By Eddie Gonzalez
When I was little, my father used to tell me fantastic tales about crossing King Ranch, or La Kineña as my father called it, an 825,000 acre ranch in South Texas started in 1853 by Captain Richard King. Some days, the story was about pilgrims caravanning across King Ranch and the bandits they encountered. Sometimes, the story was about young boy who got lost and was visited by a spaceship. Other times, the stories described hunting and fishing adventures on the ranch. One way or another, someone was always trying to cross La Kineña. The stories grew more and more incredible.
Imagination can only get you so far, though. My first real exposure to the outdoors was through Boy Scouts. Acquiring badges and utilizing survival skills was a great way of enjoying nature. Sadly, I never really got into camping or hiking and my attention eventually moved on to academics, band, and other school priorities. That’s when my appreciation for the outdoors abruptly stopped. I lived surrounded by beautiful Texas countryside in a part of country known for migratory birds and coast ecology, and yet I had lost my connection. Fortunately for me, my life would bring me back to the outdoors.
In 1995, I had been in living in Washington, DC for about a year after graduating from college when a friend organized a camping trip to George Washington National Forest near Front Royal, Virginia. There was something about that trip that reignited my love for the outdoors. I remember sitting around the warmth of the campfire mesmerized by the flames and pulsing embers. I felt at peace. It was a feeling I wanted to share with anyone and everyone.
A few years ago, I was talking one my daughter’s friend’s parents when they admitted to me that they had never been camping and really didn’t have the motivation to learn how to do it. I immediately felt sad that my daughter’s friend would not get a chance to experience nature the way we had. (We had been camping with our daughter since she was 1 year old.) It was a challenge I had to accept.
Within a few months, I had convinced them and four other families to go camping. I gave them all packing lists and took care of all the food. Everyone had a great time. The same group still goes camping twice a year, May and October, and each time we add a family new to camping. Families that had never camped before now email me articles about cool camping gear or new places to visit or recipes they want to try on the next trip. A mother said to me one morning, “That was the best sleep I’d ever had.” The impact of nature speaks volumes. It thrills me to be the spark that ignites the passion for camping in others.
Nature has a way of filtering out the noise in your life. It lets your spirit come out of its shell. Sadly, many families are still uneasy about camping. Those of us with the skills and knowledge to make camping more accessible need to help others through that uneasiness. We can be ambassadors for nature to our family, friends, or coworkers.
I love to camp and to share that love with others. I continue to help others cross La Kinena in my own way. I hope to see you out there. Meet me by the fire ring!
Eddie Gonzalez has over 20 years of experience in developing, administering, and implementing science and conservation education, outreach, partnership, and professional development programs, workshops, and trainings in a variety of non-profit settings. You can connect with him on twitter: @rubrics4life.