Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Love, love, love this time of year!

The autumn equinox is Saturday, officially welcoming my favorite season. This year, it’s even more welcome than usual after our record-setting hatefully evil hot and dry summer. I’m ready for frost in the morning and fresh milled apple cider and wearing hoodies again.

I even put the flannel sheets on the bed over the weekend, a sure sign that summer is fading into the distance. The Farmer and I will soon start playing the “I can wait longer than you can to turn on the furnace” game, so it’s definitely flannel sheet season. We usually make it to about mid October and then it’s a tooth-chattering consensus in the morning that yeah, if we can see our breath in the house maybe it’s time to flip the switch.

I know the trade-off is that the daylight hours are getting shorter and the long warm evenings for playing outdoors are disappearing quickly but I’m fine with that. Autumn leads to Halloween and then right into the holidays. Friends, gatherings, food and laughter. It’s all good.

For the last seven years or so, a group of dog friends and I have celebrated the arrival of autumn by camping at a three-day agility trial. We must have looked like a band of gypsies, rolling into the campgrounds, lining up our mini-vans with military precision and commandeering an area of the campgrounds for tents and a couple of RVs.

At our peak one year we had about a dozen people in eight tents and easily 25 dogs among us. We probably looked like some kind of itinerant petting zoo, with the dogs all lounging in their x-pens while we cooked over a campfire and socialized. This made the park ranger nervous. He kept stopping to check on us through the evening. Yep, we were a wild and risky looking bunch, sitting around the campfire, setting marshmallows on fire.

“You know, we hesitate to allow so many tents on one site because these large groups can get out of hand,” he informed us. How disappointed he must have been when we all went to bed by 9 p.m. and refused to get out of hand. The rowdy bunch was the group of three men with apparently unlimited alcoholic beverages down the hill from our site. They were still whooping it up at 3 a.m. Ranger Rick didn't seem to notice them.

Year after year, it was a delightful autumn getaway. Agility at a nearby horse arena during the day, camping during the evening. Almost without exception, we were blessed with pleasant, dry weather. We walked the dogs on park trails and let them splash in the reservoir. We built campfires and roasted hot dogs and told stories and laughed as the sun set and the stars came out. In the morning, we drove slowly through the still sleeping campground to the shower house, pausing to let deer and raccoons cross through the misty dark ahead of us.

The shower house was well-lit and clean but the showers themselves left a bit to be desired. This was a conservation area. Conservation focuses on natural resources. Water is a natural resource. Water conservation is a gentle word for Water Nazis. No water for you!

To start the shower, you pushed a button and leaped out of the way. Icy water sprayed out. For about 30 seconds. Then it shut off. You had to push the button again. And again. And again. Avoiding the spray encouraged good reflexes. Or creative language.

The water heater was apparently located in another zip code and there was much pushing of the shower button before anything resembling warm water appeared. The only thing worse than stepping into a shower on a 40 degree morning was stepping out.

Over the years, our camping numbers have dwindled as the siren song of warm, dry rooms and instant hot running water at a nearby motel lured my friends away. Two years ago, there was only a handful of us. It rained. My tent suffered a broken pole for no apparent reason and I woke up with half of it on my head. Last year, we played fast and loose with predicted overnight lows in the mid 40s. The weather forecasters were wrong. It was in the upper 30s. There’s nothing wrong with waking up in a tent when it’s 38 degrees outside . . . until you have to get up. Don’t even bring up having to pee in the middle of the night.

This year, decision by committee reigned. Our group will be camping at the Motel 6. Someone will bring a bottle of Jose Cuervo Gold margaritas and we’ll toast the arrival of autumn. Slainté!

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