Joys of Camping


Newago State Park, Michigan

Day 1

I have to admit, I momentarily regretted my decision to camp by myself. After dropping Hannah and Abby off at camp, I drove from the sparkling waters and sunny skies of Lake Michigan toward the stormy grey skies and unknown lands of Newago State Forest. The beautiful summer day became cloaked in the steel grey and pastels of weather brewing. But, not to be defeated, I turned on my headlights, turned on some loud music and drove into the forest.

Things were quite different a few hours later as the tent was pitched, the dog was walked and fed, fire wood had been purchased, kindling chopped and the sun was out like a still life in the late afternoon sky. I decided to celebrate – chips, dip and chardonnay.

After cocktail hour, a stroll around the lake was magic for my senses. The turquoise blues of the massive lake complemented the vibrant wet, luscious greens of the dense pine forest. The warm setting sunlight created shadows that danced on the water and played hide and seek through the trees. I spied small oaks seedlings in massive quantities worried that they may have been of the poison variety so I prayed to the gods of forest to spare me last trips misery – yet another itching return from camping.

My nose was teased by the damp, earthy scent of moss and by the thousands of gnat-like insects eager to tickle my sinuses. I could literally smell the green in the woods. The pine, the oak, the maple all newly watered by the rain was full of life and vigor. The smell was better than Old Spice, any day. Slowly the breezes brought the smell of campfires and dinner cooking which was comforting in a way.

The woods were alive with a symphony of sound. Woodpeckers provided percussion, boats on the lake provided the hum, waves lapping the shore were the tympani and in the alcove of a small campsite I stumbled upon an upright bass, a fiddle a banjo and a most haunting voice to complete the effect. I was definitely in the enchanted forest.

Wandering on I was overjoyed by the discovery of the perfect marshmallow stick. This perfectly straight, 3 foot long hardwood beauty needed only a carved tip to provide orgasmic goodness to my taste buds later in the evening.

So overwhelmed by my sensory experiences I sat by the shore of the lake to take it all in. Within moments I was close to hysterical watching Darby, my six month old, big eared, short-legged welsh corgi bravely protect me from the 2-inch waves slapping at us. His barks were adorable, his legs were sinking in the sand and he was pitifully unable to stop those darned waves. Then, the light bulb went off, his head cocked just a bit towards me as it occurred to him that digging might actually be the appropriate method of attack. So dig he did. A great one-foot hole that almost swallowed him up. A hole that he stuffed his nose into and immediately inhaled copious quantities of sand and brackish water.

He vomited a good portion of that night.

Day 2

Ahh, morning. Not a bad night’s sleep considering my air mattress doesn’t hold air. It had been a long time since these bones had slept on the ground. Darby woke me up bright and early and we crawled from the tent to greet the chilly yet beautifully foggy morning. The new day began with steaming coffee and a roaring fire.

The morning fog gave way to a sunny, breezy, beautiful summer day. The sounds of birds, boats, wind and children filled my ears. I grabbed my journal, my camera and my dog, had breakfast at a picnic table near the lake and felt perfectly content.

Later I took a walk by the dam. I walked and walked and walked. I walked through woods, across an embankment and across fields. The Muskegon River stayed 75 feet below me down an eroding wall of mud, the kind that could swallow you whole if you slipped. Across the river were summerhouses with docks, boats, waterslides and beaches.   Families playing and splashing in the river shared coolers full of sodas and beers.

Being quite the adept party crasher (a talent honed by solitary camping over the years) I was eager to make new friends and share in their beverages. Yet Darby and I continued to trudge on, parched because I forgot our water canteen. The sun continued its trajectory to the top of the sky, burning brightly, sending serious 90-degree rays directly at us, the kind that only SPF 75 can protect you from. Finally, the sound of rushing water was loud enough to make me believe we would have wet toes soon. My hot feet were tingling at the thought of a cold, wet stream. Darby’s thirst was checked for just a second as he dashed toward the sound. But alas, the view of the rushing tributary could only be seen from the 3-foot wide, wooden bridge, suspended 20 feet up from the crashing, cold water. Foiled yet again by the eroding embankment.

Later that day . . .

I was completely convinced that I had single handedly eliminated 90% of the park mosquito population with my smoldering campfire. The firewood purchased at the stand down the road was so wet that it absolutely refused to flame. Two Sunday papers and a trip to the store for lighter fluid later, I had a small flame.

Meanwhile, Darby was completely zonked out. As I was enjoying my mid-afternoon smokefest, a plate of cheese and salami, and a glass of chardonnay, Darby remained complete immobile under the picnic table. I do admit that we walked a lot that day and a nap was definitely under consideration.

That evening I sat at yet another picnic table, scarred by initials, stained with food, overlooking the lake. I watched boaters take their last turns around the darkening lake. I listened to the retching of the skier having failed yet another attempt to get up. Apparently having swallowed another gallon of lake water. Darby sits perched at the edge of the embankment, curious and fascinated by the vista.

As the sun set behind the trees, as quiet calm comes over the lake, I breathe. The loudest noises I can hear are the gentle waves on the shore. The evening ends with peace.

Day 4

The peace and serenity that charmed the campground for the past couple of days was completely obliterated by the unruly rambunctiousness of new arrivals. Last evening four women and their 8-10 children descended on us with annoyingly loud noises irritatingly like a pack of laughing hyenas. The screaming children were up until 12:30 and the drunk women made a ruckus until 2:00. Sadly, the demeanor of the friends I had made changed by morning, as we were all tired from disturbed sleep and disappointment at the loss of serenity. I didn’t linger long after breaking camp that morning.

While it was a disappointing end to a glorious preceding couple of days, the peace I found at Newago State Park is still with me – as is the cold I caught.

Fast Friends

“May I share your table with you” I asked the woman sitting by herself at a four top in the crowded coffee shop early this morning. She was wearing very plain clothing, a neutral toned cardigan and a small white cap around her bunned hair.  I presumed she was a Colonial employee having a cup of joe before her day began. “Please do” she kindly responded.

Thirty minutes later and I was blessed to have made this friend.  Although we never exchanged names, we had a great time together.  She is from South Haven, Michigan and I am from the Detroit area.  We had that in common. She works a farmers’ market for a friend twice a week; I used to manage a market. The markets she goes to are in the Chicago area. I used to live in Chicago.

We discussed working and retirement, husbands and holidays.  By the end of our half hour we had talked about some of her 10 children and all 4 of mine (both of our youngest are 14 years old).  We laughed about the challenges of certain ages; we smirked at the truth that “there’s one in every family”; we bonded over what it was truly like to be a grandparent.

I found out that she was in Williamsburg with her husband, for whom she had purchased space in a woodcrafter’s conference for him for Christmas.  She even added on a stay in one of the colonial houses.  It was a very special trip for just the two of them.  Turns out she’s Mennonite and not in costume.

I love chance encounters. What a wonderful way to start the day.