|Little Ashy Mushrooms
We camped, and it was good.
We got to camp a little after 8 o’clock Friday night and commenced with the tent-setting-up, the bed-blowing-up and bed-making, fire-starting. Karen and Gary leave a kitchen tent set up all summer long for general use, and at some point in the last month it suffered a major malfunction; it was partially collapsed in on itself, one pole was shattered, and there was a new sunlight that hadn’t been part of the original design. (Jimi was able to rig it up Saturday morning with duct tape and a little ingenuity; I think it’ll probably be serviceable through the rest of the summer.) It was after 10 before K & G arrived; we had just given up on them, figuring they’d decided to wait till morning, when we saw the Jeep come bouncing over the distant hill up by the farmhouse.
|The kitchen disaster
Their late arrival reminded me of camping when I was a child – Granny and Papaw had “The Property”, 25 acres of primitive land in the middle of Nowhere, KY (or Knifely, as the town is actually known, in Adair County), and on summer Fridays, about 5:30 in the afternoons, the phone calls would start; my Dad would call Aunt Pam and say “Byron and Melissa and Sheila and Joe are going, if you don’t go you’ll be the only ones not there!” Then he’d call Byron and say “Pam and Sheila and Joe are going, you don’t have a hair if you’re not there too!” (Whatever that means.) You see the pattern, I hope? Did I mention the Property is approximately 2 hours away, in the middle of nowhere? By the time we turned off the pavement onto the tree-lined gravel road that led back to our sanctuary, it was always dark, and our little caravan would creep along under the canopy, trying to avoid the deep ruts in the road that rains always created, Stacy and I with our eyes glued out the windows searching for any sign of Bigfoot. We’d get to the Property and the cars were lined up to aim their headlights toward the spot we’d designated as Tent City, and for the next hour the grown-ups pitched tents and set up the kitchen and built the mandatory 7-foot tall bonfire structure. Stacy and I, our job was to find sticks for kindling and sticks for hot dogs and marshmallows. I never remember being an active part of the set-up or take-down process when I was little; I was lazy and my parents spoiled me, I guess.
|I think maybe he was going to chop the fire?
Saturday was the best, as Saturday’s generally are; Saturday, you’re already at camp, all set up. Saturday, you’re staying another night, so there’s no lingering “Crap, I have to take down all this shit in a few hours” feeling. Saturday, the only items on the agenda are eat, drink, and play. Jimi had stayed up all night – he and Gary sat around the fire talking men-talk until the sky was starting to lighten. Gary excused himself to try to catch a few hours of sleep before he had to leave; he was due to help his mother at the Farmer’s Market where she sells veggies every weekend. Jimi stayed up and fixed the kitchen. I woke to a conversation between Jimi, Karen, and a male voice I didn’t know – tent-listening is one of my favorite things about camping. Lying there on the air mattress, a little humid and sticky and damp in that way tents always feel in the morning hours, watching the bugs crawl between the rain fly and the mesh ceiling, listening to the people I love say the things they say when I’m not part of the conversations. One of these days, I’m convinced I’ll hear Jimi talk of his love for me in ways I’ve never heard before; or that Karen will say how pretty she thinks I am; or someone we don’t like will say I’m a bitch and then get a verbal tongue lashing from the people who love me best; but until then, I’m happily content to eavesdrop on fireside chats held on the other side of the polyester while I’m trying to wake up.
Justin was the name of the newcomer. He was camped down around the corner near Ray’s site, and he happily told us this was his first year back to camp after being banned for the last 5 years. “What in the world did you do to get banned from Camp? (Farmer) Fred is a pretty easy-going guy,” Karen says the things I think. “Aww,” Justin drawled, “cuttin’ down trees, drivin’ through the corn, things like that. Basically breaking all the rules.” He laughed and said, “But I’m 25 now, so he was willing to let me back to show I’ve grown up.” I listened a while longer, then sat up and pulled on the same dirty clothes I’d worn last night to set up camp; a shower would come at some point, but dirty clothes are a way of life at camp. I wanted to put a face on Justin – I needed to see what this guy looked like. I wasn’t surprised by his appearance; in fact, he was almost familiar, as he looked like every other 20-something guy that grows up in the country, raised on whiskey and trouble. He was skinny, almost scrawny, but not quite. He wore a pair of silky gray basketball shorts and nothing else, his bare feet clad only in a little dirt, his torso covered only partially by tattoos. He’d driven the 50 yards from his campsite to the outhouse stationed next to ours; now his business was attended to and he was ready to make some new friends. When asked why he’d previously caused so much trouble for the Farmer, he replied “I like whiskey a little too much, but I don’t go to meetings or anything. I’m only 25.” He regaled us with tales of a pill-identifying service, one which you can text a description of unknown medications and they’ll respond with detailed info post haste (for all your prescription-pill thieving/re-selling needs, I imagine); he asked if we take pills. He commented several times on how nice Gary’s Jeep is, and the scrap value of the catalytic converter attached thereto. He asked us several times if we smoke marijuana, while raising his right arm to proudly display the marijuana leaf tattooed on the underside of his bicep. He told us about the time he was wasted and getting a tattoo and jerked, leaving a dot-dot-dot line across his upper arm. He proudly pointed at his armpit so we could make out the brick wall that was tattooed all the way into the center. He told us again about how glad he was to be back at camp, now that he was more grown up and responsible, what with being 25, having a wife, and two kids. “That’s what Fred requires to come back, you know – you have to be 25 and have a wife and two kids.”
Justin left. Karen eventually got Gary out of bed and they headed for the Farmer’s Market. Jimi was crashing fast, after being up for over 24 hours, so went to take a nap. Me? I had my book – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I sat around the still-smoldering fire for a while, but it was getting hot and sticky and the river was calling my name. I blew up the raft we’d brought, a double-inner-tube with a cooler built into the space between. I filled the cooler space with a towel, my dry box (for smokes), and my book. I had a small soft-side cooler full of beer and ice, and it found a nice little home in the second seat. Once I got over the initial shock of the cold water, I tied off to a fallen tree and laid back for two hours, reading and enjoying the quiet and swatting at flying things that landed on me. It was heavenly.
When I’d had enough, I showered in our tarp-shower. Our site comes equipped with a spigot, but the water comes directly from the river and is just as cold. Brr!!! Despite the cold, showering outside is always refreshing and makes me feel more alive. I was aiming for a nap, but it never quite came to fruition – Jimi was up when I got to the tent and we were both getting hungry. We had lunch, Jimi showered, and then we sat by the fire, him with his ukulele, me with my book, and we just enjoyed being still for a while, waiting for our friends to come back and the next meal time to begin.
Jimi made stir fry for dinner and it was out of this world delicious. We had red and green peppers, water chestnuts, baby corns, sugar snap peas, broccoli, onion, carrots, asparagus, all mixed together with chicken and soy and curry and Chinese five spice. It was one of the most yummiest things I’ve ever had at camp. That man of mine, he’s something else.
We were all well on our way toward bedtime – it was nearly midnight – when a woman in a van drove by on the road and stopped – “you guys haven’t seen a little twelve-year old girl have you? She was down by the fireworks and disappeared 2 hours ago.” Whoa. What? There’s a kid missing? Holy crap! The woman was helping to look, she didn’t even know the girl’s name, much less details of where had been searched and what we should do if we found the child. Karen and I hopped into the Jeep and headed for the barn – “there are kittens and animals up there, maybe she wanted a closer look,” K said, and it made sense to me. Floating to us across the corn were cries of “Sarah! Sarah!” – the entire camp was mobilized and searching. We passed dozens of vehicles on the rutted dirt roads, clusters of children and adults wandering with flashlights pointed into the woods and cornfields. The entrance to the farm was blocked off, we were happy to see; there was nothing at the barn but curious goats and a kitten with eyes full of puss. We circled around for twenty minutes, stopping to get updates from every new group or vehicle we passed, and finally heard the words we were hoping for – the girl was found, and she was okay; little brat had gotten pouty and wandered off – two hours later, she texted someone to come pick her up. Kids.
Sunday started off promising – the sun was out, the sky was blue, the water was clear and cold. Momma called and said she and Daddy were coming up for the day. It was perfect. Then about noon, Gary said, “Is that thunder I hear?” We all stopped, cocked our heads, and listened. “Nah,” Jimi said. “Someone’s shooting something or setting off more fireworks.”
It was thunder, and the clouds rolled in just as Momma and Daddy did. We had only a brief little sprinkle, but the sun was nowhere to be found when Momma and I headed for the water. The water is cold when the sun is beating down on you – it’s downright freezing when clouds are covering the sky. Eventually, though, the parts of you in the water go numb, so it’s not so bad.
Momma and Daddy stayed for a few hours, and I’m glad I wasn’t able to talk them into staying the night - an hour or so after they’d left, the sky opened up. Dark clouds rolled over us, bringing wind and rain and lightning and thunder. We all were soaked from our efforts to rein in our things – I was nearly dry until we had to cover K & G’s trailer with a tarp; the rain was coming in sheets through the trees and I was soaked through in seconds. We huddled under the tarp the guys had so ingeniously erected, but the rain was coming in from the sides and the dirt floor was becoming a mud puddle fast. We’d talked all morning of possibly packing up our things and heading home a day early – drenched and freezing, I looked at Jimi and said, “Let’s get out of here.” We spent the next two hours gathering our things and securing the things we were leaving, dripping wet the entire time. We were on the road and pointed toward home by 9:45, home with Taco Bell by 11 o’clock, freshly showered and in bed by midnight.
|On our way home....we're going home!
Monday, Independence Day. We’ve got a truck full of gear that needs to be carried inside, sorted, dried out, put away; food that needs to be moved from cooler to fridge; laundry that needs to be washed. There’ll be time enough for that later. I had to tell the story of it all first. And now, some pictures I took last night, in the rain, while we were trying to pack up. Someone wasn't willing to let their fireworks go to waste:
Happy Independence Day! Celebrate well.