Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Sam A. Baker State Park, August 8-10
I. Getting There.
Leaving 9:25a, cloudy...radio...market mixed, a bit of work this morning, B driving..."I Touch Myself," memory of getting off a plane when I hear this song, disembarking where you say "bye now" to stewardess...and I remember my mom saying she thought this song was "stupid," which I don't dispute...but the song was a success...I'm talking about it, hearing it, however many years later—20 years? 1994 or so?—can't remember who sings it...the Divinyls?... It's on 90.7 HD2, HD radio in the Subaru...I miss the Jeep emotionally, but not functionally...It's an eclectic mix on this station, one song was a collection of racket, like bad Beach Boys mixed with poseur Middle Eastern rhythms. Jeff Co. Arnold—where Pat got Frozen Castles. And Heartless Bastards. This song goes out to you, P Hole—thanks again for that ride home from pool Wednesday night.
This is a good time to be on 55—it's about half the time versus last time I traversed it, three weeks ago plus six hours en route St. Francois. We'll go past St. Fran on our way to Sam A. Baker.
I can start to see some hills peaking out due south, lightly cloaked in a foggy mist. Silver Hills, is what Ida called them...
...I'm in here and I'm not talking...
"You don't have much to say," she says.
"No, I don't."
"Then why'd you come in here."
"I came in for him. He—his dad died. He just found out, a couple hours ago."
"Yeah. He wanted to come in here. I don't know. It's not where Ida ended up. Or if I had—I'd be a lot drunker than he is."
"Maybe you should buy him a drink."
"Maybe you should buy me one, too."
Just riffing there, a little fictionalized memoir. But which parts are real, and which aren't. Ah-ha-ha-ha-hah. It's 10:07, sixty-seven degrees. To Farmington, a mile away.
Fort Find It. Dillo. We're about to pass St. Francois State Park, which is on the left. See ya. No Francois but we will be fishing, swimming in, and floating the St. Francis River. We pass a metal fabricator. We pass Cherokee Landing, an outfitter. It was that name we saw painted on the sides of canoes putting in on the Big River at St. Francois. Bonne Terre. A used car lot displays a pink polka-dotted-elephant. I think of that National song, "Pink Rabbits." A little sun for the first time all day. Still rocking the 90.7 HD2, so-called "Exponential Radio."
Farmington. There's a turnoff via 221 for "Arcadia Valley," the constituents of which I've heard—Johnson's Shut-Ins, Taum Sauk State Park—but I've never heard it called Arcadia Valley. St. Joe State Park is over that way, too. I was telling B that St. Joe is an ATV destination. And that it's also polluted. Past Farmington we crossed the St. Francis, and we just cross it again. We also lost the signal for exponential radio. We're on 67 still, headed south. It's two lanes each way, separated by a healthy gray median. There is a steady feed of cars and trucks but the traffic is not heavy. Plenty of room out here. There's rain out to the west, somewhere. South, too. But we press on. Sprinkles. S bar F Scout Ranch. I say with nearly complete confidence that I've never been on this road before. In college, for the rock class or two I took, we came down 67, and eventually on over to Johnson's Shut-Ins and Elephant Rocks—but I don't believe we were ever this far south. Coppermines Church. It's 10:57.
The median, past Fredericktown (which makes me think of my father, whose middle name is Frederick, oddly), is no longer green. It's lined with a maroon, igneous rock blasted out of the earth not far from here I'd wager. And it's been sprayed, because there is no green at all, just dead brown weeds in some spots and parched white grass in others. It's twenty-eight miles yet to Highway 34, our turnoff. To Poplar Bluff, 61 miles. Does 67 go all the way to Arkansas, B wonders. I don't know. From the glove compartment I remove a map of the great state of Missouri. The answer is "yes." Twelve Mile Creek. The map indicates we are about to pass through Mark Twain National Forest. And it seems there are camping options there—Silver Mines, one of the Arcadia Valley constituents I did not know. Every day, every day.
A mobile home in a state of decay. Collapsed, flattened, the stuffing turned inside out. Immobile. Trucks going the other way turn up mist in their treadwake. It rained here, very recently. Between the raindrops we shall go, dancing wanly, to and fro. I am pondering the Twain Forest. I've always regarded it as some sort of alien land, inhospitable, a dense green nowhere. A small sign on an unmarked road advertises, "Camping—Paw Paw Park." We'll pass on that. I suppose the campgrounds within Mark Twain Forest would be listed on recreation.gov, like those along the Current. The Feds have got their paws all over Missouri parks, haven't they? A sly move, I'd say.
Smoke on the near horizon. We're hurtling downhill toward the origin, but I can't quite see it. Some local is burning a pile, apparently, out behind an old "Fireworks City" store. The speed limit is 65. Having two lanes in either direction, so that the enterprising can pass us on the left, is a big plus. Wayne County. But there's no one behind us anyway, hasn't hardly been anyone right behind us since Bonne Terre. There's something in the road up ahead. It's a blown-out tire, one big piece and lots of assorted shreds. Cedar Creek. A sign for a conservation area. There is some blue sky to the west now. It's 11:19. I think that conservation area was Coldwater Conservation Area. Lodi. That tells me that we have already traveled through much of the swath of Mark Twain National Forest that I saw on the map. But I never saw any signs indicating as much. Strange.
Camp Lewellen Boy Scouts Camp. "I guess they own the property," says B. It's kind of like a social security system, for young boys, involving outdoor activities and other endeavors facilitating preparation. Here's the land, boys, do something with it. We see the turnoff for 34-Piedmont, Marble Hill. The road has slimmed, the median is just a parapet now. We're...veering...right. We see signs for Sam A. Baker State Park. We see signs for Clearwater Lake and Dam, an Army Corps of Engineers production. Maybe that's a place for us to go with Tyler when he's got the boat. An old sign for "Camp Wood, 15 stks, $5." We cross the St. Francis River again. This is the takeout point for the float, I realize. The 34 bridge. The river looked OK, not really hustling much, but just OK.
Ragwort and Queen Anne's Lace alongside the road, an unnamed creek. A place called "The Back Table," with billiards on offer. We're on 143N now. NV Circle Ranch, full RV hookups. Now we're hemmed in by forest, no more red clay. Five hens. The Winking Owl, some sort of store—the sign said closed but the door was open and a guy stood along the doorframe smoking a cigarette and watching us as we coasted by. Sam A. Baker, we're here.
Friday, August 01, 2014
St. Francois State Park, July 18-20, 2014
I. Friday at Site 88.
...In which Pat sets up his erstwhile tent, an igloo type, smaller than his new one, saying it [the erstwhile tent] is a little musty because he hasn't used it since Wisconsin...And in which Jack buys a couple of bundles of wood from a guy on a golf cart...
One of the campground hosts is circulating on a golf cart asking if campers need firewood or ice. Fire and ice, fire and ice. He was wearing a shirt that on the back announced in green lettering something to the effect, "The Little Bug That Kills." I've my cache of wood in the back of the car still, in lawn refuse—"Kraft" paper—bags and it's a scenario I've fretted before. A park ranger, or in this case a campground host, asks me whereabouts my wood is from. For the record, ninety percent of what I got is from St. Louis County. College City, to be exact. Some of it's from my own yard. A lot I got from the College City park's woodlot. A fair bit is from a certain St. Louis County park, where someone downed a tree, cut it up alright, and left it to rot. Nuh uh. I grabbed a lot of it.
Missouri has this problem with a specific beatle, the emerald ash borer, which is infesting ash trees and killing them. Moving firewood—ash especially, but any hardwood generally—is how the beatle is is spreading its reign. There are counties in mostly southern parts of the state that are subject to quarantine—you're not supposed to take firewood out of those counties. St. Louis County is not a quarantine county. But where we camped along the Current River, at Round Spring? That's Shannon County. And Shannon County is a quarantine county.
And, well, I brought some wood back from that trip. Now, before you cuff me, I want to point out that the wood I brought back from there was wood we got from the general store down by the campground. It was the bundled, pre-split, cellophane-wrapped variety you will see sitting out in front of gas stations from here to everywhere. And my big point here is: I have no way of knowing, and no one else does, where this wood I brought back from Shannon County originated from. It could easily have come from a different county than Shannon County. I admit making the mistake of not burning what I bought. I never should have brought it back. But you're also not supposed to leave any excess wood behind at your campsite. We had too much and after the Odysseus Float the day before we didn't even have a fire Sunday morning. So I took what was left, wrapped it in a garbage bag, and headed for home.
I just bought a couple-a bundles. The host puttered up on his golf cart and asked, "You got plenty of wood." I do have plenty of wood but I said, "I could use a couple of bundles." I figure I want to be on record as having bought some of the "local wood"—which gets me back to what I was saying. I asked the host where the wood was from and he said, "I...don't know." He looked at one of the bundles and read off the address of the place listed on the little piece of paper that's tucked into each bundle. "New Florence, Missouri," he says. Which means nothing. That's the address of the business as far as I know—not the location from which the wood was taken (or stored/seasoned).
My point: Does have any idea where this wood is really from? Who is regulating these supplies of wood that land at gas stations and campgrounds? Because I'm here to tell you: This wood I just bought is the same "brand" of wood that I bought when B and I were at Meramec State Park earlier this year. Meramec is at least several counties away from here. But, oh, go to the Missouri State Parks website and you'll see that the "Firewood Advisory" is in full effect—don't move firewood. Hello? This stuff I just bought is "moved firewood," courtesy of Midwest Hardwood Farms, purveyor of "seasoned oak firewood." (Not that it matters but New Florence, MO is 116 miles from St. Francois State Park. College City is 60 miles from here.)
If we are going to get serious about the emerald ash borer then any firewood sold on any level (wholesale or retail) in Missouri needs a stamp, or a sticker—kind of like fruit—identifying where the wood has been.
I've got to digress from my firewood sermon for just a minute to tell you about a seven-year-old kid at a campsite not far from here that hates his tent and hates his brother, too. I want to sniper rifle this kid. Without him, the ambient noise here would be perfect. There are a couple of DeadHeads right across the road, thirty feet from me, who have a sort of Robert Plant-led jam band going on their stereo that I wish was actually a little louder, to counteract the racket that this kid is making.
A car comes around the bend...a baldish guy in a black wagony/hatchback looking car...but darn it's a VW Golf, not a Forester. Ohh—here comes the ranger in a car that looks kind of like a cop car. I don't feel unsafe here. Most of the sites are occupied. There are numerous camp hosts and right now it's a parade of cars, trucks, and trucks with RVs in tow coming by looking for unreserved sites. Six days ago it was just this site and one other that were reserved on this entire side of the campground. Now the place is packed. I'm amazed.
But let me get back to the emerald ash borer because, as it so often happens, Shakespeare was right. One of his best aphorisms was about the persons who "Doth protest too much." In other words, part of the reason I am so animated about the emerald ash borer is because I have a confession to make. The guilt is eating away at me. Remember that wood I brought back from the Current River campsite? Some of it I had already unbundled, and split, in preparation for a fire Sunday morning (which never happened). But there was another bundle that I never even un-cellophaned. I had it still wrapped in a garbage bag and sitting on a rack in my garage. I did not cut the cellophane off until B and I went on our next camping expedition, to Klondike Park in St. Charles County three weeks later (and also, as it happens, three weeks ago).
When I took the edge of my camper's axe to the cellophane at Klondike, the cellophane split open, and the wood "unbundled." As it did so, something green scuttled out of the bundle. I was fearing as much, so I was ready for the possibility that some little critter would come tearing out of that bundle when I loosed it. But this little sucker was quick. Its size was about right for that of a borer (a half inch from head to tail). I stomped at it and then I stomped and tried to rub and swipe at the grass real hard with my foot where I saw the little critter flee to. But I'm only about half-sure that I killed the thing.
So that's my story about how I messed up bringing that wood back from Shannon County. And that's why I also believe that as far as Missouri and the emerald ash borer goes...it's only a matter of time. I'm a firebug, a wood-luster. But I'm also fairly aware of the problem and I have been somewhat mindful of best practices. I'm also a camper, though. And when I'm going to some place to camp that I've never been to before, I'm never sure I'm going to have enough wood when I get there. The camp hosts make it pretty easy here by bringing by wood on their carts, but that's a luxury that I've never before seen at any other site. Plus, I need kindling to get these big pieces of wood to catch. Sure, I can split up the pieces that come out of the bundles but that's hard work. I want to do that work before I come camping. Not when I'm out here. Part of the problem, too, is that campers at Missouri State Parks are SPECIFICALLY PROHIBITED from going into the woods for any reason. As I drove into the campground, one of the camp hosts, the lady with eyes like big round grapes listed for me the park ranger's pet peeves. "Let's see," she says, and I can tell it's a list she's run down a thousand times and has become tired with. "Only two vehicles to a site." And she pauses, uses her eyes to search upward in their sockets for the next item on the list. "Don't go into the woods." The eyes go left to right this time. "Quiet time is ten p.m." She purses her lips, tilts her head at me. "The speed limit is ten miles per hour. Oh, and don't park on the grass."
I want to get away from the wood for good now and turn my attention to other matters. It's 7:20 and dusk is getting warmed up. Someone is chopping wood. A girl scooters by. Two kids two sites over contemplate wiffle ball. I've had a Red Hook Longhammer IPA tall boy and a Santa Fe Brewing Saison 88, which has to be only a handful of saisons available in can. It's pretty good. Five-point-five by volume.
I swat at a mosquito. The grape-eyed lady host comes by with her husband riding shotgun. I'm thinking that if Pat doesn't arrive tonight I don't know if I'll even have a fire. I might need one, though. I'm two-and-a-half beers in and I haven't eaten since lunch. The park gates close at ten, at least that's what posted.
Hey, lookee there! Pat is here at seven thirty-six.
II. Saturday Morning.
...In which Jack wakes up with a bit of the crikey...Pat sleeps in...and Jack gets a question by text from Bobby, who is arriving imminently...
I awake to the sound of other campers getting their morning fires going. That's change for the better!
Me and Pat closed this place down last night. How perfect the weather was. A bit of haze maybe, and that was probably campfire smoke. I had to put on long sleeves, which I have put on again just now. It is chilly here! In St. Louis, in July. I walked to the showerhouse and back a few minutes ago and I was wishing I had my tuq—my beanie, my little winter cap.
I am marveling at how much of this campground is awake at 7:35 on a Saturday morning. On my walk I saw no fewer than three people wrapping themselves in their blankets as they sat fireside. Pat is not up yet. B is leaving College City right now. There is a bit of exceptionally high cirrus. It was bright, light, and right when I awoke. Never have I been scooped on a beautiful morning by so many campers in my own campground.
I ate three White Castle sliders last night, that was all. Pat bought them, frozen, from the Shop 'n' Save in Arnold. He let them thaw on the way down. I haven't had a lower-maintenance, better-tasting meal out of a pie iron. Three Castles each. He had another sixer but I was content. Eventually we went for a walk, out of the camping area, and down to what I'm calling the prairie, a natural tallgrass field interspersed with dead cedar. The stars were held back just a bit by the haze. The moon was a quarter full. We were the only people still stirring at one or so. On the way back I had a wild hair to explore the "Deer Trail," a short trail in the park. But once we were on it we realized it was going to take us within close proximity of several campsites. My ankles were popping and resounding and we were both stepping on the occasional twig. Pat, to his credit, said, "You know what? This is not a good idea."
So we turned in. I jotted some gibberish [that turns out not to be legible]. I slept with both sides of the fly rolled up and pinned back. Sometime since our last camp I had been doing a search for a good photo of our tent, the Spitfire II. While doing so I stumbled upon a photo of a Spitfire where the fly seemed to be rolled up and held in place with pieces that were part of the fly itself. And wouldn't you know—that's what those loops and knobs on the fly were for, and have been all along. So much for the magnets.
I drank a Doubleshot as I walked to the showerhouse. I overheard talk of bacon but all I whiffed at one point was some strong, dark campfire coffee. I have good things to say about our new air mats. This is rocky ground here but you wouldn't know it levitating on one of those Thermarests. It is a bit dewy this morn. A few dogs are going now. Some bird in a tree is croaking. I did not hear any birds last night but I did hear two barred owls hooting and huffing at each other quite early, at six-thirty or so, while it was still quite light, down by the prairie. I thought to myself that they are coming out before dark because it's getting late in the mating season and the males know that the time is short now.
I was down by the prairie because I was looking for the river access. It's about a 15-minute walk. I slipped on an inclined "trail" leading down to the river. In hindsight it was really more of a slide. I banged my knee decent, and my hand was smudged up where I broke my fall. I washed it off, and rinsed my knee, in the river once I reached it. The river is real pretty in the spots where it's moving well, like a stream of good thoughts running through your mind. But it's shallow, and stagnant, and murky in other spots. It's no Current, but I never expected it to be so I'm not too disappointed. There are plenty of campers here who swam somewhere yesterday. I could tell some of them had swimming because they still had their swimming suits on. In other cases, I saw beach towels hanging to dry. I'm wondering where they swam exactly. I don't think it was at the precise point I visited. Could it be the creek? I want to take the car out and cruise this park a little to see where everyone is enjoying himself. Then I'll know for sure.
I'm not lying in Pat's hammock. It's a fine hammock. I hear: kids (the same kid from yesterday), some insect in a nearby tree that sounds like a squirrel scratching against bark as it screws around on a tree trunk, a campfire crackling and popping (is there a better sound?). Every ten minutes a car goes by on the loop. My head hurts a little. I am dehydrated. I ate two Kind bars. Last night I got into the Old Bardstown a shade too deep. I told Pat about my faux-resignation. He and I camped together one other time where it was just the two of us—in the Huzzah Valley in September 2012. I had my Spitfire with me back then but much else has changed. I was just a camping baby then.
Bobby texted and asked if we had a DG basket. I said Pat had his. So they'll get here around 11 I think. What I'm most curious about—and what I seem to have lost the energy to worry about—are Procter and Brodie next door. Those are the dogs one campsite over. Squirt is about to get dropped into a world that will have his head spinning non-stop once he gets here. I pray it goes OK.
Pat asked to see inside the VW van across the street. He introduced himself to Tim, and then to Chelsea. There is a bunkbed in that bus. I told him they were playing music. He said, "Phish? Grateful Dead? String Cheese Incident?" I told him about how it sounded like a jam band with Robert Plant as lead singer. Now I really want to know who it was. It's going to bother me, not knowing.
It's peaceful here. Pleasant. I, with my cracking ankles and hushedly bantering with Pat as we walked, was the loudest person in the campground. Imagine that! These folks are early to bed and early to rise. That bark-scratching bug is still going. Plus a titmouse or chickadee. This many years and I still get their sounds confused; as birds they are brothers. I do smell some bacon now. B said she'd cook when she got here. Bacon and eggs and pie-iron toast. Those Castles last night. Oniony, the hint of cheese, in a toasty bun—nom nom. How did Pat even know that a store would sell frozen Castles? Makes me think of the Beastie Boys. Sitting around a campfire rapping, eating Castles. "We went to White Castle and we got thrown out!"
IV. The Rest of Saturday.
...In which Serena and Boston both covet a hammock, Jack enjoys a hot dog that he cooks over an open fire, Squirt doesn't get killed by the pit bull next door, "Slag Dam" is identified as potentially being a great name for a band, Bobby cracks his first La Fin, square roots are introduced, and all but one go swimming... And about which, unfortunately, Jack does not write anything until the following day...
V. It is Sunday And I am Back Home.
...In which I try to recap everything that happened, even reaching back again to Friday night...
It is Sunday and I'm back home and clear of mind and I know this will be a trip I won't have written much about, sobeit. I enjoyed some one-on-one time with Pat. I can't recall what it was I was doing when he got there. I had just bought some wood from the camp host as he was making rounds on his golf cart. That's one of the sounds I'll remember—the brake on the Club Car getting released, the cart gaining speed as it powered off.
Pat had the Cards game going on KMOX when he pulled up. I've had a lot of good friends, and most of them are part of my past. Those that aren't are a thousand miles away. Having Pat drive up with his windows down and the game on the radio was a silver linings playbook. I couldn't get KMOX clear enough on my little Sangean but I had scanned the list of the Cardinals radio network beforehand and I had spotted Park Hills, 104.3 FM. With the aux cord running from the headphone jack and dumping into the Braven portable bluetooth speaker, the connection was 100% high-fidelity gametime, baby! We drank beer and listened. He drank his Pabst real slow. Whatever it was I was drinking I didn't drink it slow. He ate some dried fruit. He offered me some but I declined. Then he pulled out those Castles. See, Pat and I have very different ways of doing things. I have my word-processed camp list, over which I agonize in the week preceding a camp, checking items off with a Sharpie once I have packed them. He grabs his camp totes and knocks over the Shop 'n' Save in Arnold on his way down, collecting such items as: Spaghetti-Os, Castles, store-made Hawaiian bread deli sandies, tea, Frappuccinos, Ice Mountain water jugs, and dried fruit. And pumpkin seeds. I was sluggish drunk—an unfortunate state—as we walked down to the prairie, where we stayed for just a bit, to see what the sky looked like from there, how open and infinite it might seem. But the haze obscured it just enough to keep us from being amazed. We debated then, and then again on Saturday, what portion of the haze was simply campfire smoke that had drifted to the prairie from the campground.
There is so much to say, and I'm in a groove talking about my night with Pat—I told him about my resignation, and my retraction. And I know I've said some of this already and this is just redundant but I think I'm saying it better this time so I'm not going to stop. "Pride in your job," he says, "that's good." Phil says about how people rarely really talk, and he's right but Pat and I accomplished talking Friday night. A lot of times when it's me and Pat—like a lot of times when it's me and just about anybody else, except maybe B, and some of the times with Roy—a lot of times other people will talk and I won't say much, mostly because I can't think of anything I really want to say. But I talked on Friday. I told him about how I think people can be classified in one of two ways: either they are politicians or they are not. The daily nature and grind of work tends to bring out the politician in all of us—because there is money at stake—and we spend the rest of our time trying to prove to ourselves we are who we were before we got dressed in the morning. Except there are some people who like what happens to them at work, when they are "playing the game." Those are the people that actually go on to run for office.
I didn't feel real well on Saturday morning. I got scooped on waking up. I slept with the fly open. Did I say this already? Maybe.
B got there around nine. Me, B, and Pat on Site 88 at St. Francois State Park just north of Bonne Terre, MO. Bobby and Rosie arrived at 11:30. I'm fading here. I'm not going to do Saturday justice. Boston and Serena loved that hammock, the one I got from my father-in-law, whose name is also Jack. The kids fought over the hammock, swung in it. At one point they were banned from it (wisely, by Rosie) before I and/or Bobby took out a can opener and opened that can of worms back up. There was a great spot for it, not far from our fire pit. I slung it between two trees that were about eleven feet apart. A success, and a test. This morning when I awoke I saw that it hung with the weight of someone. Serena. It makes a good bed—especially for a little one.
The Big River, which runs through the park, and its sandy rock beach were a treat and the highlight for me from Saturday. There was a moment when I stood at the water's edge with Boston and Serena, talking with them, answering their questions, trying to tell them things, and having them actually listen to what I was saying—I will remember Serena sitting on the beach there, one of its sandier spots, and grabbing globs of sand in both hands and building it up around her feet, saying she was stuck—no! she breaks loose!—that's a moment I haven't shared with two young people in some great while, maybe not ever in my adult life, sorry to say. They're good kids. Well-behaved and smart. Smart in different ways. When Boston came over to say goodnight on Saturday night and didn't just say goodnight but actually hugged me, that wave of warmth went right to my heart. It was a very tender act. The sort of thing I'm guessing a lot of us were capable of at some point in our lives, but have since lost the capacity to muster by wont of age and disappointment and fear and everything else that goes along with being older and not younger. One of the odd things about Boston is what I perceive as his accent. I have family in Massachusetts and many things he says remind me of the way people in New England talk. He has a mind keen for math. Pat was teaching him about square roots. The first example was that the square root of four is two. But that proved to be not such a good example because the next quiz was about the square root for nine, which Boston guessed as four-and-a-half. So Pat changed his tack and started doing a progression, e.g.: "What's eight times eight?" "Sixty-foaar." And then, "OK, then, what's the square root of 64?" "Eight." I was enjoying it. We're out at some campsite in the old mining hills of Missouri and Pat is teaching a kid how to do square roots. It doesn't get any better.
Getting in the river with them...the downed tree like a telephone pole underwater, first kind of scary but then useful as something to pin yourself against so as not to get carried away in what was, for a shallow river, a surprisingly capable current...getting rocks...Pat telling them about geodes...an older, local guy coming over to Serena and showing her a rock with geodes in it that he said were "river diamonds"...her getting shy just then...Squirt managing his third camp of the year, I never would have believed it...that milky pink pit bull on the beach on the clothesline leash that swung from a limb up above...Pat having Boston do timed runs to a campsite two hundred yards away...That's it, that's all I can do, I'm fading for real...Goodnight, y'all...
—Bonne Terre/St. Louis, MO
Saturday, July 05, 2014
Klondike Park, Late June 2014
I. Friday Night, Late Enough, Lying in Tent.
That roar, that humming noise is not some dope's generator—it's the hulking skulking Labadie power plant. Its white noise comes and goes, I don't mind. That light from a few campsites down, that's the fire of two guys, not real country music but listening to country. I can see a star, up behind the skinny waving poplars, their leaves a pubic tuft against a clearing sky. That—was not a shooting star, but a firefly.
The wind is in the trees, the river is down below. The quarry is hollow, the owl is hunting, the skunk is just plain skanking.
I've got one side of the fly peeled back, this time with magnets. It rained a bit earlier. It's humid here, but not hot. The breeze is fond.
We are at primitive site 6. There is no RV camping at Klondike Park, a St, Charles County Park. There are cabins. If you are tent camping, you either get a basic site or a primitive site. The basic campsites look spacious and inviting, with no apparent downside. The cabins can't be more than twenty years old. [Later, when I saw the park ranger walking down the path of our particular primitive campground loop, and proceeded to ditch the dugout and start burning a Camel, I proceeded to ask the ranger about the age of the park and he said that the park was only ten years old.]
I lay here thinking that, however old this park is, it wasn't here twenty years ago, not as a park. Either way, it's new to us and we are eager to explore. Squirt is game. We walked around at dusk and saw a skunk and an owl. He smelled the skunk and wanted to follow its scent. We had him on the leash—park rule. We weren't about to let him go rooting around in the brush, much less at dusk. But he floats around on the pavement and the limestone gravel. His feet are wet and dirty but he really seems to enjoy it.
B made patty melts, checked the weather, had a Heineken and a Sam Adams. We're happy here. I'm lying on one of the new Thermarest air mats. It feels good under me, a buffer against the bumps in the ground—but not against the things that go bump in the night.
II. Saturday Morning, Reality is Relentless.
I went and yelled at the two guys at the only other occupied site in the group of ten campsites in this particular loop. I guess that's how I'll die one day: yell at the wrong insane bastard and end up getting shot. But I refuse to capitulate to crazy stupid assholes. It was toward 12:30. For a couple of hours, off and on, they'd been hacking at wet, salvaged wood they had been scavenging from the woods nearby. I had fallen asleep initially at 9:30 or so, and they wrenched me from that. Later they had pulled B from a sleep even after she had put her ear plugs in. I was wide awake and seething. I got out of the tent and I was watching these clowns. One was dragging whole, young trees out of the woods. The other had some sort of panel that he was frenetically waving at the fire with. I wondered to myself, "What are these people on?"
I told B I was going over there. I'm not even sure she heard me, across hear ear plugs, against the guy crazily taking his little camper's axe against the broad side of an adolescent tree.
"Hey! Hey! Enough with the hatchet. Enough!"
And the other guy, the waver with the panel, who was now sitting, decided to take the position of amazement. He says, "Why are you yelling?"
I say, "Why are you waking me up?"
The quiet hours at Klondike are 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. I do not expect the other campers to go dead quiet at 10 p.m. Some ambient noise is to be expected. That's part of the reason B and I bring—and sometimes wear—earplugs. But one of the characteristics of camping, that draws me to it, are the "early to bed, early to rise" regulations. If you are camping, you are out in nature. It's a lot easier to enjoy nature, and to enjoy a park like Klondike, when it is light outside. So at ten o'clock, or eleven o'clock, or at least by midnight...it should be true that one's fellow campers were turning in for some shut-eye before getting up bright and early to enjoy God's handiwork by daylight. Not these idiots. If there is a knock on Klondike it is that you are really on your own out here. If you have a problem after midnight, there is no ranger to contact. You have to call the St. Charles County Sheriff. There is no "attendant on duty."
I went from happiness to rage to despair within a couple of hours. All because of two complete fucking morons who thought they could just show up at some camping park along the river with lighter fluid, a piece of cardboard, and a 24-pack of some shitty beer and have a raging campfire well into the wee hours of the morning. I got one decent hour of sleep prior to the commencement of their post-crepuscular wood-chopping. After I counter-attacked them, and retreated, I stood wild-eyed and bare-chested at my campsite, watching them, knowing my tomahawk wasn't far away, almost wanting one of those fuckers to come back at me. It was not a good moment.
The silver lining was the skunk I saw present itself as I stood on guard, seething. I was telling myself I didn't handle it right, that there was some better way to complain. But I was also glad I made my displeasure clear. In hindsight, I really regret not doing something about the mook running the generator at Meramec when B and I were there a few month ago. It's a matter of respect. It's a question of necessity. Even after I finally got back into my tent, toward two this morning, I could hear the laughter and some words from a different primitive campsite, on the other side of the trees from us, on another loop. Maybe I was just wiped out but that didn't really bother me. That I could translate into white noise (although I wonder how I would feel, differently, if I were in the same loop as them, not on the other side of some trees, and I knew that they knew, or should know, that I was just a hundred yards from them).
I want to get away from thinking about last night/early this morning. It didn't rain. That was an upside. It cleared completely around 1:30. Plus that skunk, lurking and sniffing about during the dark early hours. It was the white streak on its side that I could see plainly, as long as I wasn't trying to look right at it. That's the rods and cones phenomenon, an illustration of which I can remember seeing on a page of one of my college textbooks, perhaps Biopsychology? No matter—the point is that you can best see something in the dark if you look at it obliquely, just off center. If you try to look at it straight on, your chances of discerning it decrease. It's kind of like a Taoist/Buddhist principle. The object is there, but if you look right at it—you won't see it. Only because it entered my field of vision did I see that silvery slinky skunk make its way into our primitive loop, seeing if anything was different than the night before. It was about as big as Squirt, maybe eight pounds. It was fluffy, mostly black, but with a white stripe running from shoulder to tail on each of its two sides. The stripe contracted and expanded as the skunk huffalumped along, uncertainly, not unlike an overgrown inchworm, its back arching pretty good with each step.
It was within fifteen feet of me and I started to get a little witchety-witchety. I was telling B about it—she was back awake at this point—and she looked up skunks on Wiki. She said their eyesight was really poor (hence their roadkill incidence). So I was making a few sharp "Ch!" or "Ch—hh!" noises in its direction and I swear to God the skunk first seemed to tilt its head at these noises and say, "What exactly are you trying to tell me here, pal?" But I kept doing it and eventually it resigned itself to huffalumping away, back into the brush, in search of something else on a humid early summer night. I am certain it never dumped all of the scent it was carrying but after it was gone, the smell of skunk did waft lightly in the air.
Primitive site 6 is one of ten sites on this particular loop. There are four distinct groupings of primitive sites spread over the southern half of the park. A primitive site has a fire ring—which is a circular piece of metal set in the ground with a swing-over grill attached to it—and a picnic table. Compare this to the basic site, where the advantage is that the picnic tables at those sites are covered. Some of the basic sites—namely three and four—seemed to have a nicer layout, with more room and better turf underfoot. But we are not wholly without cover over in the primitive patch, for there is a large, seemingly new metal-roofed pavilion set between the third and fourth sites in this loop. Under it are a dozen sturdy picnic tables—it really is a big pavilion.
I should not forget to mention that the sites at Klondike, whether primitive or basic, are walk-in sites. This place is not like other campgrounds where the sites have a concrete pad that you park your car on. Our car is in a parking space about 150 yards away, maybe 175. Because rain was threatening when we got here yesterday, we initially dumped all our gear under the pavilion, using it as a way station between the car and our site. I was mainly worried that we wouldn't be able to get our tent set up before it rained. Even if we could get the tent set up without the rain hitting, I still wasn't sure we would be able to get a fire going and cook dinner on it without getting wet. There is at least one stand-up grill right beside the pavilion, so that was our fallback plan for cooking. But the rain did hold off and eventually we ferried everything from the pavilion down to our site at the far end of the loop.
Our site has some grass and a lot of plantains—a weed we've been keenly removing from our yard because grass seems to have a hard time growing alongside. The soil here is surprisingly sandy. The tent stakes went in without much trouble but there are some rocks here and there below the surface. Actually, because the soil is so sandy, a couple of the stakes looked to be pulling out a bit as we went along tightening up the fly. It's a bit wet here now on this Saturday morning. My Toms are sandy and soaked. There is a good bit of sand in the tent. Squirt is a bit grubby. It's humid. It was humid all night. At some point the breeze went away. I missed the sound of it in the trees, and the air became stagnant in a negative way. On the bright side, our new air mats are a major upgrade over that frumpy comforter we were previously using as our "pad". Not only do they get us and our bones off of the ground, but they also pack up better.
B got up first. I had gotten up a bit earlier, but only to go to the bathroom. She took Squirt for a walk and I was lying there, debating whether or not to go join them. I figured I probably wasn't really going to get back to sleep, even though I needed a few more hours. So I got up and went and found them by the shower house. From there we ambled over to the "Power Line" trail. It runs along the top of the bluff overlooking the Missouri valley. We only took it for about a quarter of a mile though. It was muddy and hemmed in pretty good with weeds and outgrowth that included poison ivy. I was hoping that it would lead to a clear view across the river toward the power plant but we never gained that vista.
I had a dream last night I dropped my iPod in water, and ended it. A few minutes ago I walked over to the picnic table and picked up this notebook, on which my iPod stealthily lay. The iPod slid off, hit the bench running along one side of the picnic table, and fell innocently to the ground. I said to myself, "At least it didn't fall into water." But when I looked at the screen my head spun. The screen now has a dozen cracks running through it, looking like the satellite view of a river delta. Chaos theory, fractals comes to mind. Thankfully it still works.
III. Saturday: The Overlook, A Drive to Augusta, Thoughts on Labadie.
We took the car out after making a stop at the overlook point. The power plant is clearly visible to the south/east, its three looming stacks taller than anything anywhere close. The power plant draws your eye, but the river is visible too—the Missouri—flowing north toward its eventual confluence with the Mississippi. After scanning the panoramic view from left (north) to right (south), what caught my fancy more than anything weren't the cell towers on the not-too-distant hills of western St. Louis County—I think it's those towers giving us three dots of 3G, a connection superior to any we've yet had camping—but the farmland to the south. Corn, livid with green, eye-high before July. And beans, and sweeping fields of wheat. I am delivered back to the cover of Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio. Think of a golden yellow and contrast it starkly with the most healthy green around it. It was a subject for Grant Wood or Thomas Hart Benton. Prime farmland, as rich as the river—the ultimate place to grow crops as long as it isn't flooding. Because it's bottomland, alluvial soil, not elevated much higher than the river itself. You pays your money and you takes your chances. I took a photo and posted it on IG, but I don't think I came close to saying what I really wanted to say.
There was a killdeer hen up there, sitting on a rock, nursing her eggs. When we got up to the overlook a mother of two asked us if we had seen the crazy bird. Looking out and seeing a hard-to-miss turkey vulture circling just off the edge of the bluff, I said, "Yeah, it's a turkey vulture." She said, "No, not that. There's a killdeer over there acting all crazy on the rocks." Her two kids had noticed it yesterday. I imagine they noticed it when it was doing its "fake broken wing" act, something killdeer will do to try to draw one's attention away from their eggs or chicks. If it weren't doing this signature act, the bird would be very difficult to notice because even when the two kids were over there looking at the mama killdeer sitting on its nest there in the middle of a slab of sandstone, it was rather well camouflaged and hard to pick out against the background. Either way, I was glad to see two kids get interested in a bird. I can still see them standing at a certain distance just looking at the mama killdeer sitting there, rapt and reverent.
We both used the restroom up there, a Phoenix composter—no cigs, no plastic, no chemical toilet waste. And voila—humus. It was perhaps when I was up at the overlook, feeling the need, and realizing that there was actually a bathroom up there, that my appreciation for Klondike Park—how it was put together—began to condense. We walked back down the steep, paved path toward the parking lot. Squirt was flitting right along, enjoying the space and the day and the passersby who frequently wanted to give him a little pat on the head. One lady called him a "little chicken," affectionately. Several kids in the park came up to him over the course of the weekend and asked if they could pet him. The fact of their asking now astounds me. Who taught them to ask and why are they actually doing as they were told to do? They also seemed to offer first their hand, for smelling—a lot of people do this. I was never taught to do this. It's good etiquette and I'm grateful that it exists.
B asks if I think the skunk I saw late last night (early today) was the same one we saw yesterday along the Power Line trail at sundown. I chew my lip.
"Maybe—it looked the same. It coulda followed his scent back here." I nod to Squirt but as I say it I feel kind of silly: as if I don't have a scent it could have followed, too. Squirt is pooped. He's lying in his taxi, looking out at us, fighting sleep. He ate some apple with us and finally drank some water out of the yogurt container we repurposed as his water bowl.
We took 94 south, first past Augusta before doing a quick u-turn on highway T and circling back to take the road leading to Mt. Pleasant, Augusta Brewing, and historic downtown Augusta. Our chief objective was to procure a bag of ice. We piddled slowly around the streets of Augusta—Main, High, 5th, Webster. We went down to, and then crossed, the Katy Trail before dead-ending at what could have been mistaken for the ball field from Field of Dreams—a baseball field pretty much surrounded by tall, green, tassled corn. I left the car running (B's phone was charging) and got out and took a few photos that didn't really come out like I hoped. I was going for some creepy cornfield takes but they didn't come off.
Then we went and did a drive by of Mt. Pleasant, a winery with an expansive patio offering an excellent view of the Missouri valley. It was only ten o'clock and there wasn't anyone around, kind of surprising. I was gripped by the well-maintained, rolling grass layout of the Augusta town park across the street from Mt. Pleasant. There was a guy out there at a picnic table, apparently just enjoying some solitude in a peaceful setting mid-morning on a Saturday. I was thinking: get some disc golf baskets, set them up at strategic spots throughout the park, and toss disc while the gals get tipsy on Missouri wine across the street.
We still had to get that ice and the only option that we saw was a throwback, "ripped from the pages of history" sort of general store that we passed by right when we got to Augusta. When I walked in the proprietor was just sort of walking his aisles while his cigarette burned in an ashtray in a corner behind the register. It probably sounds odd but I find it endearing and somehow comforting when I walk into a place and there's a cigarette burning in an ashtray. Seeing the smoke trail up...especially in a quiet setting like the one inside that general store...it strikes me as authentic and honest and something that I fear us losing, as a society. I mean, give me the choice of hundreds of drones flying overhead or numerous cigarettes burning in ashtrays in places like this and I'll take the tobacco.
For sale was the usual convenience store fare—chips, soda, candy, pre-made deli sandies—but also bait, lures, and miscellaneous hardware. Outside were old-fashioned gas pumps that I take it still worked. And a couple of soda vending machines. I forget the name of the place and with all of the dang writing I do, or try to do, it's the one thing I really wish I had just taken the time to scribble down. Oh well. I think it was the guy's name. I bought one bag of ice for $1.75. The guy sort of looked like Carl Icahn. His face had a geography shaped by both smoke and time. I went out and got the ice. On the cooler was a note saying that the ice was subject to the honor system. It was $1.75 per bag and you were supposed to put the money in the cigar box inside the little vestibule that led to the store—the note actually had the word "vestibule" on it. That killed me. The store was red on the outside and there was an MFA sign. One other thing. I should have bought two bags of ice. My advice to you: always buy one more bag of ice than you think you need. If worst comes to worst, you waste the extra bag, it melts, and you're out $1.75. We could have used the extra bag by the time Sunday morning rolled around. It would have eased my mind, and there's no price I wouldn't consider paying for that.
Augusta rolls. It struck me as a cross between the small Illinois farm town where my mom grew up (Okawville) and the sort of dusty faux-rustic town you might find out in California's wine country. I've never been to Napa or Sonoma so I'm reaching here (but I have been to CA's central coast wine region, e.g. Paso Robles). Augusta is full of bed and breakfasts. It seemed peaceful. I drove very slow and we never had a person behind us the whole time. That is such a pleasant fact on a Saturday morning when you are out in the country and you just want to explore a little bit, in your car.
We are back at the campsite after the Augusta jaunt and it's mostly sunny, with a firm, full breeze—a lot like the weather we had when we floated the Current. I can't really hear the power plant now. I hear something whirring but I think it's a plane...I'm waiting to see if it goes away...not really. So I guess that is the power plant. B asked me a question earlier I found most interesting: "Did it seem to you like the power plant was louder last night?" And then she had an immediate follow-up: "Do you think it only seemed that way because we were lying on the ground?" Meaning: could we "hear" the plant rumble and throb and hum on an extra level because we were catching more of the vibrations by virtue of having one side of our entire bodies in communion with the ground, just a couple of miles away from the plant, as ye olde crowe flies?
My first thought was: Well, we're on the ground but now we've got those air mats so really we're not directly on the ground, we're resting just above it. That was a frivolous instant reaction and then I said to myself, "It would seem like the plant would have to work harder during the day because that's when the disproportionate bulk of power is consumed." It's then that the air conditioners are going full blast; then that the workplaces are open and lit; then that the restaurants are hosting lunch and cranking their lights and stoves and fans. If I assume that higher demand equates to a louder sound profile, it doesn't make sense that it would have been louder last night (versus right now, or when we got here Friday night) because the dead of night should be an "off-peak" period where the generation of power for retail consumption is concerned. But then there is also the question of merchant generation, whereby a monstrous plant such as Labadie is creating power to sell into the wholesale market, to be sold in turn on the retail level by other power companies all over the Midwest, whether they be shareholder-owned, arranged as co-ops, or run by municipalities....
Labadie running full-bore in the middle of the night to create supply for the wholesale market makes some sense because B was right: it sure as heck did seem to me that Labadie was louder last night. It was a whole, constant, thrumming wave of white noise spilling our way across the river without any conscience. It sounded like you would imagine the ship from Close Encounters of the Third Kind would have sound, if you had gotten close to it. And I guess it's like the cigarette burning in the corner behind the register at the general store because I found myself really enjoying the sound of the plant wailing away at three o'clock in the morning, pumping that power all across the land. It was surreal and comforting at the same time—mysterious even. It makes for a welcome complement to latent, inevitable campground noise (although there is no way it could mask the sound of someone chopping wood a hundred yards away).
The only other variable in effect—and B, to her credit, mentioned this (and I was like, "Damn girl, you a regular Marie Curie up in here! You wantin' to isolate variables and shit. That's Science!")—is: what else is making noise now that wasn't also making noise throughout the night? There are the birds, the planes, the breeze, the insects, and the frogs (there are tree frogs that at first I thought were a sort of unusual bird, tending to get a bit froggy whenever the sky spits a little). There is the "new arrival" camping couple a few sites away currently in the process of setting up their camp for the night. (Did I mention, by the way, that Paul Bunion and his Oblivious Blue-Veined Ox have taken their tent and apparently left for good?) There are cars and motorcycles out on 94, probably less than 400 yards away. There is us. The act of all of us other entities making noise, i.e. vibrations, has a counter-effect at least somewhat drowning out what is coming our way from the power plant. And then there remains the possibility that I really have no understanding as to how power plants work—or, at least, not this power plant—and that the night time might be the right time to be burning that coal and blasting that gas and sending it to homes all across the grand state of Missouri, to homes like mine, where the AC is set on hold at a modest 79 degrees but the dehumidifier in the subporch is probably hard at work as we speak, requiring not a small amount of juice to take water out of the air and store it in a reservoir just beneath.
IV. Later Saturday: Showers and The World Cup.
It is three o'clock in the afternoon, Saturday. About ninety minutes ago B and I both heard with confusion what I first took to be a "step-up" in the kindly breeze we'd been enjoying amidst the intermittent sunlight. It turned out to be rain. Henny penny, the sky was falling! I scrambled to get into a bucket whatever I deemed of utmost priority. The first thing I grabbed was Exley's A Fan's Notes. Then, cigarettes (I smoked four cigarettes over the weekend). B got her phone, my tennis shoes. I grabbed the charred half-pieces of wood remaining from this morning's cookfire and tossed them under the shower liner draped over the lawn-refuse bag full of what's left of the mix and match pieces of wood we brought). None of us immediately addressed the two sides of the tent's rain fly that were "flapped up" (held in place by unfailing magnets). But B alerted me to it soon enough and, in retrospect, that first chortle of rain turned out to be a useful drill for this erstwhile scout.
We took a handful of goods and concessions back under the pavilion with us. A few minutes after we were confident we had everything crucial covered it really started to toss off. We sat under the pavilion and listened to ESPN radio coverage of the World Cup on Brazil and ate sourdough pretzels and kettle-cooked chips and really enjoyed where we were in the world—I guess I can only speak for myself and hope that B felt the same way, too. I switched the radio to "The Wood, 89.1"—the station of local college Lindenwood University. B listens to that station in the car oft enough that it is sometimes "on" when I am next to command that particular vehicle and back it out of our lovely little drive on Vexvale Avenue in College City, USA! Sometimes I will listen to a song or two, it all depends.
Brazil had just resorted to penalty kicks to fend off Chilé in the World Cup. I listened at first via the 3G stream surprisingly available here before realizing that, because it was Saturday, the game should be on the local radio (101 ESPN, FM). It was indeed. Once I plugged a spare aux cord into the headphone jack of my little Sangean DT-400W, it came in clear (I no longer had to hold the radio—I didn't have to serve as the antenna, something I'm reluctant to do while camping because it means finding an optimal spot for reception and staying there, indefinitely). It poured for about five minutes. I remarked on how we were experiencing another stretch during which a particular weather pattern held court. First there was the inimitably oppressive "heat dome," characterized by humid triple-digit temperatures with no rain; then there was the "polar vortex" this past winter when we got our asses kicked by single-digit temperatures, dogged wind, and relatively large amounts of snow. Now we have a pseudo-Tropical North complex by which the sky is half cloudy/half sunny and it can rain within any ninety-minute window. If it's sunny, don't trust it—it could soon rain. If it's rainy, don't fret, it'll be sunny soon (which it is now, and much more humid, of a sudden). Rain does not approach in the orderly fashion of a west to east, left to right front. It could come from anywhere: the southeast as a source of multiple rain events a couple of weeks ago was an incredible oddity. In this weather phenomena, rain can come from anywhere and it can bring a charge of wind with it.
A group of four skinny, bare-chested teenagers came and scoped out and then returned to populate a tent on Site 3—the site just south of the pavilion. The couple just a few sites away left, apparently on a bike ride, before the rain started, and hadn't yet returned by the time B and I and Squirt walked up to the shower house to sit around a round metal table, under the cover of both sun and rain and—importantly—just a few feet from a power outlet to which we are plugged in and to which we are currently getting turnt up!
B was across the table from me. I had moved from a seat where I was getting harassed by a wasp. Once I moved, I realized that it only wanted me to move so it could attend to its papery nest beneath. To think I thought about killing it.
She says, "There are two things I could really use right now." I made a guess but it was wrong. "A nap and a shower," she says.
It was getting a bit randy about my person and I said, "I've got soap, shampoo, and conditioner in the camp kit—if you want to take a shower, you could do it." I wanted one myself, too. She went and got the sundries from out of the camp kit while I sat here and wrote in certiorari. I unhooked Squirt's leash and wrapped it around the leg of one of the benches and ran the line back through the leash handle and then put the clasp back on his collar. Then I set the leash at a particular length. I attempted to force him to drink some water, which nears water boarding in practice but the ends justify the means: the dog won't drink water when he needs to.
B returned too soon—the ladies' two shower stalls were booked so I went for mine and I loved it. I wish the water was actually cooler—it has gotten to the point of the warm season when I find myself craving the sensation of jumping into a pool. I was also wishing I had opted to bring a pair of crox or flip flops instead of my Toms. I went barefoot in the shower, something I try to avoid doing as a general rule. At least it seemed clean in there.
My shower goods pack for the camp kit needs work. The soap I had was in its original paper box. I had probably picked it up from the hotel we were at in New Orleans. It's possible it goes as far back as when I was in the Bay Area in 2011. I had previously concocted, for this purpose, a soap-in-an-old-container-of-floss trick but the trickster tricked himself—something I will admit happens too often. For a recent stay at my parents' house while my brother was in town, I quickly grabbed hygiene items to pack and, looking for floss, I grabbed what sure looked to me like a container of floss. After eating a couple ears of corn in BelleVegas I went for my floss and—whuh whahhh—it was soap in there. I had to laugh a little, and I did.
I'm clean now but I'm dropping sweat like a Shriner throwing candy from a float at a Memorial Day parade. B is taking her shower. There's a modest breeze but it needs to find some friends or I'm gonna keep sweating.
B got her phone up to 84%. She's showered and ready to go back to the campsite. I'm at 77% and hanging back. I'm sitting here writing—I was polishing off a Sapporo tall boy but he's history—with my little radio on speaker playing the World Cup (Colombia 1, Uruguay 0). People are coming and going. I'm not worried about anything. I'm looking at these two primo basic campsites, The Twins, numbers three and four. There isn't a soul at either one and I'm just SMH.
I'm not going to write much more while I'm still in this park and I want to summarize some of my thoughts. It's a well-planned park. There are trash cans wherever you need one (and they're not overflowing). We aren't even running a trash bag of our own at our site because there is a trash can twenty feet away. There are also well positioned "Aluminum Cans Only" recycling bins. The beer we brought with us is in cans only, not bottles. The bias of camping leans heavily in favor of aluminum. It weighs less, it packs up better, and at a place like this you can recycle the cans.
Many of the streets in the park are one way, which makes them very walkable. The Katy Trail runs right along the eastern boundary. This park, this St. Charles County Park is in its infancy but also in its heyday. I go into the shower house and I look up and I don't see cobwebs or dust or dinge. I see a ceiling that looks like it was put together five years ago. There is a "freshness" about Klondike that I would challenge anyone to find at another camping destination anywhere close to anywhere around right here.
Colombia just went up 2-0. It's a shame Suarez is such a biting fiend. This match never had a chance.
It's four o'clock. We won't be up all that much longer. Why? Because it won't get any better than this. I told B, "My ideal sleeping hours (for camping) are 8 p.m. to 4 a.m." I want to get up and check out that birding area, before or after driving up to the overlook again for what I hope is a colorful sunrise. I am looking forward to hearing that power plant crank tonight. Spin, turbines, spin!
V. Sunday Morn: Babler Drive-by.
There are deer on the campground drive. Two of them. Tons of RVs. Once you get to the "tent" camping area, it's a bit woody and the sites are sized for Micro Machines. There isn't much green space in the tent camping area. The RV campers need all of the green space for a reason I don't grasp. I see some people staging their tents on concrete and my blood boils. Babler State Park is a letdown. Maybe that's why a guy came here a couple months ago and shot his son and then himself. Tent campers for Green Space! God, I can see the bumper stickers now. Takeaway: it doesn't take much longer to get to Klondike and this might be my last time here.
VI. After the Un-pack (Sunday).
We were back home by nine. I unloaded the car and B washed Squirt. I strew out the tent, fly, bags, shower liner, and footprint to dry. What could be turned inside out I did—I have in theory been dubious of beach or oceanside camping because of that fearful additive: sand. A hundred thousand grains were scattered in the tent, in the chair bags, on the car mats—maybe some at the end of B's sleeping bag. There couldn't have been any in mine because I never got into my sleeping bag.
It rained two or three times throughout the night. I had re-pinned the fly back upon itself (via magnets!) at some odd hour after the first rain. It was humid, especially in the tent—I was sweating, I sought better airflow. A few hours later I waked for some unapparent reason, and B had stirred, too. I took one earplug out and when I did I heard her say, "Is it raining?" It was. A few drops had certainly gotten in. I groggily fumbled for the magnet on the underside of the fly. They're kind of a pain in the ass, these magnets, but do you know of a better way? A safety pin to pierce the membrane? A piece of tape to come and go? Who wants to screw around with a fancy knot at 2:30 in the morning amidst raindrops? I didn't think so. The magnets are my obedient little minions and I am building an army of hack.
Whether it was rain or sweat or both, the top side of my pillow was soaked and my air mat was damp on the side I patronized. I bulldozed through it all. I stuck my earplug back in and careened into sleep. On the other side of the treeline, in another primitive campsite loop, the world's most enthralling game of wist was still raring and blaring. Go fish yourself...
At three it was quiet and I took out my earplugs, went to take a leak, and pinned the fly back up. I looked for but I could not see a skunk. The power plant droned on but it didn't thrum. I couldn't feel it like I did on Friday.
At five it started raining again. I put the fly back down and it rained pretty good for twenty or thirty minutes. I(t) was sweaty in the tent. Squirt was starting. Once the rain stopped we put ourselves together and made to break camp.
We had taken to the car last night what we were pretty sure we would not use again: the mini cooler (empty); one of the chairs. We weren't going to cook in the morning. I burned all of the wood I had on hand (some big pieces I never did take out of the car). B cooked the last burger patty and then made two turkey melts. We split each. They were very good. Schnucks country bread, baby swiss, Boar's Head sliced maple turkey. Butter spray into the double pie iron. B blends blacksmithery and barbecue and deli counter and the result confounds and resounds but never flounds.
It was early Sunday but the trip was screeching to an end. I want to revisit last night. Once the sun went behind the bluff, our world cooled off. I thought we were done once we went back to our site after showering. But we weren't. We jumped this morning's plan and walked over to the "birding area," which I never had reason to get excited about, based on how it looked on the map.
I'm writing this now on Sunday, flagging. I want to talk about the bluffs we could see, how when you looked up at them it really did feel like you were standing at the bottom of a quarry, or a canyon. Most of the expansive birding area was given either to marshy fens or to what might have been the makings of a prairie, populated by wildflowers such as Queen Anne's Lace or black-eyed Suzan. Mixed within was a network of sandy walking paths. We didn't see any birds but it was a mesmerizing blend of landscapes, the fens breaking up the would-be prairie, with the face of a three hundred foot high bluff watching over it all. The bluffs themselves were two-toned, changing from limestone grey to a reddish-orange color about halfway up, possibly denoting the end of the limestone strata and the beginning of what I figure was a rock made both from sand and clay. At the top of the wall were trees, and behind them was Highway 94. We were the only people out there. It was a special spot, we thought, the unassuming "Birding Area"/Bluff Trail at Klondike Park.
VII. Letter of Resignation—Retracted.
It is Tuesday. I remember when I worked at the Washington U med school, for ten months after I graduated. I was interviewing people who had used ecstasy, probing them for all of the possibly negative side-effects they had experienced during or after using the drug. In the lore, ecstasy users would occasionally encounter "Terrible Tuesdays", the eventual effect of burning through a week's worth of their beneficial neurotransmitters on Saturday night. All day Sunday they would sleep, the story goes. They could grind through Monday on coffee and adrenaline but when they woke up Tuesday and realized that the whole rest of the week lay before them like a forest of thorns they would become despondent and have a breakdown. And that's where I found myself on this particular Tuesday, July the first.
When I looked at the futures this morning, which have been tepid of late (up ten, down five, up three, down six), and I saw that they were up 41 my heart sank a little into my belly. Then when I got to work and I saw the recently released list of client accounts that were going to get hit by a new "account maintenance fee" I lost it. It was more than I could take on a terrible Tuesday after being so high on my outside life at Klondike Park over the weekend. I refuse to see the justness of these ridiculous money-grab fees, which used to hit a much smaller number of accounts. I'm not a good salesman to begin with—I have no stomach for it. Low prices motivate me, red on the screen motivates me. For most of the last 30 months low prices and red on the screen have been birds so rare that I've given up hope of ever seeing one. So I've tendered my letter of resignation. I'm done in two weeks. What I'll do then I really have no idea. I fear boredom. I fear day drinking. What I will really miss is casting aspersions on those who "don't work." I will miss feeling better than them. I won't be able to drive through Forest Park at 3:45 on a summer's day—when I would normally be driving through the park on my way home from work, navigating through all the people and commotion—and wonder to myself, "Does anybody work anymore?" I'll be one of the hangers-on. I'll be back where I was six years ago: going nowhere and in too much of a goddamned hurry to get there.
I ran cross country one year in high school. I wasn't very good. It was a fall sport. I had run a lot (I thought) the summer before but, in retrospect, even though I had gone running a lot I really hadn't gone on any long runs. That first cross country practice I recall starting out at what was, compared to the other supposedly "good" runners, a strong pace. At one point early into that first jaunt I was frustrated with how slow we were going. "Let's go!" I thought. And I thought, "I'm going to be one of the best runners on the team." We were doing a six-mile run, though. After three I was average; after four I was starting to realize I wasn't all that; at the end I was just happy I had made it six miles. So much for re-casting my identity as "Jack, the runner, where did he come from?" Later that season I was still on the team but my mind was elsewhere. At a meet at Waubonsie Valley I was sitting in the gym on the bleachers, after the guys had all run and we were waiting for the gals, or vice versa. Anyway, I was reading this pathology textbook—pathology as in cutting into dead people to find out what had killed them. This was way before the days of CSI. I had had to read actual books to get the half-baked idea that I was going to be a doctor who did autopsies. I credit Michael Crichton. Of course I wanted people to see me reading this abstruse book of diseases and their indications, visible in such and such tissues of the corpse in front of you. But the following summer, the one between my junior and senior years of high school, I did my IMSA-diploma-mandated volunteer work. I chose to serve as one of the persons who ferries patients at the hospital from their rooms to and fro their various tests or appointments. The patients were usually people who were old and sick but still alive (for now). And I remember the basic smell of these people, their "near death" smell. I remember how frail they were, how crispy their hair seemed, how the skin on their thighs seemed flappy. A lot of a person gets exposed as you move them from a bed to a stretcher or a wheelchair and all they're wearing is a crappy hospital gown. As I racked up my volunteer hours I started realizing, "Christ! If people look and smell this bad when they're still alive, what the hell am I going to have to endure when I start cutting on them when they're dead?"
I still started out pre-med in college but my heart was never in it. By then I had started to transfer my "hoped for" identity to birds, to the outdoors, to science in a more general sense. I read a book or two about scientists doing field work. There was that book about a scientist looking for all the sorts of plants in the rainforest that the indigenous shamans used—and about how we, white people, might use them too. Washington U had a faculty member, last name Losos, who as I recall actually went to the rain forest, and who I figured was doing something with his life similar to what I was then imagining I wanted to do.
I went and saw him and said how I was into birds and animals and identifying wildlife, trees, whatever. He gave me the hard truth about how, "Yeah. You can get out into nature, into the rain forest, but a lot of what I have to spend my time on is computer programming. If you want to get out into the field and do your own research, you're gonna have to compile and process a lot of data and you're gonna have to learn how to write your own computer programs. You'll have to take a lot of computer science classes."
Well shit. Computer science? That's what all the nerds at IMSA did. I just spent three years scoffing at those people and trying to convince myself that I was better than them. I didn't want to take computer science classes. Fuck that.
From there I careened about, flopped around. At some point I got into psychology. Maybe because of dreams. I went and talked to the chair of the department and convinced him to hire me to help run experiments in his lab. I was there for all of about a week.
Then I was gonna be a writer, or at least a journalist. I worked on the school newspaper. I took a semester off from classes entirely and worked on the copy desk of the sports department of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. I had one article published in the newspaper during that time, an obituary for a famous coach's wife.
September the 11th happened. I got into conspiracy theories and did too many drugs. I stumbled to graduation an amalgam of good ideas and bad ones, none of them with any connection to each other whatsoever. I started this blog but didn't see it going anywhere. I went to Europe with my sister and almost had a nervous breakdown in Amsterdam. After letting my brain air out a little bit I got that job at the Washington U med school. I hated it. I went to law school. I worked for the Missouri Attorney General's office after my first year. I worked for a posh downtown Chicago law firm after my second year. The law firm offered me a job but I turned it down. I couldn't see myself working there and being the sort of person I thought I owed it to myself to be. Married now, my wife and I moved back to St. Louis. I sued the city of St. Louis. It was an unexpectedly successful lawsuit but I wasn't getting paid. I told my dad I was ready to go to work for him. He didn't have a place for me. I wrote poems and got one published. The market crashed. My dad hired me. I did paperwork at first and then started to work on my own accounts, my siblings' accounts. I slowly started to buy. That was 2009. I started talking to clients. In May of 2010 the market fell 9% in a minute and I had orders clicking off left and right. It was bliss. I milked the 2011 downgrade of the U.S. credit rating. I was buying steadily through May of 2012 and into the close on June 4, 2012—the last goddamned day that the S&P 500 has spent in correction territory. Other than managing to keep my marriage together, and taking decent care of the little ball of goodness that is our dog, the last two years have been the most frustrating and the least successful years of my life. I offered my resignation because I couldn't take the failure anymore, because quitting seemed a lot easier than staying on and continuing to bash my head into a wall every day.
And then I retracted my resignation because I realized I'm even more displeased by all of my quitting. I have more work to do. I have made thousands of plans for hundreds of people, and they're good plans (and some of them are good people), and I can't walk away—yet.
So I'll keep on prepping for the next crash and prepping my camping kit—and writing—until I start to smell bad, and someone has to wheel me out.
—Augusta / St. Louis,
Wednesday, June 04, 2014
Current River Float Trip, May/June 2014
I'm listening to house music in the southeast corner of a hundred-year-old home in University City, MO. B comes in, to investigate. We're investigating each other, all the time. Who you text-a-sizing with, B? What are you looking up now, B?
I started by watering the lawn this morning—really what I watered were hodgepodge patches of my yard that I hope become lawn. Then I held my annual plant spa. I take all of my houseplants outside and I get the hose out and I mist them down to get the housegrime off of them. I sprinkle in some osmocote plant food pebbles. I prune them, which is difficult in that I am lopping off some pretty hefty parts of these poor little plants, most of which probably don't get enough light. I take a weeding tool and worry the soil a little. I water them. I blast their pots on the "flat" nozzle setting to remove the scale and I clean out their saucers. I add soil if need be. They get a little bit of direct sun as I work on them. The sun was strong this morning. The plants look their best on their spa days, gleaming green, their hair cut back, in clean terra cotta.
Then I caulked, went through a tube. I like to go through a tube when I open one. It rained a little afterward (actually it poured for several minutes and I started to fret). But this stuff isn't water soluble and it also happens to be the best caulk in the world. It's the Loctite masonry/concrete sealant. Gray, non-self-leveling. I was caulking all sorts of cracks in our house's stucco and plugging nascent gaps between stucco and wood trim. In some cases I caulked gaps between two pieces of wood. I'll put this caulk on anything. I've thought about eating it. I applied some to key spots along the base of our house where water could get in where a concrete skirt meets the foundation and it has met the test of a couple years' worth of weather. Anything else I've used in similar situations has ended up pulling away from one side or another. Not this stuff. It smells vaguely of chocolate.
B comes in to say that there's no way Madison Bumgarner is 24. "He's 28," she says. I say, "Yeah, that's the case of a player from America maybe fudging his age. Appalachian. He does seem older than 24." He's been rocking a beard lately and looks like another version of Adam Wainwright, who's 30. Or so.
I'm listening to DJ Bene and there's a snifter of gin in my hand. The Crads game is going in the kitchen. I can hear it when Bene breathes but he ain't breathing now. Do it, Bene. Go!
Oh, I-44, wide-open Missouri, Missouri South Central, we comin' baby! I scrounged for dinner. I had tuna salad from Wednesday, with Triscuits and an English sharp white cheddar that B got from Straub's last week when her mom was here. Extra points for actually eating what we buy—long live Pyrrhus! Then I ate some tortilla strips with baked beans. Good scrounging. I re-upped my gin. I'm a happy sot.
B sliced up the Companion bread. And bagged (double-bagged) the rye. I stuffed each bag into a bucket. She's putting some raisins in a ziploc. I think we are going to be under-capacity on the big cooler, which I figure will only have to carry foodstuffs. Eggs, bacon, pastrami, butter spray, veggies (carrots, cukes, and radishes), and apple slices. We could end up putting tomorrow night's beer on top of that, and let the mini-cooler go empty but I doubt we'll really accomplish that.
I could drink this St. George gin all day, every day, until my face became a Valentine and my nose exploded. I've not had a cigarette since Memorial Monday, on which day I had three, though I can't say I really enjoyed any of them. I so want to like tobacco. I feel like I do like tobacco, in retrospect, but in the moment's I'm smoking, I'm not sure how many cigs it is that I kick back and really savor. I think about that cig in Seattle I really wanted but never had. I was gonna smoke it down on the waterfront but when we got down there there were all these bums around and I didn't want to take out a cigarette amongst them. Monteagle is a good place for cigarettes. I haven't been there since June 2012. Sometimes they make me woozy, sometimes they make me sick. But I'm still on the train and I have no plans of getting off. There's a place for them, lots of little places. It's just a matter of finding that little slice of space and time where a cigarette is nonpareil.
When I'm writing, it's like Henry James or Eliot said, or as Ruland wanted us to see them saying—it's about taking ourselves out of the process—stripping—and telling about what's left after we've gotten that done. Ego down, description up. That's the ideal. Sure, I use a lot of "I" and I want to cut down on that, but it's a means to an end. I want to be a vessel. What is actually happening? I'm seeing, yes, but what am I seeing?
My pen has a magnet on it. I'm crutching on one of those frumpy husband cushions that I've had since—when? Years. It's been on some moves. For moments like this—when I want something to slump on—it's very useful. Bene, you do it! You go! I look up at the so-called "can" light in the ceiling of this room and I recall taking an intentionally blurry photo of it and sending that photo to Roy. The photo included in the background the smoke alarm. I said to Roy, "UFOs?" And he comes back with, "Looks like recessed lighting and a smoke alarm to me." Ha ha. The joy of text!
I'm not sure how I've achieved this certain state of satori tonight. I'm beat but I'm winning. I'm all twisted in bed but not barking. Waino is getting hit around too much. It's painful. B's making herself a sundae. Ted Drewes custard and her homemade butter scotch. It's so good I have to resist it. I'm really just content here with this pen and paper, and Bene, and the Beefeater she put in my little snifter, along with an ice cube. I could be working on one at this point, but I'm putting pen to paper and I don't care if it's drunk drivel. It's product and it can be refined if need be. Aluminum, bauxite.
The Beefeater is not in the same class as the St. George. If you've had both, that goes without saying. The St. George is a natural spring, a gospel, a holodeck program you never want to exit. The Beefeater is kind of like the pitch you have to listen to if you want to go stay at the resort condo for free, or $25 a night, whatever it is. It's still worth it, but still.
II. Saturday Morning, Departure Inc.
Saturday morning, americano in hand. I checked the baseball news and set my two fantasy teams for the weekend. I've got iTunes going. Van Morrison first, now Nirvana. The Vonage is going to meet us here, perhaps at nine. I let loose last night, a little impromptu. I feel fine this morning but I didn't sleep well, lots of tossing and turning. Yet, I dreamed pretty good. And I got caught in a strange middle state where I kept telling myself to wake up (like, for real) and look out the window at the garage, to see if anyone had opened it. Ever since childhood, when our neighbor's house got robbed and I listened to their dog, Domino, bark in a frenzy, and I told my dad that I thought something wasn't right over there, because Domino only barks at strangers...ever since then I've been on guard. I held a baby in my arms, in another dream. He was heavier than I first thought he'd be, but he stopped crying when I picked him up. No, Dr. Freud, that baby was not me, he was a not-too-distant cousin. Squirt was there, but he might actually have been a little boy himself. It's hard to tell, in hindsight. For a night in which I didn't sleep well, there are a lot of dream threads filamenting their way through my head. Dreams are only supposed to crank up during REM sleep, which is supposedly a deep sleep. I'm skeptical of that dogma, as you can tell.
It's 6:45. I have to get the car loaded yet, and shower, and do a few due diligence things around the house. Plus, I might leave a little time for writing, if I'm so inclined. Maybe that's just the coffee talking. Either way, it's a good feeling—solicitude for the muse. The forecast down there (Eminence, MO) calls for rain chances of 60% later today and 40% tomorrow, when we float the Current. We had spotty storms here yesterday—it was really the whole panoply of potential summer weather, run the gamut. Like I told B, "If nothing else, we can all hang out in the Vonage tent." It's enormous.
III. Sunday Morning and a Saturday Aft Recap.
We're up. The birds are going. One cardinal is especially insistent that we meet the day. We're at the Round Spring campground, a National Parks campsite. All of this land along the Current is national parkland, comprising the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. It's kind of like Venice, except inland and without buildings or gondolas. So there are park rangers here, a couple at least. One was doing rounds on foot, a real young-looking guy. The other ranger came up to us while we were down at the river's edge late Saturday afternoon. We were wading in that cool, clear Current water when he asked us if we'd seen an old, red Dodge pickup. B immediately said she had, and then I remembered first hearing that rusty low-rider, and then seeing it chug its way up from the river access area.
"About how long ago was that?"
Thirty or forty-five minutes we said.
"But you saw that truck, in the park?"
Yeah, we said. He thanked us and moved on.
We saw little fishes in the river. They weren't more than a couple of inches long, with big heads and black bands, three of them, spaced out, starting about mid-body and then on back toward the tail. The fish were shaped like catfishes. They blended in expertly against the bed of gravel that endlessly lines the river. Pat had taken a couple of chairs down to the waterline. He skipped rocks for awhile. Last night I dreamt I skipped one that had just about made it all the way across the river before it turned around and came all the way back and made landfall twenty feet down the bank from me—crazy.
I've had a Double Shot (coffee) this morning, and B is drinking one now. I've already taken a few ibuprofren. A woodpecker does its throaty ca-a-aw-aw-kkk. It's a little foggy this morning, not quite cool. We had amazing weather yesterday. The forecast was calling for 60% P.M. T-Storms, and we heard one remote peal of thunder, but it never rained. It was partly cloudy, with big white billowing cumulus clouds and some wispy mid-level clouds (stratus?) strewn about here and there. We left St. Louis around ten and had gotten our tents set up here by 15:30. We got off of I-44 to stop at the Sonic in Steelville, and then we took Highway 19 from there south, all the rest of the way. Salem is a cute little throwback town, south of Steelville on 19, and the last "major" town between here and anywhere north. I was riding with Pat.
We stopped in our tracks to let a funeral procession pour out onto Highway 19 and slowly make its way toward the town cemetery. The odd thing was that, once we hitched onto the tail end of the procession, we noticed how all of the cars on the other side of the road pulled over as far as they possibly could, and halted, as the procession passed them in the opposite direction. It was like we were behind an ambulance or a fire truck going through town. Neither of us had ever seen that before. I wondered if that was a regular thing in Salem or if someone special might've died, that everyone in the town knew, respected, and continued to respect by halting for them as the procession made its way to Valhalla. I told Pat that I wouldn't try pulling over like that in St. Louis because the person behind me would never expect me to do so and might become one with my bumper. Pat might tell you about the cop who was directing traffic at the next light, how he was reminiscent of that wrestler, "The Big Boss Man," in that he had an enormous gut and was kind of shoddily dressed. Almost like the uniform wasn't for real. Then as he drove away, we could see the seatbelt, the part that goes into the buckle, hanging out from the bottom of the door, like the mechanism to pull it back in had been worn out long ago.
Anne and B told us their best story from their drive. About how a buzzard picked up a big ole chunk of armadillo on the shoulder, flew low and wobbly across several lanes of traffic but couldn't hold onto that 'dillo surprise and had to drop it along the median. B said if it had dropped the carrion on her car she probably would have driven off the road.
The sun is asserting itself a little. This fog is going to burn off quick. The stars were infinite last night, and we saw them all. But the fireflies, which are just starting to feel froggy and emerge from their winter woods hideouts, stole the show. Across the breadth of the cold, dark river, in every direction, thousands of them lit up, just for an instant, another instant, and the instants became a continuum of sparkle. I said it reminded me of being at Busch Stadium when McGwire was on the brink of breaking the home run record. Every time he swung, myriad camera flashes would ignite, spaced out by milliseconds, filling the stadium from brim to bottom. That was 1998, before cell phone cameras, a simpler time. We saw him break the record in person that September night, me and Bill Williams, whose line I stole to grace the banner of this blog. We were just sophomores in college then, living the dream....
We opted out of our original campsites here, 46 and 48, which on the map looked to be right on the river. Nooo, not really. They were kind of small, rocky, and set down off of the road that works its way through the campground. Me and B went to talk to the camp host, a retiree with Florida plates. I knocked on the door of his RV. No answer. Then he happened to drive up on a golf cart. He really reminded me of Bruce Dern a la "Nebraska." He said, "You can take any site you waant, as long as it's not reseerved." He was pretty laid back. All we did was go and grab the ziplocs that were clipped to our posts at 46 and 48 and go and clip them onto our new home-for-two-days at site 41. I know what you're thinking. "Two sites for one? That doesn't sound like a very good exchange." Well, we're on 41 but we are also sprawled onto the likes of 50, an "unofficial" site, not listed on any map—or app—anywhere. The reason, in the words of camp host Dern is that, "It's so daang small." I guess it'd be small if it were a stand-alone site, but coupled with 41 it opens a whole prime corner of the campground, a corner lot that would be worth quite a bit if this campsite were a Monopoly board. It's a grassy area, in the midst of a campground that isn't that grassy on the whole. We're on a grassy knoll minus the conspiracy. We have two picnic tables, two fire pits, two lantern posts, and one rather well-positioned tarp thanks to the P-hole. It's gonna give us shade when we need it and keep us dry when we need it.
We've been taunting that rain a little. It'll probably let us hear about that a little later. B made awesome reubens last night. Legend has it that the first reuben ever made was done so in Omaha, by Reuben Kay. I remember Rob Morrow telling that story in the movie Quiz Show, during a scene when he was playing poker. Ohhhh! Anne's iPhone alarm just went off. I'm hungry and I've got work to do. I've got to make a morning cookfire for bacon, eggs, and coffee. The kayak rental company is going to send someone to pick us up at our campsite at 8:30. So much more to say, and a fear that I'll never say it. Oh well—
IV. Sunday Morning—Gonna Float.
Shannon County, Texas County. Our van driver graduated in 1980. He’s talking with the guy in the front passenger seat about taxes down here. There are nine of us in a van going to Akers Ferry, our kayaks on a trailer out behind us. Coolers, life vests, Chacos, and sunscreen. Besides us and Vonage, and the driver, there’s a family of four in here with us. It’s the husband that’s in the front passenger seat. They’re staying at Round Spring campground, too. Right across the road from us.
The guy asks our driver if there are still hippies out here, living in communes—off the grid, like rainbow people. “Yeah, they’re still there,” says the driver, “out in, oh, some of the southern parts of Shannon County.” We pass a vista and as I look to my left (south) I recall it distinctly from the bus ride to the put-in spot for the Nick Adams Bachelor Party Float. So maybe we put in at Akers Ferry then, too. I cannot recall—I wasn't really paying attention to the geography then. That’s the last time I was on this river. I had dysentery after getting bad ice in the Dominican Republic. It was a hellish experience. I wanted the float to end but we just…kept…going…. Then we camped that night—in Kentucky.
We’re on Highway 19 going north, winding. It’s partly cloudy, beautiful really. Stratus clouds. “Uh oh,” says the dad, “I think we lost a kayak.” The driver takes a quick look in the driver’s side mirror. “Nope—it’s still there.” And he chuckles, in a good-old-boy sort of way. He doesn’t seem to have a care in the world. “Sorry,” says the dad, sheepishly. “I’m gonna shut up now.” The driver chuckles again and proceeds to tell about how he did lose two kayaks the first day he ever made this run—he’s a trucker by trade, you see. Morning light coming through the woods is hitting me systematically in the face light a strobe light. If it’s not a hayfield or a cow pasture, it’s all woods and rivers in this part of Missouri. The windows are fully down up front and the breeze is coming back to me in the last of three rows of seats in this van. The trailer is squeaking behind us, sounding like a mouse complaining about carrying a heavy load. It’s much easier to write in this van, on this sheet of paper, than when I tried something similar in Jamaica.
I’m going to have to dry-sack this paper when we get on the river. I can’t risk it getting wet, bleary, blotchy, lost. Speaking of bleary and blotchy, that’s kind of how my face looked, reflected back at me in the window of the car this morning, as I was locking it up. We pass a nice big, green lawn and I imagine hucking discs out there. We brought two coolers, the mid and the mini, and three two-foot bungees. We each have a Nalgene and at the last minute I opted for bringing one of our Schnucks distilled water handle-jugs (filled with water at the campground, from an old-style spigot pump).
We turn left on KK. “There’s really a ferry?” says the guy up front. “Is it free?” “Yup,” says the driver. It’s the last ferry still running on the Current, he says. A woman’s voice over a walkie talkie breaks in and says, “I need one canoe going to Cedar Grove, two men and a small boy, and we need a small jacket.” I brought my goggles along, too. Not a mask—lap-swimming goggles. Pat is gonna have his GoPro going. One picture every ten seconds! GoPro or go home. The driver and the guy are keeping a sporadic conversation going.
“Trailer squeaks bad though, don’t it?” says the driver, and he chuckles. He’s a big boy, our driver, the trucker. Been all over the lower 48 and Canada. He talks about being in Quebec and people there speaking French. He’s wearing a camo trucker’s hat. The only people in this van without hats on are the two kids—one boy and one girl. Pat is chatting with the mom a little, just bein’ friendly. She says the kids are seasoned floaters by this point, floating since they were three or four. This year they are taking the leap up to kayak from canoe. We pass a lot that has a bunch of school buses and canoes, hallmarks of the river economy here. It’s Jason’s Place Campground, Pat says. There are stand-up grills abounding and I think about B serving up bacon and eggs this morning, with that sourdough toast. Yum. I also had some of Anne’s bran muffins (with dates). I’m set. Had a Via made with hot water from a kettle we set on the grate overhanging the fire pit. Had some water, a Zyrtec. There is no cell service up here whatsoever. Not even does AT&T service reach here. I worry a little, feeling that disconnect. The river will help with that. I see so many fields, tall with grass, early hay. In October I could pass these same fields, and they’d be cut, with hay bales plopped poignantly here and there.
V. Lost Transcript from Sunday Night.
I lay in the tent Sunday night, after our incredible ten-hour float, looking out at Cassiopeia and her twinkling friends. It was a twenty-two mile float, about eight miles too long. But we made it. We beached our kayaks at the river access point at our campground and sloughed home, uphill, to our site.
Pat made 'ritos and he did a hell of a job, slinging those turkey tacos in the dark. We were all spent. It was kind of a shame. When we got back to our site B was asking me what time I thought it was, the light losing itself below the horizon and I said, "Six thirty." But it was seven thirty and my heart fell a little. I smoked my first cig of the day and sighed seven times. I had been on a hell of a run, not having been at work in a week, but it was all coming to a horrible crashing end. I couldn't run any farther. Pat and I went down to the river, glanced at the fireflies, called it a night.
I pulled the fly back from my side of our tent, and tried to set it back on the top of the tent, so it would stay up there, but I didn't fasten it in any way. I got in, and just lay there looking out through the mesh at the stars. That's one great feature of our Eureka Spitfire II—if the fly isn't on the tent you can lay in the tent and look out at the stars through mesh—but we don't use it much. It was highly pleasant. I was trying to keep myself awake. I was chicken-scratching on my paper, two looseleaf pieces of paper. I thought it was all gonna be gibberish. One of the first things I wrote was about how I could "hear the river in the trees." The wind, the river were one. They sounded the same, and they will never cease, neither of them. I scrawled and I scratched and then I fell asleep.
At some point the wind flapped the fly back down to its natural spot and I sweated and tossed and turned in the tent. I wished I had fastened the fly up where I had set it before I got into the tent (maybe with magnets?) I got up when it started getting light. I looked at the paper I had written on, and it was actually legible. I put that paper in the secret zipper pocket of my Orvis shirt and I thanked the stars for keeping that writing legible.
[But fast forward for just a second, to when I get home Monday and take that Orvis shirt and put it in the wash basket. I lose my mind, I forget myself, and the paper, my precious scrawlings, go through the wash. And they are lost—to me anyhow, to you. They are in the river, and the river is in the trees. That is all I have to say about what I wrote Sunday night, gazing at the stars.]
VI. Monday Morning.
Cloudy. It didn't rain yesterday. Maybe this morning we'll get the rain we've figured was due all trip long. It's a little humid but not foggy like yesterday morning. In the dream I was having, nothing was going right. I was scrambling to be leaving a place—ahh: raindrop. Scrambling to leave a place and yet there was all this beer we were leaving behind and I was grabbing all that I could. It's raining. [I pause to put a few things under the Pat tarp, the rain is holding off yet, but our luck is running on empty.]
A barred owl briefly got close last night. I could hear several of them further off but only once did I hear a call that seemed to be from within this campground. A breeze. There's one other person awake in this campground, that I saw. If we were at a campground that didn't have RV hook-ups, I'm not sure that there'd be more than a handful of other people in the campground, and none of them would be awake yet. It reminds me of my days at IMSA and how, on Saturdays, I'd wake up real early, and no one else would be awake, and I'd walk over across the street to the supermarket called Eagle, and I'd get myself an apple fritter from the bakery. And then I'd come back over to campus, and sit on a bench, and there'd still not be anybody awake, and I'd sit and eat my apple fritter, and I would be really happy, because I'd feel special—because I was the only one awake. How could no one else be awake? They didn't know what they were missing and they never wised up. It's like that was who I was, the guy who woke up early, except no one knew.
The river was a jewel yesterday, and I'm going to do it justice—but wow did the ten hours we spent floating commandeer the rest of the day we didn't spend on the river. After we finally got back here I split some wood for the night's cookfire, probably a little wild in the head, and eventually I changed out of my trunks. We ate, the ladies retired, Pat and I walked down to the river for a few minutes (it was pleasantly dark, the distant suns were many). And then we walked back up here and went to bed. That was it. Anticlimactic. We never used those rodeo tickets we had, the will wasn't there.
I didn't tip on the river. I did put my goggles on at one point and swim a little—more like dive for a few seconds, sometimes against the current, to see if I could find anything of interest. I didn't. There was a sunken jar of JIF. The Current water is cool, and especially if you are just downstream of where any of the numerous springs feed in, it can feel pretty cold. As we kayaked along, I liked dangling my feet or my hands into the water as it carried me along. B is up.
At numerous spots the river splits into two or more alternate channels as it courses around a sudden island in the river. Relatively early on in our river odyssey, Pat and I opted to take one of these side channels as it branched off to the right. Even within that side channel was another little island, presenting us a choice of trying to float what looked like a pretty shallow run or having to duck severely under a tree that was hanging its limbs right down to the waterline. We slowed ourselves down and were hemming and hawing about it, but before we came to any conclusion Pat startled a mean-looking snake that was hanging out over by the shallow area. It hissed at him, he said. I wasn't real close, but I was close enough, and I thought the snake looked pretty serious. I don't know what kind of snake it was, and it isn't as though Pat was trying to get a real good look—he was trying to paddle slow enough in reverse not to raise its ire even more. So we scooted under the tree limbs, the leaves of which sure looked like poison ivy to me. [Author's note: I've seen trees like this a lot on disc golf courses—it's as though it's one big poison ivy tree. And so I did a little research when we got home, trying to answer the question as to whether poison ivy can be a tree. It can't. It happens that the box elder tree (a kind of maple) has leaves that look an awful lot like poison ivy leaves—similar shape, with some leaflets of three. Poison ivy can grow into a tall shrub but it does not grow into a full-fledged tree.]
I tell B that if it starts raining for real, me and her are gonna have to break down our tent real quick. Otherwise there isn't much for her to do right now. There's no fire yet, Vonage is asleep. And we're not really in pack mode yet.
So I'll try to give you a quick digest of what else we saw on the river. Pat and I saw a huge bald eagle just south of Pulltite (Anne turned around and saw it, too, when Pat and I erupted in delight). We saw thousands of bank swallows, a couple dozen belted kingfishers, plenty of cardinals, and on numerous occasions we saw a group consisting of a mother wood duck (a smallish, brown duck with a white "tear-drop" shape around her eye) and her six or seven little wood duck chicks (where do the drakes all go?) For the first time in my life I saw an American Redstart, which I described in my lost notes as a mini oriole—black head with with orange shoulders, a small bird. For awhile we tracked a blue heron slowly down the river. B, at our vanguard, would get close, and the heron would flap its way downriver a hundred yards before landing. She'd get close again, and again it would fly downriver another hundred yards. We also saw several green herons, a smaller heron that doesn't stick its neck out much: colors of brown, green, and bone.
There were stretches on the river when I didn't paddle much—I just wanted to relax and drift. Sometimes I'd turn my kayak around and drift while looking behind us, upriver, for a different perspective. I don't believe we dawdled. None of our stops was very long (thanks to Vonage for those Pearl Café drunken noodles, OMG!) Best I can explain how we ended up on that river for ten hours is that we faced a stiff headwind much of the float—if that was an unusual occurrence it could explain why a float estimated by the outfitter as taking 6-8 hours wound up taking us ten. That, and maybe the fact that the outfitter underestimates the float time so as not to scare people away. [Author's note: It was a 22-mile float, clearly stated as being a 22-mile float on the outfitter's website. The estimate at 6-8 hours is well shy of what I believe it would take a kayaker to cover 22 miles of river, assuming the kayaker wanted to relax a bit. That said, many two-day floats are listed as covering 22 or 24 miles, so we should have known what we were getting into. Also, I checked my river data app when I got home and the data for "Current River above Akers, MO" indicated that the river was pretty well below its normal height for this time of the year.]
B says she would like to have a rash guard, like Anne wears. A rash guard is basically a water-safe sunburn preventer, as far as I can tell. I got burnt in a couple of spots yesterday. I forgot to put sunscreen on the V area under my neck. So I got burnt there even though I had kept on my long-sleeve Orvis shirt for most of the voyage. I also got parts of my feet pretty red (Chacos tanline) even though I put sunscreen there initially—it could have washed off pretty easily and I never reapplied because I didn't want to mess with it and I figured I had no way of drying my feet so it would be pointless anyway. There were patches of clouds, off and on, the whole way—not blankets of cloud layer but big clumps of cumulus that came and went, allowing for pockets of direct sun that weren't overwhelming. The cumuli seemed low. Much higher up, seemingly not moving, were the furrowed type of cirrus clouds, just beautiful. It was these clouds I was staring up at when I was just drifting—they seemed the venue of something special. The weather could not have been much better, except for that wind I suppose. But I won't do that long of a float in one day again any time soon.
I guess I'll get to work on making the morning cookfire and maybe B will drive home and let me to write more in the car. The day moves on, relentless, like the river.
VII. Driving Home.
We're headed out, north on 19. It's 8:25. We saw 54 on the side of the road by Carr's. [As I attempted to explain in the Lost Notes, 54 is a poor underfed mutt that had the number "54" either spraypainted or branded into his left side. Pat and I saw this dog down by the river not too far from the 19 bridge toward the end of the float. It led me to say, "What is wrong with people!" Needless to say, seeing this poor dog made me want to go and snatch him up and give him something of a life before it were too late.] It's still cloudy but those raindrops I felt this morning were the full extent of any rain. We busted camp pretty good, but I found a tick and a spider in our tent. I did feel something crawling on me pretty good at one point last night and that spider could've been it.
B asks me if I'm gonna mention her tipping. I say, "Well, if I'm gonna describe what happened on our float, I'm gonna have to mention you tipping." Eagle aside, the aftermath of B hitting the water was probably the most fun I had all day—all contained in about 60 seconds.
It was a quicker, narrower stretch of river where she flipped, one of those segments where the river splits in two to course around an island. We all chose the same chute to go through and I went through it second behind Anne. I yelled out, "Class Two rapids!" I don't know anything about rapids and how they're classified—I just liked yelling that out whenever we went through a particularly playful stretch of the river. B was after me and got pinned sideways against a limb of a tree that had fallen into the water (there are too many of these to count along the way). She braced herself against the limb but the river under her was going quick enough and hard enough to rotate the kayak out from under her. She went in. Pat was behind her, made sure she was alright. He said he was afraid she'd hit her head, maybe against the limb. She banged her knee pretty good in the process, and she was startled by the cold of the water and the suddenness of tipping, but she was alright. [Another dog on the road as we proceed up 19.]
I tried to rest my kayak against a protruding limb mid-river, in a relatively shallow spot, and I was gonna wait there to try and collect the sundry items loosed from B's kayak: the mini cooler, her seat cushion, her Nalgene, the water jug, and a coozie with a spoilt shanty in it. But the current was going to take all of these things well wide of where I was positioned so I grabbed the nose of my kayak with one hand and lugged it behind me as I romped toward where I thought I could intercept the fallen booty. It was shallow enough [another dog on the road!] so that I was able to stand upright in the river without losing my balance and I was able to grab the cushion, the cooler, the water jug, and the Nalgene without much trouble. Anne got the coozie. I was laughing real good—the pursuit of the floating items and the coldness of the water was exhilarating. That minute was as close as I got to euphoria the whole trip. Ten or fifteen seconds later, as I was making my way back to a gravel bar where we were going to regroup, I saw this white object floating along, a foot or so below the surface and I figured I might as well grab it. It was B's tank top (easy: she still had her bathing suit on).
Pat tipped later. We've floated four times now, and that's the first time I've ever seen him go over. There was a low-hanging branch that B had just gone under, limbo-like, and he said he was going to try to go under the limb, too ("B-style"). Except he wasn't able to get low enough and he was then caught by the same principle that took B under earlier—he reached up to brace himself against the hanging limb but of course the river under him didn't stop. He first got turned sideways and then his kayak rotated under him and he was in. (Mind you, I am not on some kayak high-horse here. I have flipped several times on floats but this would make two or three straight floats during which I did not tip....) I got his flip flops. He didn't lose anything else. He even had a wet cig hanging from his lips as he made his way down toward where we were waiting for him.
I would gladly do a shorter float again sometime soon. That was 14 miles, so nine sounds about right. [errr...as I mentioned, that was 22 miles, so 14 would be fine!] As for an estimated float time, four to six hours is probably a better range. The folks on the van with us, who were "only" doing Akers to Pulltite, said their float took them seven hours. And, sure, they had the two kids with them, and they were doing some fishing, but the mom said they didn't really stop that much either.
We enter the town of Gladden. A hayfield in growth mode. An old Subaru riding our ass. A huge, beautiful cow pasture—tap the brakes! A wild turkey struts around on the road in the opposite lane. I saw several good-sized rainbow trout in the stretch of river south of Pulltite. Someday, in the not-too-distant future, I want to start fishing again. I want to catch those trout, clean them, have B cook them in a cast-iron skillet on an open fire, and I want to eat those trout. I cannot imagine doing something more satisfying. The Subaru passes us but now a Taurus quickly takes its place on our rear bumper. Now the Taurus passes us and now it's just us here on this country road, and it's nice again.
VIII. Monday afternoon.
It's 15:30. We just crushed some Wendy's. We got back at about 11:30. As we drove (B got us to Steelville, then I took over) I watched my phone and waited until I got phone service, to see what messages I got. There were two about Oscar Taveras, the Cardinals rookie, one from Roy and one from my bro. I don't get many texts from my bro—to have gotten one, and to have not responded to it for two days, gave me a sinking feeling of regret. And I guess I never told Roy that I was going off of the grid and he had gotten a little concerned that I had not responded to his texts for a couple of days. Eventually he sent me the "Are you alive?" text. He also texted Pat and B to make sure I hadn't crashed out somewhere. Sorry, Roy!
We curved our way along 19 north, managing not to hit any of the dozen or so turtles we saw attempting to make their way across the road. I don't think that, on a turtle to road-surface basis, there is another road in the entire country with more turtles trying to cross it than Highway 19 in Missouri. But I doubt that study ever gets funded, so I guess we'll never know.
The other phenomenon we witnessed, first on 19, and then on 19/8 thru Steelville was an onslaught of "mail carrier"-designated cars. We must have seen seven different "mail carrier" vehicles within a thirty-mile span. I'm not sure what to make of that. It reminded me of the mail carrier Pat and I saw on the way down to Round Spring. In that instance, it appeared that the driver/mail carrier was sitting on the "passenger" side of the car, so as to have easy access to the mailboxes—but it sure looked like the steering wheel was still on its traditional "driver's side" of the vehicle. The mail carrier was all stretched across the front seat holding the steering wheel in place. It looked very awkward. Pat said he thought the pedals had been moved over to the passenger's side, but for whatever reason, the steering wheel had stayed put.
We've got the car fully unpacked and we've gotten most of the gear off of the deck and back inside the house. The tent footprint is draped across a ladder in the garage. It's still kind of dirty and needs a washing, which I should do by hand, as opposed to doing it by hose. The tent footprint I made for our Eureka Spitfire II consists of two hand-cut pieces of 6-mil plastic sheeting, held together at the edges by long strips of duct tape. The edges are pretty much sealed tight by the tape, but not entirely. So if I go spraying it with a hose I believe I'd get some water in between the two sheets, which I don't want.
It's nearing the end of my week off of work and in addition to the dread of that thought, I've got my standard post-camp melancholia (thoughtful sadness). It's a sense of bereavement really. I am soon to be bereft of things I want to do and I am facing things I do not want to do. What I really miss about camping, now that I'm back here in the southeast corner of my hundred-year-old home in U City, MO, is the openness, the out-of-the-way-ness, the trees, the campfire, the river, the time, the breeze, the birds. Of course I don't miss and will barely even mention the pesky gnats that berated us constantly as we broke down camp this morning—swarming in our faces, looking for a way into our eyes and ears. My salvation in camping is that I know what to do with myself "out there." Or if I hit an idle moment, I can write, or take a walk, or play with the fire, or find things to organize a certain way in the buckets or the camp kit. At work, I don't know what to do. There are any number of things I could do—but none of them seem very necessary. Maybe this is just "grass is greener" talk. Could be. Can't camp forever—gotta come back to something. Right?
Salem is nice. Steelville is nice. Could we really live out there? For real? What if we moved out there and it was terrible, a huge mistake? And we had already quit our jobs and we'd sold our house here? What then?
I'm fighting a doze. I'm lying down writing all of this post-script. The ground out there was stony hard, and we were on a slight slant. I didn't sleep well. I missed the little neck pillow I have with me here now to put between my knees as I try to fall asleep on my side. I tried to put my top leg over onto B the first night. She rejected me and I said, "But I like to put it there." Apparently I said that loud enough for the Vonage to hear because they kidded me and B about it the next day. I am a little embarrassed but it's...oh, just dozed there...lost my train of thought.... I am afraid that if I fall asleep now I will not get back up and I really want to watch or listen to some baseball tonight. Dozing again. Done for now, anyhow.
[Later that night B finished "Last Puzzle and Testament", a crossword puzzle mystery by Parnell Hall.]
IX. Melancholy Music Man.
There are no directions to
sleep, so how does one go there?
It's one and I'm not there.
I'm sad and gassy and awake.
There was a fly buzzing around
this room, in love with the light.
I so wanted to kill it, tried.
But I was making too much noise,
for B has arrived at sleep,
like she always does, one
If I can sleep I'll sleep
with this pen in hand, and
dream of birds, the
female wood duck, the
white teardrop around her
eye as she leads her little
brood down the river, always a-
ware of turtles.
St. Louis/Eminence, MO.