by COLLEEN LEDDY
My niece Vicki was visiting from New York the past couple of weeks. I thought she’d enjoy seeing one of the Great Lakes, so we (just the kids and I) traveled west to Lake Michigan to camp at P.J. Hoffmaster State Park. It’s a big campground—more than 300 sites—and we were “lucky” enough to pick a spot right across from the biggest group of the loudest people with the brightest lights.
Of course we didn’t realize this until we were all bedded down at 10:30 p.m. Their conversation was still loud and their lights were still shining into our tent. “Is it morning?” Ben asked when he woke at midnight and their lights were still on.
He, at least, had gotten some sleep and easily dropped back off. I, on the other hand, was internally fuming, working up a lather over my inability to sleep because of some inconsiderate campers. Hadn’t the ranger who checked us in said lights out and no noise after 10 p.m.? What was the matter with these clowns?
I contemplated walking over to their site and politely asking them to hit the hay, but I quickly chickened out—what if they were loons with a gun? Instead, at 12:30 a.m., still pumped up on the sugar of two S’Mores and in the throes of a wicked case of PMS, I shouted out the tent door, “Could you all please be quiet? We can’t sleep.” Immediately there was silence and I felt victorious. At last I would slumber.
Except the lights were still on. And then the incessant whispering began, “Shhh...Sh...Ch...Sh...Sh...Sss...Ch...Shh…” What were they saying, I wondered—“Sheesh, what a witch that woman is. She sure is cheeky.” The whispers were worse than the snippets of conversation I caught when they were talking loudly.
How could you be such jerks? I wanted to shout. But I caught myself. I thought about my standard reaction whenever I get mad at drivers who pull out in front of me, only to turn down the next road—maybe he’s in a big hurry to go to the bathroom, I tell myself. If you were in his shoes, you might pull out in front of somebody too.
So, I pretended the noisemakers were part of a family reunion (there must have been at least 15 lawn chairs circling the campfire) and having not seen each other in a long time, they had a great deal to talk about. I still marveled over how inconsiderate they could be, but I finally drifted off.
The next day I had more to fume about. The dog from the next site meandered over and nearly took a bite of my niece’s sandwich. Dogs are supposed to be on six-foot leashes. This one was just roaming. When I nearly stepped in dog poop, I shook my head in disgust—owners are supposed to pick up after their dogs. And when we went down to the beach, the sign said, ‘No dogs on beach,’ but dogs were everywhere. What was the matter with these people? Why couldn’t they follow simple rules?
Or was I just too uptight and crabby? Probably that was it. My stick-to-the-rules nature was making me miserable. So I reminded myself the dog hadn’t actually bit Vicki’s sandwich, I didn’t actually step in poop, and, actually, there’s lots of room for dogs at the beach. But still, it was hard to feel at peace with my fellow campers.
That night, at 4 a.m., we were awakened by the crunching of graham crackers. Instantly I knew what it was. We hadn’t put away the makings of S’Mores. I hadn’t eaten any (I learned my lesson the first night) and in the darkness, trying to beat curfew, I didn’t notice or remember the marshmallows, chocolate bars and graham crackers or the almonds and Doritos still sitting on the picnic table.
Brave Ben stuck his head out the tent door. “It’s raccoons! There’s three of them. There’s four! There’s five!” he said as campers all around us awoke to hush their dogs. Ben drove the ‘coons off with a stick as I gathered the food into a garbage bag and tossed it in the car.
As our little neck of the campground quieted down, I was deeply chagrined. There’s nothing like ‘coons at your campsite to deliver your comeuppance.
I just hope those other campers were saying things like, “Well, she’s camping alone with her kids. Maybe her husband always takes care of clearing away the food at night. She probably didn’t mean to be such a jerk.”