Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Sleeping with skunks, dancing with yellow jackets

That title line could easily be the description of the mini-camping trip we took over the past several days. It was a quickie to a state park here in the mountains of Virginia. With so many of my family now working (my three oldest all have jobs), it’s hard to find time for a family get-away. But we managed, arriving at the camp early Sunday and leaving mid-day on Tuesday.

It was pretty standard fare as far as a state park goes – cookie-cutter camp sites for pitching tents and grilling, crushed pebbles for sand on the lake, lifeguards who looked as if they would rather be anywhere (even back in school) than sitting in their chairs blowing their whistles at teens chicken fighting in the shallow swim area.

Still, it was a nice get-away. No computers, no television, no radio, nearly no telephones (my wife and two oldest daughters took their cell phones because they are addicted to the things). And we had a nice sized crew – my wife and I, our five children (ages 20, 18, 17, 15, and 11), and boyfriends of the two oldest kids.

Not to bore you with all the details, but we arrived early Sunday, set up camp and spent the rest of the day at the lake, bobbing in the water, splashing one another, throwing the football around – all the usual stuff.

Sunday night we had our first encounter with a bit of wildlife, when a skunk ambled by our campsite. Other than making sure he kept going as far as our flashlight beams would reach, we gave it little thought.

Later that night, as everyone was turning in, my youngest son – the 15-year-old – complained about it being too hot inside the tent, and he was right. I’ve never cared much for tent sleeping in the summer, because the heat builds up inside and takes most of the night to dissipate. So he and I bedded down outside, under the handful of stars we could see through the canopy of pine and oak trees.

Around two o’clock, my youngest – a girl – woke me. Some creature, we figured it was a raccoon, had tried helping itself to a few of our supplies. My son apparently heard him, turned on the flashlight and found himself in a stare-down with the little bandit. Being the he-man that he is, my son high-tailed it for the tent and only by chance woke up his little sister. Dad? Oh, well, my son conveniently forgot about me. It was the 11-year-old who thought maybe they should wake me and let me know I wasn’t alone out there in the forest.

Eventually we all got back to sleep, including the 15-year-old, the two of us still sleeping outside.

The next day was fine – hot and breezy, perfect for hanging out at the lake, swimming, building sand castles, just an all-around nice day. Lunchtime, however, was a bit of a challenge. Seems a horde of yellow jackets decided they liked the scent of our water melon, so lunch ended up being the Dad Run and Dance Olympics. With the bees swarming our site’s picnic table, we ate at the vacant adjacent campsite; with yours truly being the one who darted in and out of the bee swarm, grabbing the cooler, the bread, the napkins – whatever someone else decided was needed.

I’m not certain, but I think a few of those requests were simply to see me dancing in and out of the bees. Amazingly, I was not stung a single time, although I may have been risking permanent injury with some of the contortions I put on display.

The afternoon was more of the same – hanging out at the lake, not dancing with bees, I mean. Things changed a bit in the evening with not one, not two, but THREE skunks moseying on in and out of our campsite whenever they darn well felt like it, even while we were still sitting around the fire making s’mores.

When time to turn-in rolled around, the 15-year-old decided he was going to sleep outside again.

“What about the skunks?” I asked.

“No skunk’s going to come around as long as we’re out here,” he replied.

“They did while we were making s’mores.”

“Well, even if they do, they won’t bother us while we’re sleeping.”

I told him okay, if he was up for it, so was I. Truth was, I really did not want to sleep inside the tent. We went inside, grabbed our sleeping gear and stepped back out, only to see two of the little stinkers walking around exactly where we planned to unroll our sleeping bags.

My son and I looked at one another and, without a word between us, turned back into the tent and slept there for the night.

You know what? Despite all the wild creature problems, it was a nice trip. My two oldest are in college now, still living at home, but likely to move away in another year. The next two are right behind, and even the youngest, with another seven or eight years before she’s ready for college, will be grown and going her own way before long. These sorts of family times are, I’m sad to say, dwindling, and it was a good time to enjoy being together, away from the rest of the world, even if it was just for a couple of days.


Being away from the e-word doesn’t mean the writing stopped entirely. As many of you know, my debut novel CLAIMING MOON is set for release on Aug.
1. One of the things I’ve been struggling with is a follow-up, the sequel to the book, a way to carry the characters (at least the ones who survive) on as their lives continue to evolve.

While the wife was lying on the shore, getting a little sun, and the kids (and the boyfriends) were all off splashing and playing, I spent a few moments out in the water, floating along, watching the opposite shore line, when my attention was drawn to a sailboat drifting, seemingly without any direction from its occupants. For a few minutes I even wondered if anyone was on board, or if it were going to come on in to the swimming area, carried there by the summer wind.

That’s when the germ of the idea hit me. I spent that night, and the next, once everyone else had gone to sleep and the camp-invading creatures weren’t intruding too much, working out some plot lines, and I think the little mini-vacation has given me what will become the second novel in my series.

Now I can’t wait to get cracking.

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