Thursday, April 23, 2009


Theme Thursday

...and it's all about fire. When I was a young mother, camping in the wilderness with my three-year old daughter, it was all about the morning campfire. There weren't just the two of us out there. We were part of a group of five people camping in southern Ontario, near Pencil Lake. I see that there is now an official trail there, with myriad trail activities to choose from. As I recall, when we camped there in the early 1970s, we just pulled off the highway and up a dirt road, then set up camp on the nearest level bit of ground. We moved a couple of times, once because we discovered we were camped on the path used by the local moose population to get down to the stream for a drink.

Every morning, I would get up at dawn and crawl out of my dewy tent. Within minutes, I would be joined by the other woman of the group, and together we would start the morning fire. We would crumple newspaper for the first layer of the firebed, then add kindling that we had kept covered to protect it from the dew. We would light the fire with our cigarette lighters and carefully nurse it along, adding larger and larger pieces of wood until it was burning in earnest. Then it was time for the coffee. Billy coffee. We would fill one of our blackened saucepans with fresh water from the nearby stream (we always camped near a stream) and bring it to a boil on the really blackened metal fire grate we carried with us. When the water was bubbling, we would toss in a handful of ground coffee, give it a stir, and set it aside to steep. To this day, there is no smell that brings back such vivid memories - most of them good - as the smell of billy coffee brewing over a wood fire.

There was one morning that truly stands out in my memory. When I crawled out of my tent, I left my little girl in there, sleeping. I left the zipper open so that when she woke up, she could come out on her own. I could see the door from where I sat by the fire, drinking my coffee. My friend was sitting on the other side of the fire. We didn't talk much, because it was really early, but we were enjoying the dawn, the fire, the coffee, the quiet companionship. That was why the two of us got up so early - to have a few minutes of silence before starting the business of breakfast, child care, hiking, cutting wood, playing cards - all the stuff that makes camping fun, but exhausting. I suspect that most women in that situation do the same.

Then I saw it. A skunk. It had wandered into the campsite in spite of the fire. I realized later that that alone ought to have thrown me into a panic. The fire should have scared the skunk away, and it didn't,
and that might have been a very bad sign. However, all I could think at the time was that I shouldn't startle the skunk, lest it spray. I whispered to my friend, to warn her. She turned slowly and looked over her shoulder, careful not to make any noise. As we sat there, holding our breath, we saw the skunk walk right into the tent where my little girl was sleeping.

Well, now we absolutely couldn't do anything to startle the skunk, and I remember thinking don't wake up now don't wake up now please don't wake up now.
.
.
.
.
.
She didn't. My wonderful little girl slept through the whole thing. After a minute or so, its curiosity satisfied, the skunk walked back out of the tent and skulked off into the woods, leaving behind only a faint, skunky smell that disappeared in the more pungent smell of wood smoke and coffee.

I tiptoed over to the tent and peeked in at my daughter. She was sleeping soundly, completely oblivious of all the excitement. I walked back to the fire, sat down, drank my billy coffee, and breathed a sigh of relief. All in a day's camping.

I was going to post a song about a fellow who had lots of adventures when he went camping - Waltzing Matilda, sung by Rolf Harris. When the time came, though, I couldn't resist the obvious choice of theme music, so here it is:

Happy Theme Thursday.

20 comments:

Tom said...

now that's a camping story..moose and skunks! Happy Thursday.

Kris said...

How about those leather pants? It's getting hot in here...

Leah said...

I really liked this story, and find it so interesting that motherhood is motherhood everywhere, in the woods, in the house...

wonderful theme thursday post!

subtorp77 said...

Nice story. You did right by ignoring the skunk. Just a curious forest dweller. Lots of 'em round here. I'd rather have the close call than the spraying!

Sandra Leigh said...

Good morning Tom, Kris, Leah, Subtorp77 - Thanks for visiting.

California Girl said...

Love that song and good thinking on your part! I chose Earth Wind & Fire.

willow said...

Last fall there was a skunk as big as a goat (I'm not kidding) who came out at dusk just as I was taking my evening walk. I'm happy to say he hasn't been around this spring.

Brian Miller said...

lol. love camping...had a similar experience with a bear that was sniffing around inches from the tent...scary. time by the campfire early in the morning...a fav of mine.

The Clever Pup said...

I am an Ontarian too. Cool. Once when I was camping something pinched me through the tent...

reyjr said...

yikes! ugh skunk!

wasn't it difficult taking a 3 year old to a camp? i've never gone camping ever. :p

Poetikat said...

"Don't wake up." What would have happened if she had, I wonder.

Funny, I make a kind of "Billy Coffee" (why do you call it that?) sometimes when my French press is still half full from the morning. I put it in a stainless steel pot and boil it back up until the flavours are recalled. It's not too bad.

Where is Pencil Lake. I'm in S. Ontario too.

You might like my poem "Dorothy's Adventure" - about a skunk you may have heard of in the news.

Kat

Debbie said...

Oh, this story could have so easily had a bad ending! I'm glad it didn't.

Ronda Laveen said...

All strong smells that evoke strong memories. Great story. Glad you avoided the skunk spray. I've not always been so lucky.

John Hayes said...

Getting sprayed by a skunk really would have put a damper on your trip! I got sprayed by one around here once-- took about 6 months to get the smell out of my clothes. Most unpleasant, but what a story. You really kept your cool.

What you call "billy coffee" is referred to as "cowboy coffee" around here.

Wings said...

Great story and a Doors video, what more can you ask for!? :)

Michael Rawluk said...

I grew up with dogs occasionally returning home with the smell of skunk coming with them. That is something one never forgets.

Sandra Leigh said...

Oh,my goodness. Where to begin? Thank you to everybody who came visiting while I was out. I'll be visiting all your blogs in a minute, but I can answer a question or two here. Poetikat - a billy is a little can that Australian swagmen use to boil their tea (or so Rolf Harris tells me)and I assume that the term billy has grown to include a little can in which Canadian campers boil their coffee. ;>) We used a pan, but we weren't purists.

LOL, Willow, are you sure it wasn't a very smelly badger?

reyjr - Yes, it was challenging, camping with a 3-year old, but it was also fun. Evening bath time in a mountain stream was particularly fun (if cold).

Brian - a bear might have scared me into breaking my silence!

Now I'm off to do some overdue visitin'. Thanks again for coming by.

Sandra Leigh said...

I forgot to answer Poetikat's question. Acording to Google, "Pencil Lake sits off Highway 507, north of Buckhorn, south of Gooderham, in the middle of the Haliburton Highlands. It is on southern edge of the Algonquin Dome, below the Algonquin Park boundary. It's the feeder lake to the Trent Severn waterway, which drains into Lake Ontario."

Megan said...

I too, love those morning minutes at the campground before everyone else is up.

Soooo glad the skunk went away quietly, oh my.

Welcome to Theme Thursday! Sorry I didn't get over here earlier!

Sandra Leigh said...

LOL - Megan, I just clicked on your name to find your blog - and I found a village. You are mouse? I shall visit all your various personae in their lairs - Glad you stopped by mine.

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