It took 19 years, but I finally got my wife into a sleeping bag.
For our entire marriage, we both accepted the fact that, “Naomi doesn’t camp.” It was just one of those fundamental truths, like, “Rob doesn’t fold laundry,” and “Israel doesn’t negotiate with terrorists.”
Naomi is Brooklyn born and raised, 15th Avenue, to be exact. If a tree ever grew in that part of Boro Park, surely no one ever thought to pitch a tent under it.
But things change. Last Shabbat, eager to escape the city but lacking an entire free weekend, I suggested to Naomi that we head up to Angeles National Forest with our daughter Noa and pitch a tent. One night at 6500 feet, I reasoned, is like two nights at sea level. Naomi said yes.
Buckhorn Campground is 115 minutes away from Venice, California—and a world apart. There are 38 drive-up sites, piped water and vault toilets. It’s not the Four Seasons, but it isn’t the stuff of Jon Krakauer books, either.
Angeles Forest has had a rough decade. It suffers from smog, fire, invasive beetles, drought and having the misfortune of being next to the second largest city in North America. The 2009 Station Fire left many acres charred and lunar-like—some will take years to grow back, some, TreePeople founder Andy Lipkis told me, never will on their own. (You can learn more and lend a hand at by clicking here).
But Buckhorn remains spectacular. Towering cedars and firs line the Burkhardt Trail down to Cooper Canyon, where a perennial stream creates tranquil pools and crashing falls. Naomi was impressed. The OFF worked magic.
I made Friday night dinner over a campfire, using dry oak logs I carted from home. Teva-brand steaks from Trader Joes, Yukon Gold potatoes wrapped in foil and plunked in the flames, and some sliced shitake mushrooms and garlic sautéed on our camp stove. Naomi has Shabbat paraphernalia for every occasion. She produced a dual tea-candle holder, a travel-sized silver kiddush cup, and a challah. We recited the blessingss. Whatever apprehensions Naomi had about bugs, bears, dust and—especially—vault toilets, dissipated into the clean mountain air like the sounds of the Shabbat songs we sang.
Dinner tasted great—I had long ago learned that as long as you bring good olive oil, salt and red wine, you’re going to eat well anywhere. Naomi has her spiritual necessities, I have mine.
Afterwards, the stars appeared, wiping away all trace of the work week. Around the campfire, our daughter Noa invented a game called, “Stop/Start.” The idea was to announce what you want to stop doing in your life, and what you want to start doing. We played a few rounds, and I realized that Noa, in her wise-beyond-her-years way, had brought us to the brink of the High Holy Days, when prayer and introspection are meant to do just that: Get us to make changes in our lives. It is difficult work, never as simple as just stopping and starting, but each new year is a new chance to do just that—to be the person we want to be, to do what we need to do, to do what we have never done. Like, say, go camping.
A video I shot of some falls in Cooper Canyon:
Below is video of the drive in to Buckhorn Campground:
A Photo Slideshow: