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State of Mind: Camping at the Old Campground

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When I think of summer, I think of camping. What could be better for a vacation than time spent in the great outdoors at one of our beautiful state or national parks? 

I learned many essential camping skills in the Boy Scouts, such as how to permanently bond pancake batter to the inside of a hot aluminum skillet over an open fire. I also learned how to tie a “sheet bend” knot. I’ve been looking for a situation in which to use that knot ever since. And I learned Morse code, but not particularly well. To this day I only remember the code for the first three letters of the alphabet plus “s” and “o”, so the only message I can send is “sos cab,” which could possibly come in handy if I find myself in trouble near an urban area. I also learned about such things as “cannon reports” and “skyhooks” and how to hunt for snipes after dark with a stick and a croaker sack. Those were formative years that prepared me for camping in adulthood.

My first camping adventure with my wife was a memorable one. About 1 o’clock in the morning during our first night in our new tent a thunderstorm awakened us. This was a meteorological event we had not contemplated. The lightning strikes came through the woods like a creeping artillery barrage at the Battle of the Somme. We vowed to remain in the safety of our tent until I remembered its frame consisted of aluminum poles sticking up toward the sky that, if viewed from above, probably spelled out “STRIKE –  X –  HERE!” We hastily retreated to our car. When the storm had passed, we returned to our tent to discover the wind had blown open the door flap, and the waterproof floor, which was intended to keep water out, was now holding it in. Our semi-submerged sleeping bags rippled with the waves created by our feet as we stepped inside.

Now I know what you’re thinking: “But Lare, what about all the bugs when you’re camping? Don’t they bother you?” I don’t remember any bugs when I was in the Boy Scouts. In fact, I don’t remember any bugs while camping until after I got married. Then they would descend on my wife, and, because I was often in close proximity, me. I remember swatting mosquitoes in the Everglades National Park that were so large it was like crushing small balsa-wood-framed model aircraft on your arm. And I remember being cornered in a tent at New Discovery campground in Groton by a huge swarm of black flies. We had to call in a Raid™ strike on our own position to get out of that one.

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Thenceforth we would never venture on camping adventures without citronella tiki torches, a case of citronella incense coils, and 12 spray cans of 100-percent DEET repellent.

Park rangers use a complex formula for assigning campsites to visitors. This is done to make sure (1) as many campers as possible have an increased sense of being in the wilderness and getting away from it all, and (2) the campers who must get up most frequently during the night to use the toilet facilities are given campsites that are the farthest away. 

In many parks, the rangers have spent years training the local wildlife, i.e., skunks, to deploy at 2 a.m. sharp and act as guides, patrolling all possible paths to the toilet facilities. Fortunately, because of their distinct black-and-white markings, skunks are always visible with a four-D-cell Maglight flashlight from about 2 feet away. After such a startling encounter in the darkness there often is no need to go farther.

Bonding with wildlife is one of the great joys of camping as long as you take precautions, such as not smuggling a bag of Doritos into your sleeping bag for a midnight snack. Or, as two teenage sons of a friend did, leaving your dog’s dish of food just outside the tent, then bringing the dog into the tent to sleep with you. When the dog was awakened during the night by sounds of another creature feasting at her bowl, she naturally became resentful. In the ensuing commotion, the tent collapsed, leaving the occupants writhing around in confusion. When the boys managed to extricate themselves, they fled, believing a black bear had attacked them. From the aroma they gave off it was clear the intruder was indeed black but also had white markings. 

I’ve learned that many wild animals are not as timid as we think. Once, while camping with friends, we were pleasantly surprised to see a deer standing silently at the edge of our campsite. It was like a scene out of “Bambi.” One of our friends, ignoring the oft-repeated advice to not approach wild animals, slowly took a marshmallow from the bag on the picnic table and, holding it at arm’s length, slowly — very slowly — advanced toward our animal visitor. Bambi suddenly lunged toward the marshmallow, which caused our friend to drop it, shriek, and bolt from the campsite. We all followed her and ran about a quarter-mile down the camp road. In my mind I can still hear Bambi, Thumper, and Flower giggling behind us, not to mention the park rangers, who had raised the orphaned fawn into adulthood.

Adventures such as these made a great impression on my wife over the years, and now when I suggest a weekend camping trip, she calls the Hotel Bonaventure in Montreal.