Saturday, July 4, 2009

Suburban camp

My first camping experiences were in suburban backyards. I don't think I've ever been more nervous camping than when we set up our little dome tent in the backyard on a warm summer night. Loud insects would buzz all night--cicadas I think--taunting my fear and sleeplessness and muffling the sounds of potential intruders. I felt so exposed out in that backyard.

Last night, I camped in a suburban backyard in Livonia, Mich., a well-glaciated pancake-flat land among the branches of the River Rouge. Here wide subdivisions occupy former farmlands. The yard is blanketed by herbs, native plants, stunningly bright flowers and seedums.

The camping experience was far less scary than when I was 11. I'll admit: it didn't have the same allure as camping in a wilderness area, but the temperatures in the low 60s were quite comfortable for sleeping. We did hear our share of natural sounds. A small waterfall tumbling into a decorative pond, a red squirrel chattering and a chickadee calling. We also heard the din of cars from I-96, neighboring dogs barking and a few late-night fireworks. In the morning a young robin landed about three feet from the tent door, unaware we were watching a few feet away. Tonight, another evening in the suburban wilderness.

(Livonia took its name from Dutch settlers coming from New York. Fun fact: I played against Livonia, N.Y., in high school baseball.)

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