The last embers of the day are fading now glowing orange beneath the dark coals. A few hours ago we were gathered around this campfire, seated on small stones gathered over the decades.
The cool night air is drifting in, a chill mingles with the dwindling source of heat. Inside my small tent I relish the familiar smokey scent of campfire mixed with pine and earth. My sleeping bag is comfy and is beginning to warm with my body heat, insulating me from the chill. A small rock beneath my tent floor annoyingly makes itself known. It is all part of the experience.
Laying here I try to separate the sounds of the night. I hear the waves gently lapping the shore, pine needles whisper with the movement of the wind, and the occasional ember pops and dies in the cool night air. To the backside of my tent, a few meters away I hear a rustling in the leaves. There was a time when it would have frightened me, but after many trips I know it is only a raccoon or an armadillo rummaging for food in the security of darkness.
The family has been coming here for generations. It is a place of bonding, of family ties, legends, tales (mostly true, always embellished). Here, ancestors long passed still live. Adventures are told of people long ago whom I never met, and will be someday be told again by those who will have never met me.
These are the Kiamiachi Mountains of Southeast Oklahoma. Acquired long ago when only a river ran through these mountains. The old logging road and much of the original land now lie beneath the reservoir. But these isolated acres remain.
Here our children learned to make a campfire, and how to ensure the fire is completely dead before leaving. This is where they learned to appreciate the beauty of nature, to care for the environment, to fish, to shoot, to canoe, to cook over an open fire. This is where they learned the stories that tell of character, bravery, fear, and where they learned that family will always stand with them.
In a few hours day will break early on the eastern side of the mountain. A spider is quietly weaving his web. In the morning light it will catch the dew and glisten as it is struck by golden sunlight.
One by one they appear from their tents. Someone will come and sit beside me as I make the morning coffee, another will stir the embers to create the fire of a new day.
The very young will scout for unusual rocks, or the occasional quartz stones. They paint their faces with colored powder created by rubbing soft yellow and red stones together. Here they learn to love adventure, discovery, nature.
They will listen carefully as the teens share their skills, teaching how to mark and follow trails, how to gather the right wood for building a campfire. They point out the deer’s lair, the armadillo’s hole, and discover new forms of fungus on trees. They make sure that the youngsters watch for snakes and other dangers of nature.
Adults are busy with their projects, running the boat shuttles to the main land, fishing, exploring and making meals. They set up the firing range where the kids will shoot eggs with pellet guns, the teens and adults will target practice. Each age learning and teaching the importance of gun safety.
I remember my first trip. It is isolated here. It can only be reached by boat, there is no electricity, running water, toilets, or fresh water. You bring in what you need and you carry out all that you brought. The walk from shoreline to mountain top along the old Johnny Beaver Trail is steep and long. When the night skies are cloudy it is darker here than any where I have ever been. My first trip was a bit unnerving, but now I dream of this place and know it will always live in my heart.
I have watched the generations rise. The young become the old and new generations follow, passing legends from one generation to the next, each adding their own stories along the way. Ancestors are remembered, adventures are recanted and the family is unified.
It is good to retreat from the city, to remember the sounds and smells of nature, and to bond with family in a place where ancestors still roam.
Life is good here.