By DONNA HARVEY
I am a native Northwesterner and a camper. I love good coffee, I don’t mind rain, and I love fog as long as I don’t have to drive in it, and I like slugs. And I love the Northwest.
I think the Olympic Peninsula and the Oregon Coast are as close to heaven as one can get.
My dad planned our first camping trip. I was 4, Ronnie was 5, and Susan was 2. He took us to the shore of Hangman Creek. Dad made a fire, and we ate hot dogs and roasted marshmallows. Then we fished. We thought that we had gone on a great journey a long way from home, but, in fact, we were probably about a half mile from our house.
I caught a huge fish, which I wanted to keep and play with, but dad said if I planted it in the wheat field, that the next summer I could go back and the wheat would have grown much taller in that place. I remembered and checked and to find my dad was right—the wheat was extra tall where we had buried my fish.
In the 1980s I rediscovered camping. I camped all over the West, but mostly on the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River. My advisor told me that I was six credits away from a double major, and I thought that I could do those six credits easily at Big Hank Campground via correspondence course.
I settled in to my favorite camping spot. The only other camper was far away. I made my morning coffee and oatmeal and settled down to British History.
I did my six credits and got my double major.
I made friends with a squirrel who was packing away food to store for winter. I watched him and put out marshmallows. He took them. I was eating a sandwich, which, in my family, is considered a great delicacy—a baked bean sandwich. I had some left, so I put that out for the squirrel. He took it and then dropped it and gave me a startled look, scampered off, and never returned.
I guess he agrees with nearly everyone outside of my family—that baked beans are not good sandwich material.
One particularly hot summer day, we were camped on Tepee Creek. I needed a bath, so I told my husband to keep watch, and I would slip down to the creek and wash off—in the buff. I did so and took my time, but when I returned, I found him sound asleep. Thank heavens no one came down the creek.
Later I found out my cousin’s son and his scout troop were floating that creek on that day. I wondered what would have happened if that scout troop came floating by while I was in the creek. What does one do in this circumstance? Say hi? Hide underwater and risk being beaned by a canoe paddle?
Another time we were camped in early summer. The rain came down, and I had to visit the latrine. I decided it was silly to get dressed, that I would just go out in my long underwear. As no one was camped beside us, I figured all would be fine. But…a Fish and Game warden just happened by. He talked to my husband and talked and talked. Since my husband was a person of few words, I was amazed at the length of that conversation.
I was huddled behind a tree, freezing cold, getting rained on. I was none too happy when I returned to our van and asked what in the world would two strangers find to talk about for so long while I was freezing in the rain. I never got an answer.
One of the strangest camps I’ve set up was one we had in Georgia. For one thing, I saw fireflies for the first time in my life. I had no idea what they were. As Georgia can be hot, I really needed a shower, so I went to the ladies’ shower.
There was one stall, and it had problems. A huge worm or a small snake (I couldn’t tell which) was near the drain. A huge spider sat in the corner of the stall, and it was moving my way in a threatening manner—or so I thought.
I saw a hole in the wall, and someone was taking a shower next to me. It was on the mens’ side. I decided to risk a peek. So I looked.
Disappointment took over as I realized I was looking at my own husband. The worm/snake stayed put, the spider moved closer, but I took a lightning fast shower and escaped.
Camping in Okeefenokee was enlightening. I had to decide between a 120 degree van with the windows shut or a cooler night with clouds of mosquitos (I later got a van with screens). I camped and hiked in Georgia and Florida, and every time someone showed me poison ivy, they showed me a different plant. I never felt comfortable hiking in these areas.
Being from a particularly benign part of the Northwest, I haven’t had to worry about rattlesnakes or cotton mouth moccasins or any other kind of poisonous snakes. But leaving one’s tent in the dark without one’s glasses on the shores of the Missouri River in Montana, or in a campground in Arizona, can be life-threatening.
I once encountered a rattler and was lucky to have survived.
One of the most awe-inspiring experiences I have ever had was on the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River in the early 1980s.
I was alone. There were many ravens in those days. They would come right into your camp. But on this day, hundreds of ravens filled the trees of the camp, and they spoke a kind of a language, not like the usual yawk yawk you hear from ravens.
The sounds were more like a language. It was a kind of convention.
It went on for an hour or so. I have never heard anything like it again, but I will never forget it.
There was a particularly harsh winter later in that decade with many feet of snow lasting through the winter into the late spring. Campers saw carcasses of ravens and deer the next spring. There have never been so many ravens as there were in the early 80s on the upper North Fork since that bad winter.
Sometimes pets meet with accidents while camping, and so it was with the tiny dachshund puppy in the camp next to mine one summer day. His people were putting up their small tent, and the dog ran inside. Along came a huge gust of wind, which took the tent and the dachshund into the air and tumbled them over and over. The kids frantically ran after their tent and their dog. They rescued the dog, who seemed to be ok. I don’t know if that dog enjoyed camping, however.
I have had a good camping life. I have seen baby animals of all kinds, I have hiked a trail right behind a bear, I have made friends with deer. I have watched mink fish a few feet from me. I have seen an otter going about his business across the creek from me. I once spend a day feeding hot dogs to a colony of ants. When I stopped, the exhausted ants went back underground.
Only once, did I encounter something that I could not recognize.
While camping on the North Fork Coeur d’Alene, I heard an animal call that I will never forget. The animal was large, but it wasn’t a cougar, it wasn’t a bear, and it certainly wasn’t an elk. But whatever it was, it had a first-class set of lungs. Since I was one of the first campers into the campground that spring, perhaps it was an animal that hadn’t released that campground back to humans yet.
I’ll never know. But it’s a good thing to encounter something mysterious once in a while. Keeps life and camping interesting. MSN