But Meg said, but Greg said. Camp host reading Stephen King. Spooky. The Cardinals lost, the Nationals lost. Padres at Rockies now, from Coors. There was a brawl in this game. Rox lead 5-0.
I turn down the sound of a commercial. It felt especially out of place here. In Denver you go to Applejack Wine & Spirits. In Chicago it’s Binny’s Beverage Depot. Heck, these days you don’t even have to go to the Binny’s store, they’ll bring it right to your door. Joe Maddon told me that.
I went to Binny’s a couple of times when I lived a summer in Chicago. That was back when beer was blowing up, craft beer—or microbrews, as they were then known. I heard the Tampa Rays announcer yesterday talking about how he used to live in Chicago. He was doing a Rays game against the White Sox. It struck me that a lot of people have once lived in Chicago, midwesterners at least. My brother and sister both live there now.
I’ve only ever once been to New York City. The Big Apple was the setting for a book I just read. It made me want to visit again; or, it made me wish I’d been born there, had a chance to spend more than a few days of my life there. I don’t think I could move to NYC now. Not as a dog owner. Not even as a married man. I would’ve had to have lived there young. If I were living in NYC I’d have to be able to float around. I could have a job but no attachments outside of that. Otherwise I think the City would crush me, wring me out, drive me mad.
For this kind of camp—in a tent but on an electric site in a state park in eastern Missouri, quite close to home—I would bring an extension cord. Thirty feet? If I had the cord I could have my phone over here with me instead of having it sit on top of the electric box to charge. On a warm night I’d also have a box fan going in or just outside the tent. I wouldn’t burn wood those nights, or if I did it would be only a small amount for cooking with.
The tree behind me creaks. It almost sounds like a turkey gobbling.
I get a good cell connection here. I’ve been streaming baseball ever since the Cardinals game ended. It’s about a quarter past five. I’m in shorts! This morning I ran in tights, gloves, and a tuque. Then this afternoon I was sweating whilst setting up the tent. Today, April 12, is the day in 2018 when Spring sprung.
It’s windy, or breezy. But it isn’t a cool breeze. It’s just about right. There’s plenty of light left. On this subdivision of the campground there are eighteen sites, all electric. Not including my site, three others are occupied, to some extent. A couple in an RV drove in not long after I did. They took a site in the cul-de-sac at the end. I liked it down there but several of the bordering sites were marked reserved. I could have taken the one that wasn’t reserved but I envisioned some random group moving in and surrounding me on either side. And yet, as of yet, no one is down there apart from that couple in the RV that just rolled in.
Opposite me are two sites with people’s property on them. On one site is a tent and a tiny tow-behind dollop of a camper. There’s a small grill or a stove on the picnic table but no vehicle. I don’t think those people are around at the moment. Then on the other occupied site is a big RV and a Dodge Ram. There is an air-conditioning sort of sound emanating from the RV, or maybe that’s just some kind of fan running on top of the RV, a kind of white noise, the sound of the RV being on, like a fridge.
There are birds. I heard a pecker, maybe some siskins. I glimpsed what I believe was a kite; I saw the face well, which was reminiscent of an owl’s face, barn or snowy. I’ve seen one crow.
The wind sounds in the trees, gusting up from the valley.
A tinkling sound.
“This way,” she says to the dog. It’s a middle-aged gal from the RV down at the end, the one that got here right after me. The dog looks like a Yorkie, like our old dog, Squirt.
Naturally, I wonder about anyone else here, especially my own age, on a Wednesday. Me, I know my story, the basics of it. Is the RV couple on vacation? Independently wealthy? Camping bohemians? The site cost $21, which momentarily jarred me because I am almost never on an electric site. The tent sites are $13, of which exact count I had in my pocket.
It’s partly cloudy but some of the clouds are cirrus, very high up. Maybe some altostratus a little closer to Earth. It feels like a long time since I’ve taken a very close look at any clouds. If it hasn’t been cold these last several months it’s been cloudy. But low cloudy, where the clouds are just like one thick blanket, nothing about them standing out, not like cirrus.
I took about half of the wood out of the back of the car. I’ve got a four-corners stack erected with paper, shards, and twigs filling the middle. I squeezed some of the firestarter gel over all of the kindling. The wind could make starting the fire a little tricky but once the fire gets going the wind will help to air it out.
Robins. A couple of people on bikes appear out of nowhere. They leave just as quickly as they arrived, in an instant. Were they ever even here? Did a tree just fall in the forest?
In the Diamondbacks bullpen in San Francisco, Brad Boxberger warms.
The fire went up like a match factory. The wood was pretty well seasoned, maybe a little wet on the outside from recent rain. I’ve got one of a few unseasoned pieces, a chunk of ash, on there now as a tester. Ash has a rep for being burnable even if green. It is on fire. The only question is how much it smokes. I got that piece at the U City woodlot less than a month ago. It’s smoking a little.
The wind blew my pen off the picnic table. It then upended the plastic grocery bag I had twisty-tied to the tall trash bag post here at my site, thereby expertly dumping out its contents (two crushed Busch beer cans).
I received word that the mother of one of my friends passed away. I have known this friend for ten years; my wife and I have done quite a bit of traveling with her and her husband. The Dominican Republic, Las Vegas, Mexico, Colorado, New Orleans again, Las Vegas again. She was estranged from her mother. I have heard her talk about her mother only once or twice.
My further fortified trash bag—tied tight—nonetheless kept knocking against the post, almost once a second, and I went and took it down, wedged it between planks of the picnic table top. This friend will go to Tennessee for her mother’s funeral. It was right around this time of year, maybe three years ago, that her husband’s mother passed away.
The ash is bubbling out a bit of moisture. I’ve got some good coals now. The Tigers are in Cleveland. The Tigers starter took a liner off his jaw. Down the hill, dogs bark. They have been going off and on since I got here. Indians 4, Tigers 0.
The couple in the RV got in their white Jeep and drove off, to dinner I presume. All of the restaurants in Chesterfield are no more than twenty minutes away. Now the fella with the RV and the Dodge Ram has emerged from the RV, gotten into the Ram, and driven away. I don’t know for certain it’s a man. I heard the RV door, saw feet descend the stairs, then turned around.
The birds are hitting peak vocal activity. What I like about the Indians broadcast via MLB Audio—apart from Tom Hamilton & Rosie—is the silence they cut to during commercial breaks. Well, now a Progressive ad.
Some commercial breaks are silent but not all, not this one.
A small jet whistled low overhead. The Chesterfield airport is close and not really that small. José Ramírez leads off for Cleveland for a second straight inning.
“It’s downright comfortable here tonight,” says Hamilton.
Cardinals chirp and trill.
I needed to burn some wood. Yes, one reason being to “scratch that itch,” because I like having a fire. But more so because I was amassing wood from the U City woodlot, storing it at our house in less-than-ideal conditions. I took some to Farm but otherwise I wasn’t burning much of this wood. As a result of the persistent rain and damp of March, some of the wood was taking up with mildew. This was wood I’ve had on hand for thirteen or fourteen months. Most was oak but there was a little maple mixed in. Oak has been my favorite wood to cut, to store, and to burn. But I don’t really know how long at a minimum it needs to sit once split before I can burn it and not get smoked out.
At 18:47, I figure I’ve got an hour of light left. I want to burn most of this wood tonight but I’ll leave a little for the morning so I can make coffee and heat up a sandwich. I don’t want to take any of this wood home with me.
It took many failed attempts before I could go to the U City woodlot and take on a sizable stump of wood. I used to swing and flail a lot. There would be times I could not get into a round of oak. The secret, I realized, was all in the set-up; in the placement of the round I was trying to break open. I needed the target to be about as high off the ground as my beltline. I could not stand upright and swing my ax down at a piece of wood that was sitting on the ground. The angle was not right. And it was dangerous. If you imagine an ax traversing an arc that begins above your head, you really want the ax to hit the wood after traveling ninety degrees, one quarter of a circle. Once the ax travels past the the 90-degree mark, I lose both power and control over the ax. I once had the tip of an ax once go through the tip of my boot as I was trying to strike a piece of wood at ground level. Luckily I was not injured. Bless the gap between the big and royal toe. I got lucky. No more swinging at the ground. It is also, I’m pretty sure, bad for my back.
Lately, though, there have been caches of split wood at the woodlot, mostly ash. A year ago, when I was starting to learn that different types of wood had different characteristics, I started to get excited about ash. The first time I saw what I thought was ash at the wood lot, I grabbed a couple of rounds, each a foot wide, maybe fifteen inches high. I made the mistake of taking them straight home, where it became clear I could not split them open. I still have these damned rounds. They are not ash. They’re tulip tree. I have since resolved not to take unsplit rounds home from the woodlot.
Not quite gloaming. I got bogged down for a while with fantasy baseball. Here I am out in a state park, at a nice campsite with a blazing fire and I let myself get waylaid by news about David Price, a pitcher on my fantasy team’s roster. He gave up four runs in an inning and after that he left hurt. Losing him to injury would be a major loss. Anyway.
It was not a man with the RV and the Dodge Ram. It’s an older lady, fifty-five? She said, “Evening!” I said, “Hello.” She asked me if I needed anything. “You look pretty experienced,” she said. She must have been watching me. I said I could have brought a little more wood.
“I guess there isn’t any laying around, is there?”
I told her I was fine.
“Well, let me know if you need any … blankets.”
I wondered if she was drunk. Then I thanked her.
Now the occupants of the site with the tow-behind dollop of a trailer—called a Scamp?—have returned. They’re older. The guy looks to be about 65. They’ve got a radio or possibly even a TV going. I wonder where they went. Mysteries.
The fire shot up quick and true but I’m wondering if I made it too large. I went with a square foundation instead of a triangle. Wood wants as large a footprint as you can give it. I’ve got a nice heap of coals but I might have only two hours of flame left. It’s 19:48, so two hours might actually be enough.
I’ve eaten a sandwich. It was onion, yellow and red bell pepper, shiitake mushroom, minced olive, and tomato sauce on a baguette. Oh, and pepper jack cheese. It was pretty good. I really only warmed it, enough to melt the cheese and make the bread crunchy.
The wood has lasted longer than I figured. Consolidating the fire helped. The wind was down for a while, though it’s back now. The one-year ash has been the fire’s favorite, based on flames. When I had two pieces of the one-year ash going, the fire was very quiet and bright. Now with one-month ash on, the fire is a little darker and hissing.
I’m down to my last beer. The temperature is near optimal. When the wind is down, the temperature feels perfect. But when I’m in the tent, I’ll prize the wind, for air movement and for white noise. I’m headed to the tent soon, despite the fire blazing. I’ll keep the fly flap up so I can keep one eye on the flames. I’ve been listening to Yankees at Red Sox. The benches have emptied twice.
I’ve brushed my teeth and put into the car those items that I don’t want to leave out and won’t be taking into the tent. I’ll try to read a couple of pages in the tent. The hardest part is holding a reading posture while lying flat. Nothing to prop myself up against, only one or another of my cranky shoulders.
I didn’t sleep all that well but I feel good this morning. A couple of ladies walking retrievers pass by. The camp host was here along with her two little dogs earlier. I was out of the tent at exactly 6:00. The birds were my alarm clock.
I had some vivid dreams. In one I had slept in a women’s locker room. I didn’t know that’s what it was—I was at a hostel sort-of-a place. A dorm I guess. A girl came in and asked me what I was doing there. Then I wandered into a wing for handicapped people.
There was a late arrival in the campground. I looked to my left when I popped my head out of the tent and I saw a small red car on a pad along the cul-de-sac. I didn’t see any associated tent. I saw a guy and then moments later the car was leaving, under a crescent moon, just out in front of the sunrise. A little odd, if you ask me.
There were remnant coals. It’s always exciting to find them aglow under last night’s ashes. I made a small square stack on top of them, added paper and shards, added flame. I continued to feed newspaper to the flames until the fire was aloft on its own, not long. I didn’t apply any of the starter gel.
I heated up water for coffee. I’ve emptied the tent. A jet takes off from Chesterfield National. I did not tightly roll up my mat, there’s no need. I had plenty of room in the Outback yesterday and I‘ve got even more now with all of the wood emptied out. The tent is still staked and upright but I removed and packed the fly, loosely.
It’s nice here. Not a cloud in the sky. I feel pretty damn good.
The sun is over the treeline, the wood is all deployed, the beefaroni breakfast is in my tummy. Woodpecker, red-bellied. Second cup of coffee. A starling makes an unexpected sound. White-throated sparrow. Airplane, with a propeller, flying right overhead. It’s loud but I don’t mind the aerial motion.
Today will be a rest day for me. B is walking into work. Two blue jays. A titmouse.
I like watching robins walk. They begin standing upright but then they tilt as they move, as if decanting a pitcher. Four, five, six steps. Upright again. Turdus migratorius. My favorite bird.
Now a flicker. Their deep black v-neck collar is unmistakable. When I saw a pecker-like bird working upward on a trunk, I wasn’t sure what it was. It had its back to me. Too small to be a red-bellied, too large to be a creeper. Flicker. Great bird.
The robins are working their way toward me now, as if they know.
—Babler State Park, St. Louis County, Missouri. April 2018.
—RIP Dave Wills, Chicago native, late announcer for the Tampa Bay Rays.