Posts Tagged ‘camping’

A rapidly moving fire broke out in my old neighborhood several days ago. Many people I know either had to be evacuated, or were at the very least, in danger of having to leave their homes. Though everyone is doing okay, people in the next town over from them are surveying the damage, many returning home to find nothing remaining but ashes. I am feeling very grateful this morning to be down in the valley. A picture popped up on Facebook when the evacuations were in progress, taken by someone located about three miles from Dale’s trailer. Huge plumes of smoke were visible billowing up on the hillside. His trailer is still parked up on the lot he occupied before coming to stay my house. As of this writing, it is still standing, but it was a close call. His direct neighbor, though their house is still in place, can’t return home with their seven animals because all the power lines are down and there is no electricity. Though I’ve never experienced having to live in a war torn country, sometimes these fire ruled summers feel a bit like I might imagine it, though obviously to a far lesser degree.

Though the local fire appears to be under control, we woke up this morning to find the the air full of smoke in our neighborhood. This smoke has blown in from another blaze much farther north of us that is still very active. It used to be I loved the breeze, finding it peaceful to watch the movement of grass on the lawn, or to hear the leaves rustling in the trees. Now, it is a signal of danger, as the brush in California is bone dry, there is no water in our reservoirs, and there are not enough fire personnel to fight these mammoth blazes once they erupt. Again, PG&E’s dirty hands are involved in the fire bringing us the smoke. A tree fell against one of their lines. Everybody is busy poking fingers at everyone else. Each summer it gets a little worse, but what to do?

We are stuck inside so are making the best of it. A technician came this morning to fix our internet connection to our cable. Recently we had to replace a box and it threw everything else out of alignment. Literally, I spent hours climbing around in the snakes nest of cords behind our large flat screen trying to address the problem. One phone tech after another rebooted on their end, walked me through progressive steps on my end, and to no avail. I connected, disconnected, located yellow wires, and red. I should get paid the big bucks and do this for a living. I’m getting pretty good at it. This time, I just couldn’t figure it out. Finally, I threw in the towel and asked them to send somebody out. What a nice guy. I pay a fee every month for maintenance on their equipment. If I didn’t have that connected to my account, I would have had to pay $100 for the privilege of having a repairman on the premises. He performed his magic in about a half an hour and now the TV and internet are working perfectly. I took the time to text a great review when prompted on my phone. When somebody goes above and beyond I think it’s important to acknowledge them.

I’m not the greatest person to watch TV with. Since the day I was born, I seem to have an over abundance of energy. Have to say Covid took care of that situation for about a month leaving me listless and without juice, but my energy level has returned to optimum speed of late. When I sit and stare at a flat screen, I have to be doing something else with my hands. If I don’t occupy myself, it won’t be long before my head is thrown back against the pillow and I’m sucking in air. Just the way it is. My theory is that I burn at such high octane most of the day, when I actually slow down and relax, like my laptop, my body goes into sleep mode. Fortunately, I am able to “power nap” as I call it. When I was working full time I used to sneak in a quick nap during lunch time on occasion. Behind my desk, I kept a small camping mattress. After I’d eaten, I’d close the door to my office, and take a 15 minute siesta. Somehow, I am able to set my internal clock to the time I need, and my mind sends out a wake up call when the elapsed time has passed. Weird, but then a lot of things about me are a little off bubble.

Thinking about plopping down on the floor on an air mattress doesn’t sound that inviting anymore. I prefer my nice soft mattress, and some fluffy pillows. Camping, I believe, though never say never, is intertwined in my past stories, not my future. However, one never knows what new stories you are going to find when you turn the next page. I’m open to new adventures every day. My son and his brood just posted pictures of them parachuting. He asked if I’d be interested in jumping out of a plane next time they go. That would be a negatory. They would have to pry my white knuckled hands off the door handle and knock me out with a baseball bat first. I am planning on zip lining. It is quite near the top of my bucket list. Not as adventurous to some, I would imagine, but it works just nicely for me. Someone asked if I would be interested in zip lining over the Grand Canyon. Um, again, that would be negatory. I don’t have a death wish, but wouldn’t mind injecting a little excitement in my life. Also, I would like to go white water rafting again. My first time was amazing, and I would sign up enthusiastically to experience that rush again.

In my twenties, I went camping regularly. Young bones don’t mind sleeping on the ground as much as older bones do I’ve found. We would pitch a tent, throw a sleeping bag on the ground, and sleep peacefully 8-10 hours. Please. Now, I have the most comfortable mattress in the world, and if I’m lucky enough to log seven hours of sleep on it, I throw a party. One of my favorite places to camp, specifically boat camp, was Cottonwood Cove on the Colorado River. You couldn’t ask for a more perfect setting to be outdoors. Pictures of the area are imprinted in my mind as if I’d stepped on shore there only yesterday. In the morning we would cook over a Coleman stove. There really is nothing to quite equal the aroma of bacon cooking outdoors. The water, that time of day, unless the weather was less than perfect, was pristine. Skiing across it was effortless, with no push back on your feet like you experience in choppy water. It was like skiing over a sheet of glass. That was my favorite time of the day to go.

Usually we set up camp several miles down river from the marina. There wasn’t much out there but gorgeous scenery, scrub brush, and sparkling river water. Being resourceful, and with no facilities where we were, we constructed a makeshift toilet. The toilet was dubbed “Lou” appropriately. Lou was a lawn chair with the webbing on the seat removed. One of the men had cut out an oval in the center of a piece of wood and placed a toilet seat and lid in the hole. Both were attached to the seat of the chair. A small shovel hung from a chain next to one arm. You get the idea. They had even thought of adding a side pocket where a newspaper and puzzle were available for those who like to linger a while after a big meal. Each person dug a hole, did what they needed to do, covered same and moved Lou to a new location. Very efficient.

There were so many sights to see on the Colorado. While visiting I saw owls, mountain goats, wild donkeys, eagles soaring overhead, all manner of lizards and even a snake or two. Midday the heat moved in with intensity. We would either sit in the shade on the bank, or take our lawn chairs into the water and submerge ourselves up to our necks to cool off. Fish would come and nip at the air bubbles on our bathing suits through the webbing on our chairs, which at first was a rather odd sensation. The women never took any makeup. The only cosmetic needed was sunscreen. You definitely needed to lather up. Back then we didn’t have as much knowledge as we do now about the dangers of tanning. I have paid for my years gathering rays with having many pre-cancers removed as time has passed. Hindsight, as they say, is 20-20. Also, if you tended to burn rather than tan you needed to find a place in the shade, because even sunscreen couldn’t fully protect you from a bad sunburn when exposed out there.

One weekend we sank a boat while on the river. The beautiful ski boat, picked up brand new on a Friday night, was gathering moss at the bottom of the river two days later. Thankfully, those of us on board were all safe. There were three boats with us that ill fated weekend. The first day there, the weather was perfect. Waking up the second morning, however, the sky had turned grey. The wind picked up enough so that we had trouble keeping the tent stakes anchored. Deciding to wait it out until the following morning, when we woke up the sky looked positively menacing. Determining the best course of action was to break camp and head back to the marina. The first two boats headed up river before us, while we tore down the remaining campsite and loaded what gear was left behind. The wind had picked up to an alarming pitch and it was becoming difficult to hear one another in between gusts. My daughter, eight at the time, myself, my fiance, two friends and their young daughter, piled into the boat and pushed off. Once out on the water it felt more like being on a rough ocean, than a peaceful stretch of river. The boat rode up and over waves and pitched down the slope on the other side. Still moving forward, we appeared to be making some progress, when the engine swamped. This left us freely floating in the waves. Before long water began to enter the boat over the sides. Seeing things were headed for a bad end, I straddled the bow of the boat with one leg on either side to balance myself, and began waving a white towel I had found under the seat in the air. Amazingly, I wasn’t tossed into the churning water. By this time the people in back seat were submerged up to their underarms. It became obvious without assistance, we were all going to be in the water shortly. The prow of a boat, a cabin cruiser riding so much higher out of the water than our low profile ski boat, suddenly came into view in the distance. By the time they reached us, the people in back seat were fully in the water and the bow of the boat was halfway pointing to vertical. The boat pulled up next to us. I handed off my daughter and the other little girl and was suddenly pitched into the waves. I can remember bobbing up and down like an ear of corn in a boiling pot of water out there. With each resurface, I’d take in more water, and my limbs were starting to get tired. A guitar floated by, belonging to my friend’s husband also in the water. He had had to knock his wife out, as she couldn’t swim, because she panicked and was drowning them both. At one point it seemed I was moving away not toward the rescue boat. Coming up one more time, an oar was being held out in front of me. I grabbed onto it, and at last helpful arms sucked me up out of the water. In the end we were all saved but the boat, which went down like a bag of rocks. All I had with me was the bathing suit and shorts I had on. My purse, my ID, my credit cards, my mother’s engagement ring all went down with the ship, so to speak. When I think of that experience I can’t help but remember those angels on that boat. They were the only ones out there in our area in that storm, and they told me they wouldn’t have known we were there, except they had seen the white towel. Guess it wasn’t our time to go.

Don’t think I’m going to be seeing that kind of excitement today. An eerie red sheen is pouring across my table and the sun looks more like a blood moon. So, I will entertain myself doing things I like to do and close out the outside for now. Have a safe day.

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Photos by Susie Nelson

Photos by Susie Nelson

Memorial Day front and center, tents will be loaded on car racks or in pick up beds, Coleman stoves pulled out of the garage and campers heading for a weekend in the great outdoors. Been there myself many times. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly I spent a year on the road in my misspent youth, traveling the highways and bi-ways of the U.S. and Canada. Free spirits with two small children, my first husband and I camped out sans tent in our sleeping bags three days out of five so I feel I can speak with some knowledge to the joys of sleeping under the stars as well as the disadvantages.

I wouldn’t change much about that year. Communing with nature was glorious, and certainly an adventure. These days my bones would object heartily to piling up on the hard ground. Back then it was all about the experience and living life to the fullest, something I’ve tried to do along the way.

Camping as a vacation choice started in my teens. Yosemite was my first actual camping experience other than a weekend at a Girl Scout jamboree when I was ten. Yosemite, at the time, was less traveled affording ample breathing space in the campgrounds to really enjoy all the beautiful scenery the park has to offer. At the beginning of the trip it was my stepfather, stepbrother and myself, with my mother joining us on the weekend. Mother is not a camper, rather describing herself as a “hot house flower”. Incapable of tanning, if exposed to the sun her pale English skin crimsons up like a lobster tail tossed in a pot of boiling water. A camper was rented for the two weeks for comfort and shade for my parents, and two cots for my stepbrother and my use were set up outside.

Bears wander freely about the park. It is after all, their home not ours, leaving us to be the interlopers in the end not the bears themselves. They follow the smell of food many campers leave readily available. Why not? It’s certainly easier than bear tent campchasing  down prey themselves or getting a slippery salmon to cooperate. I can understand the attraction. Nothing smells more intoxicating on a crisp morning in the woods than curling strips of bacon sizzling and popping in a cast iron skillet. Toss a few eggs in the pan, baste them with the hot grease and breakfast, along with campfire toast and a cup of strong coffee, never tasted as good.

The water in Yosemite most of the year is like diving into a refreshing glass of ice water. Quickly your limbs numb to the sensation and once your lips turn the color of the churning river it’s time to take a break. Often during that trip I ate my meals standing in the water. Not because I liked the sensation of freezing water against skin rather I did not like the wasps and hornets attracted to the goodies on my plate. It took us a few trips to find sprays and deterrents to help make this situation better. As I would vote to eliminate wasps and hornets from the insect population leaving the more docile bees to guard the nests, this would be the down side of eating el fresco for me. During that visit I was stung once in my ring finger. It swelled up like a knackwurst and split like I had left it in the pan too long. For as many times as they’ve nailed me it’s fortunate I’m not allergic to the little buggers or I might not be writing this story.

In my twenties I camped along Lake Mojave in Nevada. It you get the opportunity, don’t pass it up. Glassy a.m. waters and craggy colorful rock formations serve to make the area ideal for exploring. AB0C844F-C284-7A85-2680652066E8D4E1Mother Nature spent a little extra time on the landscape adding plentiful wildlife to keep your attention. High on the cliffs you might see huge owls perched on a ledge enjoying an afternoon siesta. Mountain goats climb nimbly up the sides of sheer edifices, and brightly colored birds call from tree branches. At night wild burros hee and haw along the perimeter of campsites, pawing and snorting at the moon. A labyrinth of private coves and inlets offer the perfect location for a boating picnic or private afternoon swim. If you don’t like the heat, stay out of the kitchen (if you will) because afternoons during the summer there will cook your dinner before you build a fire. During the heat of the day we dragged lawn chairs into the water and cracked open something cold and refreshing, settling in until the sun began it’s descent later in the day.P1150654

There is a feeling of peace commingled with vulnerability in communing with nature on such a basic level. With no walls around us we share the animal kingdom on equal footing with, well, the rest of the animals. No matter where I camped I learned early on to watch my feet, wear comfortable hiking boots, and check my sleeping bag before crawling in. Not a fan of slithering reptiles nor stinging insects, in order to cohabit you have to keep your eyes open and the bug spray handy.

Once while camping with my ex-husband and another couple in Arkansas a wild boar, or razorback, wandered into the campsite. Being vegetarian the big pig (I  wouldn’t have called him that to his face) probably wasn’t attracted by the delicious smell of freshly caught catfish cooking over the fire. Curiosity most likely brought him in and he didn’t look happy to see us. Certainly we shared the feeling.  Males of the species can weigh upwards of 300 pounds and if aggravated can be very aggressive. Not a particularly attractive animal on the best of days, snorting and digging at the ground this guy also appeared a bit grumpy.  None of us willing to volunteer to get to know him better, we decided in unison to pile in the truck and wait to see what he had in mind. After foraging through our bags, poking at our gear, and cleaning our breakfast plates, he left a deposit by way of a message on one of our sleeping bags. Scraping both back hooves in the dirt before leaving, he turned and waddled back into the woods. A most distasteful smell lingered in his wake for some time. Looking back I believe we slept with one eye open that night.

These potatoes would make me happy with nothing else on the plate. They’re especially good with prime rib or grilled meat.

1Horseradish Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Onions

1/3 cup butter, divided
4 cups chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
2 1/2 lbs. peeled and cubed russet potatoes
1/2-3/4 cup 2% milk
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. prepared horseradish
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper

Melt butter in large skillet over med-high heat. Add onions and garlic. Cook for 5 mins. Add brown sugar. Continue cooking for about 10 mins. until onions are caramelized. Remove from heat and add white balsamic vinegar. Set aside.

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Place cubed potatoes in large pot and cover with water. Bring to boil over high heat. Cook for 20 mins. or until fork tender. Drain well.


In small bowl whisk together mustard, horseradish, lemon juice, mayonnaise, and salt. Set aside.

In large bowl hand mash potatoes with remaining butter. Add 1/2 cup milk and sour cream and beat with electric mixer until smooth. Add onions and mix in mustard mixture combining thoroughly. Adjust seasoning if necessary. If too thick add additional 1/4 cup milk. Place in microwave on high for 3 mins.

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Serves 8-10

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