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The Pop Up Camper


We used to go camping when I was a kid, instead of flying to Europe, or wherever the upper middle class kids I grew up with tended to go. At first we had a tent, a big blue tent that could have held a dozen people, but then my father got a deal on a pop up camper and that became our home away from home.

We stayed at campgrounds, with hundreds of other tents and pop ups and Recreational Vehicles. I’m sure there are people who go camping with no water or electricity hookup, alone in the wilderness, but that was never the kind of camping we did.

Parking the camper in our designated camp site was the kind of torture I wouldn’t wish on anyone. First my father had to back the camper in, with Mom standing outside the car to direct him more to the left or right, so the camper wouldn’t hit a tree. Then the camper had to be stopped in place with wooden blocks, and the car detached from the hitch and parked at a distance. Then we had to make sure the camper was level, with jacks at each wheel well to make up for the varying levels of the ground underneath.

I remember my father screaming at my mother, “The level isn’t straight!” even though I could see the little bubble was right in the middle where it was supposed to be.

Then we had to pop up the camper and snap in the door and attach the water and electricity and lift out the two wings for beds.

By the time we were done all my brother and I wanted to do was go home, but instead we all went out for dinner and then stumbled back to the camper to go to sleep.

Mom says that Delilah, our dog, slept on the floor of the camper at night, but I’m not sure she’s right about that. There were three beds set up, one for me, one for my brother and one for my parents, and it seems strange that Delilah would have been inside the camper with us and yet not sleeping on my bed, where she often slept at home, at my feet.

"We're going where?"

“We’re going where?”

"I'd rather drive than pull, just saying."

“I’d rather drive than pull, just saying.”

During the day, we hung a rope between two trees to attach Delilah’s leash to, so she could swoop along the length of that rope, with an extra six feet of leeway. She wasn’t much of a barker, but she looked intimidating to strangers, which was what my father was going for. She was a statuesque black and brown Doberman Pinscher, with the forced ears and snipped tail of a dog meant to fight. But she was a scaredy cat. If someone came to our house, she would bark, as required, but slowly back her way up the stairs and out of sight.

For the most part, there is a dog-shaped hole in my memories of camping.

I don’t think Delilah could have enjoyed camping. She was a home body by nature. She liked sleeping at the foot of my bed, exploring her backyard, and resting in a ray of sun for a nice long nap in the afternoon. She was also a fan of dinner time, when table scraps magically fell to the floor, where she was waiting.

"I'd like my dinner, and a pillow, and a couch of my own."

“I’d like my dinner, and a pillow, and a glass of Chardonay.”

She wasn’t used to being on a long lead, or even a leash for that matter, because we rarely took her for walks at home. We’d just let her out in the back yard, either in her private run, to poop and pee, or with us in the rest of the fenced in yard, to play.

Maybe Delilah came with us on the nature walks we took at the campground. Mom would take me and my brother out while our father grumbled to himself in the air conditioned camper. Sometimes we’d find wild strawberries or raspberries, sometimes we got lost in the woods, sometimes we saw mushrooms and met very old trees. The idea was to leave the people-world for a while and smell and hear and see different things. The air was cooler and the birds had more to say when they weren’t drowned out by the sounds of humans and cars.

"Time to smell the... what are these exactly?"

“Time to smell the… leaves?”

Delilah and my brother, waiting for snacks.

“My brother loves me, and he smells like peanut butter.”

The smells of the campground itself depended on the time of day. In the morning there was often the pervasive smell of bacon. In the heat of the day the air smelled of plastic, and freshly cut grass, and chlorine from the swimming pool nearby. Towards evening there were campfires, with baking potatoes and hot dogs and marshmallows on sticks.

I liked the sound of rain on the canvas of the camper more than the sound of the rain on the hard plastic roof; splotch was more comforting than plink. And I loved the wet dirt smell of the rain hitting the trees around us.

I’ve tried to imagine taking Cricket and Butterfly camping. We could never use a tent, because no tent would hold Cricket. She’d be busting out of the sides and digging through the fabric of the tent to freedom (you should see what she’s done to my sheets). It would also be a good idea to have more sound baffling than a tent could provide.

I could also never leave them tied to a rope outdoors, the way we left Delilah. I would be very worried about someone coming by to steal my babies, or at least trying to steal them, and suing me when Cricket ripped off a few fingers during the attempt.

And I could never leave the girls alone in the camper. Butterfly would pee on the bed, and Cricket would scratch the door down, or chew through the canvas walls.

The girls wouldn’t mind a campfire, though. And bacon for breakfast would be their idea of heaven.

I wonder what Delilah would have thought of Cricket and Butterfly. I think she would have been protective of them, the way she was with her own puppies. Maybe she could have kept Cricket in line, with a look, or a growl, to get her to quiet down.

Cricket, in need of much training.

Cricket, in need of much training.

And she and Butterfly would have snuggled together for warmth, with Cricket harrumphing from a safe distance.

I could have found room for all three dogs on my bed in the camper, and maybe that’s what would have made me feel safe. I was usually so lonely on those trips, with no idea what to do on my own, and my brother only reluctantly spending time with me.

Maybe if I could fill all of the beds in the camper with dogs, instead of people…I’d be willing to go camping again. But probably not.

The campers!

The campers!

The Sniffing Science


Cricket takes her sniffing seriously. Some dogs sniff the air, sniff a few potential pee spots, and feel satisfied with that, but Cricket has to do a grid search. She seems to have the backyard broken down into plots, invisible to the human eye. Her brain keeps track of where she smelled what, and in which combinations or concentrations. She chooses only a few zones to check during each walk so that she can do a thorough survey of the territory throughout the day. I’m sure if I were more observant, I would discover that after certain weather events, and at certain times of day, she checks specific areas of the backyard.

Cricket follows the sniff trail wherever it takes her.

Cricket follows the sniff trail wherever it takes her.

In any weather.

In any weather.

I am not a scientist. The idea of taking a chemistry class makes me want to vomit. But for Cricket, this sniffing science is nirvana. She has a lot of projects going at once. She has to check how the scent of her own pee decays as the hours pass, and then see how long the trace of squirrel scent lives on the base of the big tree, and then she has to see whose been pooping in her leaf pile – but that’s not so much an experiment as a territorial guarding maneuver. No one should be pooping on her leaf pile, except for her.

She also likes to check in on the plantings our neighbor has put into the plot by the front door. She’s sure he’s made mistakes in his watering times, and soil usage, and the distance between seedlings, and she tries to get her paws into the dirt to rearrange things to her specifications.

Cricket guards her knowledge closely and only shares a few tidbits with her sister Butterfly, and none with me. I think she whispers her findings to Grandma at night, but I can’t prove it, especially because Grandma sleeps through the recitation. Though maybe that’s where Grandma’s been getting all of her new gardening ideas.

Cricket tries to be disinterested in her sniffing. She covers each area equally and gives me the evil eye when I try to speed her past one location to another without allowing full computation of data values. But some things break through her scientific objectivity. Like a dead mouse. She doesn’t just want to smell the mouse and record its notes of moss and rot and ripe just-dead-ness, she wants to absorb those elements into her own skin, by rolling her head and neck into the carcass.

Science is supposed to be so orderly and logical and impersonal, to guard against subjectivity and assumptions that could spoil the accuracy of the results, but I’m pretty sure Cricket isn’t the only scientist who breaks out into a passion of excitement every once in a while.



I’d like to get Cricket a Go-Pro camera to strap to her head, with smell-o-vision and a good microphone to capture ambient sound. I think, if we could create a set up like that, we could re-play her walk videos for her whenever we have to go out and she’d be so busy studying her science projects she wouldn’t even notice that we were gone.

Does this dog look happy about wearing a camera? (not my picture)

Does this dog look happy about wearing a camera? (not my picture)

Or we could set up a lab for her in the big closet in the living room (sorry Mom, you’ll have to move your quilting stuff out of there), and there’d be Petri dishes on all of the lower shelves so she could check in with her smells whenever she wanted. We could have a shelf for types of tree bark, and a shelf for creepy crawlies, and a shelf for clumps of grass peed on by various animals at different times of the day.

Creepy crawly caterpillar for Cricket's collection

Creepy crawly caterpillar for Cricket’s collection

Maybe Butterfly could have a small shelf in the closet where she could press a button and listen to the birdsong of one or another of her friends while acting as Cricket’s lab assistant.

Cricket and her loyal assistant.

Cricket and her loyal assistant.

Butterfly's birdie friend

Butterfly’s birdie friend

I think Cricket might even be willing to learn how to climb the plastic doggy steps if it meant getting closer to her experiments on the higher shelves. She could also use a microscope, and a bright bulb to wear on her forehead for nighttime investigations, and that white lab coat; and if we could find Dog-to-English word recognition software that could translate all of her observations and insights for publication… Clearly, I have been remiss all of these years. If only I had been more proactive, Cricket would already have her PhD.


Cricket's first step

Dr. Cricket’s first step