Monday, December 9, 2013

Turkey Day Camp 2 at Skeeter Branch


I know I am posting this a little late, but last week was my finals week, which concluded the worst experience of my life. I cannot even begin to describe how unpleasant this last semester was. But it is past now, and I must look to the future, and figure out ways to improve it. I find that spending more time outdoors usually makes it easier to cope with the daily stress of civilized life, and they say that having hobbies and being involved with clubs correlates with better grades. The week before last was Thanksgiving week, and we had family in from out of town. The same family as last year, in fact. With the dark shadow of final exams looming ever closer, my cousin Michael and I decided to get away for a while and go camping again. Unfortunately, most people were unwilling or unable to come with me, and it was just me, Michael, and Olivia out there. We did have one more member of our party though, one who was able to bring great comfort and who did unexpectedly well camping for the first time.
This is Gracie. She had never been camping before, though she has spent the majority of her life living outside. 

           So the day after Thanksgiving, (Known as Black Friday, presumably because of the inexplicable darkness that falls over people's souls when they go out with a bloodlust in order to loot stores for minor sales) we loaded up the two Jeeps and headed into the forest. Our target was Skeeter Branch hunter's camp, which we hoped would be unoccupied even though it was hunting season. Luckily it seemed as though all the hunters were also out trying to make up for any thankfulness they had on Thanksgiving by going shopping to feed their materialistic selves with more stuff they don't need, and weren't at the campsite. (In case you are wondering, I don't really condemn Black Friday this much, but the whole thing seems kinda wrong, like going from being thankful to being the opposite of that the next day.) The campsite was empty, as was most of the forest. It was a nice place, an elevated campsite on a knob surrounded by two low vales dipping down and then rising back to ridglines in the north and east, and a lower ridge to the west bearing the snaking passageway of the road making a thin path through the vast, mysterious forest. The northern vale contained a small stream from which one could gather water, if they found it necessary to do so.

Facing North from the camp, looking towards the stream. 

We set up our camp and lit a fire. 
Then I fetched our over-fire grill from the Jeep, and we cooked some hot dogs, followed by a fancier Lemongrass Salmon dinner. Both turned out pretty well, though the Salmon that I cooked turned out a bit more rare than I prefer. The night grew cold, but the crisp air was thin. The sky opened and revealed more stars than I have seen in Alabama in rather some time, possibly ever, exposing but a small portion of the vast creation of which we are but a small part. Many do not share my reverence for stars, but there is very little on earth which impresses me more than the beauty and vastness of the night sky. It is difficult, nay, impossible to comprehend the vastness of the distance between us and those tiny specks of light. Nature's beauty in all of its forms serve to remind me of the majesty of it's creator. Others may interpret it differently, but as for me, being in nature is a spiritual experience, a form of worship. I oft am in a state of prayer when I am wandering about in the wilds. After talking around the campfire for a while, the cold eventually convinced us to go to bed. Gracie and I took an ironically named pup tent, and the others went in the two person tent.
  Gracie had gone to bed before the rest of us, and was taking up quite a lot of the tent when I came in to sleep. She moved without complaint, and the two of us were able to sleep without any difficulty. I was expecting her to bark, or to try to lick my face, or otherwise be a bother, but she actually slept all night calmly and without incident, as though she had been doing this for years. The only issue I had sleeping came from my slowly declining foam pad and a pine root under my back. The temperature had also declined greatly, down to under 28 degrees Fahrenheit, though i felt no cold in my mummy bag under a quilt.

The following morning, I woke to find that Gracie had done some burrowing to make herself warmer, but otherwise had done well.

I awoke at first light, before the sun had risen, and found it rather cold. Opening the door of the small tent was like letting a flood of cold water in, showing how surprisingly well the cheap tent had held out the cold. It is a $30 bass pro tent, and leaves some to be desired in many respects, but it packs down small and holds its own against weather.
That blanket is our clean staging area for various things, also where Gracie laid before going to bed.

I rekindled the flame, and ate a pop tart as I watched the sun rise. 

 This was a fairly solitary time, the 45 minutes before sunrise. A good time for quiet reflection. I soon broke any hint of peace and quiet when I awoke my companions, using a metal spoon and the bottom of a cookpot.  Drearily they arose one by one and wandered over. Olivia made a breakfast of potatoes and chopped sausages. 

It seems that the two-person tent was not really large enough for two people to sleep comfortably, which is to be expected. But it works in a pinch, I suppose. 
Before too long we loaded the Jeeps back up, not dissimilar to a wagon train in the old west, and headed back out. 

It ended up being a good campout, very peaceful. It is likely that I will visit Skeeter Branch again, and look at other hunters camps in the Talladega National Forest as well, now that I've seen that they aren't all as trash ridden as Duck Nest hunter's camp. This campout was very much what I needed then. The following week was wrought with stress and turmoil, but I did survive it, and the ordeal of my first semester at JSU is now but a painful memory. I will take lessons from it, and use them to make next year better. That is the embodiment of the outdoorsman-adventurer mentality really, taking the unpleasant, unwanted, and unforeseen and appreciating it, learning from it, and in many ways seeking it out to learn how to better your life and make you a more versatile and capable person. 

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