I’ve written before that nature is a perfect mirror, and so it was this week as well. Nature doesn’t lie, and it doesn’t have stuff that it needs to project on you. But it will also reveal your flaws with elegant clarity, and this week, nature told me I need to stop winging it and start planning things better.
I belong to the ENFP tribe, the Meyers-Briggs personality category called “The Idealists”. We Idealists don’t believe in committing to anything until the last possible moment; foreclosing options too early is painful for us. When we went to the Boundary Waters with our dear friend Fred, I nearly had a panic attack when I saw that he had plotted each of our meals out on a spreadsheet, allotting each of us precisely ten baby carrots for our afternoon snack. How could I commit to ten baby carrots? What if I wanted eleven?
We ENFP’s are also much better at generating ideas than executing and following through on them. Administrative tasks are anathema. After college, I tried for a year to be an administrative assistant. It became uncomfortably clear during that year that I needed to have an administrative assistant, not be one.
My lack of planning didn’t have much of a negative impact on my trip this time, but I saw very clearly how it could have. When we arrived at Silver River State Park on Monday we found a full campground. I hadn’t made reservations, because how could I possibly commit to a whole week in a place without seeing it first? What if we were sandwiched between two RV’s with noisy children or loud drunks? Still, had we not found a place 30 minutes east in Ocala National Forest’s Juniper Springs Area, we might have been in a genuine pickle.
I have a tense relationship with campgrounds as it is. On one trip to Florida several years ago, due to a variety of factors including flight times, hotel occupancy rates, and my weak planning skills, Travis and I got stuck in a KOA campground in Daytona during the weekend of the Daytona 500. That was not a good experience. We pitched my tiny red backpacking tent in the narrow concrete space between two gargantuan RV’s decked out in NASCAR regalia. It seemed possible that the tent fly could be pelted with discarded beer cans at any moment. This was not, needless to say, the natural world. As we snuggled into our sleeping bags for the night, we heard the hoot of an owl.
“That can’t be real,” I whispered. “I bet they pipe it in through loudspeakers.” Either that or they were watching Animal Planet in the neighboring RV.
On the other hand, I’ve had sublime camping experiences at campgrounds — though those experiences usually occurred in the off-season or in primitive campgrounds. I have nothing against RV’s — my mother owns one and I’ve frequently coveted it, as I can imagine it would be a nice way to traverse the country. It’s just that the RV experience and what I’m looking for when I sleep in a tent are usually at odds. I have a standing rule: If they spell campground with a “k”, it’s probably not for me.
So I felt encouraged when we secured the very last campsite at the Juniper Springs Recreation Area, a campground adjacent to the Florida Trail that advertised “deeply shaded sites within walking distance of some of Florida’s most beautiful natural springs.” Sign me up, I thought as I read the description. The campsites were closer to together than we usually like, but they were, as advertised, deeply shaded with cypress, oak and saw palmetto. That makes up for a great deal. We set up the tent in the perfect 65 degree weather and later that night, I snuggled into my winter sleeping bag. This, I remembered, is why I sleep in tents, even in a campground. It’s a delight to sleep in a place where you are connected with the natural temperature and the sounds of the outdoor night.
I dozed off, dreaming sentimental thoughts about communing with those sounds of nature, but awoke unexpectedly a few hours later to the sound of a bullhorn. A bullhorn was not one of the sounds of nature I’d been anticipating, but in the manner of someone who is asleep and wants to stay that way, I let my brain set aside its curiosity until morning.
All good campground gossip is found in the bathrooms, and the next morning when I stopped in, I heard that the bullhorn was for the bear that wouldn’t stop bothering some campers across the way. These folks had made the unfortunate mistake of leaving raw ground beef out unattended all night. This was really dumb; from the moment you enter a recreation area in the Ocala National Forest, you are bombarded with warnings about bears, and instructions on how to prevent them from becoming interested in you. Campgrounds aren’t exactly the wilderness, but in some places they aren’t exactly civilization, either. It’s always confuses me why some people want to be outdoors, but don’t have a comprehensive understanding of what that means. They want nature, but not too much of it.
Predictably, that night the campers became the object of a black bear’s persistent affections — so persistent, I learned in the bathroom the next morning, that they had to leave the campground in the middle of the night because the bear wouldn’t let them alone. Bullhorns are apparently no deterrent for a bear in search of a hamburger. This left me with only one question: Why were they carrying a bullhorn?
We have a lot of things on my car camping gear list. But we usually leave our bullhorns at home.