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Motels are Nature's way

Some years ago, Nature and I had a falling out

For a long time, our relationship was strained, but last week, with the help of a brown disco-era Volkswagen camper van, I think we started to patch things up.

I was born and raised in British Columbia, a province where, to paraphrase the commercials, the great outdoors is always in your face. The mountains are crawling with trees, the oceans are crammed with whales, and, as anyone who has ever had any contact with food or garbage knows, it's more or less standing room only for bears.

When I was young, my mother, having been raised as she was in England, where reconnecting with the natural world meant drinking your tea near a window, drilled into me the idea that this natural splendour was something to be cherished - and that you cherished it by walking right up to it periodically and sitting in it.

This ideology stayed with me into adulthood. When I moved back to the West Coast after my undergraduate years in Toronto - a city where trees, together with laughter and colours that aren't grey, have been more or less hunted to extinction - I felt I had to make up for lost time. I invested in a tent, found various outdoor-minded friends and started spending my weekends going up mountains and falling asleep on them.

I did this happily, or imagined that I did it happily, for several years, until one morning when I had an epiphany. I was lying in my sleeping bag on what felt like golf clubs inside a tent the temperature of outer space with two other people who had at least a dozen elbows each and thinking about the breakfast I was about to re-hydrate that one could only imagine was some form of high-fibre drywall, when it occurred to me that I wasn't entirely in favour of camping.

It struck me, lying there and swatting at the helicopter gunship of a mosquito that had spent much of the night in my ear making a noise like someone cutting up chalkboards with a tiny circular saw - and wondering with increasing irritation

when fricking Vishnu next to me was going to stop it with the elbows - that camping, at its most fundamental level, is a rejection of human accomplishment.

Back in caveman days, to borrow the anthropological term, when our distant ancestors first descended from the trees and grew brains large enough to form opinions, they quickly recognized that the natural world by and large sucked.

There were no showers, no electrical outlets, nothing to reheat leftovers in, and the few things that had been supplied by providence spent their time poisoning you, eating you or being uncomfortable to sleep on.

Hominids immediately set about trying to change this. They built fire to make night time less scary; they sharpened rocks to make animals small and bite-sized and dead enough to eat; they wiped out the bigger and goofier looking land mammals.

They did this knowing that their environment wouldn't be perfected in their time, but that over generations, our species would slowly make things better, that some day their distant descendants would succeed in replacing the majestic but inconvenient natural ground cover with easy-to-clean and walkon pavement, that caves would be swapped out for highrises and that, God willing, dairy products would someday come in a spray can.

They didn't set out on this long and arduous journey so that their distant descendants would voluntarily sit outside and eat re-hydrated drywall.

The great outdoors, I decided, could shove it.

Until last week, that is, when I was invited to go caravanning in the Big Brown Van.

The experience taught me that caravans, and RVs in general, combine all the advantages of camping - that is, nothing - with the most important trappings of civilization: real beds, fried breakfast, shelter that doesn't smell like old tuna mixed with feet. These little pleasures, the simple ability to clean yourself to the point that your hair doesn't look like brown Play-Doh, the availability of food that's a step up from a Soviet space mission, go a long way toward relieving the displeasure.

Over the course of the weekend, I felt my rift with nature beginning to heal. Maybe nature, I thought to myself as I lined up a putt on the pirate-ship-themed hole of the mini golf course next door to our campground, isn't so bad after all.