The Hess Report

Sunday, June 27, 2004

A Break in the Saga of Bitterness

Went camping three weekends ago. Lucy's camping experience can be summed up pretty easily: stayed in the maternal grandparents' camper the entire time, playing Polly Pockets or three bears. The one night, she got in the stream and helped to build a dam. The rest of the time she spent pouting and encouraging Joy and I to develop a creative new discipline routine to enact at the beginning of the coming week.

Adventure!Maddie had a blast. A small stream ran through the center of the campground. Very clear water, maybe twelve feet from bank to bank, ranging in depth from several inches to a foot and a half. Perfect adventure material for a six year old. We waded up and down the stream a bunch of times, and had close encounters with a frog, a crayfish, a water snake, and several flying ducks that came within a few feet of taking our heads off. She made a silly fishing pole from a stick, a length of bright pink nylon braided rope and a safety pin. She baited it with a dried kernel of corn.

She was surprised and disappointedly that her contraption failed to catch anything in the shallow, rapid stream. Her Pap had cleverly brought along a child-size fishing rod. The three of us (Maddie, myself, and Pappy Jack) road in the golf cart to the camp's pond. Even several failed attempts at “fishing” with the homemade rod would not convince her to abandon it, which reminds me a lot of myself when I was her age. As small boy, I made a pool table from scrap plywood, quarter round and nails. Needless to say, it was a complete piece of crap, and I knew it, but my pride refused to let me say that it was utterly unplayable, as the rails would fly off the sides if hit too hard by the little balls. To my eternal shame, I believe I actually defended it with the phrase “homemade quality”. Yikes. I know better, now. I mean, I still unnecessarily manufacture a lot of my own stuff when it would be easier to just buy it or pay someone to do it for me, but that's how I am. And my stuff is actually good now. So blah. Maybe I'm still trying to make up for the pool table.

In any case, I did point out to Maddie that the bright pink rope was scaring the fish, and that the closed safety pin would be unable to actually hook anything, and finally that the fish didn't give a rat's ass about some corn in the water when there were delicious bugs to be had all around. She was interested in the actual mechanics of catching a fish, and this engineering style approach finally swayed her. She took the “official” rod. We baited it with a worm. Within half a minute, four little sunfish were fighting with each other over it. One took the bait. I helped her jerk the rod to set the hook, and she had caught her first fish. She was quite excited. I could tell that she would much rather have caught it with her handmade rod, and I was sympathetic, but Damn! She'd just caught a fish!

We put him in a styrofoam cup full of pond water and took him back to the camper to show Joy. Maddie really wanted to eat it, but that would have been silly, as the little guy was only about two inches long. So, I explained that we'd have to kill it, scale it and gut it, and it would be a better idea to just unhook him and let him go in the stream, which is what we did. I can count on one hand the number of times I've gone fishing, and this will probably be around 20% of Maddie's fishing experience for her entire life. But it was fun, nonetheless.

Maddie also learned (sort of) to drive. The campground allows golf carts, and the grandparents had a neat one, with a cargo bed and hopped up suspension. It was basically turn the key, press the gas and steer. Maddie's Pap took her out into a field and let her drive it by herself. She was grinning like a loon when she came back.

She also had her first spelunking experience. The campground has two state safety-certified caves, only one of which was accessible over the weekend, the second being too muddy and steep to admit a six year old. The one that was accessible was pretty neat, and Maddie went the whole way in with me. The mouth of the cave was as big as a one-car garage. It descended and narrowed quickly, though, going maybe thirty linear feet at a 30% angle. Very rocky. At the back of the main cave wall was a tunnel, small enough that I had crouch was down and put a hand on the wall to get through. The floor in that part was muddy, with small pools of water. After about seven feet of tunnel, the cave opened back up into a nice sized room. Six adults could have comfortably stood up in it. The ceiling narrowed and came together maybe twelve feet above the floor, and lots of neat rock formations and nook and crannies were there to observe. Maddie thought it was very cool, and it was.

Other fun stuff that went on: a whole group of ducks (six males, two females, eight or nine ducklings) lived around the stream right beside our camp site. They would go around in groups, and suddenly start quacking and acting all pissed off. They'd do this for a couple of minutes, then return to their normal behavior. Extremely dumb animals, and very funny to watch.

Saturday night a group of older gentlemen set up some amps and speakers in the camp pavilion and played some country/bluegrass/folk/gospel music. The vocals were a little shaky, but the guitar and dobro (almost a guitar) playing was very good. My father-in-law had an extra guitar, so I sat in for a little while, and got to sing some old bluegrass tunes that I hadn't heard in years: Salty Dog, Hot Corn Cold Corn, Fox on the Run, and Footprints in the Snow, to name a few. Mostly bluegrass songs are either about missing someone who died, cheatin' on your woman, or drinking whiskey. Sometimes all three. Joy pitched in some vocals on a couple of gospel tunes, but she had to be brow-beaten into doing it, as she had kind of blown her voice out the previous week at Camerata rehearsals and a concert, and was probably feeling the beginnings of some kind of throat-central viral thing.

So that was our weekend. It was a nice campground, and we'll probably come back at some point this summer. Maybe we can get Lucy to be a little more involved next time, but if not, oh well. As I have to keep reminding myself, she's only three.

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