Letters Home From Camp: A Series

tent with denise and two dogs

I popped into Atticus Books and Coffeeshop on Main St. in Park City yesterday, mostly because Atticus was the name of the bookstore at my university. I exited with a superfood smoothie and a book called Hidden History of Utah. What a happy discovery—it’s a collection of essays the author has written over the years in the Salt Lake Tribune about historical nuggets in the state’s history. The challenge extended with the offer of her weekly column was that she was to dig up diverse, rarely-heard stories from all over both in time and place and each story could only be 600 words. 

A great read.

If you know me you know I love a good structural challenge. I tend to preach about how boundaries give us creative freedom to really let ‘er rip. So I’ve decided to extend a similar offer to myself this summer while parking it in Park City: a weekly letter home from camp, no more than 600 words. 

But now I’m already at 185 words. So let me back up.

Sometime in April, when I was wiped out from promoting my new album online (yuck. I’m hopelessly Gen X), and Denise was wiped out from work (if you don’t know, Denise is my wife and she’s an interior designer and she’s so talented; check her out at DeniseLaVey.com), and it was already getting suspiciously warm in Phoenix, we decided to look into renting a spot in Park City, Utah for two months this summer to escape. Found a little place walking distance from Main Street and booked it. Mind you, we had only spent 48 hours in Park City ever and liked it. So there it was. We tend to make decisions like this and it tends to work well.

End of June and it was really cooking in Phoenix. We were packing up, and Denise came up with the brilliant idea of trying out Under Canvas near Zion National Park on the drive up. Now you must know that Denise is NOT a camper. She is street savvy, but really appreciates a gorgeous 5 star hotel. The Under Canvas company advertises itself as glamping: king-sized beds in hardwood-floored tents with showers, flushing toilets, restaurant on-site, all nestled far out into real true nature. As opposed to fake nature.

Under Canvas is also expensive, think 4 star hotel, and non-refundable. Period. Denise was truly enthusiastic. I said, “Are you sure?”, she said “Yes,” I put in the credit card, done.

Then I read the FAQs. No AC. Fans in each tent. Wood-burning stoves. But no AC. Zion is just over the border from Arizona. In the desert. Our reservation was for July 7.

Utah bound!

And off we went, we in our two cars packed with our supplies and our two perfectly neurotic dogs, drove away into the mountains, meandered in and out of Navajo Nation, crossed the Colorado River, drove around the Vermillion Cliffs, and finally wound up at Under Canvas after about 7 hours. Temperature was 100. Sun was high. Sunset was scheduled for 9:15 pm. Checked in. The tent was lovely. Very Instagrammable. And it was an oven.

I had spent a week teasing Denise, expecting her to lose it with all the dust and lack of wifi and electricity and roughing-it-ness. Dearest ones, do you know what happened? I had an absolute meltdown. In all the ways. I invoked the dreaded “t” word. I vented about my early childhood on a boat near the equator with no ac and no fans and no way to escape and how this was really bringing it up. I shook the tiny handheld battery-powered fan incredulously exclaiming how could this possibly ventilate the heat-loaded canvas, then really got into gear when I realized the battery was dead. 

Admittedly, it looks bucolic. But is that terror in Teddy’s eyes?

Wine and a good burger at the dining tent helped a little. Denise tried not to roll her eyes. Night fell. It stayed hot. The dogs were miserable. Our dogs are spoiled. Teddy, the wheaten terrier, barks at any and all flashing lights and noises as if a serial killer is about to eviscerate us all. The tent did not protect us from headlights coming up the hill or human noises. I mentioned maybe 3 or 50 times that there was a Best Western 20 minutes away that had ac and accepted dogs. Denise was very calm. “Why don’t you take them and go?” she said. “I’ll meet you there in the morning.” NO WAY was I going to leave if she wasn’t. I realized she was actually…enjoying this. We had a cooler with ice and I got a ziplock bag full and laid it on my chest. Wet a washcloth in the ice melt in the cooler and put that on my feet. Grunted and struggled and at some point fell asleep. Teddy gave up on the serial killer and fell asleep too. JoJo the poodle was out. 

Sometime after 2 am I awoke and saw, above my head through a plexiglass window, the most stars I’ve seen since I was 2,000 miles away from shore on a passage. Incredible. Stunning. Awe-inspiring. Soul-affirming.

Interesting, isn’t it? How when we go to excavate history, we tend to dig out as much negative and punitive offerings as we can discover? But then again, sometimes there are a million stars over your head at 2 am and all you can do is smile.

Denise is definitely NEVER going to let me live this down.

p.s. Yes this is over 900 words. Boundaries have their place. But sometimes it’s nice to push ‘em. We’ll play it by ear. 

The aftermath. Evidently I slept.


  1. What fun to read !
    Remember me ?? I was on the other boat when you
    were that curly headed child !! Love to follow you , your success in music and your contented life with Denise . Right on Gal ! Xoxo Wendy Eisler

    1. Thank you! Yes you can, just scroll down to bottom of the home page (www.sarahdashew.com) and pop in your email and name, hit subscribe. :)

  2. Good for you, Sarah, for hanging in there. Yes, nature is like an omlet, each bite has a different mix of ingredients, but as a whole it’s so satisfying.

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