I spent a part of every summer growing up climbing mountains knee-deep in cold water with a flyrod in my hand. My dad spent most of his working time talking to people. His ideal vacation was to get as far into the woods of western Montana as he could pull our camping trailer, and not talk with anybody he didn't want to. The trailer itself was a family project; he had originally built it with a friend when I was a baby, but over the next ten years kept thinking about how he would have done it differently. Being the last kid at home, one summer I was the one who helped tear it down, all the way to the axle, and we build it different. It was wood, pretty heavy, and had beds and cupboards and drawers inside. On the outside, a slide-out counter, with storage space and a Coleman stove; and a table that folded down and benches that pulled out, and a frame for a tarp--a complete kitchen. The camp population varied--friends and relatives were always welcome. I recall looking around one Sunday morning and realizing that we had the whole Board of Deacons up in the woods. Dad always built an outhouse, and tables, and one year my middle brother built a hot shower. And he always left the campsite looking just as we had found it, but there may have been an extra table hidden back in the trees for next year.
We didn't do "campgrounds", he always checked in with the forest rangers to let them know who we were and got permission to camp, always next to a river or creek. Dad had found the area when my brothers had summer jobs with the Forest Service, and we went back to one of the same two or three spots every year. If it was on private land, he would get permission from the owner, and some of them became long-term friends. About 20 years ago, I went back up to Spokane for a reunion of my old church, and took my younger son David. We drove up and spent a couple of days in the area, and stopped at a general store out on the highway. Chatting with the owner, I mentioned where we had camped area years earlier, and it turned out that she had grown up in our favorite valley--and remembered her mom putting fish in her freezer for my dad. (The picture is that valley, taken on that trip. Our favorite campsite is in the woods off to the left.)
My most vivid memory, however, was not in the woods. It was about a hundred-mile trip from Spokane up into that part of Montana, and included a long bridge over Lake Pend Oreille at Sandpoint, Idaho. At that time it was reputed to be the longest wooden bridge in the world--two miles, two narrow lanes. One afternoon we were in the middle of the bridge when a wheel came off of the trailer--which was pretty wide for that bridge. Mom walked a mile back picking up lug nuts, and by the time we got the wheel back on traffic was backed up for miles. A beautiful but most unusual place to spend a summer afternoon!
At family events up in the Northwest, there are occasionally relatives from unrelated branches of my family, who became friends up in the woods with us. Those days created special memories and connections that we still share.