Friends, hello and welcome to your Sunday! I have a little something different for you today!
Today, just days before the first day of summer and the official release of our summer zine, CAMP JOY, I’ve invited my dear friend Amy Estes to our Sunday. Amy and I are friends of gosh, 12 years, having met at a workshop in the Bay Area back when we both were wearing peplum tops and skinny jeans. We bonded over a single side eye and have been friends ever since. Decades plus friendship’s are the real deal. We’ve seen each other through lots of different versions of ourselves and we continue to root for one another (and communicate our side eye through voice memo texts).
Amy is a middle school English teacher of 17 years, a comedian, an avid reader, and an extremely talented writer. Some of my favorite writing of Amy’s can be found on McSweeneys but you can (and totally should) read more of her writing here.
Amy will also be joining us here as a contributor to our Sunday posts. We’ve got a powerhouse team but really, I’m just thrilled for you to get to know my friends.
Here’s more from Amy.
I grew up as a decidedly indoor kid. My mom was fond of saying that for her, “camping meant a hotel without room service.” Her mom and stepdad, my grandparents, enjoyed fishing and being outdoors, and when I visited them each summer, we would go to Arizona’s Mogollon Rim. We spent time camping, and I slept between them in the camper bed in the back of their truck. I enjoyed the time outside on the boat, most specifically, the snacks: chocolate-covered raisins, sandwiches, and juice my grandmother poured into old Listerine bottles. I was weirdly good at catching fish and proud of my ability to gut and clean them, too. After those summer nights, I’d return to my life at home, where I slept indoors and didn’t have to pull bones out of my dinner.
I camped a few times in high school: namely with my church youth group, in a huge tent with three other girls. We spent our days gossiping in the lake on hot pink floats, and singing hymns under the stars. I liked being in nature. I felt peace beneath the trees, and joy in the water. I felt the complete opposite of that late at night, when skunks approached our tent and raccoons rifled through our food. I spent the rest of the night wide-eyed and listening for creatures, sweating in the summer heat that was trapped in the tent.
As an adult, I made friends with outdoorsy people, and for a period of time, I wanted to be one, too. I went camping a few times with a now-defunct company called Trail Mavens, started by my friend Sasha. Trail Mavens was designed for urban women to learn camping and outdoors skills, and to let them experience nature without having to buy equipment. Sasha and a second guide loaded a van with tents, sleeping bags, camp chairs, and food, and then set us up for the weekend. They led us on hikes, taught us how to build fires and purify water, and encouraged us to learn skills we could use on our next outdoor adventures. I made friends with some of the coolest, most interesting, accomplished women I’ve ever known, and completed challenging hikes that rewarded me with gorgeous views. I surprised myself with my ability to build a good fire, to set up a tent and cook on a camp stove. I felt capable.
A few months after one of those camping trips, I started dating someone new: a woman whose name is also Amy. Our relationship was easy from the start, and we fell in love quickly. A few months after we got together, we decided to go camping together, along with our two dogs, Hank and Olive.
We selected a site near a man-made reservoir in the Eastern Sierras of California. When we arrived, just before dark, we pitched our tent and walked around, eager for a relaxing weekend of food cooked over the fire, time exploring with our dogs, and romance in nature.
Almost immediately, we realized that it wasn’t going to be the chill weekend we’d envisioned. Our campsite was overrun with birds, and Hank hates birds, choosing to spend his evening barking every time one moved. As it turns out, birds move a lot, which meant that Hank barked constantly. Olive hated being in the tent, and at 2:30 AM, decided to make her exit, meaning that Amy had to chase her throughout the campsite and along the highway in the dark of night until she finally got hold of her. We had brought an air mattress that was too big for the tent, and the ground was rocky and too hard for our thirty-something year old backs.
When we emerged bleary-eyed and exhausted the next day, we decided to keep exploring, even though both of us wanted to go home. Neither one of us felt comfortable saying that yet. Despite the growing tension, we took the dogs to Mono Lake and drove to a nearby camping store, where I threw down my credit card for the most comfortable, overpriced air mattress we could find. The weather was hot, there were too many bugs, and we were exhausted, meaning that even innocent comments and interactions felt edgy and loaded. Our relationship was too new and untested to have an argument, and we had no idea how to deal with conflict.
We returned to our campsite after a long day and settled in for the evening. As Amy and I organized the campsite, the dogs started snarling at one another because they were in close quarters and attempting to murder the same birds. Amy was in the bathroom at the time, and I got them separated, but felt shaken. The dogs’ fight pushed me over the edge into tears and I decided to distract myself by re-organizing the cooler of food.
Personally, I wanted the ice to surround each item to ensure protection from food borne illness, the way I’d always done things. Amy is a scientist, and informed me that cold air sinks, so the most efficient way to keep things cool was to put the ice on top. I thought that was stupid, and made it clear with passive-aggressive comments and throwing ice into the cooler a little harder than was necessary. We tried our best, using sing-song voices dripping with false kindness, neither of us wanting to be the one to push the discussion into fight territory. Things got more and more tense as we each made our case for how to chill the artisanal cheeses and hot dogs we’d packed, until both of us were irritated beyond words and gave up. The argument took off from there, with sharp words and frustrations pouring out.
It was oddly refreshing to release the tension we’d been holding in during the trip.
Better yet, it felt like we ripped the band-aid off of the surface-level relationship we’d built, opening ourselves up to see the true colors below. We learned how to work things out, how the other person argued, what it felt like to fight. It gave us a chance to address our communication, and to share our mutual frustrations. Our relationship had gone from shiny and new to one that felt bonded because we’d survived something together.
I don’t remember how the fight ended, just that it did. Amy let me put a layer of ice on the bottom and the top of the cooler, just because it made me feel better. We laughed hysterically trying to get in and out of the inflatable taco chair we’d purchased for the weekend, and laid together snuggling and star-gazing. We held hands the whole way home while the dogs slept in the backseat, finally silent.
I still don’t enjoy fighting, and camping is just okay for me. Like my mom, I prefer a hotel, and I prefer it with room service. A short hike is great, and a night glamping is delightful, but for the most part, I’m still an indoor kid. Even so, I’m grateful for all the ways that trip taught me about myself, and about my relationship. Amy is now my wife, and we have taken many more successful trips, none quite as tumultuous as our first. We know how to fight, and we laugh way more than we argue. She still loves to remind me that cold air sinks, and I will probably always pack the cooler with too much ice. Still, I think every couple should be forced to camp before they get married, just to see.
There’s nothing like being outside to teach you about human nature.