Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Nature's Fourth of July Fireworks

A thunder clap drove my
head deep between my
shoulders.
A lightning bolt sizzled
above the south horizon.
My eyes bulged like those
of a French bulldog whose le
boeuf pate hits the floor.
``Gees!'' I said.
Sadie the Dalmatian, who
cringes at snapping fire
crackers 16 blocks from our
house with the TV on full
blast, didn't even lift her
sniffer.
I had packed up the camp
ing gear, loaded Sadie into
the truck and driven into the
wilderness to avoid the
annual nervous breakdown
that she suffers from Fourth
of July fireworks.
So, while she nonchalantly
sniffed a squirrel's trail, I
twitched and shuddered at
thunder and lightning.
Irony? Well, I know one
when I see one.
Not that the thunder storm
came unexpectedly.
Soon after turning from
Oregon Highway 204 onto
Summit Road, I spotted thun
derclouds to the south.
Yet, we sped along bathed
in sunlight all the way to
Shimmiehorn Pond.
Once there we saw a trailer
and pickup at one end of the
pond, a car at the middle and
a group with three pickups
with several ORVs at the far
end. Two men at the pond
cast for small trout.
``Big crowd for such a small
pond, even on the Fourth of
July,'' I grumbled.
I stopped near the pond and
considered looking for an
other place, a flat, quiet place,
away from fireworks.
Then a person in the large
group picked up a chair and
put it into a pickup.
Ah, they were leaving.
To kill time, I drove to a
faint two-track trail and five
turkeys strutted in front of us.
Then a cow elk stepped
from the trees, and I turned
off the key, picked up the
camera on the shoulder
mount and clicked.
The elk ambled along the
meadow, pulling up the oc
casional mouthful of weeds
and chewing complacently, as
if we weren't there.
Hard-eyed Sadie studied its
every move. When I started
the engine and drove on, the
elk didn't look up.
Back at Shimmiehorn, I
took the empty spot.
Charred wood smoldered in
a fire ring, and I made two
trips to the pond with a gallon
jug for water to pour on it.
Both times Sadie waded
into the pond up to her chest.
The fishermen departed as I
pitched the Eureka! tent on a
flat, bumpy spot near a bush.
Five tent stakes slipped easy
into the ground. One bent. I
used a 27-pound rock to
anchor that corner.
Sadie, of course, rushed
into the tent and left muddy
footprints all over the floor. I
fetched a towel, made her get
out and rubbed up the foot
prints. Then I dried her,
somewhat, and spread the
towel on the tent floor. I set
her water and dinner just out
side of the door.
I tossed mattresses and
sleeping bags inside. At 4:28
p.m. I dumped a can of Bush's
Baked Beans into a pan with
chunks of English muffin.
I heated the beans on the
JetBoil stove and dined with
my feet dangling from the
truck's tailgate.
Then, despite a mild sweat,
I made hot chocolate.
After Sadie cleaned the
bean pan and I boiled water in
it, I took the camera, Sadie
and my cup for a walk.
That's when the thunder
and lightning nearly knocked
me down and dark clouds
arrived with rain.
With the temperature in the
80s, I walked in the rain.
When it passed, tall, sun-
drenched clouds remained.
By 6:39 p.m., I stirred-up a
second cup of hot chocolate
and stuffed the gear away in
the truck. I crawled into the
tent with Sadie and my book.
I sat briefly on my Crazy
Creek Chair, but it was
muggy inside and smelled of
wet dog.
So, I moved the chair out
side and sat with my bare feet
inside the tent, safe from ants.
More or less.
The Brunton Wind device
measured the temperature at
82 degrees. I hung it from the
tent and a few minutes later it
said 79 degrees.
As the sun slipped toward
the the horizon, it tinted
clouds the color of crimson
paintbrush or orange sherbet.
So, I put on socks and
shoes again, fetched the cam
era and followed Sadie
around to photograph clouds.
It was something to do.
When we finally slipped
into the tent and lay on our
sleeping bags, I fell asleep in
about 12 seconds.
I woke once during the
night to the patter of rain on
the tent. At 5:39 a.m. I
crawled into the dawn and
saw the man beyond the pond
removing scotches from the
wheels of his trailer.
Goose bumps popped out
on my arms. The Brunton
Wind said 59 degrees, and I
pulled a nylon sweater from
my stuff-sack pillow. Sadie
also wobbled from the tent to
stretch, yawn and sniff the
ground.
A group of turkeys moved
in the meadow below the
pond.
As I hurried to the truck for
the camera, I realized that
Sadie had slept all night with
out a single explosion to mar
her dreams.
``C'mon, Sadie, let's stalk
turkeys,'' I said and walked
toward the pond.
When I looked back, Sadie
stood up to her chest in the
pond and shook herself.
I waited until she caught
up, and sneaked after turkeys
in the dawn's early light.

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