I stared into the flames, remembering, calling back to that night, my aged hands marking the span of time since I first went camping
here in these woods - they were so much younger and firmer then, without the slight swelling in the knuckles or the raised brown spots. I rubbed
these withering hands, setting my palms towards the flame, trying to get the chill out of my bones.
My new companions circled around, seated on stones or camp chairs, eyes glistening in firelight. A stillness and quiet laid over us like a quilt.
I cleared my throat, took a canteen swig of spring water and, in my weary voice, began the tale.
“They said we shouldn't go camping in these woods, that we might get lost. They said strange things could happen, and that if we ever got back, we
might come back different. But seriously, what do they know? Right? We laughed. All of us thought it was a joke, no matter how serious they were.
We were just going camping, after all.
We went in pretty deep, high up in this here lush meadow between two peaks, and we found this nice clearing close to a stream. We filled up our
collapsable jugs with crystalline spring water from the high mountain glaciers - something those water bottling companies had obviously never tasted.
John set up tents with Lisa and David, and I took over the job of collecting wood and getting a safe fire pit happening, binding up my long hair again
in a simple bun so it wasn’t in my face.
There was plenty of wood. It had rained several days ago, but everything had dried out now, so fallen branches and kindling twigs were plentiful.
Pine sap oozed out of the wood and I inhaled with near-reverence the scent that reminded me of my childhood in the Rockies. Camping trips, fishing,
jumping rocks in rivers, hiking - just one whiff of that sharp bitter tang and my spirits lifted.
Mark and his son…Darren, I think, arrived a bit later, as Mark had to take more time on the trail. He was in his early sixties, but he apparently
had some health problems. His son was real nice though, helping him, and they managed to pick some wild onions and sage on the way to add to dinner.
I dug the fire pit with my trencher, and searched out loose rocks, of which there were plenty along the edge of the meadow by the stream, to line the
shallow scallop-shaped hole. I put some in the bottom to make a drier surface and more around the edges. I made a tee-pee out of the kindling and
small sticks, with larger branches on the outside.
I’d brought my pack over and so I rooted around in it for fire-making supplies I kept in a neat little kit. When I found it, I took out my
treasures and laid them down on a flat stone I’d drug up from the river for that purpose. I stuffed some old newsprint in the bottom of the tee-pee
and took out my box of waterproof matches I kept in my pack. They struck up easy, and soon I had a small blaze licking up the insides of the
structure, eagerly catching to the sticks and larger branches. I waited for a bit, then fed in a couple larger logs. Fire was magic. I felt as old
as the First Woman sitting there, tending the fire, preparing it for all of us to use for our food, our songs and companionship. It was ritual. It
Around me, tents popped up like mushrooms, colorful in the late afternoon sun - the larger one had the tarp attached. Lisa and David were in that
My medium sized blue nylon tent was the second one up. I watched them figuring it out and putting in the stakes, a few head-scratches here and there
and a burst of laughter and cursing as John let go too soon and the whole thing collapsed. I smiled. They would get it. It was tricky and I was
grateful for the help.
Everyone was relieved to have found this idyllic spot. Lisa had let the others finish the last tent and she went to get started on food-prep, pulling
out her camp cook supplies. I watched dancing fire-devas leap about, making sure the blaze was safe when sap popped and sparks flew, the embers
traveling up to join the oncoming stars, the scent of burning sap like incense, and the very ground of the valley became sacred space…”
I coughed again, wetly, the smoke of this present fire blowing in my face for a moment, but my audience held their silence. I begged their pardon,
grabbed my canteen, took a swig and continued, adjusting my old bones on the rock I’d occupied so many years ago, my companions wide eyed,
enthralled with my tale.
The woman named Mesa whipped her head to the North. I watched her knowingly. “Did you guys hear that?” she asked with a shiver. We all shook
our heads. She moved closer to her partner and I cleared my throat to continue…
“We roasted corn and potatoes in the coals and made a big pot of chili to share along with camp biscuits. We roasted marshmallows and made s’mores
too, and sang camp songs as night came and the Milky Way splashed across the sky. I tell you I’ve never felt smaller than when staring up at that
vast heavenly expanse…”
Then I leaned forward, letting everyone see my lined face in the red and yellow play of light.
“We sat around the fire, just as we are now. And that is when it began. First Lisa thought she heard something. She said it sounded like a
whisper almost, or a buzzing, but it felt like words. We all looked at her like she was nuts. I couldn’t hear anything. She tried to ignore it,
you could tell, but it bothered her something fierce. I watched a nervousness come over her until finally, she said she needed to walk a bit, answer
nature’s call, as it were. We watched her go, and her husband joked ‘Don’t get lost!’
‘Ha, ha, very funny…’ she answered, trailing off into the dark.
We carried on, swapping fish stories about life, you know, “the one that got away,” that sort of thing. I took my turn with the others.
‘Hey, what’s that?’ John asked.
‘What’s what?,’ I retorted.
‘There’s a light in the trees over there.’
‘That’s probably Lisa,” David replied. “She had a flashlight with her. She was jumpy. I’m sure she just needed to be alone for awhile.
Lisa always likes to take some time in the woods for herself,’ Since he wasn’t concerned, we weren’t either.”
I paused for a moment, noticing Mesa getting up and slipping quickly away from the fire.
“Mark had been quiet. The old man listening and occasionally dozing off for a moment. The tales we had been weaving grew silent for a few
breaths, and I saw him lean forward, his son shifting next to him to see if he needed to get up. A negating gesture from his hand let Darren know his
dad was just sitting up.
edit on 16-5-2016 by AboveBoard because: (no reason given)