Camping leads to many memorable events

Just the mention of the word “camping” takes me back to those childhood days of sitting around a smoky fire at night, cooking marshmallows and telling ghost stories. Every child needs to experience stinging eyes, sticky fingers and fear of the dark that comes with camping.

The Campfire – Usually the first thing people do when they get to a campsite is make a campfire. I guess we still hold some remnants of that primordial instinct to be safe and warm, even when there’s 1,000 other people in the campground and the temperature is approaching 110 degrees. The campfire has Roasting marshmallows can be a major eventevolved from the rubbing-two-sticks-together technique to the match-and-tinder technique to the blowtorch-and-gasoline technique. After seeing “campers” employ this last technique, I have to raise my eyebrows. They would have too, if they had any.

Rule #1 — No matter where you sit around the fire, the smoke will find you. There are all kinds of theories for this such as backdrafts, wind direction, El Nino, smoke-follows-beauty, etc. But even if the wind isn’t blowing, the smoke will follow you no matter where you sit or stand. After moving about 20 times, you simply sit still and stare through the haze, and your tears, at the fire. If you get up and head for the tent or the outhouse, the smoke will follow you there as well. It’s even been known to follow vehicles for 20 miles or more after leaving the campground, especially if the blowtorch-and-gasoline technique was used to create this wildfire.

The Marshmallows – Camping is not complete with the requisite marshmallow. As with everything else in life, the waiting is the hardest part. After so diligently carving the perfect marshmallow stick and waiting patiently for the fire to die down to that perfect bed of coals, most mallowers end up shoving the whole kit and caboodle into a lingering flame until ignition. The mallower then holds the burning blob in front of him, proudly admiring it for a few seconds, then blows it out. After eating the scorched skin and burning the tongue, the remnants are shoved back into the fire for a second, or even third, roasting.

Then there’s always the smart aleck who holds the marshmallow over some dying coals until it starts plumping up as if stung by a wasp. He rotates it until the entire thing is light brown in color. “Now that’s how you make a marshmallow!” he smugly remarks. As you stare at his rude act of plopping the perfect marshmallow into his mouth, you realize yours has been burning for about 30 seconds. It burns through the stick and drops into the fire.

The Fear — Those ghost stories told around childhood campfires are probably why most adults today are still afraid of the dark. Years ago, I worked at a YMCA camp teaching environmental education and outdoor recreation to curtain-climbing, nose-miners. If I was going to be their baby sitter for a few weeks at a time, I’d at least give them some memories to take home, namely telling fireside stories of ghosts, bears and, of course, Bigfoot.

I would also try to impress the kids with my vast wealth of outdoor knowledge. Before a hike, I’d make sure to have a pocketful of raisins. The fun began when I’d point out some deer scat on the trail. Grabbing the raisins from my pocket when no one was looking, I’d reach down and make like I picked up the scat. Then I’d smell it and even toss a few of the morsels into my mouth like popcorn.

“Yep, that was a 6-point buck, passed through here about two days ago,” I’d say as the group stared wide-eyed and slack-jawed at the highly knowledgeable and skilled outdoor guy. “Weighed 148 pounds, was feeding mostly on corn and grass,” I’d continue. “Okay, let’s head up the trail.”

Those kids are probably in their 20s or 30s now and maybe even have kids of their own. I can just picture a dad walking in the woods, looking down warily and seeing some deer sign. “Look here Bobby, some deer have passed through recently,” he would say as he reaches down, picks up some deer poop and puts it in his mouth. After swallowing a sample and turning blue, he says, “Yep, a 148-pound buck (cough, gag) passed through here about two days ago. I don’t know what he was eating, but it tastes like crap.” The poor guy probably has a gutful of parasites today.

One way to impress young campers is to bring a good-sized rock into your tent and tell them it’s your pillow. Once you zip yourself into your tent you take out your fluffy pillow from your duffle bag. Then get up in the morning and crack your neck in front of them and say there’s nothing like a soft rock for a good night’s rest.

I tried a few things in my younger years to overcome my ingrained fear of the dark and its related fanged and clawed creatures, namely going solo into the night. I’m not sure if this brilliant plan cured or worsened the fear. On one overnighter, I headed high up into the mountains alone. A few miles in, I heard a crashing up ahead in some berry patches. I looked up to see the tail end of a big black bear scurrying ahead of me.

With darkness closing in, I had a few choices. I could pitch my tent right there, but that would mean I would be in the vicinity of the bear. Or, I could keep walking and maybe run into the bear. I pitched the tent, made dinner and spent a restless night listening to every night creature that called the mountain home.

Sometimes, unwarranted fear of night noises can be embarrassing or even humorous. Once, my wife and I were camping at a state park sitting around the fire and getting ready to retire to the tent when we heard something making a loud commotion nearby in the dry brush. I knew the sound could only be that of an elephant or a huge bear.

Trying to maintain my composure and not sound too panicky, I said sternly, “Sweetheart, get in the truck.” We got there in about three seconds, my wife right behind me. I shined the flashlight to where I thought the large bruin would emerge, the sweat stinging my eyes, my face pushed up against the glass. The last bush on the edge of the patch began to move and out came the beast. The biggest raccoon we’ve ever seen.

After our laughter calmed down, we made our way from the truck to the tent. “Be careful, it could have rabies,” I said as I followed closely behind my wife.

Scott Staats is a freelance outdoor writer. His column can be read every Tuesday in the Central Oregonian. He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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