Henry David Thoreau, who advised his readers to avoid any enterprises requiring new clothes, might have been skeptical about the camping trip that my 12-year-old son and I took between Christmas and New Year’s. Although we’re not creatures of fashion, the bill at a local sporting-goods store quickly exceeded 100 bucks as we filled the shopping buggy with thermal underwear, waterproof boots and woolen gloves.
Thermal underwear was cheaper, I guess, when it was called “long johns” and made no pretense of using space-age technology. I have a vintage pair of long johns that get little wear in south Louisiana, the days rarely getting cold enough to retrieve them from the bottom dresser-drawer. I keep them around for extreme weather events, in much the same way that I store batteries and a generator for hurricanes.
Another father camping with us sported a new, rabbit-fur hat that had gotten a thumbs-down from his wife, who thought the headgear looked dumb. The hat did, indeed, invite unflattering comparisons to Bullwinkle, although its owner was unfazed by the criticism. “I’m just trying to stay warm,” he explained as a stiff wind rippled the side of our tent.
I was in no position to question the appearance of anyone else sitting near the campfire. Decked out in a red parka that had all the physical grace of an inflatable raft, and wearing a huge knit cap that made me look like the world’s largest Smurf, I had little chance of getting hired as a catalog model for L.L. Bean.
Pride is usually the first casualty when we camp in the winter. I am, happily, dressing to be comfortable, not to impress someone else. I was tickled recently when, to illustrate some thoughts I’d offered on presidents and their reading habits, an editor found a vintage photo of Theodore Roosevelt relaxing in rural Colorado in 1905. There’s a little dog on Roosevelt’s lap as he sits with a book in a folding chair, but the most striking things in the photo are the cuffs of Roosevelt’s pants. The edges are frayed beyond repair. Roosevelt seems blissfully unworried by his dishevelment, apparently unconcerned about what citizens might think of seeing their commander-in-chief in trousers that have their best years behind them.
The president, out camping, appears liberated to wear what he wants. (You can check out the picture yourself at http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2012/11/06/presidential-reading-list.)
No modern president, I suspect, would attempt the kind of fashion violation that Roosevelt carried off with such aplomb. Should today’s chief executive wish to visit the Great Outdoors, his attire would probably consist of natty earth tones hand-stitched by a celebrity designer.
But for the rest of us who occasionally take to the woods, there’s still the prospect of dressing for comfort, not campaign strategy.
Just look for me over by that pine tree. I’m the one wearing a dirty baseball cap and the jacket with a mustard stain.