My corporate overlords asked for volunteers for a one-week furlough as part of their pandemic austerity measures. I was not sure I was in a better place financially to take the hit than they were, but I was certain I could put the time off to good use, so I bravely stepped forward.
Andrew had a birthday coming up in a few days and mine was a week later. If we could get our other brother, David, to join us, we could have a pandemic family camp out to celebrate.
We threw a few things together and headed up Friday to set up camp.
In the spirit of social distancing, we set up two lodges. Andy slept in the smaller tipi the first night. We aired it out Saturday so David could use it when he joined us the next day; Andy would share the big lodge with me.
Saturday morning was sunny and still; we got a fire going and put the water on. After we were caffeinated, we had a pie iron scramble for breakfast.
It was late when we got the tipis up Friday; we didn’t get them pegged down. Andy did that Saturday, after breakfast, while I retrieved a couple fresh poles to replace some which had warped badly.
David arrived mid-morning.
We spent a pleasant day in the woods; we carved a few tipi pegs, peeled a couple of poles, swapped lies over beers, and just enjoyed a long overdue visit.
Our friends, Cap’n Ron and Mike, dropped by for drinks and joined in the arts and crafts.
Andy decorated a door pole for the second lodge while we whittled more pegs and lacing pins.
We kept our distance or wore face masks to ensure we didn’t spread the contagion. Pump bottles of hand sanitizer were always within easy reach. I’ve been asked about wearing face masks outdoors. I understand that airflow and volume dilute the viral load you are likely to encounter, reducing the risk of infection outside. In fact, Andy and I counted on that when we shared the big tipi at night. But if you are close to each other, even outdoors, your breath doesn’t get a chance to disperse or become diluted. Think of the clouds of condensation when it is cold enough to see your breath. Those are water droplets. If you are standing next to each other, you are inhaling those droplets and exhaling your own. That doesn’t change just because it is warm out and you can’t see it happening. My friends and I try to minimize the risks we impose upon each other. That’s what friends do.
After lunch we got out the beer bandoleer. Later, we progressed from beer to margaritas. Who knew a cocktail shaker would prove to be essential camping equipment?
As darkness fell, I lit the lamps and we three brothers sat around the camp fire, drinking and chatting.
We wore out the evening by finishing my Irish whiskey, after which I lay down on my bunk, just to rest my eyes. I think I heard my brothers ridiculing me as I drifted off, still shod in my moccasins. I didn’t dignify them with a response – it is a perquisite of age.
I awoke chipper and refreshed the next morning. My brothers, however, were in desperate need of coffee.
When I got back to camp, Andy had the beans simmering and was setting up the hammocks. I stoked the fire and finished prepping the chili. I added zucchini and substituted steak for ground beef. I cut the steak into bite sized strips and seared it in hot oil before adding it to the beans.
Around six I roused myself to add the rest of the ingredients to the chili and threw a little more wood on the fire. While I did that, Andy mixed another round of drinks.
The chili needed to simmer for a couple more hours. About a half an hour before dinner was ready, I mixed up some cornbread in the Dutch oven and put it over the coals.
After dinner, Andy insisted I read him a bedtime story, so I read him the first chapter of a Sherman Alexie novel. I got the impression it was a little more explicit than my brother was comfortable with. Sweet dreams! Before retiring, I packed the leftovers in ice and locked them in my truck, safe from marauding animals. We would have leftovers tomorrow.
When we got back, I retrieved the chili from my truck and hung it over the fire to simmer. When Mike showed up for another visit, we drank Kentucky mules and forced him to help us finish the chili. It took very little arm twisting.
Tuesday was our final day in Chanty Camp. I got up early and took down the big tipi, packed up my bedding and loaded it all in the wheelbarrow to take out to the truck, the first of many trips.
When Andy got up. he did the same with the smaller tipi. We paused to make breakfast on the Coleman, foregoing a cook fire to ensure it was out when we broke camp.
We didn’t hurry, but tarried, enjoying our last day in the woods. We hiked to the top of the hill. Walter Dog dragged some more tipi poles back for us.
We sat around camp and whittled, had a couple of beers and made lunch.
When we were done eating, we packed the kitchen, policed the camp and hauled the rest of our gear out to the road.
The last thing we did was dump all of our remaining water on our firepits. We checked that there was no heat left and made sure the garbage had been picked up before we wheeled the last load out to the truck, already planning our next expedition.