Don’t fall in love

… with your campsite. Unfortunately, I have. It is hidden from the world beneath tall firs and nestled against a gurgling, crystal creek with two small rapids. There is the rare sound of a passing car on the dirt forest road. People appear irregularly, briefly, family, and they go away. Once you leave the town a couple of miles back, there is no phone or other connection to the world.

Each morning the creek awakes, along with the rest of us. It sounds louder in the morning and the water seems to rush differently. The sunlight plays a different minuet early from the gavotte of noon to the requiem of night.

‘Tis the season to fear winter, and the chipmunks begin the day cracking off giant fir cones and tossing them to the ground. They rain down hard, several dozen by the second hour of daylight, thumping hard against the fly and the tarp.

Inside the cones are fresh green seeds, and the chipmunks are either cracking the cones up high and collecting the seeds, or tossing them down below to be scavenged later and stored for winter, I’m not sure which. But I’m sure they feel winter as keenly as I do, keener, probably. In any case, the cones ooze the extraordinarily fresh smell of fir and the extraordinarily tacky goop of pitch.

The pitch sticks to everything. My hands, my shoes, my socks, the tent, and then the dirt, which now covers mostly everything, firmly adhered to with the pitch.

At first I was annoyed by the falling fir bombs and the sticky sap and the dirt, but now I don’t care. The big chunks of pitch are easily picked off, the medium sized ones are easily emulsified with a secret that I won’t print here, and the little bits become badges of camping. Because camping is fundamentally dirty.

The day before I’d climbed into the spring to clean off all the dirt, and standing on the bank I dried soon enough, but my feet were now splotched with mud. The only way to get the mud off without wetting my feet again and thereby soaking my socks was to cover the mud with dry dirt.

The dirt leached out the water from the mud until my feet were simply covered with dark black dry dirt sans mud. I brushed away at the dirt, and got some of it off, but the end result was two feet covered in dirt. No wonder people don’t use dirt to get off their dirt. The rest of me was clean enough, and anyway, this was new dirt and confined to my toes, so I socked up and didn’t think more about it.

In the afternoon a lady and her husband showed up to fish. They were from Kyrghistan and when they evinced surprise that I’d ridden up from LA, I told them of my friend who’d crossed Kyrghistan by bike. A half hour later they came back and gave me three gorgeous, plump brook trout! I headed, gutted, fileted, and pan fried them up in vegetables and olive oil.

So much for roughing it.

But back to love … you can’t fall in love, not with the ripples, not with the brook trout, not with the jays, not with the trees, not with the solitude because it isn’t yours and it will soon be taken away. A ranger will advise you’ve passed the 14-day limit, or it will get too cold, or the rain and snow will come, or or or. And you’ll have to leave it behind.

This is as it should be. A camp site is a shelter but only a temporary one, to besmirch a little and then abandon so that nature can do its recovery. Falling in love, and staying there, makes you soft and weak, too. It saps your will to pack up and pedal, to see what’s up the road a bit, to see if maybe there’s a camp site even better, to continue the journey wherever it happens to lead.


Another fir cone, this one missing my head by inches.

Time to move on, indeed.


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14 thoughts on “Don’t fall in love”

  1. And I do believe that Brookies are non-native, and the fisher people are encouraged to catch them and not release them so that that native cut-throat can make a come back. We had brookies that we caught in Moon Lake way the hell up at 11000′ in the High Uintas. There too, take the Brookies. They were delicious.

  2. Heaven is catching some trout and immediately throwing them in a skillet with some butter/salt/pepper, and eating them right there at the crik.
    I hear you’re going to PawPaw again in February. Congrats, PawPaw!

  3. Wonderful essay.

    In CA Nat’l Forests, looks like all developed campsites and day use areas closed. No campfires or stoves. All SoCal forests completely closed. Details:

    Looks like no prohibition against dispersed camping. Good news fewer alcohols camping and hunting. Using a stove is probably out of the question in NF.

      1. Indeed. However, humans are not the brightest of creatures. Moreover, probably an abundance of caution is advised given how stretched forest firefighting resources currently are.

  4. If you come back will you take the train?

    Trains are more fun than airplanes (for passengers) … people walk about and visit … On one of our train trips (LA to Sante Fe/Taos) an older lady got up and did about a half hour of raunchy jokes that were really funny.

    We had dinner with an Amish man and his son …. by happenstance in the dining car…. interesting to visit with them in an informal atmosphere….

    Have you worried about anything lately (besides a campsite)?

    Are you getting bored?

    Do you have music?

    I like your stories … they are calming as we apporach the election.

    Not much going on here for us … we are sequestered for Covid … masked and hiding out except for the occasional trip to the grocery store and EscoGelato for ice cream .. even medical trips are virtual.

    We have bat on our porch and called animal control since we are only a couple of miles from Safari Park … they had a rabid one there recently and are looking for those humans that were exposed.

    Usually we like bats since they eat the insects ….

    Stay safe … relatives up there say the fires are all about.

    1. No train for me!

      My worries: 1. Where will I camp? 2. What will I eat? 3. Where will I go tomorrow?

      The “bored” question is a great one! No! I think I’ll make it a blog post, though.

      Glad these musings are calming. We need more calm, less stimulation of the artificial sort.

      I beat the last two fires by dumb luck. Hoping it holds!

  5. You can do moving pictures!

    I literally just finished dinner, and am now ravenous after peeking at the trout pics.

    Great piece here. My favorite: “A lady and her husband….”

    1. I haven’t had freshly caught fish for dinner in so long I can’t remember. I just know that a few years ago I was at a restaurant in Manhattan Beach and spied “Fresh Trout/Market Price” on the menu. Market Price was $35. And I bet however fresh those trout were, they weren’t swimming with their besties five minutes prior to beheading-gutting-frying!

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