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Today is October 4, 2022


Tents: Structures good for the spirit

Tents: Structures good for the spirit

The perfect camp: from left, a canvas cook shelter; a David Ellis ( canvas Range Tent; a camp “shower” to block cold winds come bath time; another Ellis Range Tent. A pleasant and relaxing setup for woods camping. Photo: Tony Kinton

    I always sleep best in a tent. Few there are, or so it seems, who share this possibly misplaced enthusiasm, but for me there has never been any question. I always sleep best in a tent.
    Why that is so I cannot say. In fact, I am not completely sure. Perhaps the reason trails back to some Bedouin spirit of being mobile or some Bohemian propensity to be something or someone who shuns conformity. Could be, but these traits appear a bit radical for me. You see, I am fully domesticated in most of life. But there remains a strong urging that places me in a tent many nights in any given year. Not as often as I would like at times, but these wilderness wanderings are numerous. A tent is home during such sojourns.
    My infatuation with tents and other similar canvas structures goes back to childhood. I fashioned overhead contrivances from practically anything I could find lying around. And I slept in some of these. I actually got my first real tent when I was 12. It was a pyramid rig with a big flap door that could be stretched into a canopy. This unit served me well and was regularly packed with squirming and excited young boys camping in the pasture behind our barn. 
    Grand evenings these were, with us curled under quilts dragged from the house, the sweet aroma of grass drifting up to comfort us. That grass served as our mattress. I have not been without at least one tent since.
    When I look into this captivating lure I have for tents and attempt to analyze it to some degree of satisfaction, this in an effort to confirm that I possess a measure of sanity, I must admit to a much-maligned need for escape. There are scoffers at such thinking and practice, you know. I simply listen quietly to them and then go spend a night in my tent.
    And do I come away from these mental ramblings and searches for purpose convinced that I am indeed sane? Certainly! I am more persuaded each time I do so. And that generates even more desire to set up a tent.
    There are also sensory stimuli common to tent camping that are far more concrete than some obscure need. More tangible, if you will. There is beauty, this coming in large part through symmetry. When I set up camp, or more appropriately when several of us similarly afflicted individuals set up camp, we strive for symmetry, organization. No hodge-podge of scattered items; everything has a place. And all looks pretty much the same: white canvas tents and cook canopies. Each in its designated spot, evenly spaced from another of its kind. All supported by peeled pine poles, not aluminum or fiberglass. 
There are blacksmith-made fire tools on which hang buckets and pots, these tools and the blacksmithing courtesy of my friend Neal Brown. There are also ornate masts, made by that same blacksmith, that hold candle and oil lanterns. And while the odd folding chair or table from a big-box store can be seen now and again, the gradual switch to handmade oak furniture and cypress cook boxes is near complete. This is all quiet, natural beauty that refreshes the battered spirit like nothing else can. 
    And then there are the sounds. No better way can be found to listen to a cricket chirp or an owl hoot or a coyote yap. Some of these, such as the chirping cricket, may be only inches away from the ear that hears it. But it is still removed by a canvas wall and holds no threat of taking up residence in your sleeping bag. These sounds, all common to night, lull me off to a pleasant and relaxing state that is too often hard to acquire otherwise.
    Come daylight the sounds change. But they are abundant just the same: a squirrel barking or shaking a limb, loosing dew drops that spat gently onto the canvas dwelling; a turkey gobbling in the distance; a deer blowing and stamping in disgust at the hulking white edifice and the noxious smell of humanity; wild geese on a morning sun en route to some faraway environ; the brisk, sharp chirp of a cardinal in search of breakfast. A tent is perfect for absorbing and enjoying such sounds.
    Perhaps these are some of the reasons I remain enamored of tents. They are good for the spirit. Day, night—each is equally enchanting. And I am once again reminded that I always sleep best in a tent.


Tony Kinton has been an active outdoors writer for 30 years. His books, “Outside and Other Reflections,” “Fishing Mississippi” and his new Christian historical romance novel, “Summer Lightning Distant Thunder,” are available in bookstores and from the author at, or P.O. Box 88, Carthage, MS 39051.

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