My first real camping trip, with the Boy Scouts…a lot of years ago 🙂
Time molds vivid memories from one’s past into the building blocks of one’s writing…
As mentioned in the Building Block post Squirrel Attack Poem, our interface, or possibly a time of ‘in-your-face’, with nature can be inspirational to a writer. Think about how nature took the upper hand and left you with wonderful story fodder… or almost being animal fodder.
Having spent endless hours in the woods behind my house, I was, at least in my mind, by eleven years old well aware of the haunts of nature; and of course I had that wonderful experience with a vicious squirrel, as I mentioned above. I was especially well aware of the danger from raccoons. I saw firsthand on one too many occasions how a raccoon’s sharp claws dealt with a nosey dog; not to mention dreaded rabies. Thus, at eleven I knew I had to be careful when I went on my first Boy Scout campout. However, I was eleven, and who listens to adults anyway.
We had a great day and it was time to say adios to the stars. Being tired from all that fun, it did not take long to fall asleep. Sometime after midnight I was woken by a rustling sound inside the tent. Being well versed in vampire and extra-terrestrial movies, I knew not to leap up. I slowly opened my eyes. And there in front of my face was the rear end of a raccoon; a big one.
The raccoon was apparently about to enjoy the Oreo cookies I had left out next to my sleeping area. With cookie in hand, the raccoon backed up and started using my face as a pillow. I knew not to move; as the last thing I wanted was for the obviously comfortable critter to swing around and rip my face open. Thankfully my breathing did scare — nor deter — the raccoon from its snack time; so I remained motionless for at least seventy-six hours…OK, about two minutes…until the varmint had its fill and waddled away.
I learned two things that night, don’t keep food in your tent, and raccoons do not say thank you when they eat your food.
Think about your ‘building blocks’; we can not write without them.
A person’s trust is something that is earned, not presumed. I think it was the first time my best friend Donna and I went camping that taught me this and finally set our relationship.
When we pulled into the parking area Donna looked around and asked where the inn was. “This is a campground, a state park, no indoor facilities.”
“Wait…what do you mean no indoor facilities?” a tone of panic creeping into her voice, “You mean no restaurant, but indoor plumbing, right?”
“If you want indoor plumbing you’ll have to find a cave.”
“I got the ‘you’ part,” not going to let her off that easy.
“DAVE, WHAT THE HELL KIND OF PLACE IS THIS!”
“A campground; tents, sleeping bags, campfires, roasting marshmallows, and you and me bonding.”
“Bonding my ass! When you said camping I thought summer camp camping, with buildings and such.”
“Have I ever let you down?”
“Let me rephrase that, have I ever treated you badly?”
“Do you trust me?”
“Yes,” the shock broken, “You have to remember I’m from Connecticut. The closest I have ever come to sleeping in the woods was at a girls summer camp; we had log cabin bunkhouses and real beds.”
“Are you worried about something, something other than using the great outdoors to go potty; cause I know you have before, you told me about soccer practices.”
“I…I don’t like snakes, alright,” soft, but trusting to tell me.
“No jokes. I’ll respect that. I want you to enjoy camping. Okay?”
“Alright, I’m sorry about being so melodramatic.”
Regardless of what she said, as I unpacked the truck, and Donna saw the camping gear for the first time, she did not exactly smile, “Sleeping bags?”
“Yes, and there are two of them. What are you looking for?”
“Sorry, we get to sleep on mother earth.”
We set up the tent and gathered wood for a fire. Then we took a short hike through the forest.
The path was wide enough for three, but Donna was so close to me, a truck could have driven past without her feeling the breeze. When we reached the place I wanted her to see, the place where the path rounds a bend, breaks through the trees and opens on to a hilltop that looks out over the valley below. Donna said, “Beautiful, absolutely beautiful!” It was a breathtaking view; I knew it would be.
Later, sitting by the fire, watching our barbeque chicken breasts slowly cook, Donna asked if we were going to sing camp songs. “Depends on how far away the next campsite is. Don’t want to scare them away by my singing.”
“Dave, the words you uttered when the tent fell down was enough to scare them away.”
“Sorry about that.”
“You should be!”
That night Donna and I tried to keep the conversation upbeat and non-serious. However around ten, the wine bottle was half empty. We discussed relationships. I remember telling her that relationships had to be built on trust. I talked about being able to rely on the person next to you; in the Army, descending on a rope in a cave, or walking into a strange bar in backwoods wherever.
We spent Friday and Saturday nights in the woods. We hiked Saturday, stopping at a waterfall, getting soaked in a water fight. Throughout the weekend we told each other stories about our lives. Donna informed me that a week after she learned to drive she wrecked the car by sideswiping a wall. I told about one day in Diver Ed I pulled up to an intersection to make a right turn, and because of a hedge and a parked truck I was not able to see the traffic coming from the left, so I gunned it. My Driver Ed teacher tried to wedge his 5’ 6”, 230 lbs. body under the dash board. At the after prom party she lost her shoes. At least she remembered her date’s name.
A few years later when Donna was facing a real human threat; a psychopath who did not like the legal system. Remembering our first camping trip allowed Donna to trust me in assisting protecting her.
“Relax. You’ll make it through this.”
Donna smiled, “Want to know something funny, I closed my eyes and thought about camping with you. You showed respect of my fear and you listened to my complaints.”
The thoughts of camping with me made Donna smile. “You always seem to make me smile. Dave, I know you can help me get a grasp on this situation, but I’m determined to keep this my battle. Like my fear of snakes. Understand?”
“You respected my fear of snakes, but you never tried to force me to deal with them. You simply made everything else about camping fun, and I learned to look at the bright side of being in the woods. I learned to enjoy being there even if I might run into a snake.” She paused, “Dave, just be yourself and make me smile, that’s the most important, the most wonderful thing you can do, and I will be okay.”
“Just don’t smash another sixty dollar backpack stove with a shovel!”
“I thought there was a snake in the bag Dave! How the hell was I to know you left the end of the rope sticking out!”
“Donna, I was cutting pieces off to tie down the tent.”
“Well buy yellow rope, not brown!”
(Camping with Donna, is adapted from Through a Stranger’s Eyes, both are works of fiction, copyright Steven S. Walsky, 2005, all rights reserved.)