Epiphanies

A Note on Camping

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At play in the fields of the wasp

By Brian Doyle

August 8, 2014


 

I went camping, once. My brother was stung so many times by wasps that for a week he looked like the later Marlon Brando, and to this day, many years later, stingers fall out of his face when he sneezes, and you have to sweep them up carefully from the floor. While cutting firewood I was attacked by gangs of steroid-crazed chipmunks. All we had to eat were beans, which is why neither my brother nor I have ever eaten a bean again, nor will we ever again eat a bean of any sort whatsoever. This we swore with powerful and binding oaths. Our sleeping bags were musty and filled with sand because our younger brother and his friends had slept in them at the beach, and no one of course ever cleaned or aired the bags after that but instead stuffed them in a damp closet where they marinated and brooded for months and achieved an extraordinary essence. The tent we brought was adamant, defeating our best engineering instincts, and finally we simply nailed it to a quartet of trees. The rains came. We saw a toad the size of a collie. The chipmunks organized a pincer movement against which our defenses were helpless though we stood together bravely shoulder to shoulder to the end as brothers should.

For a few interesting moments there was sleet. My brother asserted with confidence that the broad leaves of certain plants would be satisfactory for hygienic purposes, but he was egregiously and terribly, terribly wrong. We could never get the fire to do more than sputter and belch. A butter knife would have been more effective cutting wood than the axe we brought. We dropped the transistor radio in a puddle, and the chipmunks seized it. When we waded into a pond to swim and bathe we discovered a snapping turtle the size of a Ford Fairmont. When we rigged fishing lines for trout we caught a minnow the size of a dime, and something in my brother snapped and he dove into the pond to try to spear fish with a pencil he had stolen from the library, but the huge turtle lunged at him, and we retreated back to camp to eat beans. But when we got there we found the perimeter defended by grim troops of chipmunks who chanted dark things in deep voices and attacked in coordinated groups of seven and nine. Then my brother was stung by one thousand wasps, and we concluded our stay in the bucolic wilderness, and I have never again been camping. My brother still enjoys camping, though, and I admire his persistence and dedication to outdoor pursuits, though my idea now of grappling with the wilderness is sweeping up the stingers that still fall out of his face when he sneezes. This just happened recently, and as I was sweeping up the stingers, my brother and I got to talking about chipmunks. Do they have sturdy little army bases in the forest, with tiny Quonset huts and mess halls? Are there performance reviews, and any real possibility of advancement through exemplary achievement of goals and objectives? Questions like these are uncomfortable, but they should and must be asked if a cohesive and progressive organization is to be a substantive, and not merely rhetorical, goal.

Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland magazine and the author of numerous books, most recently the novel The Plover.

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