Not much happening in town. Time to hit the road, catch a different sunset, revisit a favourite spot. Know just the place.
South of Bend, Oregon, perched high on a Ponderosa pine and lava forest, is a tiny-perfect lake — Paulina Lake. No idea who Paulina was but she did something to deserve having a nice lake named after her.
Its clear, cold water fills a gaping caldera left behind when the volcano surrounding it blew its top long before any of us were born. Black lava and oxidized, pulverized lava cinders rise sharply from its edge on several sides. On the east side though, a sprinkling of camp sites afford a lucky few the last warm rays of the day and as perfect a sunset as you'll find anywhere. At least that's the way things align in early May.
The National Forest Service campground wasn't "officially" open, but the road to it had been plowed and the furthest three camp sites were snow free. The ranger in the Smokey Bear hat said it was OK to camp there but there were no services, which seemed to largely consist of an outhouse — locked — and no garbage cans. Fair enough.
As usual, everything was deserted midweek and the space was shared with freeloading chipmunks and a curious mink. When Saturday rolled around the days of serenity ended. The lake, canoed in solitude, suddenly teemed with wildlife: fishermen, er, fisherfolk. Most stayed at a lodge on the far side of the lake, but one took the site adjacent to me.
The end and final site came to be occupied, late Saturday, by the biggest recreational vehicle I'd ever seen. I felt it coming long before I heard it, and I heard it long before it pushed its way through the trees and into my field of vision. It seemed to emerge from the forest for the better part of 15 minutes, reminiscent of a freight train emerging from a tunnel.
It was at least as long as a Greyhound bus. It may have been a Greyhound bus for all I know except it didn't have lots of small windows in a row, favouring instead several very large ones, including one that popped out into an expansive bay window complete with flower boxes planted with windblown fabric and plastic flowers that brought a whole new dimension to the concept of tacky.
It seemed unlikely the elderly gentleman lost behind the giant steering wheel would be able to dock it in the space provided, even taking into account the cul-de-sac turnaround. He struggled mightily and unsuccessfully and finally emerged and unhitched the full-size Chevy SUV he was towing.
Being a not uncaring soul, I wandered over and directed him the rest of the way into the site's parking spot, flailing my arms in something approaching universal hand signals, pretending I was helping park a 747, a plane only slightly larger then the RV.
Once parked, the diminutive man hunched over the control console threw some levers and twisted some dials and the gigantic beast began hissing and whirring while motors and pneumatics hoisted its bulk into a semblance of levelness. The big bay window slowly screwed out as did another one on the other side, forming an architectural cruciform. I wondered, but didn't ask, if he could make the front end bounce and jump like the lowrider Chicanos who used to live down the street from me did with their Chevys. I didn't ask.
"Thanks for the help. Name's Morris," he said, exiting the final big step from the cockpit. "I'm a campin' 'n' fishin' fool and I love the great outdoors," he said while inhaling the fresh mountain air so vigourously he began hacking in a consumptive fit. He invited me into his "camp" for an early cocktail. Well, not so early as to make me decline, but early enough to leave me wondering what timezone he operated on.
"Don't usually imbibe quite this early, but I'd like to pick your brains about the fishin'," he said by way of rationalization. He had no idea how slim those pickins were and I wasn't about to tell him because I was morbidly curious to see the inside of his "camp."
Behind the swivelling, leather captain's chairs in the cockpit, the kitchen had more appliances than I've ever had in any kitchen in any house I've ever lived in. These included, among other things: an automatic ice-maker in one of the doors of the fridge, an infernal device Morris used to ruin the scotch I'd requested neat, a word he proved to be unfamiliar with in that context.
We settled into a pair of reclining easy chairs in front of one of the big bay windows affording a good view of both the lake and a large console television. Morris slipped a CD into his AV rack and the room came alive with the sounds of nature. Birds sang, crickets chirped, brooks babbled, leaves rustled.
"Impressive," I said.
"Can't beat nature," he replied.
Mrs. Morris, who'd busied herself in the kitchen, popped in and asked if we'd like a campfire. Without waiting for a reply, she pushed a button on a remote control and the television came to life with the sight of a roaring fire. The ambience was complete when she touched a lighter to a cone of pine incense and twisted the dial on a forced air space heater she'd sat in front of the TV. I was impressed by the thoroughness of the illusion.
On a tour of the rest of his camp, Morris showed me his queen bed with quilted nylon duvet shaped like two zipped-together sleeping bags. An electric blanket set to medium was warming beneath it.
But it was the bathroom that left me speechless. There was a small tub and shower, a lavatory, a toilet and something in the corner looking suspiciously like a floor-to-ceiling length of tree with a large knothole a couple of feet off the floor.
"Know what that is?" Morris asked.
"A urinal," he beamed. "Had it made special to look like a tree. Always liked pissin' against bark," he laughed. It was a serious laugh.
I finished my cocktail in silence, basking in the warm glow of Morris' ersatz campfire. I didn't know what to say and couldn't imagine there was anything I could say.
I eventually thanked him, left to sit by the side of the lake and marvel at the sights I'd seen, pondered the meaning of camping as I thought I knew it. There was clearly only one option. I struck my tent, packed up, drove to the nearest motel and ordered a pizza, having concluded I wasn't certain what it was I'd been doing but clearly, at least in Morris' world, it wasn't camping.