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 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 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,
June 2014

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