a campfire story
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
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
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
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
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
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, then slack.
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
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
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
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
1996 by Les Doll. This piece may not be re-printed, copied or reproduced
in any way without express permission of the author.