Sunday, August 29, 2010

Thank You, Martha Glasgock!

This will be my last camping post and then I promise I'll shut up!
(at least until next summer)

One thing I forgot to mention about the whole camping thing.... I actually went to college to learn how to do this.  Yes, it's true.  Long, long ago, in a dorm room far, far away, I was sitting contemplating the nature of my existence and wondering how the hell I was ever going to graduate when I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life.

I'd already been in college for two years and the powers that be were requiring that I get serious and declare a major.  Back then, every female I knew was majoring in either Education or Nursing (with a few Sociology majors thrown in) and I didn't want to do the stereotypical female thing.  So, I sat down with the old college catalog and started flipping through the pages....

Anthropology... Art History... Biology... Business... Education... Mathematics... Nursing... Recreation... Sociology...

WAIT!  GO BACK!  What was that one in the R's?  Although I'd heard of this before, I thought it was only for the athletic types and that klutzes need not apply.  But look... you can take classes in camping and camp management.  WooHoo!  Arts and Crafts can't be far behind!  I'm saved! 

It wasn't all fun and games, though.  "Teaching of Games & Recreational Sports" was okay, but it was only offered at freakin' 7:30 in the morning and it was on the other side of the river!  Not fun in the winter for someone who was known previously for never scheduling (or at least never going to) any classes before noon.  And there was a lot about business administration, facilities management (everything you ever wanted to know about diatomaceous earth filters) and medical stuff pertaining to therapeutic recreation that stretched my brain in a lot of different directions.

Enter Martha Glasgock, PhD... the faculty member who taught all the camp-related courses.  She was a gnarly woman in her 50's who looked like she had spent way too much time in the sun and took the whole camping thing very seriously.  She didn't mess around and she rarely smiled.  There was no sloughing off in her classes if you wanted a passing (let alone a decent) grade.  And the final exam in her "Camp Management" class was actually going camping for a weekend.

It was here that Martha taught us about orienteering and how to bank a fire overnight so the coals would still be going in the morning.  We had to make our own tents out of tarps and rope, as well as dig our own pit toilets.  Our group designed the best pit toilet ever!  Over the requisite hole that we dug the requisite depth, we lashed together sticks to make a rather comfortable seat, complete with backrest, a post for storing the toilet paper, and a Reader's Digest hanging from a string on another post.  (Suitable for reading or using as spare toilet paper if need be.)

Then there was learning to cook with an actual Dutch oven.  This is a cast iron pot with a rimmed lid so you can set it in coals and pile additional coals on top in order to get the heat distributed evenly on all sides.  Our task was to bake a cake using the Dutch oven.  Sadly, this was the one thing that my group nearly failed, thanks to me.  But I ask you... who can resist eating the cake batter before you bake the cake?  Because we had less batter than we should have, our cake got a little burnt around the edges.  OOPS!  But since I had so many idiosyncratic credits built up from the pit toilet thing, people forgave me.  And I did listen carefully when Martha taught us how to use the coals to toast the perfect marshmallow.

So I passed "Smores 101" with flying colors, graduated from college and became the camper I am today.   Thank you, Martha Glasgock, PhD.  I bow to your awesomeness every time I return from a camping venture unscathed.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

You're So Brave

Everyone keeps telling me I'm "so brave" to go camping by myself.  Even some woman in the shower house at the campground approached me just to tell me how brave I was.  I don't get it.  Why is it that a single woman camping by herself stands out like a sore thumb? 

Geesh!  It's not like I'm going backpacking by myself in the Himalayas or anything like that.  It's car camping, for cryin' out loud!  (Which means I pack as much crap in the car as I can, including the air bed and comfy chairs and cooler full of delicious beverages.)  I happen to like camping and kayaking and I'm not going to wait until I have somebody to go with me... I could be waiting a long time and I don't want to miss out on living my life.

So, taking a cue from Quirky this week, I revised the lyrics to a classic by Carly Simon that keeps rattling around in my head.... 

You're So Brave 
You walked across the campground 
Like you were walking onto a yacht 
Your visor casually dipped below one eye 
Your kayak was apricot 
You had one oar in the water
As you watched yourself shove off
And dreamed that you’d be a camper
You’d be a camper, and

You're so brave
You probably think that camping is easy
You're so brave
I'll bet you think that camping is easy
Don't you? Don't you?

(Note tasteful apricot colored kayak) 

You started camping several years ago
When you were still quite naive
Well, you said that there might be some bears
But that you would never leave
Until you took out a tube of cool Ben Gay
And slathered it on me
I had dreams there were bears eating my leg,
Bears eating my leg, and

You're so brave

You probably think that camping is easy
You're so brave
I'll bet you think that camping is easy
Don't you? Don't you?

(Air bed and comfy chair hidden inside tent) 

Well, I hear you went up past Saratoga
To camp by a mountain vista
Then drove the beat up car to the Thousand Islands
To wave at Dufus in Canada
Well, you're where you should be all the time
And when you're not, you're home
Dreaming of more exotic trips with close friends
Exotic trips with close friends, and

You're so brave
You probably think that camping is easy
You're so brave
I'll bet you think that camping is easy
Don't you? Don't you?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Gone Camping

I'm off again, for another week of camping... this time with bears.  Thought I'd leave you with a blast from the past for while I'm away...

The Great Smoky Mountains (or The Second Worst Camping Trip Ever)

After reading about the worst camping trip ever, you may have thought I'd never again venture out into the wild.  However, I'm not exactly a quick study.  I eventually bought a tent and Coleman stove, thinking that with the proper equipment I could become a fearless mountain woman.  

With that goal in mind, my boyfriend (of the ill fated Colorado trip) and I set out for a getaway to the Great Smoky Mountains.  The trip down to the Smokies was highlighted by a car malfunction in Pittsburgh, but we'll save that story for another time.  

When finally we arrived at the Great Smoky Mountains visitor center, we were met with a graphic display of the terrors which native black bears could wreak upon unwary campers.  It listed warnings about what could happen if you encountered a bear, including a display of items mauled by bears, such as a metal container that had been ripped apart and showed the slashes left by claws. The list of precautions you could take to avoid being ripped to shreds by bears included such things as preparing and consuming all meals before dark and storing all food inside your car. The sign admonished you to NEVER store food in your tent unless you wanted the vicious bears in the neighborhood to slash open the side of your tent, maul you and steal your food. Needless to say, it didn't take much convincing for us to swear on our ancestors' graves that we would never even THINK about disobeying the rules of bear safety.

(Giving credit where credit is due:  Bear photo by Brian Wolitski)

We traveled on to the camping area where we were assigned a wonderful campsite.  To reach it you had to traverse a small stream and thus were beautifully isolated from the other campers in their large Winnebagos.  An idyllic scene, to be sure.  We happily set up camp, erecting the tent, blowing up air mattresses and proudly setting up the Coleman stove on the picnic table provided for our enjoyment.  We also laid out a neat pile of logs we had purchased and twigs we had gathered in the fire pit for later use.   Standing back and surveying our professionally appointed campsite, we were filled with pride!

Once we had set up camp, it was time for a rousing hike through the woods.  Our day packs were laden with the essentials;  sunscreen, water bottles and "gorp" for the trail.  We set off on a trail that led up to a fire tower.  It was a beautiful walk weaving through virgin forest and past a waterfall, with spring wildflowers in abundance.  Once we reached the fire tower, we climbed it to get a perfect view of the Smokies in all their splendor.  The clouds had settled over the peaks and dipped into the valleys, giving name to the mountains.  On the trek back down the mountain, we grew weary, so stopped at the waterfall to take off our hiking boots and dip our toes into the refreshing pool below.  

Later, back at camp, we prepared another delicious meal of, (you guessed it,) Kraft macaroni & cheese and canned green beans.  Our dinner was over before dusk settled into the valley.  The plates, silverware and pan were washed thoroughly and stowed back in the car, across the stream so that no aroma of cheese would remain to tempt any starving black bears.  As the sun dropped, so did the temperature, so after our campfire burned down to ciders and no longer provided warmth to our bodies, we retired.  Nothing feels so good as a sleeping bag floating on an air-mattress on a cold spring evening.  We talked for awhile about how wonderful the day was, how beautiful our camp site was and what a great job we had done of bear-proofing our camp site.

As the evening wore on, sleep once again eluded me.  After the initial warmth of the sleeping bag wore off, a chill set in and as I tensed up, my calves began to ache from all the hiking we had done.  I knew that I could either lay there thinking about it or get up and do something about it.  So I rummaged through my pack to find the first aid kit and pulled out a tube of Ben Gay.  Slathering it all over my legs left me even more chilled as the medication started working. After awhile, though, I began to warm up again and my muscles began to relax.

That is, until I realized my legs smelled like giant peppermint candies.  Yikes!  Did bears like peppermint?  Was that just the thing bears crave for late night snacks?  How was I to get the smell off of me?  The greasy formula of Ben Gay was not wiped off easily.  Plus, as luck would have it, my air mattress had lost all its air and there was nothing protecting me from the cold, rocky ground.  No matter how much I huffed and puffed, the air mattress could no longer be re-inflated.  Now I was wide awake, cold and miserable, waiting for the bears to come slash their enormous, razor-sharp claws through the tent, drag me from my sleeping bag and feast on my peppermint flavored legs.  What to do?  Should I go sleep in the car for the rest of the night?  Or better yet, in the cinder block bathroom up at the ranger station?  Either would be equally uncomfortable and it might mean coming face to face with a bear and being mauled on the way.  Better to stay put.  Could I possibly be any more uncomfortable and scared?  Not to mention the fact that I had failed to set out the pan with rocks in it to shake and scare off wild animals that came close. (Remembering how futile that plan was the last time I tried it.)  Another sleepless, fear-filled night of camping was upon me and yet somehow I made it until morning with my legs still intact.

Yes, once more a camping trip, (originally so full of hope and promise,) had gone horribly wrong.  Obviously the bears never got me, but the memory of the terror that struck my heart is still with me to this day.  Amazingly, I still love camping out... I just avoid places with bears, mountain lions or snakes.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Dazed and Confused: A Magpie Tale

The fall left her dazed and confused. 

She tried to remember where she was and how she got there.  She thought it had something to do with gold.  But all she could see as she looked up was the rusted pipe protruding from the cellar wall. 

Her legs wouldn't move and her arms ached.  The years of cringing with suspicion had left her stiff and sore. 

The last thing she could remember was counting coins.  Shimmering gold coins that represented her life savings.  Coins that were kept safe in the cellar, away from the banks she mistrusted.   Must put them back in the cellar.  Away from prying eyes. 

Again she tried to rise.  To reach the pipe in the wall to pull herself up.  No use. 

Her family had told her she was being silly, that banks were safe.  But she had lived through the Depression.  She knew what she was talking about.  They were the ones being silly.

As she gazed at the pipe, she began to see herself in it, the rust and oxidation mirroring her own corrosion.  The corrosion that no one would see again because it was tucked away in the cellar.  Tucked away with the gold coins, now scattered about the floor.   Tucked away, safe and secure... where no one would find them.

* * * * * * * * *

Willow over at Life at Willow Manor  has been providing inspiration for bloggers with her photo prompts on a site called Magpie Tales.  Be sure to check out the other fabulous writers participating in Magpie Tales this week.  You'll be glad you did!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Secret Garden: A Magpie Tale

Summers long ago were a time of wonder.  Each morning we would go outside, waving good-bye to our mother and opening the gate to run with glee down to the lower back yard.  To anyone else, it looked like a run down bit of pasture, but to us it was where our world would transform into a land of fairy tale and adventure.  It was our own secret garden.  Magical things could happen there.

The tools of fantasy were simple... old scarves for the capes of kings and queens, a stick for a hero's sword, a basket to hold the mud pies to take to grandmother's house, an old watering can to nourish the magic beans we found in our garden.

Weeping willow branches hid us from the outside world and the creek became an ocean to be navigated, the little rise of sand a desert island.  Old, crumbling outbuildings became castles or dungeons.

Years later, I returned to this secret garden to share it with my son and was amazed by how small it was.  No longer the vast, wondrous world of my childhood but the run down bit of pasture it had always been to those without our imagination.  Yet, I can still picture the magic that happened there.  All I have to do is close my eyes and dream.

* * * * * * * * *

Willow over at Life at Willow Manor  has been providing inspiration for bloggers with her photo prompts on a site called Magpie Tales.  Be sure to check out the other fabulous writers participating in Magpie Tales this week.  You'll be glad you did!
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