Campground #4, Bear River - Part 2 (Essay on: Place)

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Hello, all! This is the second part of my essay on place. I didn't have to do a lot of revising on the first part (here) - this part was written more recently and expanded out more. As always, let me know what you think, and how I can improve this! Thanks, everybody!


As you got older, and a bit more self-conscious, you spent less time out in the woods. You’d sit by the campfire, awkwardly pelting your father with questions about his past. He was patient and amicable, answering your questions more or less honestly, though because of your age he left the darker stuff out. He'd tell you of the time he hitchhiked to Mexico, how your mother had been a friend of the family who he had taken shelter with on his return journey, how they married shortly thereafter, how he used to be a photographer for a newspaper in Portland and had managed to score press passes to the Rolling Stones, the Police, and so on. Your brothers and your mom would show up occasionally, but for the most part you only really remember sitting around the campfire with your father on those broiling summer days, the two of you sprawled in lawn chairs beneath what minimal shade the nearby aspens were able to provide.
            During his stories, you would crane your head over to the other campgrounds periodically, hoping that somehow the cute girl from your homeroom class and her family would decide to come camping nearby. Your mind would fill with these irrationally romantic scenes of the two of you carving your way through the woods and crossing that fallen tree to the island, or sitting out underneath the stars. You wanted someone to share that island with. Later in your life, though, you’d learn that she actually hated camping and nature. A lot of the girls you were interested in at one point or another hated camping.
            At night, you would try - with a degree of success that ranges somewhere between “minimal” and “nonexistent” - to stay out of the path of the smoke from the campfire, which stung your eyes and filled your nostrils with a acrid, dry smell that you couldn’t stand. Your father smoked, too, but it never seemed to bother you out there. By the end of each trip, another piecemeal layer of crushed cigarette butts would be stamped into the dirt around the campsite, and the air would be thick with pine needles, ash, and tobacco. You rarely looked forward to leaving - back at home the smell of cigarettes would regularly make you nauseous, and your father made an effort to not smoke indoors because of that. Out here, the rules seemed different.

            As you got even older, the trips out there became less and less frequent. Your father’s health began to decline - his back could no longer take sleeping on the hard dirt. There was talk of getting a pop-up trailer so that he could have a bed out there, but those plans never materialized. When you did go out there, it was only for a day or two, and you would pack along your Magic: the Gathering cards and your Gameboy and your cell phone. You only went out into the woods once or twice, and the tree creaked uneasily under your weight as you slowly crossed over it.
You would take your father’s hatchet in hand and go off in search of dead-fall – one time you found an old fallen tree out in the woods that you didn’t recognize. It must have fallen down in the last year. The rubber handle of the hatchet rested unevenly in your hands, and your fingers tensed around it. Some wellspring of anger bubbled up: filled with images of kids who would follow you around in your car and blare their horns at you – who wouldn’t stop following you until you drove three or four miles out of town and hid on a ranch road for five or six minutes. You leapt at the tree, the hatchet hitting the bark slantwise and sending a spray of wood chunks into your face. For a moment, you could almost hear the kids who laughed at you while you lagged around the corners of the gym, sagging and out of breath. The handle twisted and burnt knotted red callouses into your palm with each strike. Your face puffed red and streamed with tears as you hurled the axe at your unseen enemies – no more the knight anymore. Savage and brimming with rage, you chopped for what felt like hours, and by the time you were too exhausted to continue, the tree was a gnarled and unusable mess and the hatchet was dull. In silence, you walked back to the camp, breath ragged and empty handed.
            The smell of the place changed. One time, when you tried to set up camp, the whole campground was blanketed with a horrible, nauseating septic stench. Someone had tried to bury their waste upwind of the campground, and the recently-fallen rain had caused it to surface. The smell dissipated enough to be tolerable after a while, but the campground always smelled faintly of sewage from then on. What was strange is that there was an outhouse not fifty feet away on the other end of the campsite. It was the first time you can remember finding evidence that anyone besides you or your father had used the campground.

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