Camping Vignette

Every year I go camping when the leaves are changing colors. There is a certain mystique involved in packing up the car, making sure I have my tent and all necessary gear. I double check my list for all the "important" necessities: good craft beer, bottles of whiskey, a radio for tunes (if the campsite has electricity), swimming trunks for that balmy fall day, a fully stocked mp3 player (you never know when you might want to hear some powerviolence or garage rock -- not to mention obscure Texas psychedelia), fireworks, books of various kinds (including a handy volume on building shelters out of gathered twigs), just to name a few.

I always meet a small tight-knit group of old friends at the campsite. We will stay up most of the night around the campfire bullshitting, but we will at least entertain the idea of doing more than staring at the fire.Our goal is to find a campground somewhere within comparative driving distance of each of our respective homes, so no one has to drive very far. A few of us live in Illinois, a few in Wisconsin, and a few in Minnesota, but we all want to find a place with few travelers. We always pick a campsite near the edge of the park, where we can make noise without offending anyone with our drunken late night antics.

I was once a failed boyscout, and I still love building a fire in the rain. Nothing beats the smell of wet earth and twigs. I always build a fire in the classic tee pee pattern, sticking paper between the kindling so it lights easier. I have never been very good with flint. Instead I use a Bic lighter, surreptitiously placed so no one who knows campfire lore will find me out. Once the fire is blazing, I can relax, as there is always a certain amount of pressure involved in getting that fire built as quickly as possible, especially if you are the first one at the campsite.

Then I sit and wait for others to show up. They roll in slowly. They are often lost, searching for our hideout. A few blasts of a car horn and the mad scramble begins to unroll sleeping bags and put up the tents. I always think of my grandfather's hunting shack and the similar scramble to get there in order to play cards, while the overloaded wood stove pumped out too much heat. Once the fire is blazing, we will sit around it all night singeing our eyebrows, telling stories, and hoping the winter will be mercifully short.


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