I’m lying in my tent, the boys are whispering themselves to sleep. All the first night campers are settling into their late-night modes. Someone starts pounding on a board. Then a man starts chanting loudly—in Navajo? Cherokee? He knocks on the board and chants. Then quiet. I can hear faintly a guitar playing a folk tune; laughter further up the field.
I’m on my back, looking through the top of my tent. Now someone’s starting telling a story, slowly, earnestly. I can’t hear the words but imagine listeners circled around a fire. A couple plows close by our tents, drunk. One says to the other, “Camping is cheating, but a cabin is extra cheating.” A tent neighbor coughs the first of a night’s worth of coughs. Then the knocking board. Then the chant again, each word or phrase enunciated with precision. To me, a mix of pride and sadness. Then back to the story. As I listen, understanding nothing, my body slowly releases the tightnesses of the day, and my breath, garaged car, ticks down to sleep.