Camping seemed like an exceptionally reasonable idea when we had to evacuate our house for termite fumigation. We love to camp, and our last trip was cut short by wildfires. We know Izzy and Truman do not like to camp. They are urban dogs through and through, but at 5 years old we keep thinking they will adapt if we keep giving it a go.
We are over that now. Truman and Izzy are never going to like camping…not after this trip.
Initially we were scheduled to go to the Sierras - about 5 hours away, but due to some intestinal bug Truman picked up and then passed on to Izzy we detoured to the vet before hitting the 101 - once again feeling like bad parents when we sheepishly admit they have been puking and pooping for 48 hours. Chances are Truman ate some poop at the dog park, but our vet is very thorough so don’t you know the chances are also that there could be a pancreatic deficiency disorder. So, two hours, 300 dollars, a battery of blood tests later, and accoutered with a cocktail of prescriptions we decide to spend the first night closer to home. We set up camp out at the beach park 15 miles north, in the event that we end up spending the weekend at the dog urgent care center. (I’ll note here that I wish my vet could be my primary care physician. When was the last time you called your doctor at 5:28 PM and not only had someone answer the phone, you were able to schedule an appointment for the very next morning? Nor did we have to go to a separate lab for the blood work, or take a special trip to the pharmacy.)
As we drove, I kept remembering things we forgot to pack. Silly, careless lapses of attention to basic camping items like water bottles and travel mugs, a raincoat,… with each item I thought well, we are still close to home - we can swing by and get it tomorrow. Oh, but we can’t because the house is tented. How weird, to be so close to home and not be able to go back. Then I thought of the people in the middle of the Southern California fires. They too must be driving off, taking mental notes and making check lists, realizing the things that were left behind. We had two weeks to prepare and we procrastinated…and we can go home on Sunday. They had two hours at best and may never be able to go back. I might come home to find the Schwinn cruiser that I left carelessly on the patio was stolen; they might come back to find only the remnants of their house.
As I sat with this it stilled me. I took a deep breath of crisp autumn air and watched the full moon rise over the mountains - a bright orange orb that would under other circumstances be called a harvest moon. Not so for us. This was our fire moon; calling out to tell those of us protected from its raging flames that millions of people are displaced, and many have lost everything. Its searing glow penetrates the night, drowning out the stars and reminding us that it has not rained in almost a year. We are desperate for rain. In the not to distant future I’m sure we will be dismayed about going to war for oil. We might not know it, but we can live without oil. There is no hope, however, without enough fresh water.
Eventually I dozed off, accepting cognitive dissonance, and needing to not berate myself for replacing my forgotten Nalgene with a liter of Fuji water. I know I was in the middle of a fascinating and curious dream that I can no longer remember when Izzy began growling. There she goes, protecting us from mosquitoes I thought, when the next thing I know Truman has launched himself through the tent door baying all the way. (If you have not heard a hound dog bay in the middle of a silent night you are really missing out - and you might be glad of it.)
Based on the title, you’ve probably taken a good guess at what Truman encountered on the outside of the tent. I don’t usually mind the general scent of skunk as it wafts through open space, but the actual spray…hmmm…it’s like someone stuck raw onion oil, diesel fumes and wasabi up your nose. It burns your eyes, it makes your nostrils throb, your teeth ache - even your ears hurt under the weight of the inescapable stench. And it permeates everything - you can’t believe it won’t kill you, the stink is so toxic. Meanwhile, lights from other camp sites begin to turn on, everyone else’s dogs are barking now, and in the low muttering of voices you know the fellow campers are wondering who the poor bastard is that got sprayed.
Then they see us dragging Truman off to the camp showers. The real rub is that Izzy probably would have been successful at scaring the skunk off just by growling. It’s not like skunks go looking for coon hounds in tents, and Izzy has the good sense to just get the job done and go back to bed. What to do? We can’t put him in the car because the car will stink forever. We can’t put him in the tent because…because we can’t. We can’t leave him outside the tent -the door is broken now anyway. We can’t go home, we don’t have tomato juice, and it’s the middle of the night. We opt for fruity shampoo and bug spray, and we let the shivering, stinking, wet dog with diarrhea back in the tent. After putting a drop of rose oil on our noses the noxious fumes are covered up just enough to fall back asleep with Truman leashed to my leg.
In the morning we agree that if last night’s visitor was a prelude to what is to come, we are clearly not well suited to camp in bear country. We head up to the San Lucia Wilderness area instead for some sycamore foliage and fresh water swimming - with all the windows open the whole drive. The Santa Ana winds and the heat have made for a hot autumn so far, so being close to a swimming option seems like the best choice - and we’ll pick up tomato juice on the way.
While we are setting up our new camp site clouds start to roll in and it cools off quite a bit. We don’t think much about it because if rain was in the forecast we would have known about it. Had respite from the heat, drought and flames been on the horizon, this past week would have had a much more hopeful aura, and I would have looked a little harder for my raincoat.
When the sky first opened up we got a little giddy. It was a short, light pattering that lasted about 20 minutes - just the type of rain you want after fire season. If it rains too hard and too long there is danger of mudslides. This was just enough to freshen the air and inspire us to embark on a hike along the canyon ridge we were camped in. When the second shower came through we thought, this is fun! It’s like being back in the Pacific Northwest! It feels like a real autumn with shimmering sycamore leaves changing color and the smell of damp soil wafting up through the trail. We saw red tail hawks, wild turkeys, blue herons, an osprey and an owl. Truman, who usually will not go out in the rain unless we hold an umbrella over him was bounding around in delight - finally feeling better from his infection, but still reeking. He was chasing turkeys, gophers, digging holes, running in circles around trees and baying gleefully all the while.
Izzy on the other hand seemed to know what was ahead. She trotted between us dutifully, giving us skeptical glances in regular intervals. The wetter she got, the more serious her demeanor. By the time we got back to camp the storm was in a full downpour and there was thunder in the distance. We have only gotten 6 inches of rain in the past year, and not even a drop for almost 8 months - and in 4 years it has snowed in these mountains more often than it has thundered.
Izzy went straight to the car door, demanding to be let in, and glaring at us in such a disapproving way we actually began laughing out loud. “Of course this is happening!” We laughed. “It could only be this way!” We have no raincoats, a busted tent door, no tarp, no dry firewood, no chance of being able to go home, and definitely no chance of a hotel opening a room for two soaking wet hippies that haven’t showered in days and their skunk-sprayed dogs with diarrhea.
This is life. This is life in its finest hour of comedy, error, beauty, dirt, awe, surprise, and all the poop that covers the canvas of our life-landscape and fertilizes the soil of our spirit. This is life in all the beautiful debris that weaves itself into the tapestry of our experiences. The fires turn to rain, the wind gives way to fog, the frustrations and the joys make up our song, and we know that it is only within the storm itself that we can find shelter. To feel it, to know it, to live it, fear it and finally embrace it instead of watching it unfold behind the protected glass of our constructs. To find a home within yourself when there is no house to go back to. This is how we grow. This is how we learn to love. This is when we are called to be the shelter for one another, and are rigorously guided to become the best of ourselves. This is life…be grateful…