The e-mail that follows was sent by one of my three princesses, the one that lives, loves and works in Virginia. She suggested that I tell the story of a camping trip we took in the summer of 1986, a jaunt that began in northern Virginia and took us through Washington D.C., Maryland, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania and back to Virginia—ten states, eleven counting Virginia, and the District of Columbia, all in just six days. We were really happy to get back home!
This is her e-mail:
Here’s a memory to get you started: Our road trip to Maine….you wanted lobster…I ordered chicken (no surprise there)…she brought us the food, then left. You called her over to ask for the lobster cracker thingies and she said, “That family over there is using them.” We were blown away that they only had one set—-something about “people keep taking them” or something like that. I don’t remember what happened or how long you had to wait, but it put a damper on your “famous Maine lobster” adventure.
Then the night in the tent in the campground…and the lightning and raining and horrendous thunder…seeing shadows of trees through the tent when the flashes occurred….then you whispered, “Where are your arms?” I asked why and you said, “Tuck them in and don’t touch the metal on the bed….JUST IN CASE.” Way to go to scare your kid, pop! This would have been spring or early summer 1985, I think. I’ll check the date on my slides to verify, though.
My daughter touched on the lobster snafu and the night we spent in a non-waterproofed tent while a storm raged around and over us, and one might legitimately say, with one of its components—water—inside the tent with us. At twilight that day we luckily stumbled upon a small state park in Maine with tent grounds, and we pitched our tent under the comforting arms of a giant oak, reasoning that its shade would be welcome the following day. The Victorian novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton said it best with the phrase that began his 1830 novel Paul Clifford: It was a dark and stormy night . . .
For us it was not only a dark and stormy night—it was also a very wet night that we spent in our two-person tent, an item we purchased new just before we began our odyssey, along with two aluminum folding cots, two light-weight sleeping bags, a one-burner Coleman camp stove and a Coleman two-mantle lantern, both of which used white gas for power. Using the booklet provided we practiced pitching the tent in the parking lot at our apartment, but decided not to follow the instructions to “waterproof your tent by using the waterproofing tubes included.” Since the skies were clear that day in Arlington, Virginia, we surmised, wrongly of course, that they would remain clear for the duration of our camping trip. They did not remain clear.
Note for campers: Do not—I repeat, do not—pitch a tent of any size under a tree of any size regardless of the weather and regardless of whether the tent is waterproofed. The absolute last place one should be in a storm is under a tree, whether in a tent, a car, a trailer, a wagon or just standing, sitting or lying under a tree. Trees and lighting bolts appear to have a passion for one another—everyone knows, of course, that lightning goes upward from the ground, quite often from a tree, and is met by its counterpart coming down from the clouds. We can pass this gem of knowledge we gleaned on our trip: Weather has an odd way of changing abruptly—in our case it changed so abruptly that we had neither time to relocate our tent, nor time (or the means) to waterproof it.
The massive storm hit around 9:00 p.m. and lasted for an eternity, with brilliant flashes of lightning and rolling thunder, sounds comparable to the sounds made by massive landslides with huge trees snapping like twigs—before the night was over it sounded like Mount Helena blowing its top. Of course my imagination was at high pitch, fueled by something similar to fear—no, not just similar to fear, it was fear. For awhile I feared that I could drown even if the lighting didn’t get me. Not surprisingly, my daughter slept soundly through most of the bedlam, awakening only when I whispered, “Where are your arms?”
At one point during the storm I imagined that I could smell sulfur, an odor associated with lightning strikes—some say brimstone, as in “fire and brimstone.” In 1983 in Arizona it smelled like sulfur. I was in a moving automobile at ground zero near the Arizona/Mexico border when a lighting bolt struck and mangled an aluminum guardrail just a few feet from my front-seat passenger position. Come to think of it, that may not have been sulfur I smelled, but I definitely smelled something!
We survived the ordeal of the storm and emerged from our tent, a bit bedraggled but bound to continue on our great adventure, and as time passed we began to remember that night as a fun time and one of the most memorable moments in our trip.
Prior to finding the state park where we camped that night, we stopped in a couple of travel-trailer parks to see if they allowed tent campers. Neither provided sites for tents, but a woman in the second park mentioned that “a nice family” owned and operated a camp nearby and accepted tent campers. While giving me directions, she included a but, a but as in, “But they only accept family campers.” Thinking perhaps that family size was a factor for admission, I told her there were just two of us. She repeated the provision that, “They only accept families,” with strong emphasis on the word families, and then I realized the reason for her repetition of the sentence. She had a good view of me standing in front of her, of course, and she could clearly see my daughter standing outside near our car.
Note: My daughter was twenty-three years old at the time, and I was rushing toward my fifty-third birthday, an approximate age difference of some thirty years. I said, “Oh, I see,” and turned on my heel and left, my heart and my chest swelling with pride, knowing that she actually believed that I could entice a female non-family member such as the lovely 23-year-old girl standing by my car to embark on an extended camping trip with me. As I pranced out of that office I felt much taller than I did when I entered—had I been capable of doing so, I would have snorted, whisked my tail and whinnied all the way out to the car.
Enough is enough, at least for now. I have been criticized and censured for making my postings too long—evidently some viewers’ truncated attention spans prohibit them from spending very much time reading, especially if there is a dearth of photo images in a posting. I will therefore terminate this posting, a tiny vignette, but representative of the memorable experiences we accumulated over the six-day period, and return at a later date with more details.