While we do a lot of historic trekking 18th century style, OWL girls like to modern camp too!
A small group got together in southern Indiana to enjoy the beautiful fall weather, a nice long walk, learning some new skills, and spending time camping together in the great outdoors.
Cori, Candace, Ren and I (Suzanne) met Saturday morning and took a two and a half mile walk with plenty of stops to admire the changing leaves, proliferation of mushrooms and geodes along the trail.
*Geodes pictured below were found and left in this arrangement
OWLS subscribe to the ethics of LNT leave no trace.
When we returned from our walk it was time to set up our tents. Fortune was with us and though many parks were sold out of camping sites, we not only found a great place that was free, we didn't have neighbors within a hundred yards or more. We even had a fire ring already in place. It took us a few minutes to decide which way the prevailing wind was coming from and in the end since it seemed to just be swirling from all sides we opted to face our tents mostly southeast. It was a nice flat piece of ground so we had no concern about water run off and there weren't any overhanging trees to avoid so we decided southeast would avoid the west wind blowing in the front door of our tents. Facing east would also optimistically provide at least the potential to watch the sunrise from our sleeping bags, if we didn't sleep through it! After a quick sweep of the ground to remove any rocks, twigs or other debris that could either poke a hole in the bottom of the tent or keep us up all night poking us through our ThermaRests, we set up a tent for each of us. Normally we would have happily shared tents but due to the Covid 19 pandemic we were social distancing.
The threat of rain hung low overhead in big stratus clouds that kept the temperature relatively warm, but starting a fire before it started to rain seemed pretty important. We collected fire-tender and (unintentionally) cockleburs (Xanthium Spinosum Linnaeus). Pro-tip: sweats and yoga pants are bur magnets.
We found enough twigs and sticks for firestarting and then I handed Cori flint, steel, tow (fibers from a flax plant and cedar fluff) and charcloth. I demonstrated a couple of times how to knock sparks of steel off with the flint with rapid striking movements down the steel into a bed of charcloth and tow. I explained that once she had a tiny spark on the charcloth (swatches of natural fabric that has been chared but not burnt) she would lift her little nest of char and tow in her hands and blow to ignite the fire. At first she just raised an eyebrow, cocked her head and looked at me as if to say, nope.
But Cori is never one to pass up a challenge, soon she was throwing sparks like a champ and quickly caught a spark on the charcloth. Blowing a steady strong breath right at the spark fed it into ignition. I grabbed a candle and lit it as soon as she had flame, we placed the burning bundle under the bed of twigs and it licked up to the cut firewood we had purchased locally. For a video demonstration of flint and steel fire starting by Ren click here.
Dinner was a mix of everyone's provisions including squash, rice with barley, and vegetable soup. The only interruption to the perfection of the day was a swift and deep slip of the knife that promptly resulted in breaking out three first aid kids. The wound was wiped clean and wrapped in a virtually useless bandaid. Another wipe, another two bandaids bled through, a set of steri-strips and pressure. As the third dressing bloomed red, I looked Cori sternly in the eye told her to sit still while applying solid pressure while keeping her hand elevated. We counted the minutes with the understanding that a trip to the ER was not out of the realm of possibility. Fortunately, the steri-strips, pressure, and elevation had the desired effect, and the bleeding finally stopped as the sun set like a flame extinguishing over the horizon.
Stars shone overhead like a billion diamonds and a shooting star blazed across the sky fooling us into thinking we had missed the rain. Ren kept our fire burning bright, laughing as we called it a "white man's fire" in contrast to the idea that Natives would have kept the fire small to avoid detection and conserve wood.
Late Saturday night while sitting around the fire, Cori admitted that it had been at least twenty years since she had tent camped and she had been very nervous about the whole thing. She told us if it hadn't been for the small group, the encouragement and gear we provided, she might have backed out, but she was so glad she hadn't.
Our conversation ran from college concerns, to a mother's advice and finally, a grandmother's wisdom. It was amazing how three generations of women; Ren in her twenties, Cori and I in our fifties, and Candace in her seventies were so perfectly in tune with one another. Even to the point that when Candace admitted she was ready to turn in for the night, the rest of us were just as ready.
An early morning storm blew through fulfilling the promise from the day before but we were all snug as bugs in our tents. It did prevent us from enjoying sunrise or so we assumed since none of us rose with the sun. I woke up around 7:30 and knew Cori was awake so I unzipped and stuck my head out. Two seconds later Cori popped her head out of her tent to smile at me.
We were able to gather enough dry kindling to restart our fire in the morning's drizzly mist and start coffee just as Candace came out of her tent. Later, when breakfast was ready Ren rolled out of her tiny tent and scuttled up close to get some nice hot tea and oatmeal. Ren had a couple handfuls of walnuts she had collected the previous year and she offered to share them with us. She placed each nut on a piece of firewood and used another larger piece of wood to smash open the protective shell to reveal the tasty meat within. Cori, Candace and I were reminded of times long past when every holiday fete included a selection of nuts complete with special nut bowls, nut crackers and picks. We compared the taste of these American Black Walnuts harvested in the wild with the usual store bought orchard grown English Walnuts. The taste was so much richer and sharper, carrying with it a hint of wildness.
After breakfast Ren shared a perfect October poem by Brandi Woolf with us;
Remember Witch, Remember
Take your feathers, leaves, and bones.
Add to them your roots, your stones.
Mix them in your cauldron's womb.
Dance for rain and add that, too.
Your time is now, each heartbeat rings:
Remember Witch, Remember.
You know the way, you know the song.
You've walked this path your whole life long.
Drumbeat sounding, heartbeat pounding
The Ones before you, love resounding.
With every turn of season, moon
With every deosil swirl of spoon
You chant the words, you hum the tune;
Remember Witch, Remember.
The stars are out, your feet are bare.
Your arms are raised into the air.
No one told you what to do.
You knew the way, the Way knows you.
So let it go. Release it down.
Heart and blood and bones to the ground:
Remember Witch, Remember.
As she finished, she lightly beat a hoop drum she had made of willow hoop and stretched deer hide. It was a spectacular moment, one I will cherish.
Soon it was time to pack up and go our separate ways, each with her own favorite moment and memories. A few weeks later Candace shared her thoughts on the experience.
As a Camp Fire Girl in my teenage years, I always loved the outdoors and camping. Adult camping was in the backyard when a grandchild spent the night. I can remember when one grandson spent the night and I was hoping the Basset House dog we had at the time, Fred, would not go after the raccoon that I could hear prowling around in the back yard.
Seeing Suzanne Thomson's pictures of the OWL Wilderness Ladies got me intrigued with a ladies trekking group. I did realize at 73 though I am a bit out of shape for the dress and packing primitive camping gear.
The OWL Modern Group is right down my line! I loved our first overnight and a smaller group was nice as we really got to know each other. You don't mind showing what you don't know in a smaller group!
Looking forward to future campouts with OWL Modern Group!
I echo Candace's sentiments and encourage you to join us in the future. Check out the Adventure page to find out when the next OMG adventure is scheduled.