Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Nickerson Camping Trip 1995 - Chapter 3

The third part of the story of camping at Nickerson has to do with the raccoon I mentioned in the last post. We’d been camping for years and should have known better, but the very first night we left the big plastic box of food sitting on the ground at one end of the picnic table and the bag of trash (chock full of good things like steak scraps) at the other. Naturally, a raccoon came by, chewed through the trash bag, spread its contents over a large area, and ate all the yummy bits. Then he clambered up onto the table, wiped his paws on the paper towels and moved on. Fortunately he failed to notice the big box full of food.

The next night he returned to find the food and trash safely locked away in the car. He checked out a metal box that smelled like bread, but couldn’t get it open. He left the box on its side, covered with little sandy paw prints and grumbled a complaint as he waddled past the corner of our tent.

Perhaps what happened the following night can be blamed on the full moon and the fact that Grampa did not light the lantern. I put the bag of trash in the car, but forgot about the plastic box of food at the far end of the picnic table. Our raccoon started by climbing onto the table, where he found a bowl with three plums. He took one bite out of each, then followed his nose to the big box of food. The lid came off easily and there before his eyes was a veritable cornucopia: boxes of cereal, English muffins, chocolate chip cookies, marshmallows, and more! Where to begin? He ate four and a half English muffins, a whole bag of Chips Ahoy cookies, and sampled several boxes of cereal on the spot. He dragged the bag of marshmallows to a near-by tree and devoured the entire contents. Feeling fat and happy, he wandered off, leaving the remaining food strewn around on the ground. After we replaced our ravaged supplies, we were more vigilant about locking them in the car at night!

On the very last morning of our vacation, I went to the cooler for some juice. But the cooler was gone! Later Grampa found it behind some trees a short distance away. Several Sam Adams beers, a few Bud Lites, and two wine coolers were missing. Everyone thought teenagers getting into Friday night mischief had stolen the cooler. But I think somewhere out in the woods there was a raccoon with a hangover as the result of one last raid on “Crook’s Getaway” and a party to celebrate all the food we provided for him!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Camping at Nickerson on Cape Cod, 1995 – Take Two

Besides losing and finding the girls (see previous blog), I have other memories of that camping trip at Nickerson State Park. One night Megg and Laura stayed with Gramma and Grampa to tell tales around the campfire while Mom and Dad went out to buy a new air mattress. Their mattress had developed a leak that we were unable to find and repair. Megg laid and started our fire (with a little help from Grampa) to demonstrate the campfire building skills she learned in Girl Scouts. I suppose we would have toasted marshmallows had they not been eaten the previous night by a raccoon. (More about the raccoon later.)

After Megg gave us an account of the plot of a book she had just read, Laura announced that she had a story too. She proceeded to tell an elaborate and detailed story that she prefaced with the information that it was the most celebrated legend of an Italian town whose name I no longer remember, but which she supplied at the time, and that the people there were still telling this tale. The complexity of the story, the amount of detail, and the vocabulary struck me as unusual for a six year old. Steve and Kathi read to the girls regularly, so I assumed it was from a book they had read to her. After we put the girls to bed and their parents returned, I asked about this story. Neither of them had ever heard it before, so at breakfast the next morning, I asked Laura where she had learned the legend she shared with us around the campfire. “I read it in a library book.” she replied, going to her tent and returning with the book. I knew that she read on a rudimentary level, having completed kindergarten, but as I looked through the book it hardly seemed possible that a child who had not yet started first grade was reading at this level! She had even read an introductory note that preceded the beginning of the story, explaining that it was the most celebrated legend of this Italian town and was told and retold there to this day.

So I remember this camping trip as the time when I was amazed to discovered how far above grade level Laura was reading and comprehending. She’s been immersed in books ever since. So has Megg, but it is Laura who I remember never leaving the house, even for a short run to the grocery store, without a book to keep her company.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Adventure or gut-wrenching fear? ­ It all depends on your point of view!

In August 1995, Gramma and Grampa went camping in Nickerson State Park on Cape Cod with Steve, Kathi, Megg (11), and Laura (6). This was the trip when our girls and two other children from a nearby camp site disappeared into the woods, their whereabouts unknown for what seemed an eternity. I don’t remember how long they were gone, but it was long enough for many campers to get the word and start looking; long enough for Steve to go to the office and call the police; long enough for the police to arrive and join the search. It was long enough for discomfort to turn to fear; long enough for fear to turn to terror.

Many people walked the trails calling the girls names again and again. No response. Finally I got in our car and drove to an adjacent circle of camp sites. I parked in an empty site; just as I got out of the car, the girls appeared at the head of a trail leading into the site. When they saw me, they turned and started back into the woods. “You girls come back here this minute and get in the car or you will be in really big trouble,” I shouted in a tone of voice Megg and Laura had never in their lives heard come out of Gramma’s mouth. They slunk back and got in the car. But the other two girls, who didn’t know me, high-tailed it back into the woods. Calling to them was of no avail.

“But Gramma, we were having an adventure,” they told me in self defense. I drove them back to our camp site and showed the other set of parents where their daughters were last seen. Eventually we found them, but it took awhile. You wouldn’t think they could disappear again so fast.

The police wanted to see and talk to the girls to verify that they were really accounted for and OK, and to admonish them about the dangers of secretly wandering off. Our girls by this time had disappeared into their tent. Megg came out and talked to the police, but Laura remained inside with a pillow over her head, weeping. The police stood at the tent door and asked her to come out. No deal. Laura was firm in her intention to hide from the law. We finally coerced her out from under her pillow and the protection of her tent. She did survive her interview with the police, but not happily!

All four girls steadfastly maintained that they never heard anyone calling them. They just went on an adventure in the woods, the highlight of which was the following of trails and marking where they had been. A few rocks here, a pile of twigs there, a stick pointing the direction at a fork, etc. I’ve never been able to believe that they really didn’t hear us. I suspect it was all part of a game of evading pursuers. They felt perfectly safe, so why should the big people worry? However, they scared about ten years off our lives that day and I do not intend to let them forget it!