I live in a suburb of New Orleans and have been writing here off and on for 10 years. I have been married 53 years to the same crazy guy.
The deer camp, our cabin to the left.
Inside the Cabin
Kitchen. 1969 Kelvinator fridge works perfectly
I first saw the camp in the mid-'60s when I began dating my husband. I went with him and his dad to the old camp. The old hunting camp had stood since the early '50s. It was unfinished inside and unpainted outside, but it served its purpose. In the early '90s a tornado came through and totally destroyed it. We all laughed with relief, saying we were glad we weren't asleep in the beds inside as the twister blew a huge oak tree on top of the roof and the roof fell on the beds, driving the legs through the floor and into the dirt. After the old camp was hauled away, the new camp was built. It holds 12 bunk beds, which hold 24 people, about the number who hunt there. It was always a mystery to me that after the tree demolished the old camp, the new one was built under huge old oak trees also. Very bizarre, but when I ask, everyone says: The camp has always been under the old oak trees. I give up.
Joe tells me that when the old camp was first built, the hunters used the old printing plates that the local newspaper had discarded in favor of a more modern method of printing for siding on the old camp. He says he remembers during the '50s reading the sides of the camp, seeing Eggs: 25 cents, etc. As time went on the camp members would read the ads and lament at the quickly escalating prices.
When one of the members grew too old to hunt any longer, we bought his tiny cabin and that is where we stay now when we go for long weekends.. It is to the side of the big camp. Everything in the woods around the camp has a name. The first time I asked one of the hunters where something was, they told me to walk about half a mile, then you pass that hollow log, then it's down about 50 yards past the Carlton place. Okay.... Well, I learned the language and learned the names of all the landmarks: The old Carlton Place; Palmetto Flats, for the obvious reason that it is filled with palmettos; High Mound, believed to be an Indian burial ground; the New Road, which was built during the depression but has always been and still remains the New Road; Round Hole, which is where the creek turns and the water is a bit deeper for fishing; Oil Well Road, so named because it had an oil well at the end of it some 30 years ago; and Joe's ditch, an area named for my husband, who, back in his drinking days couldn't seem to keep from running his Jeep into it. He did a lot of business back in the day with the liquor store out on the highway called "Willie's Oasis in the Woods." (No, I'm not kidding.)
I have a Kodiak Yamaha four-wheeler and my husband has a Honda. There are times when we forget we are on the downside of 60 and fly through the woods like kids. Sometimes we stay out till after dark and can hear the coyotes yipping and yapping on our way through the woods with the lights on the four-wheelers bouncing up and down the trail. Joe accidentally hit a tiny deer once when we were riding. After waiting a good distance away for his mom to come for him, we took him to a wild-life rehabilitator and I'm sure he's a fine buck by now. I walked all over the woods back in March, making photos of light orbs. I wouldn't dare do it now with the rattlesnakes out and about. I remember once years ago, Charlie, my dachshund, and I had driven my Jeep back to the creek to fish. I had a string of four or five nice bream. All at once, the water started to swirl and the biggest moccasin I'd ever seen started out of the water after Charlie. Thank goodness, Charlie was smart enough to run. We jumped in the Jeep and left. My fishing was done for that spring.
Even after that incident, one of my favorite things in the world is fishing and we have a choice of several lakes when we come here. The lakes are incredibly beautiful and peaceful. The whole area represents peace to me. My life is quieter now, but at one time, I operated a small business and worked sometimes 15-hour days. Back in those days, when I arrived at the camp, I could literally feel the tension slowly leave my body as I began to relax.
Probably the happiest I am when at the camp is when I take long walks in the woods. Of course, in the spring and summer, I'm extra careful because the snakes are around and I respect their deadliness as well as the distance we are from any medical help. I am here in our cabin writing this, with the windows open and the window fan blowing. Although it's likely 90 degrees in New Orleans, home; it's in the low 60s here. I am thinking back on my walk today and understanding why I love being here so much. This morning, I decided to walk down to the creek. I walk when I'm looking for peace; the four-wheeler is for fun. After I've gone a few feet, a crow suddenly swoops up from the right side of the road, cawing and cawing as it flies away. Then another crow follows it, also cawing and fussing. I realize I'm too close to their nest. Walking further a pileated woodpecker flies from the tree he's sitting in, angry at me for bothering him. He lights in a tree a good distance away and sets up a steady chatter at me. I can still see his red head as he chatters. I am definitely the interloper here.
I notice something in the trail and stop short. I see movement and am about to turn back, thinking it's a snake, when I see the shell and stubby feet. A huge terrapin is waddling along the side of the trail. He looks up at me and doesn't seem interested, just shows me his backside as he goes on his way. All around me the birds call to each other and sing just to hear themselves. The sky is a high sky, as my beloved father-in-law would say. It is very, very blue and is peppered with fluffy white clouds. This is why I cannot wait to get here each time we come. Being here satisfies that yearning we all have for more of Spirit as nothing else can. When the wind blows and lifts the leaves on the trees, the birds sing, the tiny flowers and the pine needles send their scent wafting on the air, I am one with everything around me.
Coming Home to the Country
Our children don't share our love of nature. They are city people, although my son does search out a green space, whatever city or country he is in. For me, the country is coming home. I grew up at the dead end of a paved road that intersected with a gravel road that ran along the side of my house. A huge owl sat in a pine tree in the yard on the side next to the gravel road and hooted at night. We also slept with our windows open and a window fan blowing cool air across our beds, the whip-poor-wills calling at dusk and for an hour after. Around 2:00 a.m., my dad would get up and turn the fan off and wake everyone up because of the absence of noise. We grew up In Arkansas and the nights are cool. When I smell the pine needles and dust and see the lightning bugs in the summertime, I know I am at home in the country one more time. I wish this kind of happiness for everyone.
Joe watched these raccoons play from his deer stand for hours.
When I am walking or riding around the camp, I often think of my father-in-law. He loved to be at the camp more than anything. He knew the names of every tree. He appreciated every day, whether it was rainy or sunny. Joe and I still laugh about the red-tailed hawks. Back in the '60s they were very rare. Now we see them routinely in Arkansas and at our place in Kentwood. When they first began to reappear, he would always say, "The red-tailed hawks are making a comeback." When we see one now, we laugh and say "They're making a comeback." Grandpa Lloyd, as we all affectionately called him, is with us in a thousand ways, but I think of him most at the camp.
Joe's mom died a couple of weeks before we started dating, but Grandpa continued to wear his wedding ring. She was the love of his life and he never glanced at another woman. Once at the camp, after mopping the floor, he threw out a pail of mop water and along with it, the ring. He searched for hours for that ring but never found it. As long as he lived, he searched for it every time he went to the camp. And now I search, also, every time we go. Perhaps someday I'll find it. This old camp in Strong, Arkansas has given us so much fun and happiness for so many years. Life is easy there. You just wake up each morning and live. And it is always, always very hard to leave.
One of Hundreds of Birds at the Camp
Terrapin on My Path
Nature is what we see—
The Hill—the Afternoon—
Squirrel—Eclipse— the Bumble bee—
Nay—Nature is Heaven—
Nature is what we hear—
The Bobolink—the Sea—
Nay—Nature is Harmony—
Nature is what we know—
Yet have no art to say—
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity.