Now, I got nothing against nature – as long as it stays outside where it belongs. Especially the kind of nature that got fangs and claws.

In all the millions of years since Adam and Eve popped up naked under an apple tree, human beings have managed to invent indoor plumbing, central air, microwave ovens and soft beds you can climb into at night.

But noooo, some human beings still want to sleep on the ground, outside, in the cold and heat and mosquitoes, where there ain’t no bathroom. (I know – if you’re a man, the world is your bathroom. But that ain’t true for me.)

Then my daughter Gumdrop decides to be leader of her little girl Lollipop’s Scout troop. Gumdrop, who refused to eat vegetables because they grow in dirt. And she’s taking the troop on a campout.

Now, back when I was in Girl Scouts, this is how we camped out: Our leader, Mrs. Pottsy, led us on a hike for seven whole blocks to Audubon Park. We each carried a Schwegmann’s bag with a camp stove we had personally made out of a coffee can, a tuna fish can and a candle. When we got to the park Mrs. Pottsy lit our stoves, and we each cooked a weenie, put it in a bun and ate it. Then we hiked home again.

But Gumdrop’s troop got to be driven to an actual campground and sleep overnight in tents. Outside.

Better them than me.

Then I get the phone call. One of the campout chaperonnes backed out. Come down with fever. Or hangover. Or came to her senses. Gumdrop needs one more chaperone. She needs me.

I know a Schwegmann’s bag and a coffee can ain’t enough for camping gear. My mother-in-law Ms. Larda says her son Leech has some gear for when he goes hunting, so she gives me that – a sleeping bag that smells like beer and a inflatable cushion to put under it to soften the ground.

She also gives advice. “Put Ripple in your canteen. Say it’s Kool-aide. Only way you’ll sleep. And check your bedroom slippers for snakes.”

So two nights later I’m at Camp Dirt, teaching 12 little girls to use a campfire to transform marshmallows into soot.

I am a little nervous because this campground has signs around that say “Beware of alligators. Do not feed.” But Gumdrop says that’s just for legal purposes, and alligators never attack Girl Scouts.

When it’s finally sleeping-bag time we all hike to the bathroom, which is, naturally, on the other side of the campground; use the facilities, hike back and settle the girls down in their tents.

After a few final threats, I crawl into the chaperones’ tent, put on my nightgown, roll out Leech’s sleeping bag and start to blow up the inflatable cushion – up to the point where me and the other chaperones realize this cushion got a head and arms and legs and boobs. And when I lay on it, it moans.

I look at the package. This cushion’s name is “Trixie” and she ain’t no Girl Scout. So this is what Leech takes camping. I shove her in the recycle bin. God knows what the forest rangers will think.

A couple swigs from my canteen and I quit worrying about it. I am just dozing off, when a little fist pounds my shoulder. Lollipop has to go the bathroom. I put on my bedroom slippers and off we go.

On the way, Lollipop asks what was the commotion in our tent. I say we should be quiet now and not disturb the alligators.

So we find the bathroom, use it and start back. I am realizing that wearing bedroom slippers wasn’t so smart, when all of a sudden we hear something in the bushes. I clutch her hand. Next, we hear branches snapping, real close. I say, very calm, “Just for fun, let’s run!” But then I trip. My slipper goes sailing off. I let go Lollipop’s hand. “Run, Lollipop!” I screech. “Save yourself!”

“Oh, for God’s sake, Mother,” says Gumdrop. She was making that noise. She had come to check on us and took a shortcut through the bushes. She helps me up and finds my slipper. Back at camp, I finish off that canteen and fall asleep until it’s time to fix breakfast.

Which turns out to be sausages on coffee-can stoves.

Oh joy.




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