Monday, April 4, 2011

When Nature Calls, All I Get Are Flashbacks

Childhood memories can be a funny thing. Or maybe not, depending on the memories.

Like most people, there are times when things happen to me in the present moment that trigger surprising and unexpected memories from my past. Sometimes the flashbacks are so strong they leave behind a residue or a lingering feeling that’s difficult to shake off. It’s hard to predict just what kind of feeling might be left behind too because it can run the gamut…from happiness to heartbreak and everything else in between. And then there are the times when nothing's left but an empty ache because some gaping hole in my life has just reminded me that it hasn’t yet been filled.

When old memories opt to superimpose themselves upon my present-day reality, I’ve had to remind myself more than once that “that was then and this is now” since there’s nothing like a blast from the past to catapult me right out of the here and now. Where my childhood memories are concerned, things really were a lot different “back in the day”. Social structures were different, priorities and values were different, belief systems were different, normalcy was different. You name it, and it was probably different.

I grew up in a big family and like most large families, it always seemed as if there was never enough to go around. Never enough money, never enough food, never enough underwear. We competed for limited resources and our right to take up space, and I suppose in the end, we all got what we needed for none of us seem overtly worse for the wear.

My point? Well, in a previous post titled “Living The Big Sky Life: Been There, Done That”, I’d indicated that my childhood camping flashbacks had posed a few personal challenges for me during the time I spent in Boy’s Town Montana, and then asked the following question to give evidence of their origin: where do two parents with little money to spare take Grandma King, five daughters barely a year apart in age, and occasionally an older brother they called uncle on an affordable family vacation every year?

The King’s answer was, of course, camping. Nature’s drive-in where you don’t pay per head but per car load. And the dirt was always free.

For obvious reasons, this King family never had the fancy wheels I’d see driving through Whitefish year after year. Many of our camping trips saw the eight of us tightly packed into a first edition white Datsun station wagon with no air conditioning, only to pour out of said Datsun when we reached our campground destination like a bunch of clowns climbing out of a clown car.

We’ve also been known on occasion to take the “T T” approach to problem solving when necessary…like that time we drove through the Mojave Desert in August in the Datsun without A/C, and decided to replace the luggage in the back with a solid 12” x 12” block of ice which we promptly encircled and smothered with sweaty, swollen body parts in desperate need of cooling – quite the opposite of roasting hotdogs around a campfire. Side note (for those who might not remember): Datsun was the predecessor to Nissan, and there was no such thing as a seat belt law. 

The Datsun does Mammoth
Then there was the classic two-toned emerald green 1957 Chevy 4-door in mint condition we inherited when Grandpa King died. Grandma King (who couldn’t drive but could never turn down a chance to go fishing) would often be along for the ride and she always rode shotgun on the front bench seat while clutching a brown paper sack to her side like a wino with a bottle of ripple. But instead of periodically lifting the bag to take a nip of the formaldehyde nectar as one would expect, she would pull down the top of the paper bag just enough to unscrew a brass lid covering the mason jar hidden inside, and then proceed to spit a huge glob of brown snuff juice into the glass jar, mile after mile after mile...

The Mustang does Mount Hood, Oregon


One summer even saw eight of us packed into a 1967 convertible Ford Mustang for three months as we traversed and camped every inch of Oregon and Washington.






We had a father who’d turn into Mr. Hyde at the prospect of driving fast on any winding mountain road as if it were a rollercoaster. He’d return to his senses with irritation only when several of us would turn green in the backseat and he’d be forced to turn off the road so our mother could do damage control. While other tourists at those lookout turnouts were busy gushing on about the breathtaking views, we were busy puking our guts up in the gravel. Good times.

Getting from one campground to the next invariably saw us arriving at our destination around midnight, half asleep, cramped and cranky. You haven’t really experienced the King’s kind of camping until you’ve learned to set up camp in the dark. It was hardly ever worth pulling out those annoying Coleman lanterns since the unreliable little silk bag-bulbs used for illumination never failed to dissolve into a useless fine ash at the slightest provocation, and always when you needed the light the most. We ultimately became quite skilled at balancing a flashlight while stringing up an orange glow-in-the-dark tube tent between two trees. Side note: There was no fancy canvas tent with spikes and poles in our trunk. All we had were neon orange plastic tube tents. They were cheap and compact, and if they were good enough for the Girl Scouts, they were good enough for a King girl. BTW-The materials used in today’s fancy gore-tex tents with bending fiberglass frames weren’t even a glimmer in some hiker’s waterproof dream.

Late one midnight we set up camp somewhere around Lake Shasta. Early the next morning we were rudely awakened by a cacophony of loud honks, and we all scrambled out of our vibrant orange tube tents rubbing the sleep from our eyes to see what all the ruckus was about. Queued up in front of us was a long line of pickups pulling boat trailers waiting to launch their boats into the lake. The problem was we’d unwittingly set up our camp in the center of the lake's only boat ramp. Clearly we were the hold-up. Good times.

The summer we covered the Pacific Northwest saw us spending many comfortable nights on the mossy turf of Oregon’s lush rainforests. As harmless as they were, those slimy rainforest slugs took some getting used to. They were Jurassic Park huge, and we couldn’t help but get squeamish every time we’d have to string up our tube tents around mucus covered trees hosting mongo snails without shells. Condensation dripped onto our faces at night as we laid in our sleeping bags and involuntarily listened to the death squeals of those doomed slugs getting squished in the middle of the road every time a car passed by. The sound of a dying slug squeezed of its last breath was scarier than any ghost story we could’ve ever heard around the campfire. As far as haunting memories go, it’s a toss-up between the crying dying slugs of Oregon and the earwig colonies of Lake Cachuma. Good times.

Our Tube Tents give the Rainforests of Oregon a hint of color
A traditional King postcard scene would show our father propping up every lakeshore we ever graced with a line of little King girls holding fishing rods baited in goopy pink salmon eggs. The fishing rods on the lake as little girls eventually evolved into backpacking out of Bishop (Mammoth) where once I had to catch a rainbow trout from a running stream with my bare hands like a Paiute Indian. That was after the time Grandma King got third degree burns on Lake Mary (Mammoth) because she had hit the just-been-stocked fishing jackpot and refused to get off the lake while it was “hot”. And the time we caught a bucket full of crawdads later boiled for dinner from a mountain creek by dangling an opened safety pin from the end of a line in between the rocks lining the creekbed.

The times we were stranded on lakes and rivers in boats with engine failure are too many to count, but that time we went bobbing to the point of sea sickness on the sticky waters of the Salton Sea under a scorching sun for three hours was especially memorable. Yep, good times. And honestly some of it really was. In fact, the more time that passes, the softer and fonder some of these memories seem to get. Fortunately for those of us who were there, we're still laughing about it.

Childhood memories can indeed be a funny thing, yet do any of these flashbacks make me want to honor nature by roughing it in the woods and catching my own dinner? No, and hell no. Like I said ... been there, done that.

Living The Big Sky LifeTM
© by DK King

1 comment:

  1. You forgot to mention how 'Mr. Hyde' used to pass all those cars on the 2-lane mountain roads and then get really pissed when one of us had to pee and all those cars he just passed up sped right by us during the pitstop.....lol

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