Way back when, we had a different dozer man begin carving a road through our trees that would eventually reach our Central Valley where we imagined we could build a dam and have a big lake. That was not a day when much of anything was going to get done, and the road he began cutting through the trees didn’t go very far. But last Saturday, as we were poking around looking for a new campsite, Libby suggested we drive the truck as far into that twisting, rough path through the trees as we could because she suspected that there would be a good site down there to pitch the tent.
That, of course, is what we did. I was dubious. The land begins to slope there, and I didn’t think there would be a clear enuf area that was also flat enuf for a campsite. But after our recent encounter with the bachelor interlopers, Libby wanted to go as deep into our woods as we could. I’m glad she insisted.
We threaded the Big Green Machine through the trees, humping over large rocks and scraping across the scrub that had grown in the intervening years. At one point we had to get out and drag a fallen snag that was blocking our way, but soon we were in the forest as far as the dozer man had cleared. This was only a few hundred feet, but it was down the slope a bit and the way had twisted and turned enuf that we had an effective screen of trees between us and our regular road.
And it was here that Libby found us a campsite. The space was certainly open enuf for a tent and a table and chairs. We could have a fire ring nearby, and the truck would be close for unloading. (And in the back of my mind I thought that we were far enuf out of sight that we wouldn’t be found if the bachelor boys returned, though I didn’t think that was likely.) We carried away a few rocks from the tent site (and dug out a few more), and soon we had the tent up, which you can see in yesterday’s photo. Then it was time to build the fire ring, which you can see in today’s photo.
We had done a little hiking about and some fencing work on the pines, though I won’t bore you with that. But by the time we had camp set up, it was time to think about building a fire to burn the steak over. So Pablo got busy collecting tinder and kindling, and Libby was industrious with the bow saw, cutting us far more fuel wood than we would need for the evening. After a while, I figured I had enuf raw materials at hand to venture a one-match fire. I may have mentioned before that there is a sense of honor in campcraft to build a fire that only requires one match to get it going. Had #2 Son been there, I would have worried over this much more since he is so competitive, but even so, I did manage to light and sustain my fire with only one match.
It burned nicely, and soon I was adding the fuel logs so they could burn down to glowing coals over which to cook the steak. Libby was at the table preparing the other morsels of our meal, and occasionally I would dare to step away from the fire to help about the camp kitchen, always using the opportunity to fetch another milk jug of water to set by the fire ring. (Someday I should fulminate about my forest fire fears.) Eventually, the logs burned down to coals, and I thought it was time to put the grill on and drop the meat onto it. (Those of you who aren’t carnivores will just have to soldier through the next few sentences.)
As I unwrapped the thick steak that was dripping its juices onto the coals, my well-earned hunger sharpened. I put it on the hot grill and heard it sizzle, and almost instantly I could smell the meat cooking. I worried that every bobcat in the county would soon show up. But, again, I hadn’t counted on the bachelor party.
Within a minute of dropping the steak on the grill, we heard the roar of the four-wheel-drive beasties carrying the bachelor boys back onto our land. I don’t know what their agenda was, but I hoped it wasn’t to find us. They seemed harmless enuf, but even if they were coming by simply to invite down for a few beers, I wasn’t interested, and I figured I’d have to be stern with them this time.
We could just see them through the trees, zipping along our road. After they were out of sight, we could still track their progress to the dam by the sound of their machines. They were clearly at the age where high volume and high speed were important achievements. Dusk was falling, and I couldn’t think that there was anything on our property that would interest them after dark. (I know what your thinking: skinny dipping in our mud-puddle lake. Well, the cabin where they were partying has a much larger and much more successful lake than Lake Marguerite.)
Soon we heard the sound of them coming back from the dam. Periodically, they would stop and shut off their engines. A few minutes would pass and then they would roar along for a while, only to stop for a few minutes again. This happened four or five times, and I don’t know what they might have been doing other than getting rid of some beer. Libby was certain they were looking for us, and maybe they were, but they didn’t find us. I hoped they concluded that we had left for the day. They didn’t return.
Had they peered through the trees at the right point along the road, they might have spotted our camp. We had a large orange water cooler sitting atop a turned over bucket that was like a beacon in the trees. The grill of my truck was pointed their direction too, and at that time, it was probably reflecting some of the setting sun. They might have even been able to follow their noses to our camp of cooking steak or seen the glow of the coals.
But I suspect they had other things to do with their time. Not long after this we began hearing the sound of semi-automatic weapon fire coming from down in my neighbor’s valley. I’d say this cabin is about a mile from us as the crow flies, though crows are too smart to fly over this kind of commotion. Every now and then we heard something that sounded like a cannon boom over the ridge. The boys seemed to be having a good time, which I don’t begrudge them a bit, and as long as they stayed over there, that meant we would have a good evening as well.
The rest of our evening was really peaceful (aside from the nearly constant gunfire, that is). We enjoyed our dinner, and as we sat in the comfy chairs under the trees, we watched the stars come out. The evening was cool but not chilly, and there were no bugs to bother us. Once the sky was good and dark, we decided to walk out to our neighbor’s meadow to see more of the sky. As we rose, I turned on my flashlight to find the way back to our road. Something large and loud suddenly pounded away from us through the trees. I think a deer had bedded down for the evening nearby. I certainly hope it wasn’t an Ozark Howler attracted to the smell of cooking beef.
The night was clear and the vault of the stars overhead was worth the stumbling walk. I could see the Milky Way, which is a treat in itself, and Libby spotted some fast-moving point of light that I am sure was a satellite, though it may have even been the space station. She also saw a shooting star, and though I looked and looked, I didn’t manage to see one.
About the time we were ready to turn in for the night, the gunfire ended down in the valley. Perhaps the evening’s entertainment arrived. In any case, our heads were on the pillows, and though it wasn’t the most comfortable sleep of my life, we found that we were still alive in the morning and eager for a hot breakfast.
- White pelicans congregate at Squaw Creek and Swan Lake National Wildlife refuges through mid-October.