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Camping with the Kids

Camping in a tent with your kids is one of life’s most rewarding activities. Another rewarding activity is having your wisdom teeth removed without anesthetic. When the kids were young, between the ages of 6 and 14, we camped every chance we got. Most of our camping was done along the gulf coast because we all enjoyed skin and scuba diving. We made occasional forays into the mountains to commune with bears, but mostly it was the beach.

Each campground had its unique character and predominant wildlife feature. For instance, St. Joseph’s State Park in Florida had a resident population of very well fed and extremely fat skunks. The skunks achieved this state of corpulence through threats and intimidation in a good cop/bad cop format.

When a camper fired up a Coleman cook stove, the 2 or 3 skunks that had been assigned to that particular camp site would show up and sit down at the edge of the picnic table.
Skunk # 1; “Don’t that bacon smell good.”
Skunk # 2; “Sure does.”
Skunk # 1; “I’m so hungry. I hope the nice lady gives us some bacon.”
Skunk # 2; “Me too.”
Skunk # 3; “Aw, let’s just spray the broad and take the bacon.”
Whereupon the nice lady gives the skunks all the bacon and goes back into the tent and zips up the door.

My own experience with skunks at St. Joseph’s State Park involved my middle son Keith who had never seen so many apparently tame skunks. He organized the other kids in the campground into a skunk catching battalion and proceeded to run down a skunk. At first the chosen skunk seemed to enjoy the game. However, when Keith, who was leading the pack, got close enough to try the flying tackle maneuver, the skunk let loose with his best defensive tactic.
Skunk, 1—Keith and the guys, 0.
Keith was not welcome in the tent for the next three days.

Our favorite campground on the other side of Florida, at Jupiter Beach, hosted a significant raccoon population. The raccoons were as fat as the skunks but had a very different coping strategy. The coons counted on “cute” and “cunning” for their sustenance. A mother coon would bring her family to the campsite and sit around by the edge of the picnic table and beg. The mother would sit up and wave her front paws in the air while the babies would roll around and scuffle as only baby animals can do. It was almost more cute than one could tolerate. So we would throw them bread and potato chips and whatever else was handy. The raccoons were particularly fond of sardines (packed in oil, not water, which even raccoons consider an abomination). We always assumed the coons were enjoying their largesse and would go away and take a nap or whatever coons do when well fed and happy. But no. What they were really doing was taking notes on the food storage procedures and plotting a strategy to thwart whatever precautions were being taken to protect the grub from predation. If you stored stuff in a cheap Styrofoam® cooler, they chewed through it. If you hung stuff in a tree using a strong rope, they chewed through that as well.

My kids were pretty smart, smartness being genetically transmitted, as it were, so they figured that by using sardines as bait they could catch a young coon and take it home as a pet. It is worth noting here that the kids did not consult their father, who actually had considerable experience as a youth trying to catch cute critters for pets.

Their plan was basically sound. They took a large Styrofoam® cooler, laid it on its side with one edge of the lid taped securely to the cooler to form a hinge. The lid was open and lying on the ground in front of the cooler. They then tied a string to the other side of the lid in such a way that, by standing behind the cooler and pulling the string, the lid would slam closed. If a little raccoon was inside the cooler at the time, it became an immediate pet.

The execution of the plan was flawless up to a point. They set the trap behind the tent, away from the watchful eye of parental units. When the raccoon family smelled the sardines they came running. The babies, being less inhibited than mama coon, got there first and the two most precocious ones went right into the trap. The kids pulled the string and the trap slammed shut as planned. At this point it became obvious that even sound plans formulated by very smart kids ages 8 and 9 can fail to anticipate all contingencies. To wit: the babies took great exception to being shut in a Styrofoam® cooler and complained loudly about it. The mama took great exception to someone messing with her babies and immediately set upon what she perceived to be the source of the problem, Roger and Keith. For your information, a full-grown, well-fed raccoon is about the same size as normal sized 8 and 9-year-old boys and can move about as fast as a runaway freight train, or at least that seemed to be the case.

Both kids headed up the same tree, Roger first, then Keith. Complication: Raccoons can climb trees better than most human boys.
Raccoons, 1—Keith & Roger, 0
The trip to the local hospital resulted in a few stitches and lots of tape but did not require an extended stay. We went back to the campground to collect our tent and other camping paraphernalia and headed back to the safety of a solidly walled house in Alabama.

A few days after we returned home the camping tent was destroyed in a tragic but mysterious fire. Nothing else was damaged in any way.