’ in Kentucky. We stayed there one night, and it was the perfect amount of time to reconnect and enjoy each others company without adding too much time onto the trip. It’s really such a gift that grandmother and granddaddy live along our route down to Texas, as we get to see them nearly every time we come home. I’m so happy our boys are getting to know their great grandparents in this way, despite the distance between our homes. We then saddled up for our longest drive of the trip, 8 hours, which turned into 10 with stops. Our destination was the beautiful Lake Catherine State Park, which lies only 15 minutes off our route. Perfect! We’ve driven through Arkansas so many times, and I’ve wanted very much to camp and explore some of her natural beauty. We landed one of the last 2 spots available in the entire campground, and got everything set up and supper eaten just as the sun was setting. I was determined that we would jaunt down to the lake to see it before we went to bed, a little sunset vista to fuel our dreams and remind us what we had to look forward to the next morning.

Lake Catherine in that moment was a little breath, an exhale, a visual reminder that the days hard work was done. Now, we rest.

Well, we tried to rest. The temperature had cooled off a bit from it’s 90+ degrees, so we weren’t too worried. Unfortunately, dear Arkansas couldn’t muster up much of a breeze that night, and I kicked myself figuratively more than once for not earlier heeding my friend’s suggestion to purchase a few battery-powered fans for nights such as these. Poor Cozzie was pouring sweat, just drenched. Seb handled the heat without too much fuss, but was bothered by the roar of the cicadas. And dear Bruno, he just couldn’t handle the sticky warmth, and Cody, exceedingly patient, talked and soothed and walked with him for… an hour? Maybe more. It didn’t help that we had forgotten the boys’ pillows in Ohio, so we were using makeshift items. Not a great time to forget such things.

Thankfully, the morning came, and with it the promise of a refreshing swim in the lake. The golden light was dreamy, but I didn’t feel refreshed as I usually do. I’m not sure if I woke up in a mood, or if I just developed it quickly, or if perhaps my mood had slept in, and joined the party late. Whatever the reason, I just felt edgy that morning. I’m a complainer in my natural state, and apparently, in some hilarious irony, my brain had registered that we were indeed in the “Natural State” of Arkansas, so what better time to be a crank? Cody was completely perplexed at my mood, “But… I thought you were always happy waking up in a tent?” Poor Cody almost certainly had endured a worse night than me, having slept without a pillow so that Bruno didn’t have to do without.

So I tried to move forward and figure out what I needed to do to chill out and enjoy our camping trip. As of late I’ve been employing a trick I learned from Gretchen Rubin: Identify the Problem. This helps tremendously, and it didn’t take me long to realize that when I’m camping, I want to drink my coffee first thing. Cody started the fire and got breakfast—and hot water—going. The other problem was that we weren’t sure how many nights we were staying, and on top of that I was already exhausted. We had been away from home for 6 weeks, 2 of which were without Cody, and then there were the 2 days of traveling we had just completed. I was wiped.

This was no surprise; I knew that I was tired, exhausted even, but I had thought that since camping rejuvenates me, despite it’s challenges, that it would be exactly the thing I needed to fuel up for the familiar work of settling back in at home. This trip taught me that I need to have at least a twinge of energy before embarking on a camping trip—also, BATTERY POWERED FANS.

Just look at that poor baby melting in Spanish Moss Strecker (our tent).

After deciding we would go home that afternoon, we cleaned up our breakfast things, and went to the swimming area. The water was deliciously clear, and warm, but not so warm that it wasn’t refreshing. There were schools of little fish everywhere, and once I spotted one nearly the size of my hand (scared me half to death). We stayed for nearly two hours. There I took a lot of deep breaths and soaked up this snippet of nature before packing up again and driving on home to Waco. We’ve never camped more than 2 nights in one place, but had really hoped to make Lake Catherine another 2-nighter and were sad that it didn’t work out. Setting up camp one day and then taking it down the next makes relaxation scarce. I knew that swimming in the lake was our only time to just be, and I relished it.

This camping trip was completely ordinary and unromantic, but it was a good reminder of us at our most basic. It's a good meal if there's food, and a great one if there are veggies. Camping has afforded us an alternate look at ourselves and our family through a no frills lens. We don't always like what we see, like my moody Lake Catherine morning, but what better place for self-reflection than one with trees swaying and birds chirping their reassurance that God is able? There was nothing special about this trip, but you know what, that was okay because I think it’s the non-specialness of camping that I love. It’s the sanctifying part; it’s real life, but removed from so many of our crutches and comforts, and an immersion into the beauty our creator-God has crafted. 

If you're a parent, you know that relaxation is scarce; space and quiet are scarce, too. I'm not saying parenting is more stressful or more fill-in-the-blank than any other life, but I don't think I'm crazy in thinking that the parent life is probably noisier than most. During this one-night camping trip, we didn't get as much relaxation as we had hoped, but there was a little bit, and that little bit helped bring a feeling of space. Immersing ourselves in the very physical act of camping, with all it's discomforts giving way to the soothing power of wind, water, sun, and dirt on our skin, is worth it. 

Exhaustion, moods, sweaty sweaty night and all, Lake Catherine was good to us.