The campers come out this time of the year the same as the asparagus, and they're found mostly in the same places, wild along the fence rows. Although I have spoken with one or two of camping's adherents, try as I might I seem unable to make much of their confounding manifestations.

As I understand it, camping is a way for man to alter the hurried rhythms of his existence into waltz time. He does this by following a metaphorical set of Arthur Murray footsteps back to nature. In the modern instance, these footsteps are things such as restored villages of pioneers and recreational complexes.

It has occurred to me that the perfect experience might be a pioneer recreational complex, an amalgam of the best of the old and the new such as, let us say, a stagecoach on skis, a disco dulcimer, and perhaps a topless flax spinner or two.

This is, at any rate, the healing movement from chaos to campfire. While it resembles the notion of evolutionary progress implied in the movement from cave to fallout shelter, it seems to work for a sizable portion of the populace. The campfire has supplanted the backyard barbecue grill as symbol of the new tranquility that campers pursue with a vengeance. As an example, two fellows driving big mobile vans engaged recently in fisticuffs at a campground nearby. They were after the same parking space because it offered the best television reception.

On any given summer weekend, there are large herds of these sleek beasts hooting and jostling for position at various recreational watering holes around my part of the country. Some of them even have scenes painted on their sides as if the driver, plunging off into the underbrush and not liking what he found there naturally, could sit down and stare at a sunset of his own devising.

This is an interesting notion, although I've never had much quarrel with sunsets except symbolically, and in that manner prefer sunrises. I did once know a man in the mountains who built his home so that his living room had a magnificent view of sunsets. Then he set his television in the picture window so that it seemed the sun was always going down behind the evening news. wThis juxtaposition of imagery served mostly to make me wary of the evening news, a prejudice I've maintained since.

As a boy, I camped out some, mostly simple safaris into a pasture within parental earshot. Toby Hunter and I spent part of one summer camping in a pasture, en route to flunking astronomy merit badge. We could never locate Sagittarius the Archer so we reworked the heavens into neighborhood personalities. Among others, there was Kellerman the Butcher, Hance the Insurance Salesman, and Gooch the Goat Man, all constellations that constantly rotated through our field of vision.

A few years later, after my Uncle W. W. returned home from service, we went camping in the Carolina mountains. Off the beaten path, we found an old abandoned amphitheater and unrolled our sleeping bags out in the audience. Sometime after midnight, I awakened to see by firelight Uncle W. W. standing on the decrepit stage, holding in one hand the bones of a long-departed possum, while delivering what he remembered of the gravedigger's scene from Hamlet. It was a fine scene, with staying power.

Years after that, I took a week's sojourn up the Great Miami River, camping out on sand bars and in abandoned riverside shacks.One of the finest night's sleeps in memory occurred on that trip. At the pure dead end of a long day of canoeing, we ran into a storm. As the first of the rain came, we rounded a bend and spotted an old house. It had a roof, a stone fireplace, a kitchen full of dry driftwood, and an old bedspring to put our sleeping bags on. We sank into oblivion by firelight, under the rain on the roof.

That's what I remember of camping. I've heard, however, that there is now a camping van with a sunken bathtub and a baby grand piano. I don't think a lot about these new manifestations but from time to time, I worry a bit; I understand there's a Winnebago in my family, on my mother's side.