Field Notes

One day, whenever and then some, zero-dark-thirty:

At sunrise I was rudely scolded out of sleep. Clacks and squawks erased my comfortable dreamscape. The noises originated from a nest, which I could see through the tent’s skylight. A pair of large blue, black and white birds. Magpies. In Southern Utah.

I had not seen a magpie since leaving Europe many months ago. Maybe they were recent transplants to the American southwest like me. I thought they were a couple of euro-magpies discussing who was responsible for breakfast, or he could be asking for a morning beak-job. Since I’ve been told they mate for life, I figured it was one or the other at this hour.

The magpies chatter made me regret being coerced by yesterday’s weather forecast into setting up under their tree.

Actually, that was untrue. I was happy to find the thicket of brush and scrubby cottonwoods on a riverbank which acted as a much-needed windbreak. That portion of yesterday’s weather forecast was certainly accurate; the tent was almost untouched by wind. Fully awake, I recall the wrong part of the forecast: my frozen ass (literally) waking me at zero-dark-thirty. The weatherwoman was right when she said, ‘35 mph SW gusts’. She was smoking crack when she said, ‘low in the 50s’.

Why did a lower temperature make a difference to me? Because I have a camp bed that folds to the size of a golf bag. Open, it holds an air mattress two feet off the ground. Early in my camping escapades, I learned (the hard way) to put the mattress on the bed only when the weather was above 50. Actually, above 55 was better. Cold air circulated under the bed, infused through the air mattress, then through the sleeping bag, and my skin acted as if I was naked in a hammock (but without an uncomfortable mesh imprint).

For the previous few weeks I had been further north where I kept the air mattress and sleeping bag on the ground (That was north in direction as well as feet above sea level). But, the temperature never dropped below 45 and was in the 50s for several nights. So, I decided to put the bed up. After all, the forecast called for 50s.

So, after a few toddies while watching falling and shooting meteorites, I fell asleep with my tent protected from the gusts as the 75-degree day slowly slipped into the 50s. My asshole.

Could have been used to chill wine.

The toddies had caused my internal rheostat to stop working; I woke only after my brain quit receiving signals from my ass cheeks and frostbite set in. I got up, put the mattress on the ground, re-inflated it (caused by a small hole which I patched the next day) and removed a ¼ inch crust of ice from the top of the water dish.

So, when I say, “low in the 50s, my ass,” understand I’m recalling a painful lesson in: “Give less credence to radio weather forecasts than cell phone commercials”.

I suspect the reason I lost sleep at this wilderness campsite is because I broke 'primitive camping unwritten rule number one': Never set up within visual proximity of other campers. And the magpies were there first.

Breaking that rule would be similar to breaking 'urinal unwritten rule number one': Never take the pisser next to someone. (Never step up next to someone on a wall of empty pissers unless every other slot is full. If you do? Bad karma, meat-gazer.)

Another day, more than two months; I think I lost a day besides:

Traveling to a nearby lake which was more like a puddle, caused me wonder: Is there an acreage-size that makes a body of water large enough to be called a lake? A mound of earth is a hill until it measures a certain height, then it can be called a mountain. Are there similar requirements for a pond to become a lake?

At this time I had been camping at a dispersed site in the Rim Lakes region of north-central Arizona for over a week. Exploring the area, I drove to a nearby lake-pond where I discovered they rented rowboats. Since I could check into a local hotel and take a much-needed shower for the same price they would charge me to sweat over a pair of oars for four hours, I opted to hike with Gus, my cat, instead.

Besides the price of boat rental there was one huge overriding fact I didn't go boating that day: I could drink the lake dry in four hours.

The Parks Department had fifty rowboats stacked on and moored to several docks. I could see seven boats presently in use on the water. Their occupants were being careful not to smack one another with their oars. I imagined all fifty in the lake-pond, making it possible to cross the water by hopping from one boat to another.

When I got back to my campsite, someone was setting up next to me.


They were violating primitive camping rule number one.

I muttered to Gus, "up to now, I was enjoying this spot."

Over eighty wooded sites scattered between three separate areas—covering hundreds of acres—and only ten were occupied (including mine and the site these dumb-fucks were putting-up a tent in, thirty feet away).

I turned my vehicle and backed to the side of my shade-tent. The woman dumb-fuck was clapping her hands, facing me, and shouting in the internationally recognizable ‘calling-the-dog’ gesture.

Double O-oh.

On a scale of O-oh’s, a dog in the next site falls somewhere between: three grade-schoolers and a van full of drunken thrash-metal freaks.

Grade-schoolers will normally have a bedtime and won’t eat my cat. The freaks won’t sleep and may only eat my cat if they run out of Scooby snacks.

Woman dumb fuck was shouting two names, “Logan. Nicky.”

Double O-oh, plus.

Stereo barking. Gus would now lose his roaming privileges of the campsite and wouldn't be leading me on walks (he follows when it’s hot, leads when it’s not).

Three hours of calling Looooogaaaan Niiiiiiickky and I have met the dumb-fucks as they search for their dogs. I help look. After five hours Gus is walking with me to “help search,” because it isn’t looking good for the dumb-fuck dogs.

Two days later the dumb-fucks leave without Logan and Nicky. The dumb-fuck dogs never returned. According to distraught woman dumb-fuck, “They bounded out of the car as soon as we got to the campsite, disappeared and never came back. They always came back in the past”.

I was awarded an air mattress leak, frostbite on my ass, and early morning wake-up calls for violating the rule and I just camped next to a pair of magpies; look what happened to the dumb-fucks.

A great day, climb back a few weeks, but then who’s counting:

I was camping in the vicinity of Natural Bridges National Monument. Wonder who’s idea it was to put both those words: natural & national, in the name of this place; what a snapperheaded mix of words. Try saying it with a few beers in your tummy.

Evening hikes are the best for Gus. The shadows are long, so he isn’t concerned with the heat of the sun and doesn’t walk from shade to shade like he does when the sun is overhead.

This evening our hike took us down over a hundred feet of canyon to a dry creek-bed where Gus became preoccupied with hunting small lizards. They always dashed away. Dozens of pounces and although Gus caught none he seemed to think the very next crack would result in a caught lizard. I stop to watch because the hike was stalled. Not just because Gus was slower than the lizards and didn’t know it, more because I was putting off the climb back to the campsite.

We eventually make it back before dark. The shadows were almost vertical and the orange sun was resting on the horizon. I plop my tired bones into a camp chair and complain to Gus about his unwillingness to climb back up (away from lizard-game). I even had to carry him for part of the return climb, which was not an easy feat because at certain points the climb required all my fingers and feet to grapple for the next higher ledge. I solved the reluctant-Gus problem at those points by throwing him over my head at the next ledge. He may be interested in lizards but when thrown up the rock face, he quickly got the idea to climb on ahead.

The camp chair I plopped into was intended for the beach. Sitting in it I had a comfortable headrest and armrests but my ass hung about two inches off the ground. At the beach, I would lay my legs in the sand. In the campsite, however, I look for something to prop my heels on (so the backs of my legs and short pants don’t get dirt and ants on and up them).

I rolled over a couple of old fire ring rocks. As I put my feet out in front of me I looked at the ground to see if any ants would actually be able to crawl up my pant legs. I see a small yellow scorpion and then a second smaller one next to it. Apparently, they were under one of the rocks before I moved it, about a foot or two from my feet (or, more accurately, the intended location for my outstretched feet. Since I immediately stood upon seeing the pair of scorpions, that was no longer an issue).

I examine them while I mull over my luck in not getting stung when I moved the rocks. I say to Gus (who was in the tent), “At least they aren’t those big black ones I’ve seen in movies.”

The scorpions tired of my examination and found where I moved their shelter and scurried back under the rocks.

I decide, now that the excitement is over, to research scorpion-bites in my handy little wilderness first-aid manual.

My manual relates to treat scorpion stings much like a wasp or hornet sting. It further relates,
‘they are more painful than hornet stings, but no more damaging and the pain and swelling will go away. With one exception: The small, wheat-golden-yellow, Bark Scorpion of the southwestern US (as I read this, my smile fades) this scorpion sting can be fatal to infants and small children and if stung by this scorpion, immediate transport to a medical facility is required. Treat as if bitten by a rattlesnake because anti-venom is required.’
Whew and double whew.

I sometimes let Gus roam the campsite. This evening, because I was going to be building a dinner campfire and becaue it was already getting dark, I had put him in the tent immediately upon our return. I exhale in a sigh of good-fortune for me as well as for Gus as I poke and prod two small bits of fuel into the fire.

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