Chipmunks and Bear Clothes
by Ken Hackler, Crystal Lake, IL
A good friend, Sue, invited me camping for a few days last summer. She suggested
a campground in the mountains near her house in southern Colorado, since there is a
nice lake close by, a stream running through the campground, and the tourists would be
gone. I thought for, heck, at least a tenth of a second, and said yes.
Sue may not fish, but she's a beautiful woman with her own pickup and camping equipment,
and I'm no fool.
It was clear, sunny, and warm when we left town that morning, but cloudy, raining, and
cold in the mountains. Instead of trying to decide between fishing, setting up camp, or
gathering firewood first, we just tried to stay warm and dry for the first hour.
When it stopped raining we put the tent near the stream, the only level spot we could find.
Sue's dining fly covered the picnic table, my coffee pot was perking away on the propane
stove, and two lawn chairs sat by the fire pit. The only things missing from this
Outdoor Life cover photo were a blazing fire and two old guys
in brand new flannel shirts, drinking coffee from blue metal cups as they talked about
the day's catch.
Then we looked for dry wood since Sue insisted we make a fire that night. She
said it just wouldn't be the same holding her marshmallow stick up to a lantern. In the
end, we drove down to the lodge at Lake Isabel and paid $8.50 for a bundle of
The chores all done, Sue wandered around feeding grapes to the chipmunks while I
fished for an hour before sundown. I enjoyed myself tremendously, catching about
twenty little brookies and cutthroats in the stream. Sue laughed, because they were
so tiny, and called them "cute." She asked what I was using, so I told her it was a
#18 Carson Lake Black fly. Displaying her complete ignorance of the sport, Sue
told me to use bigger hooks and 'real' bait if I wanted to catch 'real' fish.
I told her to go back to feeding Alvin and Theodore. (Simon was off pouting because
he wanted chips instead of grapes.)
Since I always smell like fish after fishing, even when I don't catch anything, I went
back to camp at sunset and heated water for washing up. The chipmunks had gone
to bed by then, so Sue decided it was time for a campfire.
Thanks to my Boy Scout training, I started the fire using only the dry wood we bought,
two rolls of paper towels, a quart of charcoal starter fluid, and a large box of kitchen
matches. The dry wood burned great for about an hour, but then we had to start
using the wet stuff we'd gathered earlier. The smoke from our fire looked like
a London fog rolling in.
After circling the campfire for three hours trying to stay ahead of the smoke, we
finally called it a night. Changing into our sleeping clothes, Sue told me to put my
dirty things into a plastic bag with hers, and then put the bag in the truck.
"Why?" I asked.
"Bear clothes," she told me.
Sue said anything you wear while handling fish or food acquires odors that might
attract bears, and she firmly believed that anything bears might be attracted to
belonged somewhere else - not in the tent. That made sense, although I didn't
mention the ice chests that were on the picnic table a dozen feet away.
She would have made me lug them forty yards up to the truck also.
We finally settled in and drifted off to sleep. Well, we tried to. When it got quiet that
night, the picturesque little 'babbling brook' a few feet away sounded like a freight train
going through the tent. The good thing was Sue couldn't hear anything else over all
the babbling, so she didn't make me check for bears outside the tent every time
a twig snapped.
The next few days were pretty much the same - fishing, feeding the chipmunks, h
iking up to the waterfall, napping in the sun, and building fires with wet wood. We
had a blast.
But the next time we go camping, I'm getting up at the crack of dawn and driving
down to the lake. I'll be awake anyway if we put the tent in the same place. I may
even wake Sue up to see the sunrise, and to watch me catch 'real' fish with tiny flies.
On second thought, maybe I'll let her sleep. If leaving 'bear clothes' in the tent is
dangerous, waking her up before the sun is downright foolhardy. Since she can't
question what she doesn't see, she'll just have to take my word the fish I caught
were huge. All twenty of them. Maybe more. ~ Ken Hackler