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Buck Lākéd

July 7, 2013

On the Fifth of July, liberated from the tyranny of the classroom, Eva joined her Dad for a trip into the wilderness. It was the first camping trip she could remember that didn’t involve sleeping next to a car (or in it) or being surrounded by an ocean of tents and thousands of festival-goers.

She knew what she wanted to take: her bow and arrows, her Swiss army knife, a card game called Archaeology, her $15 Fred Meyer sleeping bag and air mattress, and a notepad of paper along with her colored pencils. All two hundred of them.

To this pile Dad added a swimsuit, two pairs of shoes, enough clothes to last for probably twice as long, a hairbrush and a toothbrush, a towel, The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks, and the lightest of the food products. Earlier in the day they’d been to The Next Adventure outdoor store to buy a secondhand frame backpack, a blue and white Da Kine model formerly owned by Jake Pruitt of Hood River.

Eva’s Dad hadn’t been into the woods for six years, and his gear reflected it. His tent was too large and bulky. His pack was a 17 year-old REI daypack with a refurbished strap. Instead of a WhisperLite he had a cumbersome double-burner Coleman stove. Instead of a water filter he ended up carrying two gallons – and an extra gas canister. But somehow everything else fit onto their backs, and they left the truck behind. They didn’t look back.

Eva carried the stove at first, along with her bamboo bow and arrows. The hike was all of a half-mile up a gentle incline to Buck Lake, on the lower southern slope of Mt. Hood. They enjoyed the scenery, taking many breaks along the way. After the first hundred yards Dad carried the stove. They made great time after that and soon arrived at their destination.

Wildlife flourished around the isolated alpine lake. They saw mosquitoes, dragonflies, water skeeters, orange-bellied newts, chipmunks, a woodpecker, and the discarded skin of a small snake. One might think larger animals would abound too, sixty-seven miles and two hours out of Portland. But their untouched food bag, dangling ineffectively mere feet above Dad’s head the next morning, proved otherwise. Any bear, deer, or giraffe wandering through the forest could’ve easily reared onto its hind legs and helped itself to some cracked wheat bread and honey.

They weren’t the only humans at the lake. A lone man pitched a tent near theirs, and a couple of women had moved into the best campsite. They’d tied an inflatable boat by the rocks below their site (Eva wished they had one). From across the lake floated voices, evidence of further campers.

The first night was rough. Eva’s sleeping bag – rated to fifty degrees Fahrenheit – kept slipping off. The robe she’d brought as a second layer wasn’t keeping her warm. Dad unzipped his bag – rated to minus fifteen – and threw it over them both, and they were able to get a little sleep.

Next morning they rose before the sun… rose high enough to pierce the forest canopy. It was nine o’clock. Eva was too excited to wait for breakfast to cook, so she ate a pre-made Trader Joe’s burrito while Dad finished his coffee. Then they put on their swimsuits and looked for the best spot to jump into the water. It turned out to be near the inflatable boat, which wasn’t there. Neither was the lone camper. He must’ve packed out early.

The water was clear, and cold. Eva inched in, then she inched out. She urged Dad to go first. After many false starts he finally dove in. She swam out to him. Then they both swam back and laid on the warm rocks.

The women woke up and discovered their boat was missing. They were considering running down to the parking lot to see if the lone camper was still there. Then a fisherman – a day tripper – showed up. He’d not seen anyone on his hike. He thought the boat had drifted off, and promised to keep an eye out for it. Sure enough, ten minutes later he hollered that he could see it tucked behind a small island. Eva’s dad volunteered them to hike around and paddle it back, so they got to take a ride on the lake after all.

On the second evening Eva tucked one leg into each sleeve of the robe before sliding into her sleeping bag. Dad kept his bag open and available, but except for one point in the night when Eva woke up completely out of her sleeping bag, they slept soundly.

The next morning, having sufficiently completed each of her anticipated activities, Eva was ready to go home. She’d shot arrows at a dead tree trunk. She’d built a fort. She’d carved a walking stick. She’d gone swimming and boating. She’d caught and held an orange-bellied newt. She’d read a book from cover to cover.

As for Dad, he was ready to go home as well. A soft bed and a shower were calling. But inside his head he was already compiling a list: gear for the next trip. A lighter tent. A water filter. A WhisperLite stove. A new backpack.

On the drive home, he told Eva stories about his childhood hero, the famous tracker and wilderness survivalist Tom Brown Jr. He would tell a story and then stop, waiting to see if she liked it enough to ask for another.

She kept asking all the way home.

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From → True Stories

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