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A time that was too good to last forever

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news Mitchell, 57301
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

Long, long ago in what sometimes seems like another galaxy far away, people would go out camping for a weekend without television, cell phones and electricity.

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The moms and dads hurried home from work on Friday afternoon, moved the cold stuff from the refrigerator to ice chests, tossed the chests and a few other last-minute items into an already packed camper, hitched up the boat and headed for the river. They took food, water, coffee grounds, extra gasoline for the boats, a first-aid kit, an ax or hatchet and maybe spare batteries for the flashlights and, oh, yeah, the kids.

They'd go on up the river until they found a likely point of land with a sloping shoreline and some sand mixed among the pebbles, and they'd set up camp. There, they'd be until late Sunday afternoon -- Monday, if it were a three-day weekend. Just the family, maybe a couple of friends and their families. Other than that, just the river and the outdoors.

It was a simple enough existence. There'd be lazy mornings over eggs and sausage and coffee, long afternoons of skiing and swimming and sprawling in lawn chairs at the water's edge, marvelous nights around an open fire, with all the stars in the universe above and the most important people in that universe gathered around. Like as not, there'd be a guitar or two and some singing -- old ballads from the 1940s and 1950s, some Patsy Cline stuff, Hank (Senior, naturally) and Webb Pierce or Ray Price.

Some weekends, they'd hardly see another soul. During the day, they might cross paths with another group of boaters also pulling skiers or just cruising and musing. Evenings, the dancing light from other, distant campsites might be visible, and the faint sounds of other conversations, other groups of singers might be audible. Mostly, the only people a family saw all that long, low-key weekend were the friends who made the trip with them. That was enough — more than enough.

It was too good to last forever. Campsites were upgraded, boat ramps and docks improved, everything made more enticing to more folks in search of an outdoor experience. Campers began to have air-conditioning, and satellite dishes. Cell phones pumped up the volume all around. Before the old-timers knew it, everyone was connected all the time.

That is a great thing for safety, convenience and amusement. It's great, too, if it pulls people out of their houses and into the outdoors. Still, it takes some of the peacefulness from the experience. Don't get me wrong. I like the idea of a phone that works. I've paddled and pulled a stubborn boat more times than I'd care to admit. Help at the touch of a keypad is not overrated.

A person gets so used to being connected, he can forget that he's in charge of the connection. I do, anyway.

I was reminded of that last weekend when Nancy and I took the boat out late Saturday afternoon for an evening on Lake Oahe. It was the night of the July super-moon, and we got this crazy notion that we were still young enough to stay up late and bring a boat into the dock in the dark.

We managed, too. We spent five or so hours out on the water, just the two of us. Yes, we did take a selfie or two, laughing ourselves silly when we couldn't switch the phone from video for the longest time. But we also idled without phones for stretches of time that invited conversation. We talked about the kids, the house, the future, the changes we might make in how we live, some people we liked, some foods we disliked. We covered, forgive me, the waterfront.

The evening was empty but full. The water murmured in the boat's passing, a fish broke the surface now and then, someone hammered far away up the bluff, a diving bird went a little nuts as we idled near.

The sunset was spectacular as it fired the horizon beyond Chantier Creek. The moon over the dam was unimpressive. Factored into the rest of the evening, though, I'd call it super.

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