One of the more enjoyable times of my year is when the family and I go camping. Two kids, my wife, and yours truly. I barely sleep a wink, and I toss and turn most of the night, but it gives me a chance to collect my thoughts. We camped in a grove of fir and redwood trees not far from a river. There’s no place like a quiet forest to stimulate my imagination. Even the old picnic table (image above) is making faces at me.
That means that the rest of this is fictional. If you want the true version, read my previous post instead. That was the nonfiction account. This second version was dragged through the river, roasted over a campfire, and turned into a mini-novel.
Here is a glimpse at my night. Times are approximate, since I turned off my phone/timekeeping device.
9:00 p.m. The nonfat, sugarless, gluten-free smores were delicious. In an effort to stimulate family conversation, I deliberately left the camp lantern at home. That meant that as darkness fell, we were on our own. And we told stories of witches, goblins, and bigfoot until the wife and kids fell asleep.
10:30 p.m. But I’m still awake and my imagination is running wild. Maybe I drifted off for 20 minutes or so, but not any longer than that. I have too much imaginating to do and so little time. Some people think best while sitting on the toilet; I think best when tossing and turning in an old sleeping bag on the ground in a small tent next to family members who use the night for sleeping. Not I!
The river is trickling in the background. I can imagine whitewater rapids, which this small waterfall might be if you were the size of a rat on a toy boat. But in my mind, I’m navigating a Class IV with a paddle and an attitude. My imagination is as good as any video game. (Though if my phone had a rafting game, I’d turn it on right now and play it under the covers.)
This sleeping pad is amazing. Truly, I feel as if I am sleeping on a cloud full of marshmallows. Crack. Ouch. Was that a vertebrae?
11:30 p.m. Thunder rumbles in the distance. When the hot, dry air of late summer encounters the cool air above the hills to the east, along with a side of baked beans, thunderheads form. When the sun sets and the wind changes each night, these clouds roll down the hills towards our present position. I see a flash of lightening beyond the branches of the trees above. Wow, closer than I thought. Another peel of thunder and then the storm moves off. No one else was awoken and we didn’t get wet.
12:15 a.m. A twig breaks outside and I listen more closely. At home, when a floorboard pops, that does not automatically mean there’s a ghost about. The same is true of twigs and branches, which do break on their own. If you hear the sound again, that means trouble. Sleep with one eye open, gripping your pillow tight. My pillow is an inflatable, so it feels as if I’m necking with a beach ball.
There’s a faint glow outside. A wing, a wave, and my mind is put at ease. It’s just the tooth fairy, come to collect the bicuspid or whatever is the name of that tooth that ended up in my daughter’s hot dog at dinner.
I unzip the tent flap so the tooth fairy doesn’t cut the canvas with her buck knife. But I’m all out of quarters. Remind me to tip her next time.
I politely ask the tooth fairy if she can call her friend Tinker Bell to come out here also. For a moment, she gets the wrong idea and thinks I want to party. No, I was wondering if Tink still has any of that cinnamon-scented fairy dust that the Sandman favors. I hear it can do wonders for an insomniac like me.
The tooth fairy cracks me in the arm with her wand. She still has the wrong idea. Insomniac, I explain, not aphrodisiac. Finally, she gets it, but she suggests I’d be better off drinking a hot toddy and getting some sleep. Off she flies to her next appointment.
1:00 a.m. I’m feeling pretty good and almost tired enough to sleep again. But just then, the daughter who is sleeping next to me in the tent tries to turn over in her sleep. Instead, she starts flapping her arms. I realize that her hair is caught in this Velcro strap on her sleeping bag, so I pull it out (from the Velcro, not from her head).
That woke me up. And I’m not the only one. Beyond my kid’s sleeping bag, I see that my wife’s eyes are open and she blows me a kiss.
I stand up, with some effort, roll up my sleeping bag and mat, and grab the mat under my daughter’s sleeping bag to drag it. She’s still asleep. I pull her and her sleeping bag over with the mat to the place where my bag was sitting just a moment before.
Then I take her old spot on the tent floor, next to my wife. With the two children on the outside of us, my wife and I are lying side by side in the center of the tent. It’s a little known fact that my wife and I bought our sleeping bags as a ‘his and hers’ pair. With some effort, I unzip both bags and re-zip them up together into one big bag. The kids are still asleep.
2:30 a.m. I’m awoken from a nice sleep. Strangely, I’m back alone in my own sleeping bag, sandwiched between the edge of the tent and one of the kids. We’re all sleeping in our own bags, next to one another, side by side in the tent as before. My wife is one more bag over and beyond her is our other child. I shake my head to clear any dreams, wondering what it was that woke me up this time. An owl screeches in the distance.
There’s a smell coming into the tent. It’s skunky, a bit like marijuana or Heineken, but kind of musky. I try to identify the bad odor about the same time I realize how quiet the night has become. That distant camp’s generator went off at some point. All I can hear is the sound of the river trickling below the bluff. Even the insect noises have stopped.
But the smell is getting worse. And it’s coming from the open part of our tent where I can see straight through to the trees above. There’s only mosquito netting there, no canvas, so it’s like an open window. Lord, it stinks. And then I recognize the smell just as my heart skips a beat. I reach into the stuff bag near my pillow, where I keep some pepper spray in the event of bears.
Almost on cue, I hear a large branch break, followed by heavy footfalls. Something very big is roaming our campsite. But this is no bear. Damn. Earlier in the day, when we were at the lake, we heard wood knocking in the distance, as in large branches being hit against a log. I should have known we were not wanted here.
It’s a damn Sasquatch! Looking through the mesh screen of our tent, I see a giant shadow cut off the moonlight. And I gaze out as this big, hairy primate face stares down at me from straight above the tent. This tent is six feet tall and it’s wide enough that this bigfoot above us must be at least eight feet tall.
Unable to move my body, I lift my right hand and flip Sasquatch the finger. It’s a universal language. Get out of here, Jack. This isn’t your tent. For a moment, I contemplate the wisdom of pepper spraying straight up into the air just above where the four of us are sleeping. Dumb idea. But flipping him the bird was even dumber, because now he’s angry. Suddenly, there are two Chewbaccas up there and they start to shake the tent.
But I hold a trump (lowercase “t”) card. I unzip the tent flap, rubbing the spot on my wrist where the fairy clocked me earlier. And I toss out the remainder of the marshmallows from our evening dessert.
That does the trick. The ‘Squatches, Mister and Missus, accept the offering of our remaining marshmallows and they retreat back into the deep woods without eating us instead. We are spared.
2:50 a.m. The skunky odor dissipates. My head grows heavy and my sight grows dim. Exhausted, I sleep the rest of the night.
6:30 a.m. I awake to a conversation between my wife and daughters. The latter do not want to help clean up the tent. But they have agreed to help because my wife has promised them a marshmallow each for breakfast. They might have to do with huckleberries instead, unless the banana slugs are edible.
Photos by the author except for fairy, owl, and sasquatch/yeti, which are public domain.