Spring will soon be upon us and if you are like me, you probably can’t wait for those first warm days. Every year about this time, I have an urge to dust off the old camping gear and consider a trip to spend time with nature. Unfortunately, I can no longer convince anyone to go with me. After being forced to eschew hotels in favor of camping for several years due to budget constraints, my wife and children appear to have had enough. Part of the problem is that they refuse to dwell on the good times around the old campfire and would rather focus on the minor snafu’s like the time we managed to survive the thermonuclear combustion of a Coleman lantern.
The lighting instructions had seemed a little vague to me. I made it as far as, “light the match”. The next 3 to 4 minutes are forever lost to memory. I must admit though when I came to the whole campsite was indeed illuminated.
A camping trip my wife and I went on during our third year of marriage is particularly noteworthy. Our campground was in the gorgeous Shenandoah Skyline Park. Our destination was a campground on the highest point in Virginia.
After touring Monticello and stopping at a mom and pop store for meager supplies, we approached the campground late at night, a huge summer thunderstorm moving into the area. About every three seconds a lighting strike would light up the whole campground well enough for us to read the signs warning of bear activity in the area. “Don’t feed the bears,” read one. “Handle trash with care this is bear country” read another. By the time we pulled up to the ranger station the lightning had ended but rain was coming down in buckets. There was a handwritten note on the ranger station door telling campers to go in and set up on the honor system. We could pay tomorrow.
We had no problem finding an empty campsite. I got out of the car with the tent, while my wife gathered the food from the cooler in the back seat. I managed to get the tent up in spite of the elements and dashed back to the car to fetch my young bride. I held an umbrella over her as she clutched the sandwich fixins under her raincoat. We giggled at our silly old luck and kissed as we dashed merrily through the puddles. Our glee lasted about two minutes. As we got into the tent I turned on a small battery powered lamp. I also had my prized 3 cell aluminum flashlight.
Tracy began spreading mustard on bread when suddenly a claw scrapped down the side of the tent. Then we could clearly see the outline of a snout and ears as something pressed its face against the tent fabric. The impact from the snout knocked our little lamp over on its side. This caused the tent to go dark adding to our terror. Like Luke reaching for his light saber, I immediately reached out for my Mag Lite. Up till now my wife still sat in stunned silence, a slice of bread in one hand and a plastic butter knife in the other.
I knew I must spring into action to protect my bride and unborn child. The first order of business was to soothe my wife’s fears. With this in mind I said something like, “Oh my gosh honey you’d better get back, we are being attacked by a rouge bear!!” This did not result in the calming influence I had hoped for. In fact it did just the opposite. My wife moved with lightning speed to the exact geographic center of the tent where she proceeded to sob uncontrollably. Oddly she continued to cling to the bread and plastic knife. I could only conclude that she intended these as some sort of last line of defense. Perhaps she would decoy the brute with the bread while she smothered him in mayonnaise.
But there was no time to evaluate her strategy now. As I tried to decide what to do the vicious beast clawed the side of the tent again. The only weapon I had was the aluminum flashlight. I actually took a moment to think out loud. As if my wife and I had formed an impromptu strategic planning committee.
“Let’s see,” I said. “We are in Virginia so it must be a black bear.There wouldn’t be any grizzly bears this far east would there honey?”
All I got from Tracy at this point was louder crying only now mixed with screams.
“Well if it’s a black bear there is a chance it won’t kill us.”
It wasn’t that I was that calm mind you. I guess this little conversation was just my form of hysteria. I decided I had a chance to put up a fight and scare the bear off. As I came to this conclusion, the bear again stuck his head into the tent fabric. Now he was sniffing loudly at the sandwich stuff. I raised the flashlight and took an unsure half hearted swing at his massive skull. It dinged him but not that hard. I heard him grunt as he pulled his head away. A very long ten seconds went by. I hoped the bear had left. My wife, who now had her head between her knees and covered by her arms, began to pray. She was spewing a stream of words at the good Lord like an auctioneer at a cattle sale. But suddenly the outline of the bear’s head came back. This time the brute seemed to be pressing his ravenous jaws farther in toward the food and us.
I knew I had to quit pussyfooting around. I got up on my knees, held the flashlight high over my head and came down with all the force I could muster. TIIINNNGGGG!! The flashlight rang out! The bear grunted again only this time, louder. Seconds went by then minutes. Finally I came up with the courage to unzip the tent door. As I prepared to peak out, images of a massive paw slamming me in the back of the head filled my mind. Instead of sticking my head out I shined the flashlight out and held my eye up to the partially opened zipper. That is when I got the first blood chilling look at my nemesis. There, staggering away from our tent, was a big, fat,….raccoon. He stopped as he was about to enter the woods and looked back over his shoulder at me. It was as if he was saying, “Geez all I wanted was a lousy piece of bread.” With this he turned and staggered into the darkness.
I immediately found this funny. Tracy on the other hand, refused to even crack a smile at my witty comments regarding the entire incident. In fact it was some time before I could get her to stop hugging herself and rocking long enough to make my sandwich.
So as I clean up the camping gear this season, I don’t expect anyone in my family to volunteer to come along. If anyone out there would like to go with me, you can leave a comment at the end of this article.