A continuation of Romantic Getaway to the Desert, the wintry Spring Break trip I took with my boyfriend to the Oregon Desert and Bend. I left off with our discovery of a camping shovel that had teeth on one side.
The rain fell lightly, but we rushed to finish setting up our camp in case a heavier storm was on its way. My camping companion asked me to set up the inside of the tent with blankets and self-inflating mats and the like, while he used the toothy shovel to chop firewood. The "firewood" was some long boards that we found near our campsite.
"Why!?" I demanded. "Do I have to do all the domestic stuff because I'm a girl!?"
"Okay, fine, you can chop the wood," he said.
I began hacking at the wood. Not-Really-Named-Brandon began carrying bedding from the car to the tent. When he saw how I was chopping the wood, he paused.
"You know that's supposed to be a saw, right, Sarah?"
I had been using it like the axe it was not.
"Yeah, whatever!" I snapped, and commenced sawing at the wood.
By the time he'd gotten the tent completely set up, I'd only managed to saw an inch into one side of the wood and an inch deep into the other side. Not-Brandon took over. Within a few minutes, he held up a ruined, bent plastic shovel with teeth, and a wooden board with about an inch and a half sawed into each side. At this point, the rain fell more heavily.
"Well, we couldn't have had a fire anyway!" I said cheerfully.
Eventually the rain completely stopped the sun returned. Determined on having a campfire, we worked as a team. One of us held the board in place while the other jumped on it. I was very concerned about the rusty nails, so Brandsome made a point of turning the board pointy-nail-side down and drawing my attention to this.
Eventually, we succeeded. The rain had not returned, but the powerful winds had. We had four pieces of wood that fit inside our fire ring, enough only for a very short fire. We looked wistfully at our neighboring camper's campsite, whose fire the rain had not extinguished. We looked at his fire with longing. I took in his gut, visible from behind the tree.
That gut hadn't moved the entire time we'd been at the campsite. That man hadn't moved. Hey! That wasn't a man at all! Why hadn't it occurred to us that there weren't any other cars at the campground that was accessible only by an infrequently-traveled road? There was no person at that campsite!
Handsome Man was not nearly as spooked as I was. "Maybe they just left and they're coming back.
"They'd still put out their fire!"
"Maybe we can take their wood if they're not coming back!"
I scouted out the campsite. What I thought was a person's gut was one side of a large black skillet hanging from a nail on the tree, suggesting a more permanent residence at Big Bend than ours would be. In the fire ring, among smoldering embers, was a Costco-sized coffee can of Western Family brand, with some other cans, the labels of which had burned beyond recognition. It was as though the coffee can had been used to cook beans or something in. The state of the fire and the skillet nailed to a tree suggested a vagabond to me. A vagabond that might return.
Most alarming of all, however, was that the fire that was large enough to be visible from our campsite was actually two logs that were outside of the fire ring, one a distance of about a foot from the fire ring and the second about a foot from that. A few feet from these were a pile of large, dry, extra flammable juniper branches. This is how forest fires start! I thought. This is why those Smokey the Bear signs at Mount Hood say you're supposed to drown and bury your fire!
I ran back to the campsite with my story, but Handsome Bransome insisted on the absence of a big deal.
Frantically, I tried to convince him. "The fire is OUTSIDE OF THE FIRE RING!"
His response was the same: No big deal.
I began to demonstrate with theatrics. "Look, there's the fire ring!" I pointed to ours. "There's a small burning log--" I hopped a foot away, "HERE! And one over--" another hop, "HERE!" As for the vagabond coffee can stove, he was completely unconcerned about that.
"I just don't see what the big deal is, Sarah," he said.
"Well, come over there and I'll show you!"
"Why do I need to go over there?"
After some back-and-forth bickering, he followed me to the other campsite.
"Oh!" he exclaimed. "The fire is outside of the fire ring!"
"THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT I JUST TOLD YOU!"
Instead of concern, Handsome Man saw opportunity. "Well, that means they didn't mean to start a fire here, and that means they're not coming back, and that means we can take this firewood!"
"But what if they really do come back?" I asked, thinking of the vagabond cooking his beans in a Western Family coffee can. I was imagining the criminal from the Dennis the Menace movie that came out in the early '90's.
"They're not coming back. They probably left this morning, didn't put out their fire properly, and when it got windy the sparks re-ignited."
That's why the Smokey the Bear signs at Mount Hood tell you to drown and bury your campfire.
Handsome Not-Brandon picked up the not-burning end of the smaller log and handed it to me. He picked up the larger log for himself, taking care to avoid the end being licked by small flames. We both began carrying the logs across the campground to our fire ring.
We hadn't taken into account the wind that was blowing against us as we walked toward our campsite. The wind fed the flames; they grew taller and closer to our arms. We began to walk faster, which created more wind and taller flames. I commenced speed-walking, trying to balance timely coverage of the distance between myself and the fire ring with the steady growth of the flames engulfing the log in my hands. I thought back to the drop-and-roll I learned in elementary school safety programs. This is how people set their arms on fire, I thought.
As soon as I was near the fire ring, I hurled the burning log into it. I looked back at my companion in fire transport. He seemed unconcerned with the danger in his hands; while it was lost on me, it seemed apparent to him how badass we looked. If I weren't too lazy for Tux Paint today, I'd draw a picture for you--him with a sideways bandana and cutoff shorts, me with an afro (which is what my hair really did look like for most of that trip, when it wasn't stuff into a sparkly headscarf), both of us wielding fire.
By this time, the sun had set. I never got to take photos for you of our gorgeous campsite and the John Day River, lined with twiggy plants in yellow, gold, orange, and red like the colors of a sunset. I vowed to do so the next morning, but we awoke to more rain.