Tent camping in July in Kansas usually isn’t on my list of ways to spend a weekend. Yet I recently found myself slowly sinking into an air mattress with a clear view of the stars through a thin mesh canopy, which served as my only protection from the elements. Somehow this ill-advised excursion actually worked out with an overnight low in the mid-60s. 

Officially the event was a family reunion of sorts with a couple cousins and a brother at the family ranch. Kids ranging from high school to elementary school were included, of course. Camping simply offered proximity but the real reason we gathered at the ranch was for the amenities like fishing, four-wheeling, swimming, splashing through creeks, catching crawdads and plinking targets.

If you’re seeing a bunch of middle-aged men attempting to relive their childhoods while introducing their city-slicker kids to a distorted view of what country living is like, you’ve pretty much got the picture. Everyone ended with the same number of fingers and toes they started with. The kids had a fantastic time, as did the old folks who always seemed a step or two behind for some reason.

Outside of sleeping in a tent, we weren’t exactly roughing it. My brother obtained a large, enclosed trailer to make transporting all the four-wheelers, kayaks and other fun things easier. It also meant we had plenty of room for provisions, no matter how practical they were.

Our campsite was on a small patch of lawn, and we arranged our tents in an arc around a small circle of rocks that marked the makeshift cook station and firepit. About 20 yards away was a large barn with electricity and a refrigerator. We still spent a small fortune on ice, which we lugged around in an assortment of coolers.

Amongst all the activity there was a noticeable absence of cell phones among both parents and kids. Other than grabbing the occasional picture or checking the time, everyone found plenty of other distractions to hold their attention.

When the sun went down, everyone pulled their chairs closer to the fire and the focus of conversation ranged from the old folks rehashing the past to the kids wanting to know more about their grandparents, great grandparents and the ranch in general as coyotes howled in the distance. Everyone stayed up just late enough for the moon to set and clouds to break so we could see a star-filled sky with traces of the Milky Way visible in the background.

For a little over 24 hours nothing existed outside of our little group. There were no important calls or emails to respond to. No ball games to attend or other responsibilities to worry about. All of us were, briefly, just kids in the country, until we had to load the trailer and head back to reality. But that has its advantages as well. Like a regular mattress, air conditioning and indoor plumbing.