sub divo (in tentorio)

I’ve been meaning to write this blog for a little while now, ever since we got back home, but haven’t had (or taken?) the time to do so. We went camping just under a month ago, our first camping experience in Colorado. I am glad we took a long weekend; we needed the first morning and afternoon to pack and prepare.

The title of this post, for the Latinless, means “under the open sky (in a tent).” I always liked the expression sub divo [caelo] (literally, “under the divine [sky]”); cf. Greek ὑπὸ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ (Plato, Phaed. 99b7). As my wife reminded me recently, we sheltered within a thin layer of nylon in our sleeping bags, so it’s not much, but it was nice. We bought a tent, sleeping bags, and some other camping paraphernalia a couple of months back to prepare for the trip, which we planned to take with our friends.

Tents are some of the most ancient shelters around. The Greeks had them, naturally, and called them various things. One word is σκηνή, which can, naturally, refer to a “camp” in the plural (= a collection of tents). Curiously, the word later refers to a “stage-building,” the backdrop for a theatre where tragedies and other dramata were performed. Of course, Latin transliterates it as scaena and in English it becomes scene (almost entirely unaltered from the Greek, aside from κ -> c). Also cf. σκῆνος, which shows up in epigraphic evidence, I guess.

  • αὖλις: another word for “tent,” a Homeric one that I hadn’t heard of. The Greeks encamped, before they set sail for Troy, at a place of the same name, Aulis, but which has a different accent and breathing (Αὐλίς).
  • προσκήνιον is apparently used for the “entrance of a tent” in the Septuagint, but generally refers to the platform in front of the σκηνή, which becomes proscenium in Latin (and English, really, as well).
  • κλισία, literally “a place for lying down” (< κλίνω, “to lie down”), is used more generally for a “hut” or similar shelter, not quite a tent.

Greek has a number of verbs for camping, too:

  • στρατοπεδεύω, “to camp, encamp” (< στρατόπεδον, “camp,” lit. “ground/space for the army [στρατός]”)
  • κατασκηνόω, “to encamp” (there’s σκηνή again)
  • θυραυλέω, “to live in the open air, camp out” (cf. Lat. sub divo, and of course θυραυλία, “living out of doors, camping out”)

In Latin, “tent” is typically tentorium, its diminutive tentoriolum (“a little tent”), tabernaculum (in which, in the Vulgate, the Ark of the Covenant is kept), tenta (in later Latin). There aren’t quite as many words as there are in Greek. A camp is castra (pl.; sg. refers to a fortress, usually — cf. English castle).

  • aestiva (sc. castra), “summer-camp” (cf. hiberna [castra], “winter-quarters” & English hibernate)
  • castrametor, –ari, “to pitch camp” (lit. “to measure out a camp,” cf. metior, –iri, “to measure”). Some editors consider castrametor a verb; metor is a verb on its own, though, meaning “to measure.”
  • stratopedon: Latin also took στρατόπεδον for itself, for fun (late Latin).
  • excubo, –ere: literally, “to lie out of doors, camp out” (= θυραυλέω) (but a rare meaning; more often it means “to keep watch outdoors”)

OK, I went off the rails there. My point was that, despite having a fancy new tent, we were following in the footsteps of people who have been camping for millennia under the stars, huddling for warmth in the depths of the sylvan night. We weren’t all that far from home (maybe 15-20 miles), but the drive on mountain roads took awhile, and it felt like another world.

We got a nice campsite that was fairly isolated from those around us, and everything was pretty quiet. It’s been a bad year for fires in Colorado, so it was a bit smoky up in the mountains, sadly, but otherwise was nice. We didn’t get down to the campground until about 4pm on a Friday afternoon, but pitched the tent and set everything else up in general. Our friends were supposed to come down Friday, but they unfortunately weren’t able to make it until Saturday afternoon.

We had bought sub sandwiches for a late lunch, which ended up just being our dinner instead. As I mentioned, our friends didn’t arrive that night, so we eventually got into the tent and read for awhile by LED lantern-light. I was working through Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits (great book!), and my wife was reading a library book. A little later that night, we went back outside. I made sure to bring my telescope, as up in the mountains, the skies are clear and full of stars at night. I don’t get to see much from where we live, not far from the foothills, so I thought I’d bring it with me.

At 9 or 10pm, unfortunately, the stars weren’t super visible. I think I was able to catch a glimpse of what I thought was Jupiter, off in the southern sky, but not too much else. We eventually headed to bed and tried to get to sleep, the sounds of the night resounding around us within the woods. Late at night, I heard unearthly, bizarre sounds that would have been right at home in a Lovecraft story; it sounded like dreadful monsters from the moon or more far-flung parts of the kosmos. However, I found out that it was elk mating season, and those were mating calls. Still super bizarre and fascinating to listen to!

My wife and I both got up around 5am or so to go to the bathrooms (vault toilets; just a hole in the ground, really), and were thunderstruck at the vast amount of stars above at that hour. I wish I’d had my telescope out that late (or early!), as it was quite a sight to behold (mirabile visu!). One of these days I’ll be able to do that camping, I’m sure.

We spent most of the next day reading and hanging out at the campsite. I would have walked some trails or something, but as we had no phone service up there (at all), we weren’t sure when/if our friends would arrive, so we just kinda stuck close to “home,” so to speak. I got somewhat sunburnt, which was no fun, despite putting on sunscreen, but oh well. Our friends arrived and pitched camp sometime in early afternoon, so we hung out with them after that.

Our friends have a fairly large canopy they put up over their tent, and it was big enough for us to sit at one end and socially distance and have some beers with them, so that was cool. We hung out with them for hours, took a break to cook dinner (leftover butternut squash soup we’d brought!) in our little fuel pellet stove (there is a fire ban still in place even now, understandably, so we couldn’t use the grill in our campsite unfortunately), then hung out with them some more. They eventually went to bed fairly early, since they have a 5-year-old son who was getting restless and tired, so we said our goodnights.

The first night was really difficult sleeping in the tent. We both had inflated sleeping pads, which helped cushion against the hard ground, but it was definitely an experience. The second night wasn’t quite as bad, but by the end of it, I ached all over. Also, both nights had lows around the 40s F, but the first night was definitely colder. My wife was completely bundled up, while I just had on my t-shirt and PJ pants in my sleeping bag.

At probably 11pm, a random burst of mariachi music started up, and I thought it was fellow campers and wondered what the hell was going on, and hoped it would stop soon since I was tired and wanted to go to sleep. Quiet hours started at 10pm, so it was strange. It kept going, though, and I wondered if the campground hosts were going to do something about it. All of a sudden, I heard a loud yell: “ESTAMOS DORMIENDO (sic)!” There was a response in Spanish; I can’t remember what it was, but it was something like “We’re partying!” and I think I heard a chupa so-and-so in there as well. Eventually they stopped, thankfully, and we were able to sleep.

The next day I found out that the guy who yelled was actually one of our friends who had come up with us, and we had a good laugh over it. Apparently some people had parked near the other side of the reservoir we were staying near, and just started blasting the mariachi music late(ish) at night, so my friend yelled in Spanish to try to get them to stop. I couldn’t believe that he had yelled so loud, but yeah.

This probably sounds completely prosaic — I hope not. We really did have a wonderful time, and would have stayed longer if we could. As it was, though, we stayed almost too long. Our cats can only go for about two days without us being home, given that their water runs out usually, or their food will. We have a gravity feeder which never works, and need to replace it with something that does eventually.

The cats were happy to see us once we got home for sure. All in all, a great weekend spent out in nature, away from phones (aside from a little OSMAnd+ for navigation and checking altitude!), and spending time with friends.

I have a few pictures I wanted to share from the trip:

That’s all for now! Thank you for reading!!

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