July 2001


Camp-out time again! This time: canoeing down the Current River in Missouri. Check your maps; you’ll find that it’s a seven hour drive from my house. Here we see one of the down sides to living in a place where there aren’t a huge number of noteworthy campsites. Of course, the scoutmasters have to come up with some good stuff to keep the boys in the program or we lose them to soccer so we have to do stuff like this but one occasionally wishes for more varied geography closer to home. No matter, I like dumb jokes so I was right at home with them. And in seven hours, you hear a lot of dumb jokes.

It’s been really hot here. We’ve had about 20 consecutive days of over 100 degree heat and no rain so I was not looking forward to this campout. I was asking the experienced guys: “how do you sleep in this heat?” The answer was “we lay there until 3:00 am till it gets cooler.” But, talk about lucky – it was cooler in Missouri. In fact, the water was downright icy. I guess it’s cooler because of the rain. Man, it rained two solid inches the first night. Fortunately, that was after we set up camp so all our stuff was dry.

The day we floated downriver, it also rained on us for awhile. Then again, when we were breaking camp. Also, when we were heading off to go fishing. But in all this, it never rained when we wanted to do something fun, so it wasn’t quite as gruesome as you might think. A bit muddy perhaps.

One shouldn’t underestimate the natural beauty of rivers like that one. It was 10 miles of almost paradise. We saw rocky cliffs, swooping hawks, one swimming snake (yuk!), a cave that we could paddle the canoe into and explore, clear water, and all manner of other nice things. This would probably include two or three boatloads of “healthy” looking young girls which caught the eye of some of our older boys.

We’re so conditioned by everyday life to think that we have to get in out of the rain. But, if you’re out in the middle of nowhere, that’s not an option. Then you think, “Hey, I’m in my swimsuit, in the middle of a river where I’ve just been swimming. I don’t need to get out of the rain.” At that point, it becomes really interesting. You can see what the world looks like under different conditions. Of course, lightning changes that picture somewhat but we didn’t have that to worry about.

We went fishing at a trout hatchery. This river was absolutely cram packed with trout; the water was so clear we could see them and cast our bait right to them. We could also watch them completely ignore our bait. Evan was giving vent to his frustration by saying “Stupid Trout!” but I think they were either smart or just not hungry. Evan even dragged his bait across one their backs and still they ignored his bait. So they outsmarted us. But being able to actually see them kept most of the fishermen in their spots for the entire day. I began to wonder if we were all a part of some big psychology experiment and were being observed by some hidden scientists disguised as deer. For you see, there were a lot of deer out on the edges of the woods eyeballing us as we fished. I don’t personally like fishing but that’s not something you come out and say in Oklahoma. Evan likes it though so I go along but not as often as he would like. One day we need to find a pond that is stocked with starving fish so that they will bite on anything. He’d really like that. Unfortunately, he wants to keep all the fish and put them into an aquarium.

So, it was a good experience. The camp site had some coin-op showers over at the store so I was able to maintain a certain amount of dignity (as well as enjoying the flushable side of life). Several families came with us so there was generally more emphasis on personal hygiene than on most campouts. Elegance is not a word that has a lot of relevance when camping and for most guys, that’s one of the selling points but with moms along, the bar is raised somewhat no matter what you might think otherwise.

On the trip home, our vehicle contained a 10-year old, a 12-year old, and a 14-year old so the other dad and I had to go to some effort to defend ourselves against charges of dorkiness. We are guilty of course but, as adults, we have the wherewithal to exert our control and to this end, we put an end to the endless string of Destiny’s Child songs that they wanted to hear. The best defense against charges of out-of-touch-ness is a good offense so when we shoved in a Howlin’ Wolf blues CD the howls from the back seat were loud and long. In best adolescent fashion, we dads rolled our eyes and said:

“God! You just don’t get it do you?”

That put things in a different light – for a short while anyway. (Of course, Howlin’ Wolf never included posters of scantily clad young women in his CDs) Further, during a moment of discussion about life in general I came up with what may be the best point of view of all. I told the boys:

“You know what’s really cool about being an adult? We own everything! Heck, we even own YOU!”

To that, they had no response. They’re smart kids though; I’m sure that soon, one of them will have a response and hit me with it during our next outing.

Well, it’s that time of year – one of my favorites (after Christmas); the 4th of July and you know what that means.

Fireworks.

I bought a family pack one night and we went on a pyrotechnic frenzy.

Thankfully, the kids are as enthusiastic as I am. I can remember living in Texas and later in California where fireworks were absolutely verboten. Not only that but the local news was filled with anti-bottle-rocket diatribes warning of entire neighborhoods going up in flames if one kid lit a sparkler. Well, there probably would have been firestorms there but it rains here occasionally, so our roofs aren’t the logical equivalent of kindling. Yet another reason to live here, eh?

This year, I found a new innovation. Fireworks don’t really change and I see the same things at the stands that I saw as a kid but this year: something different.

Depth Charges.

The package says “fuse burns under water!” Woo Hoo! They are basically firecrackers that you throw in the water. All boys dream of such things. Too bad there wasn’t a lake around but a big bucket works pretty well.

It occurred to me that the job of firework label writer must be the easiest job ever. All labels say the same thing: “Warning. Emits showers of sparks. Light fuse and get away. Use only under close adult supervision.” They should probably hire English speaking people to come up with name for the fireworks though. We continue to get things with names like: “Happy”, “Happiness”, “Happy Lamp”, “Zizz Bird Bang”, “Cluster Bee”, and other random strings of words. This year, some new names appeared though: “2 Cool” and my personal favorite – “Loud Little Sucker.” Needless to say, they all emit showers of sparks.

The body count amongst the little green plastic men and their tanks was pretty high.

Melissa doesn’t share the same enthusiasm for black powder-based entertainment (it’s a girl thing) but still wants to share the moments so she sat in a lawn chair and occasionally commented on the large number of mosquitoes. I was oblivious to them; they don’t like clouds of smoke.

Evan and I are like connoisseurs of fireworks. As the French are to their wine, so we are to our fireworks; with our own measures of merit as to quality, effect, bang for the buck, and so on. “This one has a nice ‘throaty’ boom whereas this one gives more of a sharp crack.”

And my children are, as yet, unburned. Why? Because I’m out there with them to caution against turning the fuse towards you when you light it, standing over things when you light them, and other common sense precautions. It’s something most Okies don’t bother with; prefering to stay inside and watch TV, occasionally sticking their heads out the front door to shout “Ya’ll ain’t burning anything down are ya?” And that, my friends, is why fireworks are illegal in many places; not enough adult supervision combined with isolated cases of outright stupidity. The solution of course, is to live in the south or Midwest where there are fewer laws that attempt to protect us from our own stupidity; preferring to let Darwin’s laws run their course.

To our detractors I say: “What are you? Some kind of communist?”

Last night, we had the complete July 4 experience: family, grilled burgers, watermelon, high carbohydrate snacks, and black-powder-based entertainment. Not my fireworks though; they were long gone. Neither I nor my kids are mature enough to have the patience to wait till the actual day. The neighbors thoughtfully provided some though and apparently spent a great deal more money than I did. It was like going downtown to watch the “big” show. This morning, the street was littered with the blackened detritus like a battleground. Unfortunately, I had to get up and go to work this morning. Why do they ever have the 4th of July on Wednesdays anyway?

Yes, I know why!