Early February with its sharp, chilling winds is, I know, not the time to speak of tent camping. But this morning, as I punch my complaining computer keys and shake my head vigorously, hoping an outdoor column might fall out into my lap, I’m thinking of a camping trip years ago on Cave Run Lake.
There were five of us. Four were boys. They were my two sons, Kelly Joseph and Kendall Ray, and two of my nephews, Danny Ross and Michael Allen.
We pitched camp the distance from the lakeshore required by regulations. That put us in a small clearing near the head of a wooded hollow. Steep forested hills rose up on either side and to the rear.
With what daylight hours were left we busied ourselves with camp chores: Setting up the tent, unrolling the sleeping bags, building a fire ring and gathering firewood.
We had a crackling campfire going by the time darkness closed in upon this tranquil site.
Supper consisted of hot dogs roasted over the open fire, dressed with homemade hamburger sauce, chopped onions and tangy mustard.
Dessert was roasted marshmallows – crispy brown on the outside and sweet, delightful, melted white stuff inside. We had to blow on them first
else they burn our tongues.
WHAT WAS THAT?
I was in the middle of a frightful bedtime ghost story when we heard a sound coming from halfway up the hill on our left. It was a frightful sound that commanded our total attention.
It sounded a little like a woman in distress. Was she screaming for help?
I knew there could be no houses back in there. The U.S. Division of Forestry owns all of the land to the top of the ridges surrounding most of the lake. Any houses located in the “taking area” were purchased and the people relocated.
“What was that?” asked one of the boys.
“Don’t know,” I whispered as we strained our ears like a German shepherd pointing his ears toward an unknown sound.
Then, there it was again, this time from a slope on the hillside directly behind us.
“Er-r-re-e-e.” it went, something like that anyway.
It was the kind of sound that caused the hairs on the back of one’s neck to stand up and pay attention. Had we brought a dog along on the trip I’m sure the hackles along his back would have been erect also.
This time it was louder. And closer. And we moved closer to the fire. I threw on more wood.
For the first time on the trip, the boys were totally silent.
Then, one of them said, “There it is again. Over there!”
Yes, this time it was on the right hand side. Louder. And closer.
Was the aroma of roasted hot dogs and marshmallows drawing whatever it was down to the campsite?
Was it one creature, moving about, or more than one answering each other’s call?
I threw a few more sticks of wood on the fire.
We sat by the comforting fire a while longer, the boys speaking in subdued tones.
We listened for a long time. The only sound we heard from that point on was a hoot owl calling and a serenade of crickets.
VOLUNTEER FOR WOOD
“One of you boys should volunteer to go out to that deadfall and get us some more wood,” I said.
They laughed at me – the kind of laugh reserved for reaction with a crazy person.
They turned in for the night, the ghost story unfinished.
I took the flashlight and got more wood. The crackling fire that cast eerie shadows on leafy trees all around broke a regulation. It called for all campfires to be extinguished when turning in for the night.
But we had built a good fire ring of stones and raked back any combustible material from around it.
There was comfort inside the tent, as though canvass could ward off any wild animal that might decide to attack. Sleeping bags were zipped up to cover heads.
I was up twice during the night to keep check on the fire and add more firewood.
The boys slept through the night, like dead logs.
Next morning, going for more wood, I spied some strange tracks in the soft, damp earth just outside the campsite.
The little booklet I carried of identification of animal tracks seemed to show that, with claws retracted, they were those of a cat.
I had never heard a bobcat’s call before, but I felt certain – since no panthers have ever been positively identified in eastern Kentucky – that that was what we had heard in the hills surrounding Cave Run Lake.
After a healthy breakfast of bacon and pancakes, we took some fishing gear down to where we had tied off the boat, 75 yards away, and went out and caught a mess of crappie.
The one thing from that camping/fishing trip that the boys – now in their manhood – still talk about is the creature that came calling in the night.
Reach G. SAM PIATT at (606) 932-3619 or firstname.lastname@example.org.