Unless you're me.
You would think that previous mayhem would have been enough to change my expectations. Perhaps you know me, and can't believe that once, not too many years back, I had the heart, the energy, the sheer gumption to persevere in the face of defeat. That wasn't really me. Normally I fold like a deck chair in a hurricane.
I assure you that whatever it was, it was only temporary; that keen defiance, that impervious drive to make things happen, that denial of danger was a byproduct of late-blooming infatuation. For ten years in the middle of my life I suddenly and completely refused to believe that fate or God or Mother Nature or Buddha had it in for me.
They loved me. Us. I was so happy.
My wife still wanted to spend her vacations camping, and I still wanted to be wherever she was. We went back to camping alone, happy still, in denial. We dealt with a massive fish spawning that ruined the river next to us, and tenting under a screech-owl nest, and a few other things that don't even register with me now.
Not after this:
The second-last trip was to a campground closer to home, and closer to town.
Why so close, when we had always planned remote destinations, surrounded by trees? A recommendation by Chuck and Dick. Before you ask "Whaaaa?" I remind you: we were in our 20's, and I had dumped my natural caution like a Kevlar vest at a love-in. With hindsight most things I did then look equally dumb.
OK. Here we go:
It's just a quaint little village, with a few antique shops and decent, plain food. It's mostly known as the site of the Air Bud movies, and all the sequels with the talking puppies. Have you enjoyed any of those films?
|The Air Buddies|
Really? Get out!
I mean it. You came to the wrong blog.
I think it no longer exists, but the private campground chosen for us was located not so much outside of that tiny town, but nearly in the middle of town. On a triangular area bounded by three railroad tracks. Just off the main road,and with two sides open to the river. The river was high from the melt that spring, and it had been wet. For some reason the water was mustard coloured. Probably silt, right?
Private campgrounds were new to us, except the one the family used to frequent. The first thing we noticed, besides the huge number of RVs and trucks, and the total lack of trees, was the fact that many RVs had been there long enough to have planted gardens. Not so much a vacation for some, then. There was a hedge wall about seven feet high instead of a fence around the place. Sort of like a forest, I guess.
The next thing we noticed was our neighbours; they were throwing stones at us. Repeatedly. The woman on our left had three kids, who threw rocks at everything and everyone. She greeted us with "Hi! Have you found Jesus?" Rather than disappoint her we decided to nod silently, and retreat under fire.
The man on the other side was alone, tense-looking and seemed to need a rifle in one hand at all times. He had no tent, just a pickup truck. We let him be, and hoped that the kids on the other side of us would never, ever throw a rock his way. Did I mention that the lots were really small? Really small.
As the sun set and the breeze died we were finally able to light our fire and sit and relax.
People around settled and it was quiet and peaceful. Rifleman sat staring at his fire, scanning his perimeter every few minutes. The cavekids had gone somewhere or were tranquilized.
We finally relaxed a bit and took our first deep breaths.
What was that smell? Like rotten eggs. And dead fish.
The river. Oh my. Maybe it was a new thing. A really temporary thing?
We cooked and ate dinner, and washed up, leaving a few dishes to soak. Drank some wine. Maybe too much. Later we roasted marshmallows over the fire, using short holders made of twisted coat-hanger wire. Really thin wire. There were no sticks in sight, but I like to come prepared.
|The exact holder. Don't ever use this kind.|
I think the holders were made for wieners, because when my marshmallow caught fire and I pulled it back quickly, the food came flying right off and landed on my forehead, blazing away. It stuck, and ran down my nose.
I probably shrieked about this development. Can't rightly remember.
|"Try to relax, dear. We're on vacation."|
I tried my level best to dismiss it as a dumb mistake that would probably heal, but it sort of dampened my spirits.
As the evening approached, the smell got worse. And then the skies darkened a bit early.
Most towns all up the river had been spraying new chemicals everywhere to prevent mosquitoes. That year was destined to be a record breeding season, and they were desperate to get on top of it, but they had already begun hatching. Now there were clouds of them, all as big as crane-flies and I swear I saw a mob of them take down a swallow.
However, we were prepared--instead of the Deep Jungle repellent, a nasty, flammable poison that seemed military grade, and stank, we had finally joined the 1990's, and bought the new pump-style Skin-soft repellent by the same
Until we got bit, about ten minutes later. We must not have put enough on.
WTF? Re-apply OUCH! HEY!--they're not even going away--oh CRAP we're almost OUT!
Check the label. Wait--is that 0.05% DEET in that? We used to use four-hundred times that strength!
"Curse you, marketing assholes!"
The Jesus lady just smiled and waved her own citronella candle at us. She said that that was all she used.
I thought I caught her snickering. Not very Christian, was it?
We turned in and zipped up the tent and killed all the bloodsuckers we could find in there. Lying down to sleep we felt at least like we had left the worst of the day behind us. We agreed to give the place another day, but not to spend the three we had planned.
Eyes closed, we tried to relax. The sound of a distant train horn was comforting.
The reply from a much closer train horn was a little disturbing. Then the first one again. Then, a third?
They went on honking at each other for hours, stopping only in the dead of night. I might have mentioned the movie My Cousin Vinny to my future wife at this point. We were very tired, and had used up our calamine lotion and bite-balm and antibiotic burn salve. When they finally stopped blaring at each other, and rumbled by, we were wall-eyed and living a nightmare.
No one said anything, not "at least it's not raining" or "what could happen now?" we just sat and stared at the tent, pretty much not breathing. Unable to believe it was over. It would never be over.
Right about the there was a crashing noise, like a large drunk person, hitting the hedge, trying to get through. It came closer and closer, and started yowling, like a giant insane baby, or a really big ... cat.
|We have these, they eat people. Be very, very quiet.|
The place was now awfully quiet. Indeed, it was too quiet.
20 feet seemed an awful long way to the car, but we burst out of our flimsy tent and dashed over, and settled in to sleep in the bucket seats. We had left the first aid kit in the tent, so the only pain relief available was a couple of PMS pills, which I gratefully accepted. Whatever was out there did not make a peep or show it's whiskers, snout, or mutant baby-head after all.
My mosquito bites had turned into welts that seemed to be oozing mustard-coloured river water. I counted over one hundred before I conked out. I might have gotten a half-hour's sleep before we got up with the sun, crammed the car with whatever we could and left for home. We were pretty sure no one or their pets had been lost that night, but we didn't slow down to ask.
The bites on both of us stayed an angry red colour, big as marbles and hard as rocks.My burned face settled into a large brown scab the next day, like a downward slash of sienna paint that just missed my eyes.
Two days later we were due at a family wedding--the biggest they had ever had, for my wife's niece and her new nephew-in-law. We all got to meet his family for the fist time, a large and genteel group, who I found interesting. I wanted to make a decent impression on them.
But I had a burned face and polka-dotted ostrich skin arms and legs. Relatives kept asking me how I had gotten into a parking-lot fight, and why. New acquaintances blanched when I approached, and couldn't take their eyes off of my nose.
|"Hey congratulations! Let's mingle for five hours."|
We didn't camp at all for years after that. We stayed in hotels with kitchenettes; civilized, and fairly safe. The memories began to fade away. We had put that terrible long chapter behind us both. Forever.
When my son turned four my wife suddenly insisted that we take him camping. Sure, whatever.
Can't live forever, right?