Things that go bump, or maybe not, in the Night – 8/19/2022
Summer and camping went together in my family. In fact, camping was the only kind of summer vacation I ever knew in my childhood. If you would have asked any of us at the time I am pretty sure that everyone would say that they enjoyed our excursions, but only three of us ever took our own families camping.
Camping during the daytime is a matter of what fun thing do you want to do now? Swimming, fishing, hiking or just plain relaxing are just a few pleasurable ways to spend the day. I never heard any of my siblings growing up, or even my own children complain about camping in the daylight. Even the chores of pumping water and gathering firewood while perhaps not fun, were part of the experience and they brought a certain sense of accomplishment. The challenges of camping creep up, literally, when the sun goes down.
We always camped in the National Forest campgrounds where there was plenty of space in between campsites and there was no electricity. That meant that lighting was limited to campfires, flashlights and lanterns, and in turn meant that the dark darkness of night enveloped about 99 percent of everything. The other reality of camping is that night lasts twice as long as daytime. Of course, everyone knew that the darkness itself was not the problem; the real and imagined threat was the creatures, real and mythical, that prowled about just beyond the reach of the flashlight beam.
Personally, I was never concerned about any serious danger. I knew that the two animals most likely to be encountered in the night were raccoons and skunks. Racoons were usually shy enough to wait for the lantern to be turned down before coming into the campsite. Because of raccoons and their uncanny ability to quickly open any type of cooler or container we had to stow anything edible as well as the garbage in the locked vehicles for the night. That usually meant the racoons came into camp, checked it out and quickly discovered slim pickings and so they moved on to other campsites.
Skunks were a different matter. Skunks are relatively arrogant creatures who assume correctly that people are afraid of them. That meant that they didn’t always wait until lights out to make an appearance. The key is to remain calm, move slowly or not at all, and let the skunk go about his way when he is good and ready. I recall though one evening when our group of experienced campers pretty much failed the test of how to deal with a curious skunk.
It was early in our marriage before we had children of our own, and we had gone camping with my sister Sandy, her husband Ron, their three children and two nieces borrowed from my brother Gary. We joined them at their campsite for the evening campfire. All was going well – marshmallows were being appropriately toasted, silly songs were being sung, bad jokes were being laughed at. I was seated in a lounger which meant that I was only about a foot off of the ground. At one point I noticed some movement, looked down and saw that there was a skunk directly beneath me. In feigned calmness I managed to say, “Don’t panic, but there is a skunk under my chair. In approximately 1.2 seconds everyone else scrambled from their chairs and disappeared. The kids all dove into the tent, my sister and my wife made it to the car and slammed and locked the doors behind them. That forced my brother-in-law to hop up on the hood of the car.
All that commotion put the skunk on alert. I think he would have let loose of volley of ill smelling spray but they have to kind of raise up their tail and back end to do so, and the lounger didn’t afford him adequate clearance. My reclined position, though previously comfortable, prevented me from any kind of quick escape. I had been abandoned and left behind as the designated sacrifice. I didn’t have any choice but to remain sitting and hope for the best.
I watched as the skunk moved out from under my chair and he headed for the picnic table that held all our snacks. While he was very interested he couldn’t reach, nor could he climb up. My brother-in-law Ron though was impatient and decided to throw a piece of firewood at the skunk to scare it off. That was not a good idea as the skunk became agitated. He didn’t spray, but you could tell that he was giving it serious consideration. I suggested to Ron, somewhat emphatically, against tossing any more firewood. Eventually the uninvited guest did move off and everyone came out of hiding.
That did kind of kill the mood though, so everything got packed up for the evening. We headed down the road, to the restrooms with flashlights scanning the roadside bushes for any sign of our furry companion. If you want to know the effect that a skunk encounter can have on previously normal appearing souls, I offer you the scene of two grown women and three girls all somehow fitting into a one-stall outhouse. None of them had any intention of waiting in the dark for their turn. I chuckled at them until it occurred to me that Ron and both of his boys had done the same. I was alone there in the dark – once more the designated sacrificial lamb. But I maintained my calmness, I chuckled quietly to myself. But there in the dark I began to sense that I was not alone. I took courage in the fact that daylight was only about forty hours away!
“My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.” Psalm 130:6