Saturday, January 17, 2009

Girls All Alone in the Night

     These are photos of my granddaughter Jenny, taken on a camp-out a couple of Septembers ago when she was nine.  I had taken her older sister camping a few times, and now it was Jenny's turn. 

      There are a number of primitive campsites along the Hudson both above and below Spier Falls dam, simple pee-in-the-woods kinds of sites with no facilities beyond a metal fire ring, accessible either by boat or on foot, but not by car.  We chose a site directly across the river from the Sherman Island boat launch and paddled across in an 18' tandem canoe, loaded with tent and sleeping bags and a cooler full of food.  Plus matches for starting a campfire and the fixings for lots of s'mores.

     We also brought my son Philip along, a full-grown man, mostly because he wanted to come but also to mollify Jenny's parents, who maybe share some of society's fears about girls all alone in the woods.  As for me, I prefer being alone on the trail or in my canoe.  With others along there's always chit-chat and we can't creep up on critters unawares; or somebody in the party thinks that the goal is to get to the top and chafes if I stop to identify a plant or listen to a bird.  But I'm glad to have my granddaughters along. I love to take them camping and show them  "See?  We're all alone in the middle of the woods in the middle of the night, and there's nothing to be afraid of." 

    Well, yeah, I talk a good line.  For in fact, on this  particular night in the middle of the woods with Jenny, I had quite a scare.  Our tent was about 20 yards from where we had left all our food, and I startled awake in the very darkest hour of the night to a very loud scra-a-a-a-pe and thud!   "Oh, crap!" I thought.   "A bear's in our food.  And here we lie in the same smoky clothes we wore roasting wienies last night, smelling like a stash of Slim Jims!  What on earth should I do?"  I'm not usually afraid of bears; I'm sure they hide when they hear me coming.   But now I was with my granddaughter!  And what could my son do to help us?

     I lay there listening, terrified that the next noise I heard would be claws ripping our tent apart.  But the only sound I heard was my pounding heart.  For a long, long time.  Then I had to pee.  Oh God! did I have to pee.   Silently, silently I crawled out of my bag and shined my flashlight out the tent flap.  Nothing there.  The food cooler still stood, undisturbed, on the rock where we'd left it.  Huh?  Well, what was that sound I heard? 
     So I looked around, checking to see if our canoe was still there where we'd left it, tied to a tree and floating on the river.  The canoe was still there, still tied to a tree, but no longer floating on the river.  During the night the downstream dam had opened, the water level had lowered, and our canoe now rested, atilt, on the river bottom.  The paddles had slid across the thwarts and slammed hard onto the gunwales.  So that was the source of the scrape and thud that woke me in terror during the night.

     So I still can tell my granddaughters, "See?  We're all alone in the middle of the woods in the middle of the night, and there's nothing to be afraid of."


corin said...

Funny, I hike and do overnights with my father and even at my age of 36, my mother worries that we are going to be eaten by a bear. I have found that you are right, there is nothing like being all alone in the woods. I have felt very empowered by sleeping in a quiet lean to out in the middle of nature.

NatureGirl said...

At 44 (me), MY mom (72) is still convinced I will be eaten by a bear. I guess that no matter how old we are, to our mothers we will always be little girls who are in danger outside the safety of four walls.