My Life in Tents

49-year member Deborah Anderson shares the meaning she's found spending nights under the stars in tents.
Deborah Anderson Deborah Anderson
49-Year Member
November 28, 2022
My Life in Tents
Lead image of a tent on the South Island of New Zealand. All photos by Deborah Anderson.

When I reflect upon my life of 74 years, many treasured memories are of nights in tents. What is it about the little nylon-framed shelter that offers so much? It provides protection from the elements, yet allows us to be closer to nature and the world around us. When in tents, we can hear rain pelting off tent walls, owls hooting in the night, ice breaking off glaciers, rivers rushing, waves lapping, and sometimes the sounds of bears and wolves coming into camp.

Buying a new tent is an exciting experience as you imagine the adventures you will have. Lying in the tent on the floor of the store, you check to see if there is enough headroom, storage pockets, and exit doors. Are the poles easy to assemble? Will the zipper withstand sandstorms and the bottom repel sharp rocks? Will it stand up to 70 mph winds? Can it be carried in a backpack?

Deborah_Anderson(3).jpgCamping in Anza-Borego State Park, Southern California.

My first memory of tenting is sharing a small army tent with my dad under Pirate Rock at Gunstock, our grandparent’s home in the hills of western Connecticut. I was fourteen. After a restless night, we were up at dawn. Dad cussed at the bugs and grumbled about how hot it was inside the thick, drab-green cotton tent. He never went back to camping, but for me it was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with tents.

My next opportunity to experience tenting came after completing two years with the Peace Corps in Senegal, West Africa. I was twenty four and planning a year-long adventure of hitchhiking around Africa. My mom sent me a small Eastern Mountain Sports tent for my journey. Coming into a village late in the day I would pitch my tent (with permission) in the village compound. In the morning I would wake up to a chorus of whispering voices as children gathered outside this curiosity. When I poked my head out of the tent I saw the back of many little heads gleefully running away.

Deborah_Anderson(2).jpgA Tent view Of kayakers in Baja, California.

Nights in tents may not always be pleasant but they are memorable. During a trip to Costa Rica, a suspicious-looking character trailed me and another friend in the dark along a Caribbean beach. We ducked into the jungle and scrambled into our tent. Wanting to believe we were safe, we heard him stumble down the beach. In the Canadian Rockies a friend and I were nestled into our tent when a bear lumbered by in the night, claw hitting a tent line. My partner could barely whisper “shoo shoo shoo bear!”

The lack of a real tent can also be a treasured memory. When I was hitch-hiking south from Buenos Aires to the southern tip of Argentina, my climbing companion and I miscommunicated about who was bringing a tent, so we had none at all! We resorted to propping up a plastic tarp over dips in the pampas, wiggling into the hole to be out of the wind and rain.

Deborah_Anderson(6).jpgDeborah's Husband, Michael, Camping on their property in Mazama, Washington. 

Closer to home in Washington in my late twenties and early thirties, I went on several week-long, high mountain traverses in the North Cascades and cherished rainy days in the tent. After clambering up steep heather hillsides, negotiating our way around glacial crevasses, and climbing over rock pinnacles, it was pure joy to lie down all day, reading and drifting in and out of sleep.

Another fond memory is trying to sleep with the constant crashing of ice and rock falling off high mountain walls at our base camp at Mt. Waddington, British Columbia. Our normally stalwart tent felt fragile and vulnerable in this immense wilderness.

Camping In the Wind River Range during a summer snow storm.

Naturally, my first date with my future husband (who I met through The Mountaineers) was in a tent. In a large alpine meadow on the way to summit Mt. Redoubt in the North Cascades, we were surrounded by marshy, rocky land. The only spot Michael and I could find to pitch our tent was at a slight angle on the side of a moraine. It was a memorable night that led to many more nights in tents. In fact, after Michael and I married we shared our honeymoon with family and friends in tents on a small island in the San Juans. Marauding raccoons harassed us all night long. 

Deborah_Anderson(11).PNGMichael smiling near their tent in West Highland Way, Scotland. 

Later in life, my mom and I attended the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon. Forgetting that it had a snow tunnel entrance, my North Face tent was my chosen lodging for our trip. Mom was not a camper, but a very good sport. She wiggled through the narrow opening, her nightgown twisting and catching. In the morning my elegant mother made her way out of the narrow opening, thrusting her Liberty of London makeup bag in front of her. She had a few choice words to say about tenting.

There are many more “postcards” from my life in tents that I treasure – a number of which took place on Mountaineers trips or with friends I met through The Mountaineers, like waking up to the bleating of sheep moving through the pasture just outside my tent in Scotland, falling asleep to the sounds of huge waves rolling along the steep white cliffs in New Zealand, or smelling the pungent wood smoke from burning apple wood and incense while camping near a tea house in Annapurna. Other memories include peering out my tent in the Alaska Range to the Moose’s Tooth, clad white in rime ice and towering thousands of feet above us, witnessing mating mobula rays slap against the sea all night long just off the beach in Baja California, and hearing wolves howl nearby as me and my companions huddled in our tents on Calvert Island, eventually waking up to find their footprints circling our tents.

Deborah_Anderson.jpgBeach camping on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.

Throughout the American West, tents have been my haven in late summer snowstorms, during blustery nights on high mountain ridges, and near cascading streams in ancient forests. In the Southwest I have set up tents on abandoned rivers dwarfed by soaring red rock walls. From the Queen Charlottes to Northern California, tents have harbored me on the wild and wet coasts of the Pacific. It is a joy falling asleep to the rhythm of ocean waves.

Recently a tent has been my first home in the Methow Valley of Eastern Washington, sheltering me and Michael on our newly-purchased two acres of land. In the dry summer nights we often sleep without a rain fly while moonlight shines upon us or flickering stars lull us to sleep. Once our modern cabin is finished and others sleep happily in the house, I will continue to cherish my nights in the tent under the starry skies. I hope our young grandchildren will soon join me and Michael for wondrous tent nights.

Deborah_Anderson(8).jpgThe view from outside a tent in Baja, California.

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Carolyn Burreson
Carolyn Burreson says:
Jan 12, 2023 05:44 AM

I throughly enjoyed your blog on tents. Thank you for sharing your tent adventures.