Under the stars

Under the stars

Away from any lights, the stars seem to triple in number.

They’re closer to the earth, too, and shinier. When you’re outdoors, you also hear things you don’t hear at home, and once you’ve read “Under the Stars” by Dan White, you’ll wonder why you don’t go camping more often.

Although, certainly, people took to the wilderness even before Henry David Thoreau wrote Walden, that iconic book is where Dan White starts his story.

In college, White found a copy of Walden in an abandoned house, read it, and was inspired. Thoreau had famously eschewed civilization in favor of living a “simple life” in the woods; after reading the book, White went camping himself and got lost.

After Thoreau’s time, Victorians took up camping as a “fad.” The wealthiest of them paid camping “guides” (basically, a woodland waiter) to show them the wilderness and get them around without fuss; White learned that you can still hire those kinds of guides, if roughing it without a cup of tea isn’t your cup of tea.

Native Americans, he says, were “the United States’ original campers,” but over decades, other groups have been notable outdoors-lovers (or not). In the late 1800s, women were discouraged from partaking in and enjoying the wilderness, but they did it anyhow – often clad in long dresses, button-shoes, and whalebone corsets. While historians point out the “essential” need for it in the past, African Americans supposedly “don’t camp,” although White found an organization that takes inner-city youth on camping trips to introduce them to camping activities and nature.

A loincloth-wearing hoaxer inspired White to try “naked survival” camping (which went “very well until I sat on a yellow jacket nest.”). He went “car camping” like the Jazz-Age Babies, and was accosted by marmots. He tried “Leave No Trace” camping, in which he had to carry out everything he carried in (yes, even that). He went glamping and RVing, and in the end, memories of his father explained for him his obsession.

Nope, nope, nope.

That was my first impression of “Under the Stars.” I was expecting a history of camping but that was lacking in the first couple dozen pages of this book. It was more a biography of outdoorsmen, and humorous bits about wilderness shenanigans.

But I persevered because, well, that’s my job. And I was glad I did, once I realized that author Dan White was actually teaching me things while he was making me snort. His bumbling, therapist-discouraging, self-conscious forays into the outdoor life were pretty funny and hey, there was the history of camping I wanted, all tucked into crevasses, under logs, and beneath the rocks of White’s narrative. This book turned out to be fun, and more addicting than a pile of s’mores.

And so, if you’re looking for a cultural history of camping, it’s in “Under the Stars” but not as overtly as you may want. If you’re looking for a good few stories on why we pay mortgage and go sleep outside anyhow, though, this book gets four stars.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Email her at bookwormsez@gmail.com.

More in Life

tease
Getting creative with camping

Making healthy, diverse meals while outdoors takes some planning

James Franklin Bush was arrested and jailed for vagrancy and contributing to the delinquency of minors in California in 1960, about a year before the murder in Soldotna of Jack Griffiths. (Public document from ancestry.com)
A violent season — Part 4

James Franklin “Jim” Bush stood accused of the Soldotna murder of Jack Griffiths in October 1961

Will Morrow (courtesy)
Hard to say goodbye

I’ve mentioned in the past that I’ve been perfectly happy with my 14-year-old, base model pickup truck.

File
Minister’s Message: Faith will lead to God’s abundance

Abundance is in many aspects of our lives, some good and some not.

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
Lisa Parker, vice mayor of Soldotna, celebrates after throwing the ceremonial first pitch before a game between the Peninsula Oilers and the Mat-Su Miners on Tuesday, July 4, 2023, at Coral Seymour Memorial Park in Kenai.
Kenai and Soldotna square off once more in ‘King of the River Food Drive’

Food can be donated at the food bank or at either city’s chamber of commerce

These noodles are made with only three ingredients, but they require a bit of time, patience, and a lot of elbow grease. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Filling the time with noodles

These noodles are made with only three ingredients, but they require a bit of time, patience and a lot of elbow grease

[csC1—]Jack and Alice Griffiths, owners of the Circus Bar, pose together in about 1960. (Public photo from familysearch.org)
A violent season — Part 3

The second spirit, said Cunningham, belonged to Jack Griffiths….

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
The Kenai Potter’s Guild’s annual exhibition, “Clay on Display,” is seen at the Kenai Art Center on Tuesday.
Expression in a teapot at July art center show

Kenai Art Center’s annual pottery show takes front gallery, with memories of Japan featured in the back

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
Attendees take food from a buffet during the grand opening of Siam Noodles and Food in Kenai on Tuesday.
Soldotna Thai restaurant expands to Kenai

The restaurant is next to Jersey Subs in Kenai where Thai Town used to be located

Nick Varney
Unhinged Alaska: Sometimes it’s not cool to mention heat

Thanks for the joke fest material rolling into our Unhinged Alaska headquarters folks but chill out.

Ruth Ann and Oscar Pederson share smiles with young Vicky, a foster daughter they were trying to adopt in 1954. This front-page photograph appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on June 17, 1954.
A violent season — Part 2

Triumph, tragedy and mystery