Friday, October 06, 2017

Work "Camping"

Lesley and I just got back from two wonderful weeks "camping" on the Olympic Peninsula. I saw some beautiful scenery and had a chance to observe a couple of things I've never seen in the wild: I saw a herd of elk, peacefully bedded down in the middle of a campground in a beautiful park (Dosewallips State Park, for those who are interested; it's near Brinnon, WA.). They were stately and calm, as befits massive creatures who are secure in their grandeur, and who for some reason have decided to tolerate us puny humans. (Though they sometimes like to toy with us by surrounding some poor soul's trailer, motorhome, or tent, and then daring the camper to try and make it to his door—or flap, if it's a tent. As this is going on, one can hear in the background the quiet laughter of mischievous elk.) In any case, it's their park; we're just visiting, and it's best to keep that in mind.

This man left his trailer and came back to find it surrounded by elk.
After 30 or so minutes of grazing and snickering at him, the elk
departed and the man was able to re-enter his trailer.
The second thing I saw struck me as unaccountably sad. I've read of salmon swimming upstream to spawn, and I must have seen video of the process on Wild Kingdom or some similar show. But I've never stood on the bank of a river and actually watched these magnificent fish, battered by rocks and current as they fight their way upstream back to the very place they were born so that they could continue the cycle of life. And then . . . they die. They fought for days to get back to a very specific spot upstream in a freshwater river, they lay their eggs (or, in the case of males, fertilize a female's eggs), and then—having left their saltwater home, and having fasted throughout their upstream journey and battled heroically to revisit the place of their birth—they simply fade away and die, their mission accomplished. The banks and shallows of the river were covered with dead and dying salmon, some flailing weakly as if in protest.
This bull was bugling when Lesley shot this awesome photo. We stayed
well out of his way.

This has been going on for eons, of course, and it's part of nature. But it seems a cruel and relentless part.

As luck and commerce would have it, I didn't get to spend all that much time hiking and enjoying nature. I spent a lot of time in our trailer, editing a U.S. history book. (Occasionally I'd sit outside at a picnic table with my computer and do my work out there, at least until I was harassed by mosquitoes, bees, flies, or some other pesky nature-thing. Then I would head for the trailer and set up at our little dinette table, possibly with a cold beer to help settle my rattled nerves.)

You may have notice that I put "camping" in quotes up above. That's because it's hard to reconcile what I'm doing with the actual camping I did as a (much) younger man. In those days, a tent was a luxury; most often we'd simply hike until we were tired (which took a long time, 40-50 years ago, but which doesn't seem to take nearly as long these days), and then put down our packs, lay out our sleeping bags, and start a fire so that we could have something hot for supper. (This was very often a dehydrated meal in a vacuum-packed foil pouch into which one could mix hot water; the result was something vaguely food-like, and I recall actually being fond of a few of the meals. The mac-and-beef wasn't at all bad, and neither were the beef stroganoff or the chicken and rice. Not surprisingly, the food got to tasting better and better the longer you were on the trail. Sadly, I cannot recommend the dehydrated peanut butter.) These were the days when I learned from my friend George that all one really needed in the way of utensils and tools was a Sierra cup and a good sheath knife.

Lesley made shrimp and grits one
night. This is a far cry from dehyd-
rated mac-and-beef,
These days, though, I am old and soft, and I no longer look forward to sleeping on the ground and waking up to powdered eggs and sausage-like, patty-shaped objects of dubious origin. Instead, Lesley and I "camp" in a 19' Escape trailer that includes a 6 cubic foot refrigerator with a freezer, a two-burner stovetop, a queen-sized bed, a dinette table (removable to make another bed, should we ever persuade my granddaughter to accompany us, which is increasingly unlikely, as she now seems to have discovered boys and cars, either of which I'm sure must be much more interesting than grandparents), a sink, a small furnace, a hot water heater, and—THANK ALL THAT IS HOLY—a bathroom.

So, yes, it's hard to call this camping. Some, in fact, have called it "glamping," which is apparently a portmanteau of "glamor" and camping." We will continue to call it "camping," though, simply because I refuse to be associated with such a silly word as "glamping."

This is our trailer parked at the marina at Port Townsend, WA.
Note the antennae at upper right.
I mentioned that I spent a great deal of time working during this last trip, which brings me to a few other things I have now that I didn't have when camping back in the day. If you were to look carefully at the roof of our trailer, you would see a small collection of antennae, a pair of them, plus a single one some inches away from the pair. These are for, respectively, a Wi-Fi booster and a cellular booster. Because after all, what is camping without Internet access? In both cases, these find a weak signal and then amplify it so that it's usable. My excuse is that I use such tools to work—and it's true that during our last two trips, I spent a lot of time sending and receiving files, connecting to the online version of the Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS, as we lovingly call it), looking up facts relevant to the books I was editing, and otherwise engaged in various forms of digital communication as a way of allowing me to freelance from pretty well anywhere we happen to be. (One can find oneself completely without either a cell or Wi-Fi signal, but it's fairly rare, and it's usually possible to at least drive into a nearby town in order to mooch a few GBs of connectivity. At any rate, I found that I could connect most of the time, one way or the other, with some sort of usable signal.)

See?! I worked! I have to admit that a state park is a nice place to
office. It must have been casual day...
So, I no longer own a Sierra cup OR a good sheath knife (I really wish I'd kept the one I had in the Boy Scouts), and I no longer sleep on the ground beneath the stars, listening to what I sincerely hoped at the time was the wind whistling through the pines, as opposed to, say, a bear or a mountain lion stealthily creeping up to where I lay, shivering in my cheap sleeping bag. Now I'm warm and cozy and secure in my nice bed, with the soft glow of the various LEDs in the trailer reminding me that my phone is charging, the fridge is running, the microwave clock (did I forget to mention the microwave?) is set, and the cellular booster is turned on. Now, this is not just because I'm old and soft, but because I have work to do, and these tools allow me to do it no matter where I happen to be. And I also happen to be old and soft.

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