Friday, December 11, 2015

Camping and Writing

The weekend after Thanksgiving, I went camping by myself for the first time.  My wife had recently gone on a retreat for a few days and suggested I take some time to myself.  So I headed to Spring Mill State Park in Mitchell, Indiana.

I arrived around 4 PM on Friday and got to pick my own spot.  I chose an electric site, meaning there was an outdoor power outlet to hook into, and if the modern bathrooms were open (they were already closed for the season), I'd have access to them as well.

I think there was maybe one or two other campers in the entire park.  Not only was it the Friday after Thanksgiving, but it was cold and raining.  In fact, I had to set up my tent in the rain.  My tent has a rain fly, but you don't put it on until the tent is up.  So the inside of the tent got wet.  Fortunately, I had towels to dry up the mess.

The view was outstanding - nothing but woods behind the tent, and the lot itself was one of the largest ones.

Next, I set up a screen tent.  It's just a small tent that a few people can sit inside for shade or protection from insects.  To some degree, it can also protect you from the rain, although the roof leaks drops sporadically.  And if it's a blowing rain, you're going to get soaked.

In the picture, you can see my main tent in the background and my screen tent to the right.

I took an outdoor power cord with me, courtesy of my father-in-law, so that I could charge my phone and laptop from within the screen tent.  I also had a small table and a couple of camping chairs setup in there since it was raining.

By the time I had everything set up, it was dark.  Sunset happened around 5:30, not that I could see the sun to begin with.  But overcast skies during the day are very different from overcast skies during the night.  It was dark.

In the dark, I started making dinner.  I started a fire with some difficulty, using some fire-starters, Fatwood (a type of kindling), and a couple of pieces from my bundle of firewood.  I had to split the pieces of firewood with my hatchet; otherwise, they would have been too large to consume initially.  (With camp fires, you have to start small and build your way up to the larger pieces.)

I cooked a hot dog over the fire and then started making some freeze dried mac 'n cheese.  Freeze dried meals are pretty simple.  You boil a cup or two of water (depending on what you're making), dump it into the pouch, stir it up, and seal it.  After a few minutes, you open it and either drain it or eat it (again, depending on what you're making).

While that was happening, I had a bag of chips open at my table in the screen tent, along with extra hot dog buns.  Then I started cooking my second hot dog.  I wore a headlight so that I could see what I was doing (no, not the kind that's on a car - the kind that straps to your head), and I saw a pair of glowing eyes.

The eyes belonged to a large raccoon I named Fatty Bandit.  Fatty Bandit was sauntering around my campsite, interested in how my meal was coming along.  So I had to grab my bag of chips, my pouch of mac 'n cheese, my bag of extra buns, and squat down by the fire to finish cooking my second hot dog.

When I sat down to eat inside the screen tent, Fatty Bandit sauntered up (that's the only verb to describe how he moved - saunter) within a foot of me like a pet dog.  He looked up at me, expectantly, and I told him to move on.  Normally at camp sites, I'll see raccoons if I flash my light in their direction, but they'll quickly disappear, never coming closer than 10 feet at most.  But not Fatty Bandit.  He just didn't care.  Or maybe he cared a lot about my food.  After all, there weren't any other campers nearby, and he was probably tired of eating what he found in nature.

That night, I dreamed that Fatty Bandit came into my tent and curled up next to me.  And I came out of that dream half-awake and felt a lump next to my sleeping bag.  I yelled, "Get out of here!"  Then I realized it was actually one of my bags, and I felt a bit foolish.  It didn't make sense for a raccoon to get into my tent or to lay next to me, but it seemed plausible in my dream.

I tried to take a picture of Fatty Bandit one night, but it was just too dark.  Just imagine a really heavy raccoon.

Saturday was a great writing day.  I sat in the screen tent for hours at a time and wrote.  I took a picture of my setup.

Yes, note the scotch.  I don't drink scotch regularly when writing, but this was camping.    

I was working on my latest novel.  It was NaNoWriMo, after all.  I say that more with good fun.  I started the novel quite a while back; it's not a project I suddenly undertook with the hope of completing within the month of November.  But when my current project is a novel during the month of November, I can't help but mention NaNoWriMo.

Beyond writing the immediate chapters, I also discovered how to give better precision to the narration.  I'm writing in close third, but the focus splits between the two main characters.  And by splitting, I don't mean within the same scene.  Within a given scene, the close third is tied to one character; my college creative writing teacher was very clear that we should avoid head jumping.  I thought I knew their voices already, but I became aware that I started wanting more specific patterns; narration tied to this character should be like A, whereas narration tied to the other character should be like B.  I'll have to go back and clean up a lot of places later to make this work, but it will add much more clarity to the voices and hopefully tie readers closer to the characters.

Sunday was a day of sleeping late, hiking for a couple of miles, and more writing.  I felt really relaxed by the end of the day.

Below is a picture of one of the entrances to Donaldson Cave.

Monday, I ate breakfast and packed up.  I just wanted to be back home with my family.  Having time to myself was both the best and worst aspect of the trip.  I really enjoyed being able to camp in solitude, which allowed me to write and observe nature in silence, but I also became rather lonely.

For those who write, I highly encourage taking a trip somewhere by yourself where you'll have a chance to write and think.  I know camping isn't for everyone, but I would recommend a destination with limited human interaction and few distractions.  I think we need opportunities to focus.

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