Posts Tagged With: camping


A Beast In the Night

I may be slightly guilty of complaining about my neighbors on Facebook. In most respects they are nice, normal people with young kids, relatives, friends, a dog and a trampoline. I wonder, though, if they celebrate more than the average family. And I also wonder, often, how to disable the bass speaker from their stereo system in a quiet, legal way.

This past weekend I found myself actually wishing for the simple annoyance of that bass thump thump thump vibrating through my bedroom wall at any hour of the day or night. What could possibly make me wish for such a thing?

Wilderness camping.

Yes, you heard me right.

Wilderness camping.


Aw… peace, quiet, beauty and serenity

When I think Wilderness I imagine large open meadows filled with wildflowers, pines intermingled with quaking aspens, blue skies, birds twittering, chipmunks chattering, and the smell of a campfire, with a soft breeze rustling the leaves. Maybe it would even include a brief afternoon downpour, which makes the air even fresher and more wilderness-like.


Our little outing included all that in glorious abundance. Exactly what a person seeks when they go out into the wild. At least, that is what THIS person seeks when going to a wilderness area. Don’t you?

Apparently other people, people I do not comprehend, think wilderness is for unmuffled engine noises and dust and the smell of gasoline and exhaust.


MAD MAX vehicles 2

The Beast’s Minions, no doubt.

Not long after setting up camp, in the WILDERNESS, we realized we were way too close to a dirt road that apparently compares to Times Square in mountain terms. Holy smokes! Every motorcycle, ATV, four-wheeler, jeep, and zoomy loud obnoxious vehicle ever invented drove up and down that road.


We took comfort in the thought, the absolute certainty really, that once the sun set the traffic would abate.

But alas, we found that assumption to be completely and totally incorrect. In fact, some of the wheeled monstrosities seemed to amp up the volume after dark.

Somewhere around 10:30 p.m. someone unleashed some Mad Max movie vehicle from the depths of Hades. I told MSH, “I think the apocalypse is happening. Isn’t that what the end of the world sounds like?”

mad max 4

This “War Rig” is actually from the movie Mad Max, but could easily be what I heard and felt.

I pictured amplifiers attached to where a muffler would be, flames shooting out the top and back, and a doomsday soundtrack that normally plays in a sci-fi movie when an entire planet is about to be destroyed. The driver most certainly looked like one-eyed Dennis Hopper from Water World. And I’m certain the beast was a half-track, or some tank or a war machine. This thing made our tent rattle and vibrate and I swear the ground shook. The fact that lightning and thunder were intermittently happening only added to the creep factor. Unlike the other vehicles that blasted through after dark, this one could be heard two to three miles away, coming and going.


Unnerving. Definitely not sleep inducing.

So MSH and I decided to read a bit and talk over what we were reading. A few more, by comparison, fairly quiet ATVs blasted through, surprisingly. Near midnight we turned out the lights and assumed we’d sleep through the night.

No flames shooting, since it’s daytime, but definitely similar to what I felt and heard.

mad max 7

No flames shooting in the daylight,  but definitely similar to what I felt and heard.

Until 1:45 a.m. when The Beast Built From War Machines of Horror Movies returned, driving slower and if possible, louder. The mountains echoed with the roar of this monstrosity, I swear house sized boulders voluntarily rolled down mountains and trees fell of their own accord at the sound of this thing.


What little bit of sleep I did manage was nudged awake by birds and chipmunks at the first hint of dawn.

scary vehicles 1

A cousin of The Beast, no doubt. Not so scary in the daylight.

The ATVs didn’t wake up until five hours later, a very welcome respite.


If wilderness is so loud and ridiculous, how do I escape the noise and chaos of mankind and their machines? I guess I need to try backpacking miles and miles away from any roads. Or try setting up camp next to a very loud river. Or both.

I suppose I’d better get my backpacking body back in shape.

mad max 3In the meantime, I guess I could be more tolerant of my neighbor’s late night stereo blasting. At least it’s not some vehicle from Mad Max showing up at my doorstep, right?

Have you ever noticed that so much about life and the troubles we go through is all about perspective?




Disclaimer #1: When I was a young’un, dad and his pals and their families, all headed up into the mountains from time to time specifically to ride motorcycles all over the place. We were oblivious to the thought that maybe our noise and dust weren’t as delightful to others as they were to us. But once it was getting dark, those machines got parked for the night. No one would mistake our little engines for some beast from the underworld, that’s for dang sure.

Disclaimer #2: More logical people than I have suggested having a chat with the neighbors about turning down the music a bit after midnight. But, I’ve found it’s more fun to whine on Facebook about it than to resolve the situation.







Categories: Humor, Nature, Outdoors, Traffic | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Friday Letter to My Kids: That Was Real In Tents

March 25, 2016

Dear J, J, L and L,

Sorry for the bad pun in the title. I couldn’t help myself. But this letter happens to discuss tents. One tent in particular.


Very handy

Your father and I recently went camping. Yes, camping in March in Arizona. We got up in to the pines but not into any patches of snow. We’ve done that with L and L as I recall. That was the “Little Muddy Foot” and “Queen of the Flame” with snow patches around us trip. That was cold. Oh, and once with Aunt Ny, up American Fork Canyon in April. Brrrr.

I digress.

So, as I was saying,  your dad and I went camping. Instead of the two-man tent, which is pretty snug and requires crawling around and barely allows kneeling upright, we chose to bring the good ol’ six man tent. You remember that one, a big yellow and white dome with a gray rain fly. Yup, that tent. It’s big enough for standing up to get dressed and maneuvering around in. It’s a spacious and comfortable temporary abode for two people.

For six people, it’s a snug fit. Oh, but the warmth generated inside there is awesome on a cold camping night. We’ve had a few of those in that tent.


Ponderosa Pines and sunshine!

If I put my brain to it I’m sure I could almost come close to remembering all the times we’ve put up that tent and slept in it. We’ve slid the poles through the sleeves on that tent in a bunch of states. Washington, California, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, (oddly, never Colorado) Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennesee, and North Carolina. Let me know if you think I missed any.

I remember a Thanksgiving in North Carolina with raccoons visiting during the night. And two days of rain camping also in North Carolina a little too near a stream that rose a few feet. There’s the New Mexico fiasco as part of the camping our way across the country. Pitched our tent across the lake from a nuclear power plant in Arkansas, where I was sure I was gonna die but somehow didn’t. We’ll never forget rain camping with a grand mud fight in Oklahoma.

We’ve had some grand adventures in that tent. We’ve also experienced angst and anger, aggravation and sheer boredom in that tent. If that tent could talk, imagine the tales it would tell. We’ve owned that creative piece of engineering genius made from fabric since October 1989. That makes it 27 years old. That’s quite a long life for a tent.

How can I be so sure of the year and month? Your Dad called me from Oakland, California where he was working in a skyscraper on October 17, 1989 to tell me he was in an earthquake. We decided in the days following that disaster that we needed to be more prepared for whatever the world and life threw our way. Owning a tent and some camping equipment would make us a bit more self-reliant if we ever found ourselves evacuated or homeless for whatever odd reasons life comes at us with.

One of the best investments we ever made was that tent and those sleeping bags. I hope you agree.

IMG_5981A few years back the rainfly became a congealed mass of guck. I think it spent a month too long in the back of the truck on an extended road trip and the heat did a number on its chemistry. The manufacturer no longer made that tent or rainfly (imagine that after 27 years) so we didn’t haven a replacement.

On this most recent camping trip we jury-rigged a rainfly out of a blue tarp. We did that not for any rain in the forecast, but to keep the heat from escaping out the mesh panels at the top of the tent. It looked a little amateurish, but it served its purpose.

Breakage kind of defined this camping jaunt. Luckily no bones were broken. But one of our cots broke, which was inconvenient but not unbearable. And one of the camp chairs collapsed while your dad was sitting in it. That was inconvenient. (I knew we should have thrown in an extra one.) And then after nightfall a zipper broke on one of the tent doors. As a quick and dirty fix we simply duct taped it shut. (Red Green would be proud.) But by morning the wind had kicked up and the duct tape didn’t hold things together in all that swaying. I woke up to a cold breeze blowing through the tent.


My sewing job included a needle poke and blood.

We debated what to do about that, since we wanted to stay another night. I dug through my backpacking pack and found a sewing kit and guess what? I sewed that broken zipper opening shut! Was that clever or what? I was pleased with myself. Luckily that tent has two doors, so we simply used the other one.

Between the rainfly and the tent door we got the hint that it’s time to retire the old reliable family tent. I knew you’d be broken hearted to hear this. Or at least semi-interested. So I thought I’d let you know about it before we give it a fitting farewell. It almost feels like we ought to be respectful and burn it, but I don’t know if I could watch that happen. Saying goodbye is a tough thing.

Of course, we need to buy a replacement tent before we do that. I’d like a four-man tent that you can still stand up in, at least in the middle of it. I think we’re past the backpacking stage, but you know your dad will want to camp in all four seasons, so it’ll need to be a rugged piece of equipment.

FullSizeRender-3 copy 4

These Flutterbys were everywhere!

I have so many happy memories that revolve around that tent. We had some great times camping, didn’t we? I’d love to hear about some of your favorites sometime. To me, they were all epic and made us the family that we are.

Even though three of you are out of state this Easter, and I’ll miss coloring eggs and putting olives on our fingers during Easter dinner, I’ve been feeling a strong connection to you this week, thanks to that old yellow tent.

Thank you for always being willing to go along on those outings, and for being part of the joy of the outdoors that’s such an integral part of who I am. Here’s hoping that a love of nature and camping has woven itself affectionately around your genes as well.

Love you each beyond expression,



“My tent doesn’t look like much but, as an estate agent might say, “It is air-conditioned and has exceptional location.” ~ Fennel Hudson


Categories: Friday Letter to My Kids, Friday Letters, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Full Circle Moments

It’s Gratituesday! Today I remembered a bunch of different camping experiences. Places with names like Tony Grove, Emigration Canyon, North Fork, Minnetonka. These places, and dozens of others shaped who I became.

A stand of Quaking Aspen trees. My favorites.

A stand of Quaking Aspen trees. My favorites.

Activities included wandering among the pines and quaking aspens, skipping rocks, hiking trails, burning marshmallows and hotdogs and best of all, poking sticks into the campfire while singing songs and hearing stories. Nothing felt better or more freeing to me than hanging out among the peaks and valleys of the mountain west.

Similar experiences, I hope, shaped my own children’s lives when we went camping. Some of my favorite mom moments involve trickling streams, rock climbing, rappelling, rainy camps and lots of mud and dirt. We camped from the Cascades in the Northwest, in the rolling hills of North Carolina, and in the flatlands of Oklahoma and even in Arizona’s mountains.

One tiny example: I still laugh when I remember one trip where my two youngest gave each other titles, Queen of the Flame and Little Muddy Foot. You can imagine what that must have entailed. I believe a pile of unmelted spring snow sat about ten feet from the tent on that trip. Good times!

Trees and sky on a slope in the mountains.

Trees and sky on a slope in the mountains.

Today I saw photos that let me know that love of things outdoors has translated across generations. My youngest grand “hiked” on her daddy’s back with her mom beside her (my oldest daughter) to a stunning peak of over 11,000 feet! Their smiles said it all! Pride, joy, freedom, peace, accomplishment, solitude and togetherness, all packed in to one amazing experience.

Part of me felt transported to that mountain top (where I’ve never actually been) and to the woods of Oklahoma and the peaks of the Northwest and back even further to countless childhood camping trips.

Is there anything more joyful than seeing those we love embrace the same things we love? I think not.

I have a lifetime of gratitude filling my heart today. Thanks Dad and Mom for planting and nurturing the love of outdoors deep within me. Thanks MSH for wholeheartedly supporting my little obsession way back when. Thanks to my kids for being good sports and going along with us, (not that you had much choice, I suppose.) And thank you for passing along that fun to your own current and future families.

I wonder sometimes if heaven will have mountains and lakes, tents and campfires. I sure hope so!

Best. Lake. Ever.

Best. Lake. Ever.

Categories: Gratitude, Gratituesday | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Climbing, Shredding and Burning

Friday Letter to my Kids

Dear J, J, L and L,

I’ve been “on vacation” for the past two weeks. As you know from personal experience that means, (ninety-five percent chance) staying with relatives. That’s not a bad thing; it simply means that most of our vacations involve family, not visiting Europe or going on a cruise or hitting the slopes or the beach.

We did do some of that. We had some good times on the slopes for a few years. In fact big J practically emerged from the womb skiing, and little J took to skiing like a seed to dirt. I still get this ache in my stomach about J breaking his collarbone on the first day of a four-day ski trip. No more snowboarding that season. The pain of the break, I’m guessing, felt like nothing compared to the pain of watching everyone else racing down the mountain while you had to lounge around at the lodge every day.

Ouch! I hope you’ve made up in quality what you missed in quantity on that trip.

Given that you put yourself to sleep at night by boarding down a specific run makes me feel pretty good about all the days you managed to get in on the mountain after that.

We never made it to the ocean with all of us together. L and L enjoyed that singular experience. Spring break, we found out the hard way, isn’t really the ideal time to hang out in the Pacific. Chilly, fierce waves, a strong undertow, but plenty of space on the beach. We managed to get a sunburn, sand stuck in every imaginable and unimaginable spot including the sleeping bags. One of my other favorite photos ever? The sun setting orange over the ocean in a thirty mile an hour breeze, and L and L silhouetted just so. Good times, good times.

More than a few of our camping trips involved rain, a couple of them fairly significant amounts. North Carolina rains pale only in comparison to Oklahoma rains. Either way, we ended up soaked, clothes hanging everywhere inside the tent, muddy boots, big smiles, flooded lakes or streams. Good thing we cooked over a backpacking stove or we’d have eaten cold food all those times. I loved big L’s computer drawing, back in the dark ages of computer graphics, of one of our camping in the rain events. Wish we could find that. It’d make a great children’s book. Especially the mud monster part.

Let’s not forget, L and L, Queen of the Flame and Little Muddy Foot. Those two young girls will forever be tender spots in my heart of camping hearts.

Rock climbing and rappelling figure prominently in our getaways. Little did I know what I set in motion when I took that wilderness adventure course. I look back now and shake my head in amazement that I looked on as your Dad roped you in and let you climb at Index or scrambled all over Spire Rock or swing suspended from whatever boulder, cliff or mountain happened to be handy. Dad still refers to little J as “our Arachnid” for your epic climbing abilities.

Yes, most of our vacations involved camping in a tent, which isn’t bad at all.

You also got plenty of experience with airline travel, surprisingly, which has come in handy tons of times, and has become old hat for others. Little J had the chutzpah to backpack Europe once and visit Paris another time. Big J now travels regularly for work, getting around airports and big cities as if they’re simply different runs at a ski resort.

Many of our vacations involved road trips as well. But that, oh my, that is another story or ten for another day and another letter.

Wish we’d taken you to Yellowstone. And I’m sorry, but I never could make myself feel comfortable with taking you to Grand Canyon, even though it’s been less than half a day’s drive for the past eighteen years. My heart couldn’t bear the thought of you anywhere near the edge of an impossible precipice. And Disneyland remains elusive as a family getaway, even though most of you have managed to get there on your own.

I’d like to think we’ll somehow manage one last ginormous family vacation with all the spouses and *babygrands. Maybe that’s why family reunions happen; attempts at reliving or making up for the past.

I’m pretty sure we made good use of our weekends, summers and holidays. I hope you feel the same. Those rank as some of my favorite memories together.

Would surely love some more evenings by a campfire with ya’ll again sometime.

All my love,



*babygrands = grandbabies or grandchildren

photo-23 copy 5



“…there ain’t no journey what don’t change you some.”

~ David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas




Categories: Friday Letters, Fun, Memory Lane, Outdoors, parenting | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Flying Fire

While camping with my young family in North Carolina I experienced something truly splendiferous for the first time.

English: Campfire with sparks in Anttoora, Fin...

Campfire with sparks. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A campfire worked itself into a steady quiet burn. Smoke spiraled lazily from its center. The day settled out in a tired wash of well-worked muscles. Each kid, except for the three-year old who was asleep in the tent, had a stirring stick inside the fire. Not that the fire needed stirring, but kids seem compelled to play with fire, literally and proverbially. They’d ignite the end and then, sparkler-like, draw designs in the air until the flame died out. Then they’d spin smoke signals, tendrils of nothingness joining in the spiral from the center of the main fire. This game could go on for nearly an hour until we called bedtime. Until then, we let them play.

My eyes followed the line of smoke upward as it wove itself among the dense canopy of leaves. No breeze of any kind disturbed the disappearing trail of grey. The trees stood completely still and quiet. The coolness of the air began to settle in around our feet. I leaned back on the large log I sat on, hugged my arms to warm up a bit and looked up to see the stars. Nothing surpasses starlight’s intensity when out camping somewhere far from city lights.

The overhead leaves and branches obstructed the view of the night sky, except for a patch here or there. My eyes searched to find familiar constellations, but the sections of sky I could see were too small. Then movement caught my attention. The leaves weren’t moving and yet they seemed to move. I asked my husband if he’d heard of a meteor shower happening. That caught his attention. He sat down beside me and looked up.

I pointed to the patch of sky I’d seen moving. “There,” I said, and “there, and there.” A meteor shower for sure, but without the streaks of light. These stars resembled embers in a fire, a quick flash of light that would disappear then quickly reappear as another flash nearby.

“That is not a meteor shower,” my husband said definitively. “Those are fireflies!” He laughed. “Come here, kids,  you gotta see this!”

common eastern (USA) firefly. Français : Photi...

Don’t let his looks fool you, this little guy can light things up and get a party going.

What? No. That’s not what fireflies look like, I thought to myself. Those lights are in the distance, high up in the atmosphere. And yet, I looked again, maybe he’s right.

The excitement and shift in his voice elicited instant obedience. The stirring sticks dropped to the ground and they rushed over to where my husband sat. He pointed skyward.

“Do you see those lights in the trees?” he asked the kids. “Watch. See those flashing, moving lights? Those are fireflies.”

“Cool!” The two of them said in tandem. “Can we catch them?”

“Don’t be silly,” I said, “they’re way past the tops of the trees.” But as I said this, the lights drew closer to us. Sure enough, the small group of lights flitted about lower and lower in the branches and then began to spread out and disperse. They didn’t fly close enough for us to see any details,  we simply admired their on again off again glow.

The kids ran and jumped and spun around under the disappearing blinking bugs. The air around us felt magical somehow, as if the sky itself had reached down and christened our camping spot with traveling starlight. Tinkerbell herself couldn’t have cast a better spell.

I’m pretty sure we floated off to sleep on a cloud of wonder and awe.

The cleverest of magicians and the finest of artists, Gaia, the ancient Greek goddess of earth,  surely weaves her incantations and her brushes with panache and skill. Better than stargazing and better than a meteor shower my first experience with fireflies put a smile on my face that lasted several days.

Thinking about it even this many years later makes me want to believe in magic.

Categories: Fun, Nature, Outdoors | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Hills Are Alive

It’s Gratituesday! I’m thankful for sweet surprises out in the natural world this past week.

Two mornings in a row I encountered an elk herd grazing near my campsite. Majestic, serene, bigger than life, these animals seem unruffled by humans and all their noise. They tolerate our presence. They look on in what I imagine is amusement at all our accoutrements and fluff and necessary survival gear. Meanwhile they wander the forest finding what they need, surrounded by family.

The Douglas Squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii) ...

Myriad numbers of squirrels crossed my path. Big fat ones, the size of cats! I’m afraid they might be getting too many munchies from the human side of the food chain, i.e., green apple flavored hard candy, (lick, lick, lick, lick, lick…) tootsie rolls, “cheese” covered corn chips, hot dogs, marshmallows, chocolate, taffy. Can you just picture their little food storage dens loaded with acorns, random candy and assorted junk food? They probably get through the winter on their body fat alone. Cute little critters though. I credit them with keeping the forest clean, the little foragers seem to love it all.

I also witnessed a variety of lizards, large and small, striped and plain, tailed and tail-less.

Butterflies visited a damp spot nearby every morning. I’m not talking your average run-of-the-mill monarch, although they are stunning. No, there were nickel-sized periwinkle blue fluttering songlets, yes, songlets. Their wings beat in a rhythm I couldn’t match and they flitted about like notes on a page, tones on a scale. Breathtaking. And the yellow butterflies were flower-petaled in their grace and color, elegant fliers with direction and purpose and no hurry to them at all. One morning a wasp or hornet of a variety I’d never seen before stopped by the butterfly watering spot. The stinger on that yellow and black sleek body was three inches long or more. Maybe it wasn’t a stinger, maybe it was a feeler, an antennae. I didn’t stick around to find out. Looked fierce enough to give it a wide path.

Pointleaf Manzanita blooming in the Mazatzal W...

Did I mention the wildflowers? I need to learn their names. A snapdragon-like cluster of three-foot stems with pale blue curling petals lined our hiking path several times. And always there were ground-hugging miniature purple throw rugs of flowers. Bright yellow mini-daisies jumped out in surprising places. Even the Manzanita trees had blossoms on them, highlighting the deep brownish red of their bark. Fresh needles, soft to the touch and new-green, tipped the branches of every pine tree. There’s no air-freshener in the world that matches that scent!

Luckily nature didn’t provide too many snakes, bugs, spiders or stinging or poisonous plants. I got lucky that way. Sure there were a couple of blisters, a cold night or two, some scorching days, but all the beauties that nature provides makes time out in the mountains a cornucopia of things to be thankful for.

If it’s been a while since you’ve experienced the joys of the mountains, maybe you can enjoy Julie Andrews singing about that particular joy. If you listen closely at the beginning you can hear birds in the background. Nice touch.

Categories: Gratitude, Gratituesday, Nature, Outdoors | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Michael Row the Boat Ashore to Where Your Ears Hang Low

It’s Gratituesday! Campfire songs fill my head this time of year. I grew up in the era just before “Kumbaya” hit the sarcasm wave. I’m certain I never knew what it meant, but it sounded nice with a fire glowing on everyone’s faces and a few people throwing in harmony. Same with the “Michael Row the Boat” song.



Campfire (Photo credit: JelleS)


When I was half-pint, then there was this young woman and her dog that wandered into campsite. We were there with a bunch of other families, so we were a pretty rowdy and varied group. This lady managed to make a pretty big impression on every one of our from what I could tell. Maybe it was her story, but I think it was her music.


Hiking and hitchhiking across the country, with her guitar strapped to her back, she’d join whatever group looked interesting and offered hospitality and a meal. She played sang a lyrical song and her dog looked properly mournful, then she played and sang some upbeat stuff and her dog’s ear perked up. I decided that very night I was going to hitchhike across the country with my dog and guitar and bring joy and music to people’s lives. Fortunately for my mother’s sanity I lost that dream somewhere along the road.


But the singing outdoors around a campfire, that never left me. It’s firmly wedged into a permanent spot next to my heart.


My cousins sing this really hilarious version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” I haven’t mastered this one yet. Gotta work on it at this year’s reunion.


A bunch of years ago I learned a camping song about “MILK!” of all things. Fell in love all over again with the singing thing. During part of the chorus you do some cow milking action while you sing, “Moo, moo, moo, moo.” It’s really fun, funny. Cute. Really, it is. Sorry, I guess you have to be there.


English: Campfire at fire ring, Canoe Island


That’s the thing. It doesn’t work unless you are there. Glow of the fire, smoke following beauty, a stick stirring the coals, marshmallows browning, a couple of good jokes, maybe even a scary story or two. Then the singing. Ah yes. Life is good then.


Campfire’s happen less and less often. Not for lack of camping, well, maybe, MSH would say we don’t camp often enough. Ninety percent of the time high fire danger restricts the building of campfires. Singing is less likely to happen without that glow to ward off critters and mosquitoes and, of course, to set the mood for a great tune or two.


The memories are almost enough though. There’s surely a bunch of ’em.


So what’s your favorite campfire song?


Categories: Gratitude, Gratituesday, Music, Outdoors | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Answering the Call of the Wild As Best I Can

Nature calls. No, not the way you’re thinking.

Let me rephrase.

I’ve heard the call of the great outdoors, the mountains, ponderosa pines and dirt trails for a couple of months now. It’s been a long while since I’ve been out among the wild things.

I’m anticipating some nature time here soon. Just thinking about it relaxes the muscles in my back and brings a smile to my face. Ahhhh….

English: Young female cones on Ponderosa Pine ...

Did you know the bark on a Ponderosa pine tree has a vanilla scent to it? You have to get up close and personal to really pick it up, but it’s there. And the needles and pine pitch? Mmmmmm, there’s a smell to enliven the soul and rejuvenate the senses.

Getting away from the light pollution of the city, up into the mountains, allows a view of the night sky that’s always there, but not always visible. A spectacle of magic and mystery, uncountable stars emblazon the night sky like so many scattered gems on a black velvet cloth. That alone gives pause for some seriously deep contemplation and introspection.

Hiking slows the pace of the world down to manageable proportions. There’s time for savoring details like a scattering of quarter-inch flowers, or the sound of a small stream making its way downhill, or the varieties of green.

Birds accompany every activity up there, especially morning goings on. Mornings and birds are inseparable and a perfect combination, like hot chocolate and whipped cream. Every pip, cheep, chitter, whistle, peep, and song adds to the delights of the day.

Cooler air. Ah, yes. Getting off the desert floor up into higher country provides a welcome and much-needed respite from the flirting with 100’s temps we’ve had here. Just the mere sound of wind making its way through the pine boughs brings relief. When the actual breeze brushes past carrying snatches of songs from all the trees I feel renewed, baptised and reborn.

I think I sound lovestruck. Infatuated. Irrational.

Probably true.

Toronto racoon at night. Toronto, Canada is no...

The reality is:

  • I don’t sleep well while camping. I’m jittery and nervous of the great outdoor’s night noises.
  • At the first hint of daylight I’m outta the tent and building a huge fire and heating a pot of water.
  • Some of the other campers will be noisy, annoying, silly and clueless.
  • There’s probably some fire restrictions if not an outright ban.
  • Mosquitos and I don’t get along well and will be battling it out every evening.
  • After a few days of bliss I’ll be happy to return to the valley of heat, dust, flush toilets and long hot showers, pillows, beds and internet connections.
  • I’ll wax nostalgic about the mountains and nature until the next time I get to escape.

English: Old growth Ponderosa pines in Lost Fo...

The other reality is:

  • I’ll love it while I’m there, itchy bites, dirty hair, sleepless nights and all.
  • The hills are alive with the sound of music and bugs and crazed campers and beauty.
  • There’s no separating the good from the bad.

So while I’m packing up the flashlight, camp chair, bug repellant and sleeping bag, I’ll also bring along a pen and notebook, a camera, my hiking boots and my decent attitude.

I’ll leave my iPod and earbuds at home though. I don’t want to miss nature’s playlist.

Categories: Nature, Outdoors | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Guest Post: Can You Say Stranded with a Country-Western Drawl? (#2)

Song lyrics often have unusual roots.  One of my daughter’s penciled the lyrics to a song once, while we were stranded, after another one of our infamous car breakdowns. She even put the lyrics to music, which our family and a few of our friends have been privileged to hear over and over again. Unfortunately,  it’s never been recorded.  You’ll have to imagine your own tune to go with the delightful word stylings of this charming child.

As her perspective is unique, quirky and more entertaining than mine., I naturally, I asked my daughter to guest post this particular tale of being stranded. She’s available for interviews, guest appearances and autographs every other Thursday.

Please enjoy Leanne LeCheminant’s version of Another Stranded Tale of Insanity, Silliness, and Misery:

“If you are a devoted reader of Kami’s blog (or MeeMa, as I affectionately call her), then you are well acquainted with the fact that my family has no shortage of car trips.  We also have had more than our share of crappy cars.

Crappy cars + lots of car trips = lots of crappy car trip stories.

Blessedly, most unfortunately, since I have been married, I haven’t been able to participate in nearly as many memorable family car trips, which may explain why all of my car trip memories are kind of blurred together; it’s been so long.  Or maybe it’s because most of them occurred along the same route between Arizona and Utah.  Or maybe it’s because there’s just been so many of them, and they’ve all been so endless, insane, and 97% of the time they involve being stranded.

English: view of the Monument Valley, Between ...

View of the Monument Valley, Between Arizona and Utah. We don’t really drive through here ever, but some parts of our trip look similar to this dry, arid landscape. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(It’s funny: when discussing car trips with my family, one of us will inevitably ask, “Wait, was that the trip where we were stranded in (insert remote location in the vast desert of northern AZ/southern UT) or (insert other remote location in the vast desert of northern AZ/southern UT)?”)

There is one trip in particular however, that will be forever seared in my brain, maybe because we actually WEREN’T making the exodus between Arizona and Utah.  No, this car trip was much more local.  It was a camping trip just outside Payson, Arizona.  From our humble abode in the suburban east valley of Arizona, Payson is only about two hours away, a breeze compared to the 11 to 15 hour journey to Utah.

I was probably around ten or twelve, and  I’m pretty sure it was the middle of summer.  My dad, being the wilderness man that he is and always-eager to escape the 115 frillion degree heat of an Arizona summer, announced that he was going camping, and whoever wanted to come was welcome.  My mom of course joined in, craving the familiar smell of pine and fresh mountain air, as well as myself and my younger sister.

After loading our older white Mazda Van with gear, we piled in and headed out.  We blasted the air conditioner and slowly cooled down as we left the greater Phoenix area.  After about a half hour though, Dad switched off the AC.

Yet again the Land Rover overheats in the desert

A familiar scene on our road trips. (Photo credit: Steve & Jemma Copley)

“Hey, why’d you turn it off?” I complained.

“The car’s starting to overheat.  We’re going to give it a break.”

I groaned.  I knew (still know) approximately 0.4% about cars, but I had had plenty of experience with the word “overheat.”  I said a silent prayer that our trusty Van would carry us through.

My prayer must have bounced off the drooping fabric ceiling though, because one very miserable and  sweaty hour later, we had to stop at a gas station in Payson.  The car was smoking, the engine was completely overheated, and there was no way we’d be able to trek up the ever-steepening inclined roads to our desired remote camping location, probably another half hour to an hour away.  Conveniently, there was an auto shop right next to the gas station.

“Kami, why don’t you take the girls inside where it’s cool and get some drinks,” my dad said.  “I’ll take it next door to get it checked out.”

English: Texaco Petrol Station in Poá (São Pau...

NOT the actual Texaco we stopped at. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The three of us eagerly jumped out of the car and collectively sighed in relief as the wave of cool air washed over us as we walked in.  When the door opened it let out an electronic signal, sounding like a door bell: “Ding-dong.”

We got a couple of bottles of soda and sat down at a table in the snack area, cooling off and watching the heat undulate off the asphalt outside.

My sister and I, being as young as we were, quickly got bored.  The gas station was pretty busy, customers in and out, and the door kept ringing, “Ding dong” every time it opened.  Every time it would “ding-dong” I would respond by singing the corresponding part of a song from the movie, The Wizard of Oz: “The witch is dead!”  Now, the gas station was pretty busy, so the number of my responses of “The witch is dead!” piled up quick.  So did my younger sister’s annoyance.

“Arrrrrrgh, Leanne, shut UP!”

Of course this just egged me on, and I would laugh and then whisper it, but still loud enough for her to hear:


ME (whispering): The witch is dead! *giggle giggle*

LITTLE SISTER: Leanne, shut UP!

I think it was my Mom’s brilliant idea to distract me by suggesting I write a song about our adventure.  She pulled a paper napkin out of the dispenser, slapped it in front of me with a pencil and said, “I’m going to go see how the car’s doing.  You two stay here.”

My sister gave her a look as if to say, “Really, you’re going to leave me here with her?!?!?” but I just grinned.  My wheels were already turning.

The ONE AND ONLY ORIGINAL someday-worth-millions NAPKIN.

The ONE AND ONLY ORIGINAL someday-worth-millions NAPKIN.

Over the next hour or so, I penned my one and only undiscovered top-of-the-charts, platinum-award-winning country song, on a napkin, with a pencil, at a gas station:

STRANDED IN PAYSON (copyrighted 2001 ish)
Stranded in Payson in a Texaco, by the side of the road.
Five thirty on a Friday afternoon.
And every time a customer walks into the store
the door rings ding dong.
So I say:
Ding dong the witch is dead
ding dong the witch is dead
ding dong the car is dead toooooo
and I wish that I was dead
just like the witch and the car.
Yes, ding dong the witch is dead.
Ma ‘n Pa went to go check on the car,
but I’m pretty sure that it’s still dead.
My sis and I are so bored we’re playing with bottle caps
and a customer just walked in through the door.
So I sing:
Ding dong the witch is dead,
ding dong the witch is dead!
Ding dong the car is dead tooooo.
And I wish that I was dead
just like the witch and the car.
Yes, ding dong the witch is dead.
Cuz bein’ dead would be much better 
than bein’ stranded
in Payson
in a Texacoooooooo-oh-woah-woah
ding dong the witch is dead!
Ding dong the car is dead toooooo!
And I wish that I was dead,
just like the witch and the car.
Yes, ding dong the witch is dead.
Stranded in Payson in a Texaco
by the siiiiiiiiide of
the roooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooad.

[Definitely an award winning song, don’t ya’ think?]

After a couple of hours at the car shop, our little Van was ready and rarin’ to go.

Looking up at the Mogollon Rim east of Payson ...

Looking up at the Mogollon Rim east of Payson Arizona (Photo credit: Al_HikesAZ)

Napkin in hand, song completed, my future stardom in country music ensured, we hopped in. I bid a fond farewell to my beloved Texaco, and miraculously, we even made it to a camping spot before it got dark.

Camping was relaxing and enjoyable, and we got home okay, as I recall, so of course we all said, “We’ll have to do this again sometime!”

(Oh and yes, I know I totally could have been the next Taylor Swift.  But I wisely decided to forego the celebrity lifestyle.  Just way too much riches and fame for me).”

Categories: Family, Humor, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

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