Sunday, November 30, 2014

Turkey Day Camp 3 at Tree Farm

After two consecutive years of camping on Thanksgiving, it has become a sort of tradition. This year, Olivia, my cousins Elizabeth and Michael, and myself all jumped into the Jeeps and drove into the wild dark. It was after sunset when we departed, and the road was very atmospheric. We stopped at the Cheaha scenic overlook, and then drove down the road until we reached the subtle turn to the field which constitutes the Tree Farm camping area.

We set up the big tent and got a fire going.

For dinner we ate hotdogs and I made a large packet meal of hamburger meat, green beans, and cream of mushroom. I got some complements on the taste, though it could just have been the cold.
Dad and Ashley brought Rowan and Lydia to join us for a time, and we conversed for a time. It was a very quiet night, with a clear sky and millions of stars. There were owls and coyotes vocalizing throughout the night, and I heard a deer walk through the camp. My three companions were apparently very cold throughout the night, as it got well below 30 degrees. I stayed warm, as I set my hammock up on the ground and made a tarp shelter against a fallen log, and then used the underquilt with my 20 degree mummy bag and was quite warm. I also remained fully layered upon going to bed.
It was quite cold.

The next morning we loaded up and went to Ihop.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Halloween Family Campout

Halloween, Hallow's eve, Samhain, whatever you want to call it, its one of my favorite yearly events, this day is the day of horror, of the macabre, of the celebration of dark humor. It's also the day of candy, trick or treating, and costumes. My family from Birmingham came over to go trick or treating at Anniston's main street for such things, Glennwood Terrace. The next day, despite cold weather predictions, we went camping out by the pond. I donned my 'coonskin cap and we set up our tent city in the field just south of the pond, which is dry this time of year.

Dad and the kids set up the big tent, and we made a fire in the middle of camp.
We're a pretty close family, and it's nice when we're all together. 
We started the fire earlier than usual due to the cold. The recent rains brought with them a sudden cold front.
As the light lowered, Clarence started grilling.
Leah arrived just before dinner to join us camping. She's pretty awesome. We have been going out for 3 years now.
The kids were full of energy, as kids oft are. They ran and played. The field was perfect for such things.
We ate dinner as night fell. Sophie wished she could have Dad's dinner.

Cassiopeia is visible in this one.
We all sat around the fire and hung out for a while longer, until we all trickled off to bed.

The next morning, we ate bacon at the house.
Leah and Rowan played chess on the Kindle. He has gotten pretty good at chess.
After breakfast, we went up to Cheaha to explore a bit.

Talladega is visible in the distance from the restaurant.
This is looking toward Mcdill point, which we have hiked to several times before.

It was a wonderful weekend, full of family and laughter and nature. It doesn't get much better than that.
Perhaps next time we can go camping on the island of Trucks & Tacos. Won't be so cold there.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Autumn Cherry Trees

            We slipped out of life and into the wild again this weekend, my second week in a row. The weather was positively amazing; dry, clear, and cool. We went south-east of Munford to Cherry Tree Hunter's Camp.
             There was a fire ring of flat rocks under a thick pine and hardwood canopy, preventing thick underbrush from growing atop the smooth knoll upon which the campsite was located. The trees were spaced out far enough to be reminiscent of columns in a tall cathedral, complete with a vaulted ceiling and bright light shining through green "stained glass." There was a steady breeze which kept the area cool, and very few signs of humanity.
We set up our shelters, and gathered firewood. We decided to do without any artificial fire starters to prove to ourselves we haven't become too soft, so I piled some wood shavings and a touch of lint on a piece of bark and used a flint and steel to set it alight. I put the tinder under the kindling teepee, and soon we had a fire.
We managed to keep it quite large, and were able to cook on it.
There were three of us on this trip, myself, my father, and Mike.
        A fun group, with lots of jokes and good conversation.
For dinner, Father and Mike grilled hamburgers, while I made an aluminium foil packet meal of hamburger meat and green beans.

Mine was very good, and though I can't speak for the others, they didn't complain. (Much)

         We sat by the flickering flames for a time and talked. while talking, The orange firelight reflected off of the nearby trees. In the distance coyotes cried their piercing howl, and screech and Barred owls let loose their songs. The peaceful autumn evening-crickets sang around us as we became slowly more drowsy. Eventually the fire had settled down to a small flicker, and so had we.

       There was a faint blue light in the sky the following morning when I awoke, feeling the chill on my face. I untangled myself from my warm nest of sleeping bags and climbed down to the ground below. The morning air was chilly, and soundless. The night crickets had ceased their songs, and the day crickets had yet to begin. I put on my jacket and walked over to the fire ring. I stirred up the white dust to reveal heat below, and piled some pine straw and small twigs on the red coals. With a little bit of blowing, the straw caught and we had a fire again.

         It was still somewhat dark when father woke up, the dawn having not yet broken over the tall mountains to the east. We began to make breakfast and coffee on the fire, which I had let burn down to hot coals for cooking.
After hearing several reports of bears in the area, and seeing that the state park and forest service have begun to place " what to do in a bear encounter"signs around, I decided to hang our trash up, as opposed to the usual of putting in the car or just leaving it hanging low on a tree.

      I personally don't mind having black bears here as they are traditionally fairly reasonable animals. That being said, we will start having to take precautions to avoid a close encounter, though I wouldn't mind seeing one at a distance.

        After breakfast, we built the fire back up, never having to restart it fully after just some tinder and a flint the previous day, and watched the sunlight appear first in the upper reaches of the trees a hundred feet above us, and then slowly creep down to us.

 After our wood pile was largely depleted we decided to pack up our stuff and head off to find some lunch. We got everything in the Yukon and I went to crank it. I turned the key and it made a faint click, and the electric locks started locking and unlocking. We popped the hood, but nothing obvious was wrong. We decided the battery must have discharged for some reason, although we couldn't think of one. Nothing was plugged in,and I turned the dome lights off the night before (to save the battery).

As you can see, it was very stressful

      We called a number of people, but eventually Mom, Olivia, Zac, and Kristen came in Mom's Jeep and jumped us off. We then all went down the road and up the mountain to Cheaha State Park, where we ate lunch before going to Bald Rock.

Monday, September 15, 2014

At Walden Pond (Or our version of it)

       As summer draws to a close, the weather is becoming more comfortable for camping and hiking. This, coupled with school, made this last weekend a good one for a campout. Spending time outdoors is the best way I have found to rest and reset my mind and spirit. It helps to put things into perspective when you spend a little time living more primitively.
       Our family lake has been residing at the edge of town for my entire life, and is the place where many of my hobbies first took root. When I was young, we would visit the lake to row around and to fish. My father also grew up playing in this lake, and doubtlessly his love of the outdoors helped to form my love of the same. We decided that this lake would make an excellent place to camp last weekend. 
        Upon arriving at the lake, we selected a spot on the opposing side on a small peninsula where we have camped in the past. We loaded our gear into a Jon boat and paddled across the lake. 
The city "suburbs" have grown out to reach the area around the lake, but the lake itself still remains wild. The Girl Scouts of America have recently bought a huge swath of land leading up to the edge of our property there, which to a degree guarantees that that area will remain wild. 
       The peninsula we chose has two large inlets on either side, into one of which the feeder stream spills out amongst willows and cypress trees making a shallow swamp. The land begins as a flat area along the bank of the lake, which then rises up to be four or five feet above the water where there is a flat area containing a fire ring. There is a dirt mound atop this bluff which gives views out over the lake. This position on the high ground gave us ventilation while residing there. 
        As soon as we made it across the lake, we began to set up camp. 

I chose a couple of trees off to the north of the fireplace to hang my hammock.

            The forest was very pleasant, although it is still somewhat hot this time of year. I have found that heat is easier to cope with than cold due to the fact that cold is painful, but heat is merely uncomfortable. Pain is difficult to overcome mentally, particuarly so when there is actually some danger associated with it such as freezing to death. Heat is not likely to hurt you, and the discomfort is merely a feeling. Feelings can be controlled by the person feeling them by sheer willpower or by conditioning the behavior. I have found that when I "tell myself" that the heat is not going to hurt me, and that sweat is not a bad thing, after a time it stops bothering me. That is not to say that I wouldn't prefer it if it were a nice 75 degrees (Fahrenheit) as opposed to 90, or that I don't often catch myself complaining about the heat, but rather that my complaints are not valid. Work is more draining in the heat, and it is important to drink a lot of water, but these things can be coped with. The heat of the Alabama summer is not an excuse I can use to prevent myself from enjoying the outdoors any longer.              My friend Zac, who I met at Renovation Ministries while we both worked there as interns, accompanied Dad and I on this trip. We brought some hamburgers with us for dinner, so we started a fire to cook them over. 

       There is a certain satisfying aspect to cooking food on an open wood fire, as though one connects to humans of the past. The way we cooked our meat on this trip is the same basic way humans have been cooking food for a million years. There are a few differences, (meat from wal-mart, an iron grill, steel tongs, Homo Sapiens as opposed to Homo Erectus) but none which are significant. 
As the meat began to cook, the campsite was flooded with the smell of woodsmoke and red meat. The smell of a campfire is distinctive, and brings back many memories.  
The fire cooked the meat very quickly; I had set it up in a log cabin style of fire arrangement so to channel the heat upwards. 
The burgers tasted very good. There was a distinct woody flavor from the fire. 
We cooked and ate as darkness began to fall. 
In the wild, darkness often seems to come suddenly. I think it is because our eyes adjust to each level of darkness, so we don't really notice that it is getting dark until it gets to the point where our eyes cannot fully adjust. 
Father did not join us in eating our saturated fat-filled burgers, rather he made some Edamame beans and salmon fillets. 
 Zac shared some dried pineapples with me that were quite good. 
 Darkness was creeping up on us, noticeable in the pictures, but not to us at the time. We could hear owls and other night-birds beginning their songs. A Barred Owl cries a song that sound vaguely like "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for yoooou?" but with more birdlikeness. There is also a distinctly different cricket that sings at night than the day ones. A night cricket will sing in a burst of "chicka-cha chicka-cha" and then another from a different direction will respond with the same, seamless enough to make a constant white noise that one's ears tune out unless you listen for it intentionally. 
Soon the only light came from our fire, and the one small light at the far end of the lake where the street is. 
The stars began to come out, one at a time like timid beings slipping out from behind a curtain when they are sure few are watching. 
It is hard to believe that those little specks are actually vast suns, an unimaginable distance away. 
The night sky makes one feel small, and to some this is uncomfortable. For me, it makes my problems feel small. The lack of my personal importance in the grand scheme of the universe makes me feel better, rather than worse. The universe isn't going to be affected by what I do, so that makes it that much more important for me to care about myself and the stuff which is important to me.  

Soon we all made our way to our sleeping areas. No rain was forcasted, so I went without my rain fly. It actually got cool enough in my hammock for me to get my sleeping bag out, though not cold enough to need my underquilt. I woke up around three to aquire the sleeping back, and then slept soundly for many hours. When I woke up, it was 8:30 or so. 

The morning brought with it clouds, as humid mornings here often do. There was a cool breeze which threatened rain from those clouds, but didn't deliver. 
After a few years of use, my ENO hammock is holding up well, and is still my preferred sleeping arrangement. The only times it is inconvenient are camping with dogs or when there are no trees. 
We lit a breakfast cookfire and made grits. 
Our big Ozark Trail tent continues to serve us well.

Zac and I rowed out and did a little fishing. 
It is a beautiful lake. I am glad we have it. 
Eventually we decided to pack up and head home. 
It was a fun trip to me. The weather will soon begin to get cooler and less humid, and the true outdoorsing season begins. It is already in the 60's at night, so fall is coming. It is much easier to find people to accompany me into the wild when the weather is nice. So I hope to camp again soon.