Escaping the Pandemic, Alone in the Wild

When thunder rumbled, turkeys gobbled at the sound. I smiled.

  • At nighttime, there is nothing more relaxing than the sound of rain making music on my canvass tent
  • When thunder rumbled, turkeys gobbled at the sound. I smiled.
  • I looked to the west and saw what I was looking for. A rainbow.
Early morning in the forested Missouri hills, a special dose of peace and quiet…and no news forecast. 

By Larry Whiteley

It’s 5 am on an April morning. I sit at my desk writing a blog article about going camping. My wife is still sleeping. The television is on so I can check the weather for the day. The weather forecast was a lot better than the news. It was about nothing but coronavirus. Sunny days, cool nights with a slight chance of rain. I turn the television off and go back to writing.

My days are spent following stay-at-home rules. There are always things to get done outside in the yard, garden or workshop. I had practiced social distancing and gone fishing a few times.

In a moment of absolute brilliance, I thought why not go do what I have been writing about. I rushed in and told my wife we should escape the pandemic for a couple of days and go camping.

She said she would rather stay around home, but I should go enjoy myself. I stood there for a few seconds with thoughts rushing through my head of being alone for a few days in the outdoors. Alone in the wild.

I feigned disappointment and told her I would miss her. I packed all my clothes, camping gear, and food in the truck. I also grabbed a couple of locater turkey calls.

As I drove down the driveway, I knew exactly where I was going. I would escape to a place that I was very familiar with. I had spent many years hunting deer and turkey there. I would go to an open area on top of a hill I had often thought would make a great place to camp. From there I could see for miles looking over forested hills and valleys, but also with big open skies to enjoy. The creek in the valley below would be a bonus.

The stress and pressure from what was going on in the world with the coronavirus was gone as I drove up the hill. I pulled in by three trees that offered a great view. I just sat there for a moment. It was a totally different feeling than what I had been used to lately.

I pitched my tent and unloaded the truck. I got into my cooler for something to eat and drink then sat down in my camp chair to look around and take it all in. This is what I had come for.

Morel mushrooms, a special tasty treat from the forest.

The sun was warm. Sitting in the shade and with a little breeze, it was comfortable. I listened to bird songs. Crows were talking to each other. Buzzards circled in the bright blue sky. I looked up and said thank you to God for blessing me with this special moment in time. I also thanked him for my family and not giving up on me.

My afternoon was spent fishing the creek in the valley. The water was cold as I waded and fished but felt good. I lost count of how many fish I caught. Nothing big, but all fun. I tried skipping rocks and then just sat on the gravel bar looking for arrowheads and holey rocks. The sound of the flowing water was soothing. I took a nap.

The soothing waters of the creek. I caught fish and just as I was about to leave, I skipped a few rocks just for the fun of it. I was a kid again, just for a few moments.  

When I woke up the day was starting to fade so I drove back up the hill. The night skies were spectacular with thousands of twinkling stars. Coyotes howled and owls hooted. I did some hooting myself listening for turkey sounds from their roost. There were none. I stirred the campfire. The night cooled and my sleeping bag felt good.

I got up before the light came, stoked the fire and put on a pot of coffee. As the day started arriving, I was already out with my locater calls and binoculars scouting for turkeys. It wasn’t long before I found where they were. I knew where I would be hunting when the season started. I went back to camp.

The smell of bacon sizzling in the skillet drifted through the morning air. A deer let me know they smelled it too. My second cup of coffee was as good as the first. Birds were singing again and turkey gobbles echoed through the hills. Squirrels fussed at me because I was in their home.

The day found me secretly watching deer and turkey go about their day. I saw an eagle, a fox, and a bobcat. Black bear roams these woods too. I didn’t see one. I hiked around. I found wildflowers and morel mushrooms pushing their way through decaying leaves. I checked deer stands and pruned limbs and cleaned brush from around them. I even found a couple of shed antlers. I was enjoying my time alone in the wild.

Mister Tom Turkey, I hope he is there waiting when I return to hunt.

Before I knew it, the night was upon me again and the moon was big and bright. I sat around the campfire listening to night sounds and using my headlight to read “Friendship Fires” by Sam Cook. He doesn’t know it, but his style of writing greatly influenced me. Friends Dave Barus, David Gray, and Bobby Whitehead gave me the confidence I needed. They all shaped me into the writer I now am. I am using the gift that God gave me.

My eyes are heavy from all my activities of the day, the dancing flames, a crackling fire, and reading. I could hear thunder and see lightning in the distant hills. Tree frogs croaked and crickets chirped. Peaceful sleep came quickly.

Sometime during the night I awoke to rain making music on my canvass tent. There is nothing more relaxing than that sound. I easily drifted back off to sleep.

When my eyes opened again the sun was starting to shine through the trees. A light rain was still falling. When thunder rumbled, turkeys gobbled at the sound. I smiled. The sun glistened off the raindrops still clinging to the leaves and grass. I looked to the west and saw what I was looking for. A rainbow.

A beautiful ending from my time alone in the wild.

I sat there for a long time enjoying the beauty of the rainbow. Hundreds of purplish redbuds and white dogwood trees were all bloomed out painting the landscape. As much as I hated to leave, I missed my wife. It was time to go home to a different world. My time here will be re-lived in my daydreams and night dreams. It had been a wonderful escape from the pandemic. Alone in the wild.

Author note:  All photos are courtesy of the Missouri Department of Conservation

Campfire’s Light the Night

  • Gentle flames dance and flicker before you
  • Light the night, cook food, share time
  • Story-telling, memories, peaceful thinking – its magical

By Larry Whiteley

Flames flicker and dance in a dark night sky.

There’s something really special about time spent around a campfire. Smoke drifts away or gets in your face. Wood crackles and pops. Flames dance and flicker. Sparks float hypnotically upward into a dark night sky.

A campfire makes you feel better. It warms you to the bone. Magically it takes away stress and pressure no matter where it’s at.  It could be deer or turkey camp, on the banks of a river or lake, on top of a mountain or down in a valley, during a camping trip or in your backyard. It really doesn’t matter because they’re all magical.

Around campfires, there are no TV’s or electronic gadgets. There are no smart phones (just turn them off). There are only friends and family, quiet and perfect solitude.

Campfires are for cooking food, lighting the night and keeping warm. They are for sharing memories of other times and other places, talking about loved ones and old friends who are no longer here, the big one that got away or missing the buck of a lifetime. We turn our backsides to the warmth of its flames, but still shiver as our eyes widen listening to someone tell ghost stories.

Campfires are where grandkids roast marshmallows and share time with their Papaw. They are a place to watch the flames dance as the worry of the work week melts away. They are a place for fish fry’s, cookouts and fellowship.

It’s easy to sit and watch the flames play for hours while someone tells stories or you just listen to night sounds. Flames of a campfire are soothing and always changing. As a campfire dies down to coals, the night slowly takes over and you know when it’s time to crawl into your sleeping bag, or your own bed, until morning comes.

To have a good campfire, you first have to know how to build one. Start by making a foundation of tinder using an old bird’s nest, dryer lint, pine needles and cones or fire cubes you can buy in your local outdoor store.

Good tinder makes a good fire.

On top of the tinder crisscross small pieces of kindling like small twigs or thin pieces of wood scraps making sure there is plenty of room for air circulation.

Now light your tinder from below not on top to get both it and the kindling going.

Keep adding kindling until you start getting a bed of coals and then gradually add bigger pieces of wood while you still leave room for air circulation. Now sit back and enjoy your time around the campfire you built.

Heat from a campfire is also used to cook food. The warmth of the food feeds your body from the inside which is the only real way to keep your body temperature up.

Campfire cooking should be done over a fire that has hot coals rather than flames. Flames have less heat and more soot which blackens pots. Coals have a more even heat so food is cooked perfectly well. Food cooked over campfire coals just tastes better. It could be a shore lunch on a Canadian lake, grilled venison at deer camp or just hot dogs and s’mores in the backyard.

Food just tastes better cooked on a campfire.

One of my favorite times around a campfire is in winter or early spring before the sun starts the day. While my wife still sleeps, I quietly head outside to build a campfire in the backyard fire pit. It doesn’t matter how cold it is and if it’s snowing that’s all the better, I still go. Flames reflecting off the snow are beautiful.

The best time is when the sky is still dark and millions of stars sprinkle the night sky. The wood sizzles and pops, the flames dance, the smell of wood smoke drifts through the air. It’s a quiet time. Not many people are up early like me. I warm myself by the fire and sip my coffee.

I think of my wife, my kids, my grandkids, my friends and how I am truly grateful for them.  I think of my God and how much he has truly blessed me. I look up and thank him for the great outdoors that he created for us to enjoy and take care of.

I thank Him for time in a treestand watching sunrises through the trees and waiting for a deer to come by my secret hiding place. I thank Him that I am still thrilled to find a deer antler or a mushroom. I thank Him that a turkey gobble still gets my heart beating faster. I thank Him for the sounds of loons and elk bugles. I thank Him for time on the water, catching fish or just paddling. I thank Him for campsites and hiking trails.

My thoughts turn to all the outdoor memories I have made with my kids and grandkids. I sure hope there are many more to come before God calls me home. I stir the fire, watch the sparks and wipe away a tear. Smoke must have got in my eyes. Time around a campfire is something really special,