a campfire story
by Les Doll
THWACK!!!! Ahhh...That was the sound I was waiting for, the five o'clock, Friday-night-time-clock-boogey. For the next SIXTY-THREE hours, I was a free man.
Traffic is heavier than usual, as I wind my way through the cloverleaf snarls and stoplight delays, tapping an impatient finger as I wait to merge into the homeward hoards. My mind is eased, however, by the thoughts of our pre-packed van - bedding stowed, topped up propane tank for the stove, flyrods in their racks. Very little time will be lost in our flight from civilization.
I stop at our neighborhood filling station to fill the fuel tank and pick up ice for the cooler, remembering, at the last moment, to buy the paper plates we were getting low on last fall.
I notice the front door opening in my rear view mirror, as I back up the driveway. She is ready, as usual, arms full of groceries, duffel bag bulging on the step. Supplies are stowed in their assigned nooks as I check the engine oil, tweak the tie-down straps holding the boat to the roof rack, and go through my mental list of essentials, for this is the first trip of the season !
Nine minutes flat!...beating our old record, even though I took the time to remove my watch and toss it onto the kitchen table. Won't be needing that for awhile.
We are off.
There is a clunk as the van slips into gear. I'll have to check that out when I get around to it. This old girl takes us to places where she is not meant to go and sometimes does so unwillingly..... Well, that's a week-day problem and the weekend has officially begun.
The highway is congested with outbound commuters homing in on their respective nests. Our turn off appears soon after the last suburban "ranch" is passed, although our destination lies many miles ahead.
As I swing the wheel, gravel crunching under the tires, the dust billows, leaving daily cares and other worries behind. We begin the ten mile climb to the plateau above, singing lustily to a country song on the stereo. Windows open, the scent of pine and sage brush is intoxicating.
We negotiate the last switchback and top the final ridge, leveling out upon a vast expanse of fir trees, new grass and rolling hills. The rutted road winds away into the distance, dipping into creek beds, climbing small rises and promising adventures beyond the ever present potholes. We scan the roadside for firewood easily gleaned and delight in the discovery of someone's previous battle with a winter-killed snag that extends part way across the road. Short work with our small chainsaw assures us of an adequate supply of firewood for our campfires.
Although the days are noticeable longer now, dusk is descending rapidly. The air is definitely cooler as we arrived at our final destination, prompting a quick application of sweaters and a scramble to light the campfire.
This chore is traditionally delegated (or should I say pre-empted) by the feminine side of our two-person crew, so I therefor proceeded to .......level the van,..... set up the portable table,. ...assemble the camp stove,......fire up the lantern,.......install the barbecue,.......position the water jugs,.......erect the rain tarp,........unload the boat, motor, battery, etc., ...... all the while choking on clouds of smoke and the more than occasional bouts of unladylike language emanating from my beloved fire starter.
By this time, night had surely arrived, so accompanied by the croaking chorus of a billion or so frogs, and the eerie calls of our lonesome loons, we made our way down to the lake shore. Fortunately, it was a clear night with countless stars and no clouds. We were absorbed by slapping and splashing sounds of enormous trout feeding on the spring hatches and never even noticed that, as if by magic, the everyday problems of our lives had slipped away, one by one. We contemplate the pristine waters as if we were the first of our species to see it, though the worn tire tracks testify to others before us.
Cool, cool winds still blow at this early season and the campfire beacons us with its cheery glow. With warm companionship and cups of hot chocolate, we nestle into our fireside oasis, content with life at the present. Anticipation of the mornings adventures try to instill themselves into our consciousness but the lure of the sleeping bag is too great. With city-worn eyes we make a final check of the campsite, secure everything against wind, rain and nocturnal visitors, and gratefully seek our own protected nest.
Dreams of singing reels and dancing waters are interrupted by the heavenly aroma of fresh brewed coffee. No other scent on Earth can compare. God first created the heavens and the earth, the fishes and the waters, the beasts and the men and then He looked upon it all and said" Something is missing". So then He created Woman. I wonder at what interior alarm clock stirs in the breast of my lady, to be up at this pre-dawn hour, with my coffee cup in one hand and her new fly rod in the other. Although I good-naturedly grumble a groggy "Good morning" and reluctantly pry myself from my cozy sleeping bag, I am pleased that the day has started out so well.
A splash of cold water on my face is just about all that it takes to get me going. The sun has not yet risen, in fact, the eastern sky is just barely pink, but I grab my sunglasses and hat because I know what to expect.
Slender trails of mist are rising from a mirror smooth lake as we push off from the shore. The resident loons give a strident vocal complaint to our intrusion but soon settle down to their usual activity when they realize that we are no threat to them. Bulrushes whisper against the hull until open water is reached. The whisper quiet of our electric motor disturbs nothing and allows us to hear the wilderness awakening to a glorious spring morning.
The rusty hinges of the fly-box creak open for the first time since they were hastily slammed shut during last fall's downpour. Two more notes for my TO-DO file. (Oil the hinges and get more flies).
Next comes the inevitable question..."So, what do you think I should try, Dear."....from my bright-eyed-mussy-haired-ever-so-eager spouse. Now, such a question requires careful analysis of the moon phases, tidal variations, feeding patterns, and a multitude of other technical considerations that are well beyond the female mind. Therefor, stalling for time, I suggest "Well, how 'bout that green fuzzy one that you like ?"
She looks at me with disdain in her eyes and says, "A DRAGON FLY NYMPH, at this time of year ? You want me to try a DRAGON FLY NYMPH !!!" and then ever so lovingly, explains to me that Dragonflies are dormant right now.... "Well OK," I reply, "Try whatever you want". Then, with all her ill-conceived feminine wisdom, she says, "I'll try this skinny-itty-bitty-striped-black--thing."
Well, as you and I both know, skinny-itty-bitty-striped-black-things could not possibly catch fish under these conditions and I tried to point that out to her, as I netted her second fish.
Totally against my wishes, (since I was having enormous amounts of fun unraveling a nasty birds nest of tangled line, twisted and rusty hooks, while steering the motor, pouring the coffee and generally keeping things running smoothly), it was decided that breakfast was next on the agenda. Being the open minded kinda guy I am, I readily agreed, and soon the keel was scraping on the shore side mud. Visions of campfire toast, warmed up coffee, and ash dotted eggs made my mouth water. No feast, fit for a king, should omit outdoor cookery at its finest...campfire breakfast !
I watch, with admiration, as the camp attendant breathes life into a smoldering flame. She soon rouses me out of my daydreams, as I am the designated cook for these next two days. Hastily, I bang pots and frying pans around and, without too much delay, get things sizzling on the grill. Breakfast over, we enjoy a leisurely smoke with twice-warmed coffee in our cups. Life seems not so bad after all.
Back in the boat and out through the weeds, I reverse the motor and steer out to a pleasant vista...warm sun and pine heavy scents. Donning sunglasses and hat, I lean back and let the worries of the world take their course. I ponder the fact that February Saturdays are so different than May Saturdays and reality slips into sleepy indifference, as we troll out a length of sinking fly-line.
Wham....with reel screaming and the rod jumping in my hand, I awaken to my present situation. A trout commands your immediate attention, and this one had my total concentration. Deftly, manipulating not only my pulsing fishing rod but also my leaping heart, I strive to keep the tip up. Line peels out to the backing and then more, but luckily, I have lots to spare. This could be THE TROUT.....
Finally the first run ends, line snaps taunt,
Frantically stripping in line, praying for that telltale tug, when zing... out goes every foot so far gained, and impossibly far away in the distance, a magnificent trout leaps and I know he is mine. What can heaven possibly contain to compare to this?
A silver flash in the sun, then he goes deep. The rod arcs with the strain and I'm thankful for the knot-tying practice I put in during the long, long winter nights. What a thrill ! Wild strength transmits itself through line, supple graphite, and into my wrists and I am transposed into the hunter/gatherer instinct of my forefathers. For immeasurable moments, the battle rages on, the will to survive strong in both combatants. The trout struggles for it's very life while I strive for something undefined, but yet, equally essential for my survival.
The fly line, taut as a wire, rushes toward the unbroken surface. Once more, my trout leaps for his freedom with rainbow colored drops spraying from line and tackle. Oh, the power of this fish is wonderful, but eventually, no match for my technological advantages and incredible fishing skills. All too soon he lies gasping beside my hand, a spent but not conquered victim. I admire his sleek lines and warrior spirit and gently remove the offending hook from his mouth. A pause for breath, then, with a defiant flick of his massive tail, he regains the cool depths and is gone.
His life goes on and mine is enhanced by this experience. May we meet again, Sir Trout.
Throughout this whole episode, my lovely mate remains calm and serene. She has such exceptional patience in these situations, and allows me to release her sixth fish without comment. I am not one to "gloat" but I point out to her that MY fish was WAY bigger and WAY more ferocious than any of hers. She just smiles in that female-smugness-kind-of-way and checks the knot on her skinny-itty-bitty-stiped-black-thing for any wear and tear from catching so many fish.
The afternoon is soon over...
I fake severe starvation as an excuse to retire to our campsite, where I munch on home-baked peanut butter cookies while firing the barbecue. I'm no longer allowed to cook the steaks because of that one time when my mind drifted.... steaks don't taste well after two hours on the grill....but I drool over the potatoes baking in their little aluminum envelopes. Whiskey jacks (Canada Jays) and resident squirrels compete for anything edible left unattended on the table, but it is hard to fault them for their behavior, as they have managed to survive the winter all by themselves.
Dusk settles once again on our little paradise in the wilderness.
The warmth of our fire holds us to it's glow - early spring evenings can be chilly - and we enjoy the solitude and peace of each others company.
If a person were to stop and count all the stars visible on such a night, well ... I imagine it would take several lifetimes and I only have the one (as far as I know), so I just toss another billet onto the fire. The sparks that curl skyward are fascinating in themselves and the embers glowing below never lose their appeal. Night sounds become more insistent as the evening proceeds, and a yawn escapes from my lips. The cold nylon linings of the sleeping bags are soon warm and we are deep asleep within minutes, content with the thought that Monday is still a day away.
Sunday Morning... with the drip, drip, drip of a persistent drizzle...the kind of morning that allows you to snuggle deeper into the sleeping bag's warmth and contemplate the joys of your safe and dry haven in the wilds. Thought's of damp and sodden firewood, fog enshrouded water, dripping trees and last nights dishes still soaking in the wash basin, combine to lull one into another hour of slumber. For there is no hurry in this first trip... summer lies before us, with uncountable adventures in so many more weekends to come.
1996 by Les Doll. This piece may not be re-printed, copied or reproduced in any way without express permission of the author.