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  • Writer's picturewwambrose

Charlie Goes Camping: the Sequel

Updated: Jun 23, 2023

Lots of room in which to run around, to dig holes, and to get lost: check. Abundant wildlife to hunt such as birds in bushes, squirrels in trees, and groundhogs in underground tunnels: check. Rivers to swim in: check. Patches of snow to roll in: check. What could possibly go wrong?

You may recall from an earlier account that Charlie's first camping trip was a mixed bag. Yes, she was able to roll in dirt before entering the tent. But the desert landscape had its drawbacks. Occasional cactus spines, for example, that sent shooting pains when stepped upon. High winds that blew the sand into her face and eyes. And the freezing mid-February temperatures that drove out the day's heat with no clouds to trap it in. She was not a happy camper.

This time was going to be different. Instead of winter in arid Texas, this was springtime in verdant Oregon, in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest. Instead of dust and spines, this was rolling grass hills and lots of sticks to chew. The campsite was pinecone-cozy with miles of hillside and creekside trails at its doorstep. And for much of the first day it was everything Charlie could ask for.

Then a creaking, rumbling truck-and-trailer rolled into an adjoining campsite, shattering our bliss (we had thought that the whole campground would be ours). Charlie could not believe her luck -- here were 'friends' coming to share this bucolic setting with us. She could not contain her enthusiasm and promptly ran over to the newcomers, launching herself into their arms. Unfortunately for them, Charlie had just been wallowing in a nearby stream. Amy ran over as quickly as her limp would allow only to face the wrath of a crotchety woman whose only words of greeting were "Now look at me, I'm covered in dirt. I don't think it's going to come out."

As Amy and Charlie were returning to home base, the hardly friendly couple could be heard bickering as Mr Crotchety (who may not have been crotchety but is so named by association) tried to back the creaky trailer into the proper landing spot. Screeches of disappointment and scolding from Mrs Crotchety could be heard over the grinding metal and rumbling engine: "No! Not that way! Over there. Turn it that way. No, that way! Look out - you're going to hit it!"

Meanwhile another RV entered the campsite on our right. While that site was closest to the stream, we had avoided it because the parking spot was carpeted with the fur remains of a slaughtered deer that hunters hadn't thought to clean up. (Charlie was very interested in said carpet earlier in the day -- what better place to roll around on -- but we convinced her to leave it). This boomer couple did not seem crotchety, although they exhibited their own eccentricities. For one, they could be seen parading a leggy cat on a leash into the woods and down to the stream. A pet crate was hanging off the back of the RV when they arrived. Turns out it was for the cat's outdoor seating pleasure.

The last of the four campsites in the campground, the one closest to us, was soon occupied by an elderly man who was on his own. A tear-drop camper sat off the back of his Subaru Forrester. He seemed lonely and melancholic (we imagined a widower searching for solace in the woods) so we invited him over for a drink. That seemed to cheer him up even though he demurred. "Oh, beer, I'd love a beer but I can't have one. Bad for the gout." He turned out not to be melancholic at all, nor the faintest bit crotchety. We'll call him Mr Gregarious. His wife was back in Corvallis, Oregon in the Willamette Valley, where they moved some 30 years ago (he grew up in Southampton Long Island). His kids are grown and live in Seattle, a grandchild on the way. An ardent birder, he was on a quest to find an elusive Great Gray Owl that reportedly was nesting in the area -- his fourth attempt.

"And that must be Charlie" said Mr Gregarious pointing to....Charlie. Amy and I were nonplussed. "Have you and Charlie met?" I asked, immediately regretting the words as they rolled off my tongue. Not seeing any noticeable mud-stains on his shirt or trousers I soon realized he could not have met Charlie. Having heard our story he was connecting the dots with Steinbeck's Travels with Charley. Only then to be told that our canine companion was indeed named Charlie! And our blog's sub-head, Our Travels With Charlie!!

Mr Gregarious was overheard later recounting the Charlie story to his wife on the phone after describing to her the meal he had prepared: a can of corned beef hash and a salad. He also made the rounds, chatting with the Crotchety's about birding, and with the Cat Campers, who could be heard relating that cats, in fact, made very good travel companions.

All of this human traffic, though entertaining on many levels, was a bit discouraging for me and Amy, particularly as this was to be our last camping night of the trip. For Charlie it was a huge letdown because it meant she had to remain on her leash, and couldn't spend any time with the neighbors (perhaps the cat especially). The one exception was Mr Gregarious who would swing by our camp from time to time, when the Crotchety's and Cat Campers were busy, to pet Charlie and check in on us.

Two other factors dampened the camp for Charlie. Nightfall, because the dark scares the crap out of her -- more so in a strange wilderness. And the cold. Yes, springtime in verdant Oregon can be cold. Bitter cold. It dropped below freezing that night, and Charlie's water bowl iced over by morning. Us humans had sleeping bags. Charlie had fur. We tried to cover her in our down coats but it was a challenge keeping them on her through the night. She persevered. She was a trooper. But once again, not a happy camper.

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