Every year my extended family and family friends (essentially also family) goes camping. We’ve spent every Labor Day weekend at Muskegon State Park by Lake Michigan for the last 20 odd years. Even as the next generation grows up and “moves” on to the next part of their lives, we always seem to make time for this event, and we all shuffle our way to that side of the state even if only for a day or two.
By now, all families own a camper, many have upgraded to larger trailers to fit the needs of many grown children now, but one or two pop up campers come in tow with our group. Each campsite is packed, stuffing two or three cars at a site, depending on who made the trip for the particular day(s). Supplies overflows, last nights card games left out, there’s always a snack and drink to be found at any campsite (everyone else’s mom always pack yummier snack, right?). A couple tents litter the outskirts of the sites by trails, a leftover habit from our teenage days when we were in dire need of space away from adults. Now, we find ourselves hanging around with the adults now we’ve become them as well. Mornings are slow, breakfast gets cooked on the griddle at a lax pace. Kahlua finds its way into the morning coffee per usual. Post breakfast is “planning” time; Snacks, lunch, and drinks all get packed away into bags and coolers to be hauled down to the beach to the boats. Together we collectively pack about 8 separate families on about 6 family boats (The saying goes why buy a boat when you know someone with a boat?), and we take off for the day. In and out of lakes and rivers, occasionally stopping up and down parks of Lake Michigan to cool off in the water and climb sand dunes til your feet melt off. Some days are long enough we tie off at dockside restaurants and enjoy our meals. If not, dinner is served once everyone gets unpacked and showered from the day on the boat. Usually meals are a group effort and everyone contributes something food-wise. Post dinner we all pick on campsite to sit by the fire and my uncles and cousins get their guitars out. Which we sit by til the last soul leaves, usually around 2 am, as a huge tradition is my dad makes amazing chicken wings late at night that everyone stays up for. And then we do it all again the next day.
Ritually, I think this event can be categorized as Enhancing Solidarity, under Rites of Intensification. Truly this weekend is to “reassert social bonds and intensify social bonds”. Although my extended family and friends lead busy lives, we all know Labor Day weekend will bring us together again, even if some of us cannot stay the entire trip. Different parts of our trip are for different purposes, although the main reason is to relax and just be together. During boating you mainly have to splice your time up, depending if we are moving or tied off together on the boats. You socialize mainly with whoever you are on that particular boat with especially during times when you’re cruising down a river for 40 mins. A lot of times we mix up the boats and their occupants so people can spend time with everyone during the day and catch up. And then when we stop to jump in the lake or tie off together, is when you can really climb from boat to boat and socialize freely. While there’s no “transformation” that happens per say, a lot of times there’s a lot of catching up to do with some people and the reconnection leaves many of us feeling refreshed, structured, and supported within our extended family and friend unit.