A Tale of Two Campfires part three

by Keith Fisher

I hope you have been following this story. I wrote it years ago and thought that with a little editing, you'd enjoy it. Remember last time? I had just tripped and hit my head after finding a trail where a modern road should have been.

I woke up to the sound of an ATV going up the road. The driver couldn't see me because I had landed in a clump of oak brush. Judging by my wristwatch I had only been unconscious about ninety minutes. I felt a nasty scrape on my head, probably from the fall.

The road that I remembered was right in front of me. I watched the taillights on the ATV disappear up the road and it turned quiet again.

With all I’d been through, I doubted my senses, but I heard the sound of an engine running. Using a log to push against, I carefully climbed up and turned around. My trailer stood about a hundred yards up the hill, right where it should've been. It seemed as though the whole hillside was illuminated from the lighted lanterns, and stoked campfire.

I shook my head and walked slowly up the hill. I later learned, my family was preparing to search for me. When I hadn't returned to fix dinner, my cousins roasted hot dogs. They assumed I’d be along soon to ask for help bringing a deer back to camp. I shook my head and thought of the deer in the other camp. Then I began to try and make sense of my experience.

At the demands of my camp mates, I sat down in my folding chair, in front of the fire, to tell my story.

"Fog, what fog?" My uncle asked when I began. "It was sunny all afternoon on my ridge."

Because of his surprise, I began to wonder if it all had really been just a dream. Or maybe someone slipped some strange mushrooms in my food. While I told my story, Jim, one of my cousins, began to turn pale as if he had seen a ghost. "That explains the guy I saw today."

As it turned out, Jim had been in camp earlier. He was sitting in his trailer when he saw a man dressed in a red plaid jacket, and old wool cap, come into camp. The man seemed a little shook up, and walked a circle around camp, stopping frequently, to stroke his beard and shake his head. Jim’s apprehension increased because the man carried a rifle.

Jim watched for awhile, hoping the man would just leave. He went over to a truck and looked it over, as well as a couple of the camp trailers. He leaned over to examine a propane lantern, and moved on to the Dutch oven tables and camp kitchen.

He reached for the Mair lid lifter, and grasped the handle. He seemed to catch on to the purpose of the tool because Jim saw him grin when he raised and lowered the lid. Next, he found a charcoal briquette, and after sniffing and crushing it in his hands he seemed to recognize what it was. When he noticed the Campchef two burner stove, he started toward it, but tripped over an ice chest. He looked down and opened the cooler. Jim said he had an astonished look on his face.

During the whole experience, Jim noticed the man hadn't stolen anything and didn’t seem to be threatening, so Jim stepped out of his trailer and approached the man. "Can I help you?"

The man looked up from his examination of the stove. "I'm sorry for intruding but you have some very strange things—I’ve been looking them over. My name is Robert." He extended his hand.

"No Problem. I’m Jim." They shook hands. Jim showed him the workings of the propane stove, as well as the butane lighter. Robert seemed so fascinated with the lighter, that Jim offered to let him have it.

"No, thank you, I just need some directions," he said. "I seem to be a little lost . . . well, maybe I'm very lost."

After drawing a map and helping Robert see where the road was, Jim said goodbye to a strange and bewildered man.

I spent the rest of my evening in silence. Nobody around our campfire seemed willing to say what he was thinking. We just watched the fire and slowly drifted off to our beds to sleep.

The next morning, I looked around our campsite, squinting and tilting my head. After looking from several angles, I determined our campsite was in the same place as the one I’d visited. I found the spot where I reckoned a cooler pit had been dug many years ago. I used my shovel and dug another one. I fashioned a lid from the welcome mat in my trailer and covered it with fallen leaves.

I didn't go out hunting that day, there didn’t seem to be a point. I remained in camp and using coals from the campfire instead of charcoal, I tried to make a stew. I even found a forked stick.

After a little practice, I baked a pretty good bread roll, using nothing but campfire coals.

I must confess, however, I did use my Dutch oven table. It keeps the pots off the ground and I don't have to keep bending over.

I don't speculate whether the man who came to my camp was the man Jake worried about. I hope Robert found his way back home. I wish I could have repaid a debt by feeding him from my Dutch ovens.

I don’t let strangers pass by anymore without offering to feed them. I’m not stupid, though, I take a good look at them first.

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A Tale of Two Campfires part two

by Keith Fisher

Today, we continue our three part story. Remember last time, I had just emerged from the bushes and discovered I was in someone else's camp.

The three men in camp all wore red shirts, not flourescent orange, which is a requirement for Utah deer hunters. The wall tent across the clearing had been pitched using recently cut lodge poles. There were horses staked out under the trees, and someone had been busy building camp furniture from fresh cut trees. A Dutch oven hung from an iron tripod over the fire and one of the men dipped something from it onto a tin plate. I turned to leave without bothering them, but I needed to find out where I was.

"Hello in the camp." I called. I didn't want to surprise anyone with my sudden appearance from the fog.

They turned and stared at me. One man quickly stifled a laughed.

"I got lost in the fog. Can you tell me where I am?"

The man with the plate welcomed me and invited to have some stew. "I’m Jake," he said.

"I’m Keith." I offered my hand. I just need to find my camp, but that stew sure smells good," I took the plate and sat on a hand-hewn bench.

The other two men moved away from the fire. They were using binoculars, trying to see something through the fog. They looked worried.

I heard the clang of another lid and turned to see the cook dump coals from the lid of another Dutch oven. He reached inside, pulled out two sourdough bread rolls, and handed them to me.

"You want some butter on those?"

I nodded. "Sure, you’re a great cook," I said. I watched as Jake went to a pile of straw. He lifted a mat made from a bunch of sticks lashed together. He reached into a pit dug into the ground, pulled out a bowl, and handed it to me. I liberally dabbed fresh, creamy butter on the hot rolls and watched it melt.

Jake returned the mat and the straw then snapped his fingers. "I almost forgot. Would you like a little milk to wash it down?"

"That would be nice if it's not too much trouble," I said.

Jake shook his head. "No trouble." He pulled the mat up again and reached into the pit.

I watched Jake pour milk from a tin can into a cup. I became fascinated by the spectacle. Jake had been cooking with firewood coals, lifting lids with a forked stick, and making food that would rival anything I’ve seen at the Worlds Championship Dutch Oven Cook Off.

When I finished eating, Jake asked me if I had seen his friend. "Robert set out this morning in the direction you came from, and he hasn’t come back yet."

"No, I haven’t seen him," I said.

"Well, he probably downed a really big one. Not like those puny deer we got." He pointed at three large bucks hanging from a tree. If those deer were puny, I’d love to go where he hunts.

"You were very lucky to find those," I said. "I haven’t seen anything but a doe and two fawns all day."

Jake stared at me with a look of disbelief.

One of the other men came and sat next to me. He started drawing a map in the dirt with a stick.

"This is Henry, he knows these mountains like the back of his hand," Jake said.

"Good to meet you." I stuck out my hand.

Henry shook my hand then directed my attention to the map. "Now this is Strawberry valley." He pointed at a spot in the dirt. "And this is the road over Daniel's Pass." He showed me his representation of every landmark within 40 miles, and showed me where we were.

"This is the trail we came in on." He dug the lines deeper in the dirt. "And this is the one that goes to Current Creek."

I began to recognize where we were from the landmarks I knew. I noticed he referred to all the roads as trails. "Where is the road . . . uh, trail you came in on?"

"About a hundred yards in that direction." Henry pointed.

I nodded my understanding. I knew my camp could be seen from the road, so I decided to follow the road until I found camp. It would be dark in about an hour, but if I got on the road, I could hitch a ride on an ATV.

I thanked Jake for the good food, and offered to help cleanup. I also offered to help pay for the food I’d eaten, but Jake slapped me on the back. "Don’t be silly. You never turn a man away from your fire unless you've fed him."

"If you see Robert, tell him to get back to camp, will you?" Henry asked.

I said I would, and shook both men’s hand. I set out in the direction of the trail and was almost out of earshot when I heard Henry talking. "That boy sure is a strange duck, I wonder where he got them bright clothes. He must be some kind of dude from out of state."

I walked about eighty yards and found a trail. According to my reckoning, it should’ve been a road. I wondered how those men got their horses up there. Then I realized I didn’t see any vehicles in camp. I thought of my 23-foot trailer. If I were in my camp, I’d probably spend the evening watching a movie while being warmed by the furnace in the trailer.

My mouth fell open when I reached the trail. The fog suddenly lifted, and the temperature climbed about ten degrees. The sun hung on the treetops in its last throws, before dipping down behind the ridge to plunge the world into darkness for the evening. In my confusion, I stumbled on a rock, and fell down. I remember a sharp pain in my head, then nothing.

continued next time

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