Sunday, April 16, 2006

And into the woods we went!

It was a thing of beauty. No wasted space, no blocked visibility. Seven years of bagging groceries prepared me for this moment. I spent another minute admiring my packing job then shut the rear hatch on the Honda with a contented sigh. I had everything I needed to insure my family would have a great time on their first full-fledged camping trip in the wilderness.

Well, everything but the roll of paper towels, the hotdog/marshmallow roasting sticks, dish soap, and batteries for the tent's ceiling fan. Unfortunately, I didn't realize this until much later.

We were off to spend a night on the shores of Lake Charlotte. The campgrounds there are brand new, stunningly beautiful, and pretty much still a secret. You need a special permit to camp there, but you'll have to ask me really nicely about how to get it. It isn't easy and the process keeps the riff-raff out (in theory).


It's an hour's drive through some of Houston's nastiest, smelliest places before you break out into the wilds. The last bridge gives you an unobstructed view of miles of lakes, channels, swamps, and forests before dropping you into this Heaven east of Houston. Someday when I learn to steer the SUV with my teeth I'll get a picture from this bridge. It is stunning. A few miles further and we were deep into this wild place. Missewether lost some of her trepidition as we pulled up to the picnic area overlooking the lake. Besides, she had a manly outdoorsman like me to take care of her every need.

Gratuitous sexy shot of me.

Veggies burgers were grilled, chips were munched, brownies were devoured. Misseswether kicked back in my hammock while Miniwether and I explored the shore and swamps.

Gratuitous cutey shot of Miniwether.

Another shot of Minwether exploring the swamps.

Channels run hither and yon through the swamps. Bring your GPS!

Cypress sentinals at sunset.

Native Americans had lived on the shore of Lake Charlotte for centuries eating the bountiful fish, crabs, cayfish, plants, and clams found here. The shore is littered with huge piles of clam shell middens left behind by these natives. In some places the layer of shells is three feet deep with giant cypress and cedars growing out of them.

After returning from the swamps it was time to set up our camp. We found a nice spot back away from a cliff overlooking the water. A stiff breeze was blowing across the lake into our camp which helped keep the mosquitoes away. I loved the sound of the wind. It made the trees roar and the waves crash. It had been far too long since I'd slept with those sounds. When I mentioned it to Misseswether the next morning her reply revealed the size of the job still ahead of me. She really disliked the noise of the wind through the trees and the crashing waves. To cope with it she pretended it was the soothing sound of traffic...

Oh well.

She quickly got the portaprivy up, followed by the tent. Once night fell the privy was moved inside the tent. Hey, whatever it takes..

Meanwhile, I built a fire and began roasting potatoes. In this shot I was splitting wood by batoning it with my kukhri and a club. This technique is great for turning big log into small sticks, freeing up dry wood from the center of wet wood, and laying open one's shin to the bone (or, uh, so I'm told...)

While the potatoes baked I searched for the hotdog cooking forks. And looked, and looked, and looked.


But never fear, I'm an experienced woodsman! I quickly placed two large logs parallel to one another about six inches apart a little ways away from the fire. Then I shoveled several scoops of red hot coals from the fire between these logs. The logs would support the frying pan over the coals and the air would soon be filled with the great smell of hotdogs being fried in a mess o' onions. I just needed to coat the outside of the frying pan with some dish soap to make cleaning off the soot a peice of cake.

Dish soap, dish soap, where the heck was my dish soap!

Oh well. Growls of hunger from my delicate ladies indicated I'd be better off scrubing the soot off later than delay cooking any longer. The pan went over the coals, the hotdogs and onions went in the pan, five minutes later we were stuffing our faces with a feast fit for a king, or at least Robin Hood (whose story has been horribly distorted. He wasn't stealing from the rich to give to the poor! In the original story he was stealing back from the king money collected by excessive taxation and returning this money to the people who had originally earned it! I can support that Robin Hood a lot more than the current populist incarnation. Um, but I digress.)

Misses- and Miniwether retreated to the tent while I cleaned up. Having no dish soap limited my cleaning to hungry ants followed by large amounts of boiling water. Hey, it works.

Night was falling and it was well past Miniwether's bedtime. I promised her I'd take her for a walk in the dark if afterwards she'd go right to sleep. I picked her up and carried her down to the lake shore where we stood and stared at the brilliant spray of stars. She was speechless in the dark under the stars snuggled in my arms. After a while we said goodnight to the moon, the waves, the stars and I carried her back to the tent thinking she'd quickly drift off to sleep. Misseswether was waiting for us to return so that I could turn on the ceiling fan. She was too short to reach it and needed my help.

It was at this point I had to admit to her that I had also forgotten to pack the batteries for the ceiling fan. She took the news much more gracefully than I had expected, thank God. I figured I'd be up all night long cooling her with a giant fan woven from strips of cedar bark, but luckily it had cooled down enough to be comfortable laying on top of the sleeping bags.

Through the tent's skylight stars would wink and blink as tree branches swayed in the wind. This turned out to be very fortuitous as Misseswether convinced Miniwether that these lights were tree fairies flaying around and they could be lured closer if she closed her eyes and laid motionless. This was necessary as Miniwether thought the queen-sized air matress we were on was wonderfully bouncy. Luckily, Misseswether's tale of fairies worked and Miniwether settled down into a deep slumber. She still bounced around, but at least she was doing it in her sleep. She ended half on/half off the matress but attempts to pull her completely back on resulted in much flailing. I ended up leaving her the way she wanted.

Whatever works...

Morning came and I slipped out to begin breakfast. The fire had been put out the night before so I was cooking over my Coleman camp stove. This thing can run on either white gas or unleaded gas, but I had an adapter that allowed it to also run on propane. This is a very good thing to have in hurricane country.

Breakfast was sausage, eggs, and cheese on sesame-seed buns. Oatmeal was also available, but unneeded as we filled up on the much less healthy fare. Calories consumed in the woods are immediately burned off so one's diet can consist of stuff normally forbidden. At least that's my theory.

After that it was time to pack the camp. Soon the Honda was filled up and nothing was left out but some chips and fruit. We went hiking for a while through the woods, along the shore, and into the swamps then returned to nibble some lunch. Miniwether didn't want to leave but was too tired to put up a fight. I carried her to the SUV and buckled her in. She was asleep before we made it out of the campground. Misseswether glanced back at her girl, then reached over and squeezed my knee. I think that meant I had succeeded in making the camping trip fun. I can't wait to go back!

Adventure! Family! Woods!

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