“The object of your mission is to explore communication with the water of the Pacific,”Thomas Jefferson’s instructions to Meriwether Lewis
This was a paid assignment written by Gregory Campanile.
Part 1: I Do Not Like Camping
Ever since I moved to Portland, I have experienced a near constant barrage of outdoorsy types trying to convince me to do this thing or that. Go kayaking, they’d say. Go mountain biking; float down a river; sit alongside a river and drink cans of beer. Join a tree climbing society and take magic mushrooms. Go swimming in a cold, tadpole-, sharp rock-, and mud-infested lake when drunk. Try surfing the ice cold, glass-like waves of the Oregon coast. But most of all, they tell me to go camping. Camping is profoundly interwoven into the fabric of the Pacific Northwest lifestyle identity, in an age where one’s leisure activity-choice brands the self-style like an unremovable tattoo. Being a city man, prone to anxiety, mildly physically disabled, and somewhat of a contrarian, I vowed never to go camping. Why subject myself to undue hardship and suffering during precious time off from a job that is already physically taxing? Why compromise on comfort, amenities, cuisine or strategies for survival in a life I already experience as scary? Why make things harder than they already are?
I lumped camping in with other cultural markers of the Pacific Northwest I despised: Burning Man or the Oregon Country Fair (where dreadlocked whites henna their bare midriffs, listen to bad, dirty techno, swallow flames, and eat dry brown rice and BBQ tempeh sandwiches with carrot dressing). With this cynical, judgmental attitude, I developed a reputation among friends of being urbane to a fault, unwilling to sacrifice any minor comfort to experience the natural splendor that surrounds us in Oregon. So, being a brat, I decided it was time to subvert that conception and go camping for the first time, but only if I were being paid to do it. With this idea, I approached Mike Merrill of KmikeyM.com, the first publicly traded person. He enjoyed my Yelp review of Buffalo Wild Wings, and hired me to document my experiences in the wild.
I felt as a young Meriwether Lewis may have upon reading Jefferson’s instructions for his observations to be taken with great pains and accuracy, to comprehend all elements necessary, with the aid of the usual tables to fix the latitude and longitude, to take notes to be guarded by a trustworthy attendant against accidental losses. Jefferson suggested Lewis utilize “paper of the birch,” as it would be less liable to dampen in wet weather. I decided to use my iPhone and bring along an editorial assistant, a witty and attractive female anthropology major from small-town Oregon, who possesses a keener sense for the outdoors than I do.
Where Lewis had the backing of the United States government to provide supplies for his expedition, I merely had the goodwill of my friends and editorial assistant at my disposal. Comparing the lengths of our voyages, it was logical that Lewis took more things along with him than I would. As I researched what I needed to bring, I consulted Meriwether Lewis’s packing list. A set of planispheres; hydrometers; a pair of large brass money scales with two sets of weights; crayons; 150 pounds of portable soup; small cheap scissors to use as presents for Indians — I probably didn’t need any of this. Woolen overalls, shirts of strong linen, patent chamber lamps & wicks, spices assorted — I was not made of money.
Inquiring about what all I actually did need brought about some new insights. My friend Aubrey suggested I “bring wood.” This suggestion, meant to be humorous for its sarcastic simplicity, actually spawned a debate about the environmental ethics of bringing non-native plant species into a national park. Aubrey also offered to lend me her Kindle, but, we joked, what would I read after I threw it in the fire alongside the crumpled newspaper?
I was surprised, upon consulting my older sister, to find out that she is, in fact, an avid camper. I had wrongly assumed that everyone in my family hated camping, but it turns out my sister, who lives in LA, often travels to Malibu with her Chihuahua, Pickle, to camp near the beach, and has a precise methodology for maximizing leisurely joy.
When I told her what I was doing, she sent me the longest text I have ever received composed of everything she thought I might need, including “speaker for music, s’mores accoutrements, food, booze, weed, picnic table cloth if you so desire this aesthetic (some do), board game or card game or ouija board or tarot or I Ching or all of these,” as well as basics like “tent, food, and lantern.” She also told me about a technique involving a glass water pitcher and a flashlight, which I forgot the point of immediately.
My father (who never took me camping, fishing, or surfing), visited me the week before we left and regaled me with a long-winded tale of getting caught in a snowstorm during his eagle scout days for a week in upstate New York in his early 20s with a dozen preteen boy scouts. When I told him about my looming expedition, he said, “be prepared. Stay warm and dry,” which provoked a tickle of boyish angst in me, for wasn’t he the very man charged with the responsibility of bestowing these manly techniques upon the next generation, and hadn’t he so far failed in this endeavor? As I sat, with my editorial assistant, across from him in a dimly lit Chinese restaurant in downtown Portland, eating spare ribs, I bit my tongue and attempted to allow him the joy of a youthful reminiscence instead of erupting with a son’s embittered critique. When I asked him why we, as a family, never went camping, he blamed my mom.
Part 2: Cape Disappointment
I had a few ideas about where to go camping, but it was difficult for me to maintain focus and do the necessary research to find the most premier spot. I bought a book for $22 at a bird sanctuary near Lewis & Clark College with lush and inspiring photography, outlining hundreds of possible destinations. Indian Beach at Ecola State Park was the first entry, and it looked like a spectacular, fog laden, mystical paradise. Initially, my plan was to go there, because I lost motivation to do any further research on the matter, but a few days before we were set to leave I learned that Ecola doesn’t provide car-camping, a phrase I’d never heard before. Car camping means a type of camping which involves driving, rather than walking, to a campsite. This would be important, as I wanted to bring a bunch of stuff, and didn’t want to carry it for miles on my back. I’d say this is the single distinction between “camping” and “backpacking,” in fact.
Luckily in the nick of time, my friend Chris suggested Cape Disappointment, a coastal state park on the Oregon/Washington border. Chris and I had gone there together on a day trip some years ago and created the outline for a feature length film, titled Queen Anne’s Lace, after the wild Daucus carota that grows amidst the sweeping overlooks of the Pacific Ocean near the few functioning nineteenth-century lighthouses of the park. The basic synopsis involved a young, female lighthouse keeper who, from her post, unintentionally witnesses a mysterious maritime interaction between her father, a working class fisherman, and what appears to be a vessel owned by the Russian mafia. The coastal mystery unfolds as an aging psychic man, who lives in a shack built from driftwood with views of the tumultuous ocean, bestows both accurate predictions and sage platitudes upon her concerning both her father’s complex and dangerous dealings and her own emotionally-empty yet lustful affair with a Seattle-based businessman with a weekend home at the Cape. Queen Anne’s Lace was to be an international psychological crime drama thriller with spiritual, ruminative undertones. Needless to say, the film was never made because my friend Chris is a tennis instructor, and we are unfocused people for the most part. However, Cape Disappointment is the perfect setting for such a plot. It is a quiet, majestic getaway, with waves crashing along jagged rock formations and panoramic coastal overlooks.
I went online a few days before we were set to leave and reserved a campsite for two nights at $25 per night. The website said there would be a bathroom, showers, and running water available, which eased my anxieties considerably.
We had the weekend to prepare, so my editorial assistant wrote a master list. I borrowed some Scandinavian things from Chris, who also reluctantly offered me his $500 sleeping bag, which I turned down. I went to my friend Al’s house to borrow a tent, a cooler, and a lantern. She further eased my anxieties by correcting my assumption that I would have to build two fires: one for cooking and one for sitting around and telling stories. Al told me there was only one fire, and she taught me how to build it by demoing with plums to represent crumpled up newspaper and pens to represent kindling, building a teepee with the pens around the plums. Al teaches preschool, so she has a gentle way with people who don’t know very much about basic tasks.
I went home and started preparing a slow-simmered, five hour chili and breakfast burritos from sausage, collard greens, enchilada sauce, egg, and cheddar — a recipe I learned from the manager of the breakfast restaurant where I slave for low pay and am subjected to the microaggressions of countless spineless customers—to be wrapped up and put in the cooler for eating later. In my rush to be prepared, I stole my roommate’s cast-iron skillet, good kitchen knife, and pair of tongs, and threw them in a paper bag (which the knife promptly cut through), and wedged the bag under the passenger seat of my car.
We set out early the next morning, for it would be a two and a half hour drive to the coast. It was Labor Day. We drove past streams, bogs, and meadows, berry farms, wood salesmen, antique stores, gambling and drinking halls, Walmarts and McDonaldses on old Highway 30, which embraces the curve of the Columbia River. We passed through Rainier, which was scenic aside from a revolting paper-mill odor of faint baby excrement. I could see myself living there in a ramshackle old house along the river, drinking beer every night and cooking barbecue, but only if I were guaranteed that over-exposure to the mill-smell would make perception of the odor a non-issue. We opened a bag of Wavy Lays that my editorial assistant’s sister had donated.
Drawing closer to the campsite, we arrived in Astoria, with views of the Pacific now in our sight. Still too early to check-in at Cape D, we stopped in at a Jimmy Buffett-themed clam chowder restaurant. A live recording of a Labor Day Buffett concert was playing over the loudspeaker, and I wondered if the audio were being transmitted via satellite into the restaurant or if they perhaps had a vast collection of Jimmy Buffett bootleg live recordings and played each corresponding to the appropriate day of the year. Either option was mind blowing in its own way. We ordered two cups of chowder and a bay shrimp cocktail to share. Bay shrimp are weirdly small, and the shrimp were buried in too much cocktail sauce.
After eating, we completed a dizzying spiral staircase hike up the Astoria Column, a spire at the top of the town, and caught our first of many postcard-worthy panorama-quality views of the trip, this one of the Columbia’s intersection with the Pacific; a new-looking baseball field attached to a football field; people like ants; barges navigating the seas; and the Astoria-Megler bridge, the longest bridge in North America, which had a strange white cloth over it. We overheard a mother explaining to her son that God must be setting his towels out to dry. Kids threw paper planes that sailed hypnotically across and down the hillside, and I followed each with my eyes before attempting to film it on my iPhone. Then I tried to use iPhone’s panorama picture feature, but I bumped into a number of other tourists and couldn’t keep it steady enough. The result was a lopsided and somewhat avant-garde long photo of a man with half a head in front of the sweeping vista.
Further toward Cape Disappointment, we drove under the towel on the bridge, across the mouth of the Columbia, and into Washington State. We saw what we thought was a farmer’s market on the side of the road, with signs advertising fresh anchovies and herring. Yum, I thought. Perhaps we could add these to our cooler for grilling later, although the idea also slightly disgusted me. I like anchovies in the can to put in a puttanesca sauce or on top of a pizza, but what would a fresh anchovy be like grilled over a campfire? I imagined plastic gallon tubs of them in some trailer. We walked through the tents of the roadside market, and saw various glass arts for sale, some landscape paintings. Mostly elderly rural artisans. There was a knife craftsman selling his work created mainly out of bone, silver, and stone. I fantasized both about being able to afford such objects and also of having a tangible craft like that. True work, I thought. And then we went to the fresh anchovy and herring truck, which turned out to be just a bait shop. “Not for eatin,” the proprietor told us. “Anchovy and herring are good for catching salmon,” she said. “Couldn’t imagine they’d make for much meat once you boned them.” She showed them to us in plastic bags she took out of a fridge.
With more time to kill, we toured Sou’wester Lodge, a hipster vacation destination featuring dozens of repurposed trailers furnished in mid-century modern style, orbiting a main building. Inside, there was a living room with a baby grand piano, a VHS collection encompassing the hits of American cinema, a library of classic literature, and independent vinyl records for sale by artists who had performed there. Outside, a young father with horn-rimmed glasses was playing acoustic guitar with finger picking precision in the style of John Fahey while his baby stared up at him in quiet contentment, and their Labrador sniffed around at the grass and flowers.
Closing in on Cape Disappointment, we drove through Chinook salmon streams, trees of unknown species, gated communities of mansions, and a paved bike path. Finally, we reached the ranger’s office at the base of the campgrounds, across the way from the Cape D Cafe. I felt nervous. What if I couldn’t hack it? What if we couldn’t start the fire? At least the weather was clear, though a chill wind blew through the trees, and the sun had not yet set.
In the campground office, the man ahead of me in line was complaining to the clerk about the rules. “How do I know which site I want if I can’t go look at it first?”
“You’re welcome to choose a space, and we can change it for you if you are dissatisfied,” the clerk responded.
“How am I supposed to know if it’s any good,” he asked in a tone of voice that imbued the atmosphere with a tense anxiety.
“I guess it’s a gamble, sir.”
The man was dressed in a grey Seattle Seahawks t-shirt tucked into jeans with no belt, and had a cheap, close-cut Walmart haircut and Oakley’s propped on his balding, sweaty, veiny dome. He let out several exasperated gasps, as if there was some implied absurdity in the probable fact that this regulation existed to make sure the park was not overtaken by people with his nasty, shitty attitude. The woman held out a map of the park with the available campsites highlighted, and the man rolled his eyes, waved his finger in the air, and finally dropped it on a random spot, and said, “I’ll take this one, I guess.”
Thank god, I thought. Let’s get this show on the road. After working too many shifts in food service, my patience for entitlement and disrespect in business exchanges has been considerably shortened. In a satisfying poetic twist, the man, his Ford extended cab pick up, and his haggard, chain smoking girlfriend, were towed from the park the next afternoon.
We arrived at long last to our chosen site, 219, a clearing of the woods encompassing a grated fire pit, a wooden picnic table, and a paved parking spot. My editorial assistant, with very little of my help, set up the tent, which Al said would be extremely simple. It turned out to be confusing and stressful because we didn’t have a hammer with which to nail the stakes, so we had to use the butt of the newfangled Scandinavian hatchet Chris had lent us. Perhaps it was just in my own mind, but I sensed a growing tension between my editorial assistant and myself as she took the first steps toward building the fire. What kind of man was I? Can’t even set up a tent, can’t even start a fire. I joked to her, “without you I’d be dead in twenty minutes out here.” And although this was 2014, in one of the most liberal quadrants of the free world, there was a sense in which I felt emasculated. The voice of my father echoed in my head: keep warm, stay dry, and it motivated me to contribute. I helped my editorial assistant by balling up the weekly for kindling, like Al had showed me. Little plums. But I was a bit too skittish to take the lead. Pumping up the air mattress inside the tent took my breath away, and we took turns pumping and gasping for air.
When the fire was built and the tent set up, my editorial assistant put on a big black headband and used her slingshot to fling rocks at tree trunks. I took the Rider Waite Tarot deck from the car and drew a card: Queen of Wands. Dominant feminine energy. Fire. A strong female leader who is not afraid to get what she wants, with courage and charisma. I looked over at the burning fire, and then at my editorial assistant. She was now playing her pan flute and lightly skipping, barefoot.
The sun was starting to set, so we decided to walk to the beach, leaving the fire unattended. The path led briefly through the woods, onto the perimeter of another camp, where a middle-aged couple was tailgating on an Escalade and roasting weenies, and once again through trees until the dirt turned to sand. We parted the branches, and the sunset and ocean waves became visible as we hopped over the large rocks and driftwood.
Suddenly, we were on the beach, which was peppered with fellow campers. A small group played volleyball. To our right, there was a cliff with a lighthouse perched on top. To the left, a coastline disappearing into the haze. What creates that haze? I’m not an oceanographer or a marine biologist, but I could only imagine it has to do with some moisture or humidity in the air. Little tiny bugs hopped at my bare feet, which felt gross. Were these sand fleas? We walked over to the cliff where a hikeable rock formation grew out of the sand. My editorial assistant gladly skipped up. I, fearing I’d slip and crack my head open, took my time, but recognized the importance of bracketing some of these fears for the sake of perching at a higher vantage to examine the waves crashing into the rocks and cliffs. We sat there for a time, in silence mostly. I don’t remember what we talked about, or do I? Perhaps it is beyond the scope of this piece. I thought again of Meriwether Lewis, and how little I actually knew about the man. At one point, I’d known more, having gleaned my knowledge from Ken Burns’ epic PBS documentary, but I had now forgotten many of the most relevant details. Although still a young person, I’ve noticed my memory becoming porous, many facts slipping off into an abyss. Lewis’s death was mysterious. A suicide or murder? What I remembered most from that documentary were the natural landscapes glimmering across my laptop as I dozed in and out during the narrated overwrought journal entry quotes, which notated the conditions of the land, and the relations with the native peoples encountered. It was the most soothing program I could find on Netflix. Lewis and Clark’s mission was funded by a government with vicious intent, and it struck me that I was the result of this expedition: sitting on the rock, misremembering and deferring well-researched content to other, more historically inspired writers. Though I’m glad for my freedom to travel and explore these destinations, I remain an alien here.
We walked down the cliff side to where fresh water was dripped from a great height; a natural phenomenon that we used our phones to film in slow motion, and which we stuck our tongues into to catch a taste. The light was waning, and we still hadn’t started cooking. We hiked back to camp and saw the log still smoking but no longer aflame.
This time, I helped build the fire using Al’s teepee method. We wrapped chicken drumsticks in foil with cayenne pepper, lemon, and Jamaica Me Crazyseasonings. We wrapped an apple, an onion, a sweet potato with butter and threw them in the coals. I poked at these items with a long stick. Having travelled, hiked, and been anxious much of the day, I experienced a sort of ravenous hunger that I rarely possess in the city, where I’m more concerned with which region of Thai cuisine I’m in the mood to eat, or whether I should pan sear a steak in the style of Gordon Ramsay.
After dinner, I smoked an American Spirit and lay on the foldout cot, looking up at the stars. My editorial assistant showed me the constellation Cygnus, and I saw the Milky Way for the first time. We saw three shooting stars, though we had missed the Perseid meteor shower, which occurred earlier in the month. I realized that having a mind consumed with mundane worries could be a distraction from knowing about and attending to events of natural beauty.
The camp at night was very dark, and I took my borrowed lantern to the restroom, though I quickly realized this was a hindrance, as it didn’t allow my eyes to adjust to the low light. A man in the bathroom warned me about raccoons, that they were running rampant in the park. Raccoons frighten me, with their near-opposable thumbs and their lack of fear. We needed to put away our food. I thought, camping would be nicer if there were tiki torches like they had on Survivor. This way you could actually see things. Or perhaps Christmas lights strung between the trees, to give the surroundings a soft cinematic glow. My editorial assistant laughed at me, claiming I was missing the point, as we drifted off to sleep in the tent amidst the gentle white noise of the nearby ocean, and the faint rustle of whatever wind or creature was present.
Part 3: The Next Day, Thoughts on Jerky, and Conclusions
Upon waking up, the oxygen level of the tent seemed low, being zipped up as it was all night. Breaking out into a flood of light and air, it was time to try to make coffee and reheat those foil wrapped breakfast burritos I’d brought. For this purpose, I had borrowed another Scandinavian object from Chris that supposedly boils water in 90 seconds and doubles as a hot plate, but when I tried igniting the device, it exploded, nearly burning my face off. After tinkering with the thing for another 10 minutes, we decided to build a morning fire with the little wood that remained, which wasn’t enough. And we kept tossing newspaper under the pot, which kept the water at a simmer and didn’t come to a rolling boil for half an hour. I gathered more twigs from the forest, and finally it was done. By the time we had eaten and had our coffee, it was nearly noon, and it started to rain. This was the camping of my imagination: frustrating, unfulfilling, pointless.
We left camp and hit the Cape D Cafe for firewood and ice. The man working behind the counter said it was his first day at the store alone. He was a skinny, greying middle-aged man with a nervous disposition. What had he been through in his previous life? He looked through a laminated binder for the wood code and explained that the kitchen serving pizza and clams was not open for business. I felt a quiet call of disappointment speak through my body as we unhinged the wood locker. What wasn’t disappointing, however, was the smooth, meticulously uniform banded wood bundle we purchased. Nothing like the reclaimed detritus from last night. This would make for a lively, even-burning fuel and cooking source.
We wanted to hike around the cape, so we parked near a trailhead. A band of five young, Hawaiian seeming beach-goers popped out of a Toyota Tundra, shirtless or in bikinis, wrestled with each other in an energized, sexual way, and put on bodysuits. It began to drizzle and the wind whipped through the lot. We started down what we thought was a trailhead, but it dead ended at a stone memorial of Lewis & Clark. We found a park ranger who gave us frustratingly obscure instructions. A confusing sign for the lighthouse trail pointed to a stand of trees and a picnic table. Relations with my editorial assistant began to strain. We wandered separately, and as my phone recovered service after a day in no-man’s land, I was hit with angry texts from my roommate inquiring about the knife, tongs, and pan I’d stolen from him. I experienced some cognitive dissonance as the early afternoon rain gently flicked my tired face. I had done the wrong thing by stealing. How had I come to a place in life where I could rationalize petty theft? It was hard to say if I felt guilt or shame as at last we stumbled upon the trailhead. I sent a tactful text and decided to psychologically move on.
The trail reminded me of The Lord of the Rings, a narrow, occasionally steep, and overgrown path with briars and thickets, towering trees and trickling dew. After a few minutes up the incline, I noted a huge tree that had fallen across the path. It had been sliced in such a way as to allow hikers to easily pass by. I commented, “looks like that was all one tree a long time ago.” My editorial assistant smacked my butt and said, “good observation.” Our relations began to improve as we drank from her Spanish canteen and hiked a stone staircase that led to a mind-emptying overlook of the Pacific. Had we walked a few paces forward, we would have tumbled down rock and to our deaths. It’s always hard to know how long to stay at a place like this. At what point can one say, ok, I’ve seen enough? It’s not like I was going to build a hut and just live there forever. But at what point has one adequately synthesized the sublime impression into some sort of rational order? We had decided, not quite yet.
A few minutes later, we came to an abandoned Civil War military prison and explored the cells and a blown up, desecrated bathroom. Ghostly shadows and moss grew over the stone staircases and circular enclaves of the structure. I danced and stretched my body. The place, which at first impressed upon me the emotions and images tied to the great Tolkien trilogy, had now morphed and taken on a character closer to that of the animated films of Hayao Miyazaki. I imagined the spirits of Civil War generals guarding the mouth of the Columbia, smoking pipes, and frying up potatoes in the autumnal mist. Tarnished black-and-white photographs of war generals glided through my memory from Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary.
Further up trail was Dead Man’s Cove, a steep and harrowing hike down to a section of driftwood littered beach about thirty yards wide, set between two great cliffs. Visitors had built teepees and other shelters out of the driftwood and I sat inside them and watched the waves softly crash into the sand. Ten yards into the surf, a small rock island. My editorial assistant stretched out on a long length of fallen tree trunk and gazed meditatively at the ocean. I ate some Wavy Lays out of her Scandinavian backpack.
Up closer to the lighthouse, we passed an elderly couple hiking with a preteen grandson and singing “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme” to him, in a loud, dramatic style. “Are you going to Scarborough Fair,” they hollered at the boy, holding hands with him on either side. I found a stick and fought pangs of hunger.
After checking out the lighthouse, we had decided we were both very hungry and didn’t want to try to cook lunch over the fire. So, with a plan to get back to the car as soon as possible and drive to the nearby town of Ilwaco, we skipped quickly down slope, retracing our steps, and sang “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain When She Comes.” I always thought that song was about some old West pioneering woman hiking around, but my editorial assistant informed me about its deeper spiritual implications. Now I like the song a lot more.
A Brief Aside On The Nature of Jerky
In the town of Ilwaco, we went to the general store and I purchased a turkey, cheese, and mayo sandwich on white roll and a package of Tillamook Smoker Teriyaki Beef Jerky. The clerks were a young, stylish Japanese couple, each behind separate check out stations. We took our bounty outside the store and sat on a picnic table in front of an impressionistic mural of the Cape. The sandwich was nearly tasteless, manifesting the ideal of processed American food, and with textures classically matched; I was so deeply satisfied that I lost all sense of time. The jerky, on the other hand, wasn’t tasty. The package’s copywriting claimed, “back in the days before carbo drinks, energy bars and ginseng extracts, the American pioneers had the energy to conquer the untamed Northwest. They got that energy from Beef Jerky.” What a suspicious, loaded, and problematic sentiment, I thought. Although I can’t dispute that Lewis & Clark and similar westward whites ate a lot of beef jerky on their expeditions, the exuberance with which the writing valorized the imperialist nature of these journeys, as well as the implication that the land needed taming, made me want to purchase different jerkies in the future. For example, of their product, Pemmican writes, “not so long ago men spent their free time outdoors. They went camping, fishing and hunting. They breathed in clean air and felt that sense of calm that only comes from being in the wild. And wherever they went, they brought jerky. The snack you packed for every escape.” This is more the type of jerky experience that resonates with my lifestyle, if I were an outdoorsman not living in the futuristic world we currently all inhabit, and perhaps why it is a more expensive product with a more valuable ethos. We drove back to camp as the sun began to set. This was to be our final night at the Cape.
Back at camp, my editorial assistant rolled two joints. Tonight, we would roast weenies. But first we smoked, put on hooded jackets, and left for the beach. In this state, other people’s camp sites took on a mysterious aura. I photographed an 80’s Honda camper van with a retro-futurist slanted moon roof. I wanted to wear a huge plastic head mask. I became more aware of the soft glow and crackling tones of fires around me. Other people had bigger tents and more developed ideas about their set up. Winnebagos had awnings with fold out chairs and various sitting posts. A young mother held her toddler’s hand on the way to the bathroom.
The beach was populated with families and fellow tourists walking dogs and joyfully congregating. A family man stopped us and said, “sorry to disrupt your guyses romantic walk, but would you mind taking our picture?” They sat tightly knit on the driftwood and I told them to say cheese, and then thought, is that a stoner thing to say?
We saw a buoy tottering in the surf and watched it ride a wave onto the sand, then pulled it ashore. On it, “Margaret #17″ was written in marker. That must have been its vessel. We held either end and flailed it around like it was a jump rope. A middle-aged couple with a handsome golden retriever approached us and told us that last time they were here, they found oyster pots from Japan on the beach. Being stoned, I decided to be cordial but not pursue a longer interaction with them. My editorial assistant found a long sea plant with a bulbous tip and used it to whip the sand. A sand whip, I thought. I found a crab shell, held it up to the setting sun, and watched as the light reflected through its carapace. The moon began to show high overhead and my mind began to wander to the mysteries of the sea, its creatures, and its romantic lifestyle. I’d like to listen to jazz aboard a giant vessel on a northern cruise, or navigate up through Canada on a journey of self-discovery. Is that what the Astors could afford to do? Or was it all business for them?
We got lost on the way back because we entered the campgrounds farther south than where we’d entered, and all the campsites looked identical. So, we spent an inordinate amount of time piddling down various walkways, and lost most of the daylight. By the time we got back to camp, we had to build a fire in the dark. We cooked Hebrew Nationals, the chili in a pot on the grate, russet potatoes, and an onion in the coals. We put the chili on top of the hot dogs and in little mugs, to which we added shredded sharp cheddar, as well as the fire roasted onion, seasoned with Jamaica Me Crazy, and then we made S’Mores for dessert. It was an ambitious project, and emotionally, it took a lot out of me. I remembered the raccoon warning of the previous evening, and developed paranoia about putting all the food away. Every rustle in the wind was maybe a sentient creature.
In the tent we read a tale from a book of camping ghost stories, about a man who travels with a native guide into the Canadian wilderness. The guide disappears in the middle of the night and turns into the wind, haunting the man for the rest of his life. I dozed off and dreamed about building a coffee table with intricate red and white tile patterning.
Would I go camping again? Yes, I think. I’d like to get my clamming license next time, and steam big vats of them with garlic, white wine, and butter, and dip crusty bread into the juice. Unhinging the tent and cleaning up the fire, I felt that solemn gravity similar to sweeping up the last debris before moving out of a house when the lease is up. But I did want to leave. I hadn’t showered in three days, or looked at myself in the mirror, or used the internet. And I felt that if I had to prepare another meal over the fire, it would have to be more simple. Maybe a whole chicken wrapped in foil. We drove back around the cape, over the long bridge, and into Astoria. We stopped in a brewery for breakfast, but all they had were expensive vegetarian options. By the grace of God, we found a renovated hotel with a sophisticated coffee shop, delicious breakfast menu, and copies of the New Yorker available to read. I ordered french toast and a cafe au lait, and read about the new James Brown biopic. My editorial assistant had a breakfast sandwich, and read from Kinfolk magazine about a taffy shop in Seaside, Oregon, which was more or less on our way home.
We drove to Seaside, listening to free Spotify with the ads, and found the taffy shop with 171 flavors, including candyman espresso, root beer, screw driver, and paradise plum. They were playing that song from the first Willy Wonka movie and we spun a wheel for a reason I didn’t follow. My editorial assistant bought taffy for her extended family. I got spumoni ice cream for one dollar. We went to a beef jerky shop with 50 kinds of jerky, and I saw canned rattlesnake for sale. I bought the new jerky, which had no copywriting on the package.
We looked at the boardwalk by the beach. Another tribute to Lewis & Clark. Enough is enough, I thought. Enough taffy, and enough jerky. I felt as if I needed the powder of ipecac, or a dose of the opium Meriwether Lewis brought on his journey. Next time, I’d have to be more prepared.
Greg Campanile studied at Lewis & Clark college, so he should know more about poor Meriwether Lewis. He is also a fantastic writer and quite a fine gentleman. The Editor will not be sharing his email or contact info because we fear that too much attention will only cause him to understand his own value and then we won’t be able to afford him. And we really like sending him out to eat Buffalo Wild Wings and go camping. Certainly we like reading about his experiences in those things more than experiencing them ourself.