© 2010 Joshua Stark
Yesterday afternoon, we came home from a 3 1/2 day camping trip into the Sierra Nevada.
It'd be nice to say that we hiked back 20 miles or so into some roadless area where we lived off the land, picked berries and tubers, killed the great Hart, caught fish, or some such thing. The truth is, however, that we drove up to the last vacant site in a campground of 80 spots, amid hundreds of people and next to a reservoir. But I do not apologize.
My plans always start bigger than they wind up (ask any number of my hunting and fishing companions), and this trip proved no exception. We were expecting upwards of 20 people to join us for a few days of hiking, berry-picking, perhaps crawdadding, and definitely fishing, fishing, and fishing. But slowly, people backed out, all for very good reasons, of course, and we were down to two days of 5 1/2 of us, and two days with three more folks.
The days were hot, too: I'm sure we broke 100 on at least one of them. And the neighbors were up pretty late and up pretty early. And the reservoir was full of motor boats and jet skis.
But not in our neck of the woods. Where we landed, we had a wonderful little inlet that had a few people, but almost zero encounters with fast boaters. We launched our kayak and canoe, toted around a blow-up turtle (as opposed to an exploding turtle), and splashed in the water the first day.
The evening of the second day, my nephew and I took to the woods stumpshooting. For those of you who aren't lucky enough to use a bow and arrow, stumpshooting is when you walk through the forest, slowly and quietly (or not so slowly and a little bit loud, but not screaming and running), and sneak up on and shoot wily critters like pinecones and sticks. Stumps can break arrows, so we don't really shoot at those... I'm guessing the term was coined by wealthier folks than we.
We walked, and talked, and watched the stream higher than I'd ever seen it in July. We vowed we'd return the next day with the whole family. We also had a run-in with a hawk of some kind (it kills me that I don't know what kind of hawk it was) chasing a baby bird, the momma screaming and right on its heels. The three of them went careening through the woods, and we had to duck to avoid being hit - the hawk barely banked to its left, the baby bird to its right. They flew on through the forest, but since we almost instantly heard no more screaming from the momma bird, we figured the baby had gotten away. While neither of us could help feeling relieved, I also explained to my nephew that the hawk may be trying to feed its own little ones. He responded, after some thought, that "it's both good and bad."
The next day, we all trekked back to the stream and swam it. There was a fast current in the middle of a fine pool, and my nephew swam it bravely, (which means with trepidation, but doing it anyway because he felt he should, not because we goaded him - we aren't like that). Other family arrived, and we had a great time at the pool. At one point, a niece fell in the water (she was okay), and our 11-year old dog, Irma, jumped in to save her - a remarkable feat, since she absolutely detests swimming, and the water was cold. If you've never owned a dog, I might venture to say that you've never known pure, unconditional love.
The berries weren't ripe. We didn't drop a crawdad trap. We fished maybe ten minutes, tops. No rabbits for the pot. Deer season was a month away. And yet, this was one of the greatest camping trips I've ever had. Loving family was there, there were adventures aplenty, the food was great, and I got to watch my 3-year old daughter show little fear of anything other than boats and band-aids. She climbed up and down rocks all day, she watched bugs, she asked about bird calls (a red-breasted nuthatch).
What an amazing time.
If you ever get a chance to get out with kids into the woods, even if they are a little crowded with other folks, do it - for them, and for you.
And now, I'll leave you with a little video I took on a tree next to our campsite. I think it's fitting with the theme:
The Mallard Has Not Flown South...
3 hours ago