with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

First Day of Summer – Queen Wilhemina State Park, Arkansas

Animated graphic of tree bloomingA change is happening. We feel it all around us. In some ways, it makes us happy, in other ways, it terrifies us. Without a doubt, it changes our perspective.

The sun is out. Sure, we’ve suffered horrible heat as we’ve traveled all over the country, but the sun is starting to come out from under the chill of winter across the rest of the country. When the sun starts coming out, the people start coming out.

We arrived in the lovely Queen Wilhelmina State Park atop the western hills of Arkansas about three days ago. The camp sites are built-up platforms overlooking the oak trees dotting the hillside and down the eastern valley. Quite the view. We’re on top of the world. All sites were empty. We picked out one that looked good and registered at the lodge. Later the next day, another trailer showed up. They parked way down on the other side.

graphic of a hummingbirdWhile I was working, two hummingbirds, bright green, started hanging around the window by the computer. They are so small, fast moving, and just darling to watch. Suddenly one lunged for the window and I drew back, startled. I heard it hit the window with a bang. What was going on?

Seems they mistook a bright red sign we have hanging in the window for a flower. Before leaving Seattle, I stumbled upon a sign similar to the ones people put on windows of their children’s bedroom. This one is for Toshi. It says “In case of fire, please rescue cat.” It’s bright red with flames standing behind a black cat. I loved the irony of two hummingbirds attacking a “save the cat” sign. I turned it over to keep them from hurting themselves, and then got out the small hummingbird feeder we carry. It’s hanging off the back of the trailer and is visited frequently. There are four more hummingbird feeders supplied by the park around the laundry room/restrooms across the road from us. It’s a delight to watch the sparkling green gems crowd around the feeders.

graphic of a butterflyDuring the overcast day, from my window out on the park, I watched dozens of butterflies of all shapes and colors flit all over the place. The most delightful chipmunks dash all about, finding food after the long winter. Blue jays fly about kamikaze style, resting momentarily in the trees around the trailer and then darting off again. Some kind of yellow and black bird adds color to the many other birds flying around. We’re not sure what it is and we’re still hunting through the books and CD. Birds like this send Brent on an obsessive mission. He must know what everything is called.

I startled a couple of skinks as I walked out for a breath of sweet fresh air to rest my hands and back from the computer work. A forest of huge black ants aggressively attack two trees behind our site. I consider their access to the trailer, but I think we’re safe for now. Amazing how much we can appreciate the natural world when it’s outside of our sleeping quarters. Inside, nothing is safe from our quick swatters.

Graphic: In the peace of the weekday, a hummingbird visits flowers.We survived a horrible wind storm and thunderstorm through the night, the pounding rain keeping me awake for much of it. Brent is my main source of information on tornados. Having come too close to too many on this trip so far, my fear hormones rage easily. Dark clouds now mean different things to me than just rain. It could mean death or destruction. Brent kindly reminds it’s just a dark cloud and probably means rain, but I watch it carefully, analyzing its darkness and questioning its intent. He carefully explained that tornados come with a loud train noise, like one is barreling down upon you. In the night, the wind boiled up and over the ridge, seeking the exposed top where we sleep, battering trees as it tore through the forest. I could hear it coming, rattling branches against each other, and rustling the new leaves of spring. Train sounding? Sorta. My heart pounded.

Then, there in the darkness, I hear train noises and my heart almost stops. Yes, definitely train sounds. I reached for Brent, as if he can stop nature single-handedly. I’d rather die with him awake than asleep, selfish as I am. Maybe we’ll get that one last moment for him to take me in his arms and tell me he loves me. This would be a wonderful way to go. Maybe it will happen so fast, we’ll be in Kansas in minutes. I don’t know, but strange thoughts like these whipped through my mind as the trailer wobbled back and forth in the night as I extended my hand.

Just before my hand touches his shoulder, I hear a train whistle. Whistle? I paused. Did his description actually include train whistles? I lean closer to the window. It’s a real train. I don’t know how people, who do live near train rails AND tornado zones live keep their sanity trying to figure out which are which, but me, my sanity is seriously tested.

We survive the night, Brent waking refreshed and me a bit wasted, to another day and much to do. I returned to the computer to catch up on the remaining articles as Brent headed out into nature with his camera. Another day passed in peace. The clouds hovered overhead, but slowly the sun came out and so did the people.

First a van arrived spilling forth four people. An old VW van with a high roof. The four are all over 60 years old and they wander about without much discussion, plugging in the electricity, hooking up the water, and then all four crawled back in the van. Through my window to the south, I can see them, heads all facing in one direction. They aren’t looking at each other. Strange. I watch, trying to figure it out, then I realize that at ten in the morning, they are watching a television in the van.

Another van arrives and parks four stalls down from us to the north. I turn away and concentrate on the computer and then look up later to find they have strung a big yellow flag between two trees which has a funny logo I can’t make out on it and the words “American Voyager Association”. I figure they are part of some association they are proud of and want people to know this. What I don’t realize is that this is a welcoming banner. Within the hour, more than 20 humongous motorcycles arrive, engines roaring, to take up three stalls to the north of them. The noise drowns the song birds and soft rustling of the leaves.

Looking again to the south, the people in the small van are still facing the television. Beyond them, a young couple are setting up their pop-up tent camper and the woman is stringing plastic owls on a cord from the camper to the trees behind it. When night comes, they will glow red, green, yellow, orange and purple in the night. Little plastic owls with black eyes haunting the early summer evening.

A member of the big bike rally? Maybe not, but it felt like it from the size and sound of the group.The motorcycle group starts prowling the woods behind USA, their black leather jackets dark against the new green growth. They are gathering up broken branches and hauling them back to burn in the fire pit. I know National Parks have laws against this, but state parks make their own rules and I never know from one moment to the next what the rules are, right or wrong.

Brent comes racing back in the truck telling me to get dressed right away, he has something he wants me to see. I ask what, wrapped up in the article I’m writing. He tells me they’ve trapped a black bear and are waiting for the wildlife people to show up and haul it away. I’m shocked. I’ve seen this picture over and over again and it still infuriates me. I know how upset he gets when I fight against and protest such actions, so I thank him and duck out gracefully. Work calls you know. After he leaves, promising to interview the participants and Captured bear in Arkansas, photo by Brent VanFossentake lots of pictures, my heart pounds and my anger increases. I heard a commentary on a radio show recently where someone said that doing some thing or another wouldn’t bother his conscious much, but if the aliens came down and picked up a human and put them in a caged zoo, well, that would bother him….I thought about how we would feel if we were the bear. We’re wandering around, seeking food as is our lot in life, just doing what bears do, and suddenly we are seized and hauled away. Not only from our food source, but from our family, our familiar places, and all that we know. We humans think nothing of it when we do it to animals, but I wonder what our Captured bear gets examined for health concerns before relocation. Photo by Brent VanFossenperspective would be if it were done to us? So, it’s better I wasn’t there. Besides, the action got better outside the trailer.

Another van, this one an expensive new one, pulled up next to us on the north, thankfully blocking part of my view of the bike club, and a lovely, elegant old couple, tall and thin, both with perfectly cut gray hair, came out and set up lawn chairs behind the van. They didn’t hurry around, plugging things in. They just sat there, not talking, just sitting and absorbing the beauty around them for hours. Just happy to be outside, not doing anything, and just sitting together. How desperately I wanted to get inside their brains and find out what they were thinking. But I stayed away, just watching, a bit envious.

Next to them, a class C motor home pulled in. Within minutes, the round Midwestern wife headed right over to the quiet couple and introduced herself. Started chatting away. I felt like their private peace had been broken, but their elegance revealed no sign of invasion. Eventually the husband of the chatterer came over and did the big Midwestern hand-shaking and pats on the back and started jawing away as well. I felt sorry for them all.

After a while, I went out for a walk with Toshi. All the stalls north and south of us were filled, and the other side was almost filled with campers and trailers of every size and shape. Kids were spilling out of them, yelling, hitting each other, and making up names to call each other, each one worse than the previous. Old Toshi is not fond of children, especially their high pitched screaming, and he wanted back home fast. I was stopped from returning by a young girl trying to twirl the baton. A small claim to fame was twirling for my high school games. I told her so and she asked a bit about it, then went on and on about how she hated baton but wanted to try out for Drum Majorettes. Her mother said no and so she tried out for flag. I assumed that is the team that carries the flag in parades and such. I asked why her mother vetoed the other group and she whined that she didn’t know. I found out later, in the three-way conversation between her and her younger brother, who kept wanting me to guess what his three favorite sports were and then telling me that each guess was wrong, that the Majorettes were required to wear panties which are cut very high at the thigh with no skirts, and little half tank tops with a bare midriff and very low cut neckline. No wonder her mother said no. I wonder about the other mothers.

As I tried to get away from the blathering children, Toshi made a big leap and cleared a four and a half foot wall up onto one of the site platforms. I was stunned and immediately picked him up and put him back down on the ground. He has arthritis in his back hips and has terrible times jumping. With all the walks I take him on since we started on the road, he seems to have limbered up some, but this was a surprise.

As I pulled him back down toward me, a voice called out, “You don’t have to do that, he’s just fine there.” The platform he had landed on was temporary home of the chattering couple. I smiled and told her thanks, but – well, I tried to tell her that we needed to get back to the trailer but a man interrupted my answer.

“Where you from!” he ordered. I hear this all the time. What ever happened to the “how are you” and “isn’t it a nice day” comments before lunging into a such a personal command. I really don’t like this kind of conversational opener, but we get a lot of it in the south. I told him Seattle. He yelled back, “Where?” I explained, in a louder voice, “Seattle. Seattle, Washington. As in Washington State.” People think I mean DC when I say Washington, so I try to be clear it’s the state not the capital.

“Bet you don’t know Fort Lewis?” he challenged from his lawn chair. I know what is coming and I never quite know how to handle it. Sometimes politeness works, but I feel so trapped. “Yes, I do know it. South of Tacoma, north of Olympia.”

At the same time he said it, in my head I echoed, “I was stationed there! Long before you were even born!” While it makes me feel younger than I am when someone says this, it amazes me that someone can remember something 40 or 60 years back when I have a hard time remember what I had for breakfast.

We chat a bit more, reminiscing about favorite haunts in Tacoma, as Toshi tugs on the leash. I fought to remain interested and enthused about his jawing on, and Brent, bless his purple heart, drove up the truck. I’m saved. I head off, telling him that my chef has arrived and I’m hungry. Toshi raced ahead of me, eager to see Daddy. He yanked the leash out of my hands as he practically jumped into Brent’s arms.

The next morning was Saturday, the real start of the first weekend of summer. I wake to find the four in the van to the south are still sitting in the same positions I last saw them before I went to bed. Television fixation if I ever saw it. To the immediate north, the quiet couple is gone and a pop up tent camper is in process of going up in their place, bringing with it grandma and grandpa, mother and father, young boy and year old crying baby girl. The boy defines his personality immediately by yelling and throwing rocks at anything that stands stills long enough and breaking sticks over things that are standing permanently still. The baby girl is not impressed by anything around her. The platform is cement which hurts when it hits her as she falls, even through the diaper, and the gravel near the picnic table is too sharp. The adults keep her out of the grassy areas, as it is home to insects and ticks, so she spends much of her time whining and crying about this whole nature routine as she is confined to the 8 x 8 foot cement platform.

Graphic of a po-up camperA man a stall away is putting up the tent camper with a huge brown, phallic cigar hanging out of his mouth and the smell is overwhelming. The disgusting stench drifts through my trailer’s open door, so I close it and open the windows on the other side, overlooking the television watchers.

I go out for a bike ride and when I return, I notice a dozen more motorcycles have joined the group, creating a noisy rally. Now there’s a young boy, with more fat than body, wandering around the laundry building with a big plastic jug filled with gravel, shaking and pounding on it like a full percussion band. He marches back and forth under the hummingbird feeders, shouting nonsense words every now and then. The baton twirler is out throwing her baton around in the clearing near the edge of the forest, missing more than catching, and her sports crazy brother is bouncing the soccer ball off the wall of their small trailer.

animated graphic of a campfireOne of the TV watchers is out of the van starting a fire in the pit. So is the family of the screaming baby and nature killer young boy next to us. Smoke swirls around the cigar smoker and the chattering couple next to them as well as the chattering couple next to them. The baton twirler’s father and the group of motorcyclists beyond – well, they have big blazing fires going.

The cloud of white smoke boils all around the trailer from all sides, so I close all the windows and just have the ceiling fan going, blowing air outwards. These are mostly inexperienced fire burners, so there is more smoke than flame, and what flame there is shoots up into the sky, making for a lousy cooking fire. The air stinks of lighter fluids, charcoal and burnt rubbish.

A future bully stalks nature in the campground.The hummingbirds are absent. In fact, in the past few hours, I’ve seen only one blue jay. One big yellow butterfly flitted around, but it got too close to the nature killing child. After blasting it out of existence with a rock, he ran over and stomped on it, grinning from ear to ear with the success of his hunt and destroy. The adults look on and smile at him, weariness in their faces.

I look around and wonder where the hikers are? Why is everyone sitting around their homes away from homes, just on the fringe of nature? There is a tiny train ride all over the park, a small aviary and monkey house nearby, a train engine to crawl all over, many trails and hikes, and tons of things to do. But the sites nearest to us are occupied by people. The killer and crying baby family have pulled out children’s board games and sit around the picnic table, the smoke clouds their vision both from the fire pit and the cigar smoker next door – and they laugh as the killer child proceeds to stand up on the picnic table and walk across the board game, kicking the pieces everywhere and stomping on them. The TV watchers are all back in the van as the fire pit burns unattended. The chattering couple is off bothering the twirler’s family, their fire also unattended, but at least they are nearby.

Why are these people here? Why am I here? Me, I’m working. We do much of our outside-in-nature time during the week, while the natural places are mostly empty. The weekends are for working and cleaning the trailer so that the week will start off a little cleaner than the one before.

All of these people change our perspective. For the past few months, we’ve rarely fussed much about locking up our bikes, waiting for us outside the door of the trailer. Now we double bolt them. We always lock the trailer at night, but we usually leave the windows open during the day, even when we’re gone. Now they get closed, even when we are in the trailer as the outside chemical smells are so offensive. Toshi isn’t allowed out at night, even on the leash. We walk him and sit outside with him, keeping a close watch over him. The other campers let their dogs run wild and we’re tired of them choosing Toshi as a bunching bag. He likes to lay under the trailer or on the bottom step of the stairs bothering no one, just watching the world go by. Children parked nearby come racing over to pet and pick him up, something not high on his list. It turns him from a very malleable lump of cat flesh into a beast with claws and teeth, their screams putting the hair up on his back. We don’t want to be responsible for him attacking a child, even one who attacks first.

graphic of the sun shining on the open road through an open doorSo summer has arrived. That means making reservations months in advance, planning out our course and traveling on weekends and sitting still during the week. It means finding out when school vacations are in the different places we travel so we can work around the mass exodus of families heading for nature for longer than a weekend. It means increased security. Increased worries, increased fears. Violence doesn’t just happen to people in nature. People bring violence with them to nature. They bring their booze, boom boxes and messes. Instead of debating how we will approach an elk for a closer photograph, we have to decide how to approach the twit laying on a picnic table 50 feet from his car with the music blasting out the open doors and ask him to turn it off. Gone are the bird songs, the soft rustling of the wind through the trees and grasses, and time spent watching the squirrels and chipmunks chase each other.

Ah, summer is here. And we’re in the middle of it.


  • Cindy
    Posted April 6, 2008 at 14:24 | Permalink

    People are also part of nature. It’s not just the animals and the Sunny Sky. If the people camping beside you make you unhappy, why go? Just stay huddled up inside your 4 walls. You can’t stop Nature or the nature of the people around you, if you don’t decide to just enjoy it, then you never will.

  • Maria
    Posted September 26, 2011 at 4:57 | Permalink

    Boy, does this ever hit home with me. And that comment by Cindy is classic!

    Too many people just don’t get it. The trappings of civilization are NOT part of nature. Why can’t people visit nature with some level of respect?

    It’s because of this kind of nonsense that we avoid campgrounds when we vacation with the RV. BLM and National Forest land is great for private, off-the-grid camping. It’s bad enough that we bring our big metal boxes onto the land, but at least we don’t polite it further with our noise and damaging behaviors.

    • Posted September 29, 2011 at 17:19 | Permalink

      That’s what we did when we could. I knew you would appreciate this! Few people do.

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