The fire is the main comfort of camp, whether in summer or winter, and is about as ample at one season as at another. It is as well for cheerfulness as for warmth and dryness. —Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
Every camp experience holds special memories. Thinking back, I remember a time in 1992, when my husband and I took my son Brandon who was twelve, for a weekend campout along Roaring River. A beautiful place then and now; a setting of old growth cedar, hemlock, and Douglas fir forest; prime habitat for the state and federally threatened northern spotted owl. Although no stranger to the outdoors, it was Brandon’s first time camping, and he was eager for the experience.
It was late summer. Daytime highs hovered pleasantly in the mid seventies, while nights were cool and sharp—perfect for those evening campfires. We selected a cozy site shaded with cedar and fir, and pitched our tents on a mat of fir needles for extra cushion—amazing how that works. With a few pointers from us, Brandon did a fine job securing his one-person tent. Across from our camp, stood a colony of horsetail where frogs would serenade us after dark, and help keep the bugs down. With everything in place, and the firewood stacked, the three of us grabbed our fishing rods and followed the trail upriver. Back then, the trail was unnamed. Today, it is called Dry Ridge Trailhead.
Along the river, we fished a deep, clear, pool that reflected fantastic shades of green. Brandon waisted no time. He’d been fishing since he was eight, and could catch fish as good as anyone. If there were trout, and there were, he would catch them, and he did. We all did. We caught six trout, two apiece. All day along a river, one works up an appetite, and we were ravenous when we returned to camp. That evening we enjoyed pan-fried trout, fire pit roasted potatoes, and roasted ears of corn. Food never tasted so good. After dark, we lighted the lanterns, and played cards until our eyes couldn’t stay open any longer. Sleep came easily beneath an indigo sky crammed with stars, the sound of frogs, and the distant tones of the river.
In the morning, we woke to a cool breeze and partly cloudy skies that had us wearing sweaters, and scrambling for oatmeal and cups of hot chocolate. We noticed the last campers folding their tents and leaving. We were now alone. Finishing breakfast around the campfire, we planned our day along the river. Fishing was at the top of the list. But, as nature would have it, fish are funny creatures—sometimes they bite, and sometimes they don’t.
We returned to camp that evening with empty stringers. Dinner consisted of Ramen noodles in chicken broth seasoned with sea salt and cracked pepper. We ate Oregon grape berries around the campfire, laughing about the trout we saw but couldn’t catch, and the ones that got away. We recalled the water ouzel we saw catching caddis larvae from the river stones; a fantastic little bird that makes its living at the edge of rivers. Brandon especially liked the Pacific giant salamander we’d found lurking in the riverbed. It was the first, and only one any of us had ever seen. After dinner, we sipped Oregon grape “root” tea; a bitter tonic no matter how much sweetener is added.
Little brown bats fluttered around camp as daylight faded. With lanterns lit, and the fire crackling, we played Labyrinth, an Australia board game, and one of Brandon’s favorites. The evening seemed like any other, cool, but nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing that signaled that we were about to be hit with a windstorm. Shortly after 10 p.m., while in the middle of our game, winds 40 to 50 miles per hour struck our camp. One minute everything was calm and peaceful, and the next, utter chaos. Trees bent and moaned, and branches snapped. It then started to rain. The forest sounded like a huge waterfall. We rushed around camp with our flashlights to secure everything we could before it was soaked through or blown into the darkness.
We secured the gear, tightened the tarp sheltering our table, and tended the fire. We found the missing pieces to our board game, and put them away. The wind and rain continued, although not as extreme. In the blackness, beyond the lantern, and fire light, came an eerie glow that moved slowly through the campground. Headlights! I thought Who on earth would be out driving in such a storm? The car pulled up to our camp and stopped. The three of us watched, wondering what this person wanted, when the doors opened, and out stepped my parents. We sighed with relief. “Here,” Mom handed me a bucket of fried chicken. “We wanted to surprise you!” she shouted above the rain. Dad hurried underneath the tarp with all the trimmings that accompany a chicken dinner. We burst out laughing. What a sight we must have looked. My parents had driven fifty miles, much of that through a winding, storm-ravaged canyon to bring us a hot meal. They knew nothing of a storm coming. It didn’t hit until they were in the canyon. So while the forest dripped and the wind blew, we sat around the table laughing and enjoying a late night family picnic next to a crackling fire. My parents didn’t stay despite the invitation, and returned home safely later that night.
In the morning, the air was damp and cool, and the sky blue, and bright. Branches of Douglas-fir, tossed on the ground from the storm, supplied us with our morning tea made with the twigs and needles; which by the way, tasted better than Oregon grape root. As we loaded the last of our damp gear into the pickup, Brandon turned to me and said, “This is one campout to remember.”
(This story is written in loving remembrance of my son Brandon who passed away on July 12 2015. He was thirty-five.)
Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.
(Roaring River is a 13.7 mile long tributary of the upper Clackamas River in the Mount Hood National Forest. In 1988, Roaring River was designated a Wild and Scenic river. In 1995, the upper Clackamas and its tributaries were closed to fishing. In 2009, 36,768 acres was designated Roaring River Wilderness. In 2015, the upper Clackamas River and tributaries reopened to catch and release, fly fishing only. If fishing, keep in mind that regulations change, so it’s a good idea to always check with the Department of Fish & Wildlife before casting.)